Friday, May 8, 2015

This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth? by Patrick Di Justo

Why do I read books that I know are going to make me irritated? Perhaps, like Di Justo, I'm curious. What is in that stuff anyway?

This book is a little different than I thought it would be. These essays were originally articles for Wired magazine. The collection is not compelling reading but I was interested enough to read the entire book. In doing so, I found some interesting facts.

The first part of the book is about stuff we eat. Most of the articles are about processed and/or packaged foods. There was an article on red wine also. The ingredients (or chemicals) in each food are listed with commentary.

What interested me most was the additional material Di Justo provided. I found out how wishy washy and under funded the FDA is. I found the meaning of advertising terms, like “rich in” and “an excellent source of.” I found out how loose the term “organic” is. Did you know that “light” (“lite”) can be used to describe a food that has less than fifty percent of its calories from fat? I found out a serving size of a product is the amount a four year old would consume. (You've got to read the book to find out why.)

Of course, some of the ingredients are really odd. Hostess Lemon Fruit Pies contains calcium sulfate (Plaster of Paris) and only seven percent or less of material actually from lemons. I was surprised to find that lemon flavor can be developed from turpentine.

The articles about the meat products were very enlightening. One was on Spam and I'm not going there. I found out the U.S. Department of Agriculture categorizes beef. The bottom three, utility, cutter, and canner, are generally used in processed meet products. I don't even want to think about the mechanically separated chicken.

I learned that expiration dates on products are totally voluntary. There is no federal regulation in that area, although some states may require dates on products like milk.

The second part of the book is on nonfood products, like deodorant, fabric softener, lotions, bug killer, and more. I was surprised to find out that dandruff is caused by a yeast infection.

This was not the most interesting book I have read but I did find interesting tidbits in it. There is no consistency in the choice of products. It was just what Di Justo was interested in investigating. Nonetheless, I know I'll be checking the list of ingredients on products with a more careful eye in the future.

Patrick Di Justo wrote the popular Wired magazine column What’s Inside and is an editor at Make: magazine. A contributor to The New Yorkers science blog, Elements, he also writes for The Atlantic, Popular Science, and Dwell, among others.

Three Rivers Press, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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