Nothing Wrong with Little Bugles

This is not writer’s block, but I don’t have a lot to say about Michael Pollan’s next chapter either. In this case, it is because the kind of stuff that others find scary I find pretty mundane. Either that or pretty cool.

In this chapter Pollan describes the processes that cause food to be called processed foods. But unless you are eating the food right off the tree, all food is processed in some way, of course. We tag this food with that name because the processes are much more refined — we have figured out how to break everything down into more basic building blocks, and then how to reassemble them into different kinds of foods.
Pollan cites one futuristic thinker from the seventies who was predicting that a time would come when “protein would be extracted directed from petroleum and then ‘spun and woven into ‘animal’ muscle — long, wrist-thick tubes of ‘filet steak’” (p. 98). And the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Steaks for the grill, and no feedlots in Kansas! Why isn’t Pollan cheering this on?

But in this chapter, the raw material is corn, and he shows how it gets broken down into its constituent parts, and then reassembled in ways that allow the manufacturer to “add value.” That added value is frequently something as simple as creating an identifiable brand — shaping the corn chip into a little bugle, say. Whatever the reason, this chapter failed to generate any outrage on my part.

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