The book, Twinkie Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger, certainly has a certain primal draw to it, even for someone doesn't regularly eat Twinkies.

Many foods eaten by Americans these days have ingredients in them that we can barely pronounce. In most cases, even if we can pronounce the ingredient, we have no idea of the ultimate source of the same or the processes needed to transform raw material to finished product (riboflavin, anybody?). Twinkie Deconstructed documents Ettlinger's journey to not only demystify the function of these ingredients in many products, but also their ultimate source and the processes necessary to turn them into something used by the food industry. As his guide down the rabbit-hole of industrial food production, Ettlinger chooses the ingredient list for the humble Twinkie. The ingredient list becomes the structure of the book's content as each ingredient gets a dedicated chapter.

Many of these chapters are quite interesting. For instance, flour is often enriched with iron to fight anemia. The iron added to flour is either microscopic flakes of a substance that is essentially rust with a better marketing program, or a substance known as ferrous sulfate. The two ultimate sources of ferrous sulfate are iron mines in northern Minnesota and petroleum from the Gulf of Mexico. The petroleum is refined in the south, where a byproduct (sulfur) is turned into sulfuric acid. That acid is then shipped north to a plant where it is used to perform a specific process on finished steel sheeting made out of that northern Minnesota iron ore. The iron/acid slurry is run through another series of processes to separate the ferrous sulfate from the acid. The ferrous sulfate is finally shipped off to be added to flour which appears in all manner of modern convenience foods.

Unfortunately, the story of most ingredients in modern processed and convenience foods is drearily similar. Something is grown and harvested; mined out of the ground; or pumped out of a well. That something is then subjected to a variety of heavy industrial processes, usually involving all manner of highly toxic substances (chlorine, acids, benzene, acetone, etc.); massive machinery; carefully controlled temperatures; miles upon miles of plumbing; and a few trips via rail car or semi. Finally, the substance is included in a food for what it brings to the taste, texture, or shelf-life of the final product.

By the seventh or eighth chapter, you almost wish for a change from that pattern, but a reprieve is not to be found and the book slides headlong into monotony.

If you're living in a fantasy land where the ingredients for your food are all grown on farms and harvested by suntanned, hard-working farmers, this book will likely serve to provide an unwelcome window into the heart of the industrial food business. Otherwise, it's best read as a reference book. You simply identify an ingredient on a package somewhere, find it in the index, and look up what it does and how it's produced. Trying to read this cover to cover is otherwise a difficult and tedious task.