Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book Review: 'This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth?: From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets' by Patrick Di Justo

Jack LaLanne said “If man made it, don’t take it.” Patrick Di Justo tells you why. The chemicals and poisons we consider safe and normal (and nutritious!) are in every manufactured food. The names are unpronounceable and totally forgettable, but their effect can be longlasting and life threatening. This compendium explains not just where they come from and what they do at the molecular level, but even how they interact with the other ingredients. This is a true value service.

He sold me with the very first one, A-1 Steak Sauce. The clever strategy shown by the choice of ingredients is fascinating. The comments by Alton Brown add immeasurably to color and understanding. It sets you up for a bumpy ride through all kinds of foods and dry goods, including the backstory of researching the item.

It is a tribute to Di Justo that something this technical has come out so pleasant to read. He has the Benchley touch of gentle, mocking and self mocking humor. It makes you want to read descriptions you would otherwise skip – because you might miss a punchline. He plays on the chemical names, mocks our values and tosses off double entendres. Then to my surprise, he acknowledges his debt to and admiration for Robert Benchley. For that alone, he ranks a cut above other short form writers.

This is also serious journalism. Di Justo dug deeply into biology, chemistry, politics and corporate barriers to information to put together as comprehensive an explanation as you will ever see of these products. He wrote them for Wired, and the oversight of an editorial staff shows clearly, compared to the superficial pap of blogs we see daily. There is discipline and dogged pursuit in every page. It is a reminder of the way things should always be.

The one glaring omission in this book is an INDEX. If you pick up a product and wonder what an ingredient does, you can’t come here to find it because the chemical names are not listed in the back. You will never find them looking at every page. Buy the e-book instead. It is searchable. It makes this horror story into a reference work.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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