By Steve Ettlinger (Hudson Street Press, $24)
At a family picnic, Steve Ettlinger was perusing the label of an ice-cream bar. "Whatcha reading, daddy?" asked his then six-year-old daughter. His son, in sixth grade, chimed in, reciting some of the ingredients: high-fructose corn syrup, polysorbate 60 …, when his daughter asked, "Where does polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?" Ettlinger felt chagrined that he had no idea.
Hence, Twinkie, Deconstructed. The guts of the book consist of 24 chapters that tie in each Twinkie snack-food ingredient - not only polysorbate 60 and corn-derived sweeteners but also sodium stearoyl lactylate, monocalcium phosphate, and cellulose gum, to name a small sampling.
Ettlinger is not picking on the Twinkie snack cake; he could have chosen numerous other food products that contain similar processed ingredients. He settled on Twinkies partly because they are so well known and have spawned so many legends, such as that of their alleged shelf life of 25 years, even when unwrapped from their protective packaging.
Although not trained as an investigative journalist, Ettlinger digs deep. He does not, however, adopt a prosecutorial or moral tone. He accepts that most modern foods available in supermarkets contain processed ingredients that find life in laboratories as well as in the soil.
The original Twinkie snack lacked many of today's ingredients. But it also spoiled on the shelf within a week. The contemporary Twinkie does not spoil as quickly, and it's still pleasing lots of palates and is not causing much harm when consumed in moderation. At the end of the book, Ettlinger can proudly make the statement, "At least now you know what you're eating."