There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in the food world about the role of what we eat — specifically processed food — in modern problems from metabolic disease to depression. Steve Ettlinger doesn’t take sides, but he’d appreciate it if there were a little less noise and a little more science.
“I think it’s important not to freak out — as some bloggers have — that something in food also has an industrial use,” he says. “It’s important to turn down the chemophobia; and yet on the other hand, it’s healthy to be fascinated by the fact that some of these things are made in chemical plants.”
His new book, “Ingredients,” highlights 75 of the most common additives (there are thousands) with periodic table-like photographs by Dwight Eschliman to explain how they were invented, where they’re made and what they do. Ettlinger describes the writing process as having to become the “determined ecological detective” of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma” to tell the stories of these ingredients on a high school science level. “Just as there’s a terroir for Beaujolais, I wanted to see if the same was true for polysorbate 80,” he says.
What “Ingredients” doesn’t do is take sides on whether an additive is healthy or not. “An observational perspective can help educate people without conclusions and emotions,” explains Eschliman.