Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Reviews: Twinkies and Meth

Twinkies and meth, the breakfast of champions!
  • Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger -- This is a fascinating look at the modern world of food manufacturing. The author works his way through a Twinkie's ingredients list, visiting processing plants all over the U.S. -- sometimes under high security -- to see how each is created. I learned a lot from this book, and I was particularly surprised that some nasty petroleum products such as naphtha and benzene are involved in food production. Ettlinger explains how food scientists use chemicals to overcome the shortcomings and inconsistencies of traditional baking ingredients; a homemade Twinkie would have little in common with the Hostess variety. Most baked goods contain the same ingredients, so the book is not solely for Twinkie aficionados. To my relief, the author remains objective throughout rather than ranting about "fake" foods as is the fashion.

  • No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth by Frank Owen -- I usually provide my family with a list of books I want for Christmas, but I decided I'd rather buy this myself than field questions about why I was so interested in crystal meth. Owen tells the history of meth, discusses its influence on certain subcultures, and considers whether it is truly the demonic drug that media hype makes it out to be (in a word, no -- despite the scare campaigns, it's not any more addictive or difficult to quit than other hard drugs). Most people don't know that amphetamine and methamphetamine were provided to soldiers on both sides during World War II, and many are too young to remember that they were commonly available in pill form in the U.S. fifty years ago (over 3.5 billion pills were manufactured in 1958, enough to give 20 doses to every American!). The author describes several methods of producing meth (he does not provide recipes) and how the market changed as these methods were perfected. He visits the infamous Uncle Fester, who figured out how to make meth as a Marquette chemistry student and wrote a book about it while in prison. Owen even "takes one for the team" by using the drug and describing its effects. No Speed Limit takes a restrained, unhysterical look at the "meth epidemic." It includes an extensive bibliography but unfortunately lacks an index.

  

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