The authors of the new book Ingredients have taken a novel approach to food photography.
Instead of your standard pictures of mouth-watering dishes or farm-market fresh produce, photographer Dwight Eschliman and author Steve Ettlinger deconstructed popular processed foods and food additives, stripping them down to their chemical components.
Behold the ingredients in a package of Dorito's Cool Ranch tortilla chips:
Here, you see the 34 ingredients that make up Cool Ranch tortilla chips, including three artificial colors, as well as 10 flavors and chemicals that add up to cheddar cheese.
This is what your Campbell's Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle Soup looks like, before it's melded together for your soup bowl:
Despite what it may seem, you're looking at cooked chicken skins, beta carotene for color, egg yolks, chicken fat, yeast extract, sugar, and "dehydrated mechanically separated chicken."
Now, meet corn in the processed forms most of us enjoy.
"More food additives are made directly from corn than from any other raw material except petroleum," Ettlinger writes, "it is the most important crop in the United States. Almost all of it is a starchy, thick-skinned kind called #2 yellow dent corn or field corn."
The authors say their mission is less Food Babe fearmongering, and more focused on informing the public about what's in the processed foods we all eat. They strongly oppose "chemophobia" — or the idea that difficult-to-pronounce chemicals are necessarily bad for human health, for example.
"Some readers might expect a firm indictment of artificial food ingredients," Ettlinger writes, "but they will not find that in this book. This is a visual exploration with a popular-science angle, not a polemic."
Flipping through the pages of the book, an implicit theme emerges: The foods we eat every day aren't at all what they seem.
The "strawberries" in Quaker's Strawberries & Cream instant oatmeal are actually dehydrated apples with artificial strawberry flavor and red coloring. Kraft Singles don't just include the three ingredients in real cheese — raw milk, salt, and rennet — they're also packed with 24 other ingredients, including cellulose gum, dried corn syrup, and artificial flavors.
The book adds to a growing chorus of concern that food additives aren't so much killing us and causing cancer, but delivering lots of calories without satisfying our bodies' needs. They may also be deceiving our bodies in ways that could cause us to eat more and worse.
Still, the authors contend that it's not about whether artificial ingredients are good or bad for you. "The real debate," writes Ettlinger, "concerns whether a diet filled with highly processed foods is as likely to be as good for you as one that minimizes them, and whether a food and agriculture system that relies extensively on artificial food ingredients, petroleum, and corporate, monoculture farming is sustainable and a good political and environmental policy."