Lobo recently sent me a link to a segment from a show titled How It’s Made. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and when it was over, YouTube helpfully suggested other segments. I should not have chosen what I did.
The next video I watched was on how Sara Lee muffins are made. I’m sure it isn’t as gross as other foods could be, but it revolted me, as well as raised my blood pressure. The latter commenced near the very beginning, when the narrator asserts, “These muffins are a lot like homemade”. I call bullshit on that. The narrator qualified that thought by pointing out the specialized equipment used and volume of ingredients necessary. While both points are valid, they aren’t the only differences.
If you’ve the stomach to watch the video (really, it isn’t gross; but it certainly wasn’t appetizing to me either), you may notice some interesting turns of phrase. The one that caught my immediate attention was the constant use of the ambiguous “they” and “workers” to refer to the people working the production line. I don’t think they can honestly be called bakers, because they’re simply minding the machines that are doing all the work. I suppose they are food technicians ... more accurately, quasi–food technicians. One bright spot is that this brand appears to use real blueberries, unlike many other quasi–food manufacturers.
Next, any number of suspect dry ingredients are glossed over as “a prepared mixture of dry ingredients”. Since the narrator did name the primary rising agents—baking powder and salt—as well as the flour, we’re left wondering what exactly those things are. Most likely they include sugar, dry egg product, powdered milk, flavor enhancers, stabilizers, preservatives, and possibly coloring agents and spices. Yep, I use all those things every time I bake homemade muffins. Watching the vegetable shortening go in to the mix was the most disgusting part of the vid to me; who would prefer that crap to yummy butter (except for those who cannot eat dairy, obviously)? But butter doesn’t have a long shelf life—and likely costs a good deal more than the shortening—so it’s out of the question.
I wonder how long the carts of prepared batter sit before they’re attached to the pump that squirts out the batter. Baking powder begins to chemically react with the liquids as soon as it’s blended in, so if they sit for any time, some of its rising power is lost. And they must sit for some nontrivial amount of time, else the workers wouldn’t need to tie a plastic protector over the cart.
Perhaps the thing that bothered me the most is the lack of the most important ingredient to good cooking: love. From one end of the production line to the other, nothing was touched by human hands. That may be a good thing in terms of sanitation, but it also means that the workers don’t need to care about what they’re doing. The stuff coming off that line could just as well be molded plastic or metal bits for all they care. A local bakery may use many of the same shortcuts as seen in the vid, but I’d be much more likely to buy something from them because the human element—watching, smelling, feeling, tasting, and adjusting as necessary—is present in the baking.
Making muffins is very easy. The only two extra things one need be mindful of are: not overmixing the batter (the dry ingredients should be just moistened by the wet ones); and not letting the batter sit too long before going in the oven, as already mentioned. And one has the choice to leave them simple, or dress them up with other flavorful and healthful additions, including nuts and spices. It truly saddens me to think that there are people out there who think these products are what real, homemade muffins taste like.
I’ve watched several of the food–related segments, and am pretty thoroughly turned off of eating processed foods, whether ready–made or used in restaurant service. It just doesn’t look like real food, and real cooking, to me.
[Also, the linguistic curmudgeon in me winced at hearing the narrator pronounce “Voilà!” as “Walla!”.]