[Smashy the Hammer] [An Aspiring Luddite]
I carry no phone
An aspiring Luddite
In a wired world.
[Jeff Berry]
Jeff Berry is an early adopter of the Internet and the Web, a late adopter of Twitter, and declines to adopt Facebook. With the death of Google+, he's experimenting with federated platforms. He admins a medievalist Mastodon instance, and can found on the PlusPora diaspora pod. He hates cell-phones.

Cream of the Crop
or, Seven-hundred Words About an Eight Word Label

10 October 2011

[A Milk Bottle]

"Heavy Whipping Cream - Made with All Natural Cream*
* See side panel for complete ingredient listing"

-- label on a quart of cream from a large and fairly reputable provider of such

Sometimes a small thing can serve as the seed crystal to turn a number of vaguely formed ideas and concerns into a more fully formed and interconnected matrix of thought. Such was the case with the quote above. Almost every phrase in it brings to mind something interesting and usually unpleasant, annoying or disturbing about food and food culture in the 21st century US of A.

Let's begin with the phrase Heavy Whipping Cream. It sounds relatively innocuous, doesn't it? Heavy whipping cream, so wikipedia reliably informs us, is cream with a fat level of 36% or more. But, why "whipping?" Can we think of nothing else to do with it but "whip?" Or can marketing departments not imagine that cooks might choose to use it for other purposes? The "heavy" in this context makes sense only if you realize that "light whipping cream" has a lower fat content, but is also apparently only suitable for whipping in the eyes of those who make labels. Plain heavy cream, says the FDA, is cream with "not less than 36% milkfat, again prompting the question of why it is called "whipping." All of these, however, are quibbles. Far more sinister things lurk further on.

"Made with All Natural Cream*" is frightening on many levels. Let's begin with the word "made," shall we? Looking back to the product name, "Heavy Whipping Cream," we find that it is "made with" something. The clear indication is that it is not, in fact, just cream but cream and other stuff, which is, in fact true. There is, as well, associated with the phrase a hint of the production line, of industry. This cream was not "milked from cows," nor was it simply bottled or separated. No, indeed! This product, as distinct from such primitive things as simple "cream" was made from cream, creating something new, something no longer just cream.

But, blessed relief!, the distributor hastens to assure us in our anxiety that this product is made of "All Natural Cream!" This is, presumably, to distinguish it from the artificial cream products of the competition. More subtly, though, it distinguishes it from those whose products are only partly natural cream, some sort of Frankencream, cobbled together from some natural bits and some unholy bits crafted by godless science or using Forbidden Knowledge from some alien cult.

But wait! There is an asterisk, directing the reader to a tiny little blob of text, in a smaller font, which in turn directs the reader to "See side panel for complete ingredient listing." Now hold on a moment. I thought I was purchasing cream. Although, to be fair, I've already learned that I'm purchasing something made from cream, so perhaps an ingredient list is nothing to be scared of. Who knows? Perhaps it contains the single word, "cream." After all, the label on the milk I buy at the farmers' market says just "whole milk."

Alas, it is not so. This product contains four other ingredients as well.

To be honest, I'm not really angry that mass market heavy cream contains small amounts of seaweed, although I do go out of my way to avoid it whenever possible. The two things that I do find somewhat troubling are that we've gotten to a point where, unless you really make an effort, your cream contains cream and four other things; and that marketing double-speak is so prevalent that heavy cream requires several modifiers, a footnote and an ingredient list. Cream! I leave it to your imagination what perfidy (Dare I say perfidy? I dare!) lurks underneath and around more complicated substances. Cream is an ingredient! It's not supposed to be made of stuff, you use it to make other stuff.

Something has gone wrong, somewhere along the way.

So, would you like some seaweed, stabilizers, nutritive sweeteners and characterizing flavor ingredients in your coffee?1 And maybe some cream as well?

1: All optional ingredients listed in the FDA document linked above.
© 2011 Jeff Berry
The Aspiring Luddite