This is What You Just Put Inside Your Mouth?

nolead begins From Egg Nog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets of What's Inside Everyday Products
nolead ends nolead begins By Patrick Di Justo

Three Rivers Press.

272 pages. $15

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Reviewed by Paul Jablow


We've all heard the saying that if you glanced into the kitchen of your favorite restaurant, you'd probably never go back there.

Patrick Di Justo puts that idea on steroids. Just substitute U.S.A. for restaurant, and you get the point.

This Is What You Just Put Inside Your Mouth? is an extension of a series of columns Di Justo wrote for Wired magazine from 2006 through 2013.

Much of it is highly amusing, at times edging into hilarious and/or raunchy. Some is bizarre and, yes, some is downright disgusting.

But surprising? Maybe not all that much if you've watched a few consumer documentaries, or at least developed a healthy skepticism about what happens when greed intersects with lax regulation.

Di Justo's magical mystery tour covers products ranging from the commonplace (gasoline, cigarettes, coffee, and tap water) to the esoteric (Noxzema, diaper creams, Play-Doh and Slim Jims, to name just a few of the 50 listed).

We learn, for example, that Cool Whip contains an ingredient commonly used in sexual lubricants; that birdseed is put into synthetic logs to give off that healthy fireplace pop; that Power Bars are a chemical bestiary including stuff that carries a warning label in Australia and New Zealand; and that using fabric softener when you machine-dry your towels is counterproductive.

We get some amusing lectures on, among others, the history of beer and of cheese production.

But we also get an overly generous dose of the obvious. FDA regulation is lax. Corporate P.R. departments usually stonewall reporters like Di Justo who try to pry into the ingredients list. Fooling our senses is a gazillion-dollar industry.

And we get just a little too much cutesy writing: "Like the Kardashians, industrial-quality potato starch is a flavorless, odorless, colorless substance that exists mainly to take up space."

And as far as serving the public goes, the New York State Attorney General's Office's recent investigation into phony supplements sold by Walmart, GNC, Walgreens, and Target accomplished much more.