We're all cynical grown-ups here. We know that the food we buy at the grocery store isn't made by a kindly old man on a farm.
But still, we like to think that what comes in the package bears at least some vague resemblance to what's on the label. Instead, a little bit of digging reveals downright soylent green-like horrors.
Long ago, man decided that the delicate, tasty flesh of bottom dwelling sea bugs was a luxury item and we should all be so lucky to eat it--even if the animal itself had been feeding off of discarded boots and laserdisc porn sunk to the bottom of the sea. For this reason, crab continues to be a delicacy that costs a fuckton more than, say, the pulverized, rubbery remains of a bunch of random fish.
I'm lovin' it.
But if crab is so expensive, how are grocery stores and restaurants able to sell crab dips and crab cakes so inexpensively? Welcome to the world of imitation crab meat, an ingredient you find almost everywhere cheap seafood is sold (including Long John Silver's).
See, lucky for the cheap and not particularly discerning amongst us, the pulverized, rubbery remains of a bunch of random fish can be easily injection-molded into damn near any seafood product under the sun and labeled surimi, right under where it pretends to be crab meat at your local grocery store.
Some are better disguised than others.
As this video with an upbeat, 80s work safety soundtrack demonstrates, real fish is minced and put through a series of progressively more horrifying and offputting challenges, like a traveler being lowered through the depths of seafood hell, until finally it doesn't resemble anything like a fish anymore so much as a slurry of lumpy, white awfulness ready to be extruded into whatever delicious product needs extruding.
Then, as this helpful guide explains, the resulting white fish paste is frozen, shaved into flakes, ground in a vat with starch, egg whites and flavorings to make it taste crab-like, then cooked and finally formed into a "rope" where orange die is painted on to give it that nice crab appearance.
Oh, and that red dye is usually made from crushed insects.
It Could be Worse...
Be careful when you're abroad and picking up a nice bottle of vodka to have with your imitation crab. Bootleg vodka production is rampant the world over and bottles that look completely legit on the shelf have huge amounts of methanol, which is a kind of alcohol, true, but it's the kind that's used as race car fuel and antifreeze.
Most of you have likely never made your own cheese, at least not on purpose. But you probably have a general idea of how it's made. Something to do with milk, right? And they let it age or whatever? One way or another, a cow is involved, isn't it?
And sure enough if you look at people who sell actual cheese you find on their ingredients all sorts of words like "milk" and "milkfat" and "cheese cultures."
But sitting right in the same aisle with the actual cheese you'll see a package like this:
Note the careful omission of the word "cheese" from the package of "American slices" up there. These "pasteurized processed sandwich slices" are to cheese what a hobo is to, you know, someone with a home. The way the supplier's website puts it, the product "...resembles a Processed American Cheese in certain food applications."
You know, in the right light, post-it notes kind of look like cheese too!
"Resembles" in "certain food applications"? Holy shit! They actually said that! By the way, we're pretty sure "certain food applications" means "sitting on the shelf next to actual cheese to fool poor people." Take a look at the ingredients, and after the first one you'll pretty much be lost:
"Water, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Food Starch, Casein and/or Caseinate, Whey, Modified Food Starch, Salt, Natural Flavor..."
Since the "natural flavor" ingredient is missing from the real cheese, that apparently means "chemical that makes it taste like cheese."
Incredibly, this means that there is something less like cheese than Easy Cheese.
By the way, this isn't just an American thing. Dutch news reports found out that up to 40 percent of the "cheese" on their shelves is actually this cheese-like mixture of oil, starch and milk protein.
It Could be Worse...
While the cheese on your pizza may be fake, at least there isn't sand in the crust.
Pizza dough has never been so sexy.
Not so in parts of Africa, where flour from markets is routinely cut with things like alum, chalk, Plaster of Paris and mashed potatoes.
Wait, mashed potatoes? That's got to be more expensive than the flour. They're clearly just doing it to fuck with people.
Few things really capture the heart and soul of the movie theater experience like a stranger getting a handjob in the seat behind you. In the same ballpark is movie theater popcorn. It's an iconic snack associated with the film-going experience and, when Junior Mints are not available, it's the next best thing to buy at a 900 percent markup to keep your hands and mouth busy for the next two hours, provided you're not in that handjob crowd.
"Excuse me folks, could you keep your handjobbing to a dull roar, please? People are trying to enjoy G-Force."
Since theaters make the majority of their profits off the concession stand, it's no wonder they need to keep costs down as much as possible, which is why most employees seem to have flies buzzing around their heads, and it's also why butter was long ago sacrificed to the gods of cheapassery.
Lately, most places have taken to calling what they put on popcorn "topping" after word got out that butter hadn't seen the inside of a theater since Citizen Kane. The popcorn is often popped in coconut oil and then bathed in hydrogenated soy bean oil, much the way we imagine Ron Jeremy starts a work day.
The new mixture, while packing all that delicious butter flavor, also packs your arteries with heart stopping awfulness, so the cost benefit analysis worked more in favor of the theaters than you, supposing you were planning on staving off a heart attack. A large popcorn with this pseudo-butter has as much saturated fat as eight Big Macs.
The blue areas are scientifically referred to as "fat pockets."
It Could be Worse...
If you eat too much microwave popcorn, you can wind up in the hospital with popcorn lung. That's right, the popcorn spilled out of his stomach and filled his lungs.
That popcorn is actually coming out.
Ha, no, just kidding. The truth is much weirder. The "totally not butter" flavoring in microwave popcorn contains the chemical diacetyl, which creates poisonous fumes that can almost fucking kill you if you breathe too much of it.
The effects are mostly seen in popcorn factory workers. In fairness, the man who got it from eating popcorn was eating two bags of microwave popcorn a day, so it seemed inevitable some debilitating illness finally caught up with him.