Some people show up to dinner, be it at a restaurant or at a friend's house, with a running list of what they do not allow to pass their lips (after you have already prepared a dinner of said offenders, of course): Beef, pork, dairy, carbs, anything that is not organic. Others show up with one of those very lists along with a "Fresh Strawberry Cake with Whippy Satin" from Ralph's.
A kind gesture, undoubtedly, and greatly appreciated. Nor is this on our "Don't Eat This Now" list for its offending flavor (though it was offensive). It was the sodium acid pyrophosphate, partially hydrogenated palm oil, polysorbate 60 and propylene glycol and dozens of other unrecognizable "food" ingredients that had us staring at that eerily white (a little too white) icing for most of the night, dreading the moment we might actually have to tell our dinner guests that there are now some things that we resolutely will not eat. Or perhaps we should simply ask you. Do people actually eat this stuff?
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Before you groan and say the pot is calling the kettle black: if we shun a grocery store cake for its lack of authenticity, or simply on the grounds of three dozen ingredients we can't pronounce nor recognize, then we are being complete hypocrites. The same as those folks who show up to dinner at our house with a list of what they won't eat. Food snobs, or whatever you like to call it.
We actually tend to take a less scientific approach to our dinner table shopping, preferring to stick to the farmers market as often as possible, Trader Joe's for cheese and wine, and sure, the occasional specialty seafood market and spice shop when our paycheck permits. But we are perfectly content to pick up onions and parsley with unknown pedigrees for pennies at the Persian market down the street, and yeah, venture into the Ralph's for our grocery store staples: eggs, milk, pasta, sugar, a little meat, veggies. We have always considered ourselves fairly open minded. We are not devout organic-only practitioners, nor do we declare certain foods off limits. We believe there is a time and place for the occasional hot dog (albeit preferably nitrate-free), fast food burger, and until now, sure, grocery store cake.
Then we read that list of chemistry-lab ingredients. And we realized the shocking number of ingredients that (thankfully) do not pass our lips on a daily basis simply because we use the grocery store as a grocer, not as our baker. When we want a cake, we actually bake it ourselves, and when we don't have time, we simply don't eat cake. We shop at grocery stores for flour, butter, and eggs (what a novel concept). Not for ready-made perfectly coiffed "fresh strawberry" cakes with piles and piles of pillowy "whippy satin" that look like the edible version of the 1950s American dream.
And yet, look closer, and it is very day-glo red apparent that this is no Candyland dream dessert, but a disappointing mound of 30+ phosphate/hydrogenated/enriched/"solids"-laden ingredients. It even comes with a full disclosure statement at the end of that "fresh" strawberry cake ingredient list that it "may include fresh strawberries." You know, because this is the good old U.S.A., and there is no $8.99 legal guarantee that what we eat is actually what it appears (or what it claims to be directly on the packaging). Or actually, even edible.