Book Club: Ingredients discussion thread #1

Welcome to our first discussion thread about Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put in Us and on Us by George Zaidan. We’ve got a few weeks of this so there’s still time to grab a copy from Indiebound.

This will be a particular exciting read as Zaidan reached out on Twitter and will be fielding questions from this book club about the book! This is a super cool thing, and we’ll run his answers in the October 10 edition of this. To ask George a question, either put the question in the comments or email them to and I’ll pick a few good ones.

Here’s some questions to kick us off:

  • The first section kicks us off talking about the concept of “processed,” the definition of which is a pretty thorny question. One definition, PFI, measures the complexity of an ingredients table, but means that coffee 49 times as complex as a Skittle. Another, the NOVA system, looks at what was done to item, and is increasingly preferred. Going into the book, how did you define “good food” and “bad food”?

  • In the US, 58 percent of calories come from ultraprocessed food. That’s high, but middle of the pack compared to other rich developed countries. How do you estimate your own diet looks in comparison?

  • We learned some very valuable lessons about how plants make cyanide to kill those who would otherwise feast upon them, and in general how many plants are delighted to kill us. The first processing humans did to food was to remove poison from it, allowing us to diversify palates. What’s a poisonous food you enjoy?

  • Preservatives are essential because everything is trying to eat your food before you do. Having read the chapter on the ways we preserve and process food, will you ever look at ants the same way again or were they also kind of ruined for you with that aphid bit?