Thursday, July 08, 2010

Go Ahead, Drink the Kool-Aid

Here's something I'd never heard of until today: the Villejuif leaflet, which sparked a food panic in the 1970s and '80s, mostly in Europe, and especially in France. It was a simple list spread by pre-Internet methods (mimeographs and photocopies, probably) claiming that a number of well-known and harmless chemicals were in fact highly carcinogenic, and conversely that a number of dangerous chemicals were harmless. These days, nonsense travels faster, but it always got around.

Reportedly millions were befuddled by the leaflet, which was falsely attributed to the Gustave-Roussy Institute in Villejuif, France, which specializes in oncology. The leaflet touted citric acid (E330) as an especial menace, something not even the most rabid food purists would claim then or now. More about the leaflet is here, as well as being mentioned in a book on the theory and practice of rumors.

I found out about the leaflet because of the packets of Kool-Aid I have in my kitchen. They're the genuine articles, owned by Kraft Foods these days, with Kool-Aid Man right there on the front. Not long ago Lilly and I were at the grocery store and she asked me to buy Kool-Aid. She'd never asked for it before, but she's taken to drinking it at a friend's house. I'd never bought it for her, mainly because it had never occurred to me. The last time I was a consumer of Kool-Aid, along with a fair amount of Hi-C (a Coca-Cola brand) and Funny Face (a Pillsbury brand), was during the Nixon administration.

What's the main ingredient of Kool-Aid? I didn't know, so I checked: citric acid. That information led to my Villejuif tangent. Runner-up ingredients are maltodextrin, calcium phosphate, salt, artificial flavor, vitamin C, Red 40 and Blue 1.

Everything has a history; and so it is with Kool-Aid. It's just another thing we have Hastings, Nebraska, to thank for.

At 20¢ a pack, which is what I paid, Kool-Aid is actually much cheaper now than during the Great Depression, adjusted for inflation. It sold for a nickel a pack in those days, it seems, which the Fed's inflation calculator tells me had the equivalent of about 85¢ worth of purchasing power today. One more thing: if the Kool-Aid Man broke down your wall or fence, how would you explain that to the claims adjuster?



Post a Comment

<< Home