The process of looking less processed


As she so often did, Juliet Capulet of Verona said it best: A rose by any other shape would still be a rose.

Last week brought news of a trend among the makers of processed food — they are trying to make it look less processed.

According to a story written by Candice Choi of the Associated Press, Kraft Foods has finally perfected a way of making processed turkey look homemade. Or at least home-sliced, which to their eyes is the same thing.

Gone are the perfectly round, uniformly thick slices of turkey that look and taste as if they could be used for a coaster. The company’s Carving Board line now makes its turkey to look like the haphazardly shaped leftovers you’d have at home.

Just how they managed to do this is a proprietary secret the company understandably prefers not to share. But the information they have released speaks of a certain kind of genius.

First, a research team looked into the way people carved meats in their kitchens, studying the knives they use and even focusing on the way home-sliced meat tends to have ragged edges. Then they invented a machine that would re-create that look, including a knife that slices the meat differently with each cut. No two packages will be exactly the same, though the turkey (and chicken and ham and roast beef and pulled pork) in each package will all weigh the same and be able to fit inside the same packaging.

The technology and design involved in achieving this new look are truly impressive, and everyone involved should bask in the satisfaction of a job well done. But here’s the thing: It’s still processed meat.

The idea behind this trend is not to make the food more wholesome, it is merely to make the food look like it is wholesome. The working theory is that shoppers believe that homemade food is more authentic and better for you than processed food (and when you look at the sodium and preservatives used in processed food, they are right).

Processed food needs sodium to boost its flavor and preservatives to keep it from spoiling too soon, so instead of actually making it good for you the companies hope to fool the eye and make it look as if it’s good for you.

It isn’t just Kraft. McDonald’s recently unveiled a somewhat healthier and lower-calorie version of its iconic Egg McMuffin called the Egg White Delight McMuffin. It’s the same dish, only with processed white cheddar cheese instead of processed yellow cheddar cheese and, more relevant to the point at hand, egg whites instead of a whole egg.

You know how the egg in an Egg McMuffin comes in a perfect English muffin-sized disc that looks less like an egg than a flying saucer? Apparently, the McDonald’s people agreed that it looked a little … weird. So their egg-white version is now unstructured and messy and spills over the edges of the sandwich.

And the pizza-makers at Domino’s are now being told to be a little less exacting in their pizza shapes. The relatively high-end Artisan Pizzas come in the form of a rectangle, but the Domino’s honchos have decreed the rectangles shouldn’t be too rectangular. If they are a little misshapen, people will think they look more rustic.

I have never been fond of rectangular pizzas in the first place; it is not a shape that conforms to being tossed into the air. And they aren’t fooling anyone with this decision, or they shouldn’t be. Even with an unruly edge, it is still a Domino’s pizza.

Much the same change is being made at Wendy’s. Their trademark square hamburgers — I have never been fond of square hamburgers, either, except for White Castles — are now becoming a little more rounded. While it is true that Wendy’s burgers are never frozen (except in Alaska and Hawaii), the square patties always made them look processed.

Reality is nothing, perception is everything, say the poseurs. But I prefer to side with Juliet. Taking processed food and processing it further to make it look less processed does not make it homemade.

Contact Daniel Neman at or 419-724-6155.