A reader E. commented on my post, "The politics of Pringles," asking whether the claims in it were true. I wasn’t sure if E. was talking about the post itself or another reader comment, which claimed that the food we eat is made from petroleum. In any case, here are the facts on both claims:

Are Pringles potato chips, or some potato-like substance in a can?

The latter. Their potato content is less than 50 percent, and Procter & Gamble, the maker of Pringles, has itself argued in a British court that the Pringle cannot be considered a "potato crisp" (the British term for "potato chip"). For corroboration, see the links in my previous post, or this BBC article

Now, there is a silly Internet rumor floating around that Pringles are made from leftover McDonald’s French fries, which is untrue, as this post at urbanlegends.about.com makes clear. That said, there is also a lot of funny business that goes into making McDonald’s French fries taste so good, as you can read here.

Is our food made from petroleum?

It depends on what you mean by "made from."

Today’s industrial farms grow crops like corn and wheat using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, both of which are derived from petroleum. Fossil fuels are also needed to plow and irrigate the fields and ship the harvest to market. (See this New York Times article about how rising fuel costs are hurting American farmers.)

So, our food is made using lots and lots of petroleum. Even in organic industrial agriculture, the fossil-fuel tab is considerable: Michael Pollan says that the 80 calories of energy in a single, one-pound box of lettuce requires the burning of 4,600 calories of fossil fuels to produce and ship.

Is petroleum actually in our food?

If you are like most Americans and eat food with artificial dyes in it, then yes.

Synthetic food dyes are "derived primarily from petroleum and coal sources," according to the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, this U.S. News article points out that the fears about the ill effects that petroleum- and coal-based artificial dyes may have on children are prompting companies to switch to natural, carmine-based dyes. The problem is, carmine is made from ground-up insects. Carmine also happens to be an allergen.

And so it goes.

Victor Tan Chen is In The Fray‘s editor in chief and the author of Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy. Site: victortanchen.com | Facebook | Twitter: @victortanchen

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