“May contain one or more of the following”

Know how when you are in that liminal space between sleeping and waking? And when your thoughts are half illogical and half brilliant? Sort of like you have just stumbled upon your life’s work, only to learn later that it’s highly unlikely that at age 57 you can become fabulously wealthy by surfing in exotic locations and posting photos on Instagram?

Surely you know what I’m talking about. Surely you have your own dreams elevated by those states, only to come crashing down by the time the dog needs to pee or — going the other way from waking to sleeping — you get elbowed and told to stop snoring.

Last night entering a waking state but having spent sufficient time dreaming about it — could have been three hours, could have been three seconds, but who’s counting — I realized — that is, I knew it was in the process of being adopted industry-wide — that food package ingredient labels were soon to replace — nay, some already had — the phrase “May contain one of more of the following” with symbols representing those various ingredients that we like to think don’t make their way into what we’re about to take a bite of, but actually are there.

That’s what I was dreaming about. It made total sense to me.

And now that the dog and two of the three cats are awake, now that I had to pull the chaise lounge chair off the backyard lawn so that the grounds crew could cut the grass, now that my Coffee #1 is almost finished, getting cold in fact, I realize that this move by the food industry makes total sense. If a company can make more money doing something, and do it legally and without losing customers, why would it NOT do that?

“What are you talking about? It’s not even 8am yet in Kerrville, and MY coffee is still hot, even if yours isn’t.”

To explain further what I mean — not replacing words with symbols; everyone knows what that would be; rather I mean the advantage of doing it — I’m going to use an example from the music industry that many of us who are of a certain age are familiar with.


This is the “Zoso” symbol that the legendary rock band chose to be on the cover of their fourth album.

For those who are too young to know, an album is a “10-inch sound storage medium” that a band or singer would use to deliver their music. They had only three channels to get their music out: this medium (we called them “records”), live concerts, and the radio. The only medium we could access at anytime was records. Concerts didn’t happen all the time and, even then, getting tickets was challenging (as it is now), and for a radio station to play the song you liked, you had to call in and ask the DJ to play it. Of course, there was a fourth medium available to listen to your band’s music: to record it when the song happened to play on the radio! Alas, you’d usually need to be ready with your hand on two of your cassette player’s buttons at the same time: the play button and the record (two syllables, class) button. And you’d still have the DJ’s voice over the first few notes: “And here is the song jumping to #1 on the charts this week by the Bay City Rollers, “I Only Want To Be With You.” So when you listened to the recording on your cassette player, the only corrupting sounds were the DJ’s introduction of the song and the jackhammer in the background working on the New York City steam pipes.

Back to Zoso.

A fan page claims that the band never came out and said what the symbols meant, but the two best-known members of the four had this to say:

Lead guitarist Jimmy Page (whose symbol is first, the “Zoso,” which is the only one that can be pronounced) said about the exercise: “We decided that on the fourth album, we would deliberately play down the group name, and there wouldn’t be any information whatsoever on the outer jacket. Names, titles and things like that do not mean a thing. . . . I had to talk like hell to get that one done.”

Adds frontman Robert Plant: “Each of us decided to go away and choose a metaphysical type of symbol which somehow represented each of us individually — be it a state of mind, an opinion, or something we felt strongly about, or whatever. Then we were to come back together and present our symbols.”

I actually think this is awesome.

It was their fourth album. It wasn’t their first one, which either established your trajectory or is often forgotten due to your sophomore album. This one had “Whole Lotta Love,” to give you an idea that the band was here to stay. By their fourth, they’d already been topping charts for two albums.

This is where we bring food back in.

They apparently wanted to avoid getting in a rut, and everyone also knew their names. But Robert Plant didn’t mysteriously transform — now watch this closely — Robert Plant didn’t mysteriously transform from “sodium caseinate” (a milk protein) to the symbol above.

According to that same fan page, Plant’s symbol, the frontman’s humble caboose of Zoso, “features the feather of Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice and fairness. It is also the emblem of a writer. Plant says the symbol he created was drawn from sacred symbols of the ancient Mu civilization, a fantastical place that supposedly existed until 14,000 years ago.”

If you’re still reading, my point is this: Zeppelin avoided being in a rut and decided to do something different. But they still ended their Zeppelin years as Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and the fourth guy. Plant continues to write music and collaborate with others such as Alison Krauss. “Pagey,” as Plant calls him, is now raising Vizslas in the Scottish Highlands. Bonham passed away in 1980. And the fourth guy is still a symbol, hoping to resurface as the symbol for monosodium glutamate.

(That’s true of Plant and, sadly, Bonham. I made up those things about the other two gentlemen, as far as I know.)

The heart of the matter: packaging

Parsons graduate student Maya Weinstein made her own high-fructose corn syrup. Here is her recipe:

“Mix 10 cups of Yellow Dent #2 corn extract with one drop sulfuric acid, one teaspoon Alpha-Amylase, one teaspoon Glucose-Amylase, and one teaspoon Xylose, strain through a cheesecloth, and heat. Then, once the slurry has reached 140 degrees, add Glucose Isomerase, bring to a boil, let cool, and enjoy!”

Every time you eat one of the following foods, you are ingesting sulfuric acid:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Sweetened Yogurt
  • Salad Dressing
  • Frozen Junk Foods
  • Breads (popular brands)
  • Canned Fruit
  • Juice (popular brands)

In effect, next time you watch a movie with a Coke and Twizzlers, don’t trip getting seconds because you’ll explode.

My liminal waking state solution was simple: make some of the most egregious ingredients into a symbol, something — as Robert Plant had suggested for the rest of Led Zeppelin — “metaphysical…which somehow represented each of us individually…a state of mind, an opinion.”

On second thought, now that I’m awake, just buy an apple.

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