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The Origin of a Chicken-Curry Salad
by Yildau ter Beek

‘A good salad is all about what’s inside. This means: fresh ingredients, and (preferably) as close as possible from our region. From Twente’

I am reading these words at the package of a chicken-curry salad. The brand behind this salad is famous for it’s ready-made salads, sauces and bread spreads. It was founded in 1968 in the Dutch region Twente, a provincial area on the eastside of the Netherlands. This region plays a significant role in the corporate identity of the brand. With the slogan Oet Twente – ‘From Twente’ in the dialect of that region –, the brand guarantees an authentic and local product with a long traditional history.

On the other side of the package I find the list with ingredients: 

Ingredients 

Cooked chicken 34% (chicken, water, starch, salt, dried glucose syrup, modified starch, sugar, spices, spice extract), rapeseed oil, water, apple, celeriac (sulphites), sugar, pineapple, pickles, cilantro, vinegar, modified starch, egg yolk, flavourings (mustard, celery, soy, wheat), hydrogenated palm oil, salt, spices (curry powder, mustard, celery), brandy, thickening agents: Arabic gum / guar gum / xanthan gum, tomato paste, preservatives: E202 / E211, mustard, yeast powder, acidity regulator: sodium lactate, lactose, food acids: citric acid / lactic acid, flavour enhancers: E621 / E627 / E631, natural flavours (celery), glucose-fructose syrup, color additive: copper complexes of chlorophyllins / lutein, milk protein, chicken fat, starch, maltodextrin, chicken powder , ginger extract, barley malt vinegar, antioxidant: ascorbic acid, hydrolyzed protein (corn, rape seed), palm oil, lemon oil.

What would all these ingredients look like? Where did they come from? Most of the ingredients on the label appeared to me as the vague abstraction of what once was called food. And this is not just the case with this specific chicken curry salad. I often have the impression that a large number of the products in the supermarket are not food, but highly processed ingredients with a package around it. Their origin is hidden behind anonymous names and numbers, and leaves me with nothing then confusion and discomfort. 

My desire to know what I am eating and to have a more physical connection with food, led me to the making of this book. I tried to trace back the ingredients that lie beyond the names and numbers on the package. In some cases this was easy: tomato sauce is made from tomatoes and egg yolks come from whole eggs. Though it made me wonder how these products arrive in Twente: are the eggs already separated and bottled or still with the shell around it? Who makes a sauce from the tomatoes? Does it happen in Twente or elsewhere? 

From other ingredients it was much more difficult to find out what they are made of and where they come from. Carbohydrates like starch often derive from corn, but also from different kinds of potatoes and wheat. And sugar is also made from corn, but also from sugar cane and sugar beets. And from these different sugary substances, many acids and other additives are made in chemical processes. For a consumer without a background in food chemistry, these processes are quite difficult to visualise. 

About some ingredients, like the additive E202, I did not find any information that could tell me where it is made from. From the additive E211 I only discovered that it occurs naturally in cranberries, that it is chemically made out of toluene and also used in shampoo and fireworks. I often found myself lost in a pile of information on the Internet, that only made me more confused and the salad appeared only more complex to me then before. Since we are more and more surrounded with processed food, we lose the connection with the ingredients that lie beyond them. I have never seen palm fruits for example, or sugar cane. And I did not know that Arabic gum comes from trees in the African deserts. 

The drawings reflect my search for the origin of a chicken curry salad. I want to show that every product comes from something, someone and somewhere. For me it felt good to see that most products have a natural origin, even if they sound very chemical. On the other hand I’m questioning what all this processing does to the nutritional value of the base ingredient. And most of all I am amazed by all the different places where they come from, the people that have grown them and the cultures they are part of. It shows that there are much more places involved in the making of a salad then only Twente. There are many other stories hidden in a box with chicken curry salad and I believe they should be told as well.