The XX Factor

Oil Drilling Is Down, so Pudding Production Can Increase

Eat food, says Michael Pollan, author of Food Rule s and the new voice of contemporary conventional wisdom. Not too much. Mostly plants. Eat fresh fruit and veggies, says Michelle Obama . Hell, eat’ em canned and frozen, adds Slate ‘s Daniel Engber . But many and varied are the forces aligned against us in our efforts to eat real food, as opposed to food that has passed and passed again through the many innovative hands of food processors. The latest is a drop in oil drilling. Xanthan gum , a food additive that creates viscosity (which allows fast-food milk shakes to have better “mouth-feel” and makes dressing flow out of the bottle and then congeal again on your salad) is also commonly used in larger quantities as a lubricant for oil drills, a market that’s been drying up of late. That leaves a large supply of xanthan gum on the market that has to get used up somehow, and xanthan gum producers, like organisms fighting for survival, are lowering prices and seeking new markets for their product .

From a supermarket-shopper point of view, it means eventual markdowns on pudding and possibly the creation of new and lower-priced lines of everything from frozen dinners to cottage cheese. And it means all of those products, glowing with convenience and new, low prices, crowding the shelves and the dairy case, will overshadow (as they always have) the plain old apples and the ordinary cheese. It means that even with all of the noise surrounding efforts to improve the way Americans (and an increasingly Westernized world) eat, small things that you rarely hear about may have big effects, too.