Friday, October 02, 2009


Every Friday, our friends at the journal Suss post "some number of things currently interesting us . . . be it a book, a building, an awesome peony bush." Today's gossip includes this excerpt from "Made in China," RBM's forthcoming essay on human hair:
DOUGH CONDITIONERS reads the fine print on a bright blue box of Texas Garlic Toast. It’s made by Great Value, or GV (“When Quality Counts”). Wal-Mart, the product’s distributor, describes GV as the country’s largest food brand. Peering closer at the ingredients listed under dough conditioners, which fall just before sugar but after yeast, I spot a familiar term: L-CYSTEINE.

Some time later, deep in the bowels of the European Union’s legal archive, in correspondence with an alarmed German legislator, I find that one means of dough conditioning hinges on a process called hydrolysis. This entails boiling hair, usually human hair, in vats of hydrochloric acid for several hours on end, which makes the follicles decompose into a white, odorless powder: L-CYSTEINE.


  1. I still can't get over this . . . nor can I understand how some people aren't bothered by the presence of L-Cysteine in their food. The other day I was at Safeway, about to pick up a pre-made pie crust, and I remembered the possibility that it contained human hair. This fortunate recollection saved me about $5.

  2. The question of being bothered is a good one, and probably fodder for another story. As one unperturbed source in my story asks, "why do people get the heebie-jeebies with human hair? I don't know."

  3. I think I would get the heebie-jeebies with anything that was once a growing, living part of the human body and is no longer. For example, remember the ears in Carolyn Forche's poem "The Colonel"?

  4. Unforgettable: "The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there."