There’s one in every office. At noon, when the other cube warriors are ransacking the vending machines, texting orders to Manchu Wok or slipping off for a McDouble, she takes out a brown bag. She doesn’t say a word, but you can hear her thinking.
“Who was playing bumper carts at Kroger’s last night while everyone else was watching Modern Family? I was. Who stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. while everyone else was burying their alarm clocks in a pile of dirty laundry? I did. And now who’s going to eat something wholesome at her desk — hi, boss! — while she dashes off a few more cranky-customer-placating emails? I—”
Junk food/fast food/takeout aficionados, vengeance is yours. That turk ‘n’ cheese on wheat Ms. Virtuous is waving around like a victory flag? It’s a sodium bomb made from geriatric ingredients pumped up on the equivalent of Restylane, Botox and serial plastic surgery — the Donatella Versace of foodstuffs. Let’s break it down!
The All-American sandwich deconstructed:
Wheat Bread (2 pieces)
Age: 1-8 weeks
Age-defying secret: Back in the early days, packaged bread was kept fresh ‘n’ fluffy with a combination of mechanical mauling and heavy doses of preservatives. But nowadays, -ides, -ates and -ites in the ingredient list get you all riled up, so industrial bakers have shifted to “clean label” — i.e., you’ll never know a thing — enzyme-based life extenders.
Beauty tip: Try a little calcium dioxide for a whiter, brighter crumb, or for that cozy wholegrain look, a dash of caramel coloring.
Sodium content: 380 mg
Hickory-smoked turkey breast (2 ounces)
Age: 2-6 months
Age-defying secret: Bring out the heavy arsenal! In addition to your traditional curing preservatives (the nitrates, nitrites and their ilk), mix and match from the following: vacuum-pack, modified atmosphere, oxygen scavengers, antimicrobial films, irradiation and ultra-high pressure.
Beauty tip: Your girls’ natural enemies are time and nature. Don’t give in! And with the firm texture and perky appearance of a “whole-muscle restructured meat product,” you don’t have to. Blend fibers from up to three large muscles in a brine of water, salt, phosphates, dextrose, starch and flavors, and cook. The result: a cute little mound with just the right jiggle and superior sliceability.
Sodium content: 660 mg
Provolone cheese (one slice)
Age: 4 months or more
Age-defying secret: Let us pause to pay homage to cheese, the only food in your sandwich that’s actually supposed to be old. Provolone is formed by stretching cow’s milk curds, then letting naturally occurring enzymes and microbes go crazy for several months to a year. The invention of cheese — delicious, long-lived and exceedingly portable — is surely one of the greatest achievements in human culinary history. Reverential silence.
Beauty tip: None needed. Who doesn’t appreciate a mature cheese in all its stinky, crumbly glory?
Sodium content: 180 mg
Mayonnaise (one tablespoon)
Age: One year or more
Age-defying secret: How long should you keep homemade mayo? A week, tops (eek! raw eggs!). The industrial version, however, has been given eternal youth by turning it into a dead zone (at a pH of 3.7 to 4.2, the product is more acidic than acid rain) crisscrossed by rancidity patrols of calcium disodium EDTA molecules.
Beauty tip: Twofer special! Use EDTA to touch up gray roots when artificial coloring starts to go streaky.
Sodium content: 90 mg
There’s nothing fresh nor natural about your officemate’s “homemade” sandwich. Worse, even if she’s young, white and healthy, she’ll blow more than half her daily sodium allotment on this one meal — 1,310 mg or 57 percent of her Recommended Daily Allowance. And if you’re over 40, African-American or have high blood pressure, don’t even think “turkey and cheese.” That RDA figure skyrockets to 90 percent. A better option? At three ingredients, no preservatives and 80 mg of sodium, a bag of chips from the vending machine may be just the thing.