June 28, 2004

Ridiculous product search unearths old memory.

I started out trying to dig up an explanation for sauerkraut juice to answer Nina's question: "Did people really once diet on sauerkraut juice?" I know the answer to the question can be found in a really cool book that I read a long time ago called "Inconspicuous Consumption," by Paul Lucas. Really, if you can figure out what section of the bookstore it's in, I recommend reading the entry on sauerkraut juice and all your questions will be answered. All I can remember is that the stuff tastes bad but does something health-related. Buy the book--the whole thing is very entertaining.

In my search, I turned up the Inconspicuous Consumption website, which keeps up a monthly analysis of various products. I enjoyed this description of the use of the word "classic" in branding. The subject of Saran wrap comes up:
Bought a package of Saran wrap recently? If so, perhaps you've noted that it's now called Saran Classic -- apparently to distinguish it from Saran With Cling Plus and Saran With Cling Plus Junior (now *there's* a real winner of a brand name).

Now, Saran is one of the classic brands that I am thoroughly devoted to. As anyone involved in shopping for my household knows, I cannot tolerate other plastic wraps. There are only a few brands I feel so strongly about: Morton Salt, Hellman's Mayonnaise, a few others. Yet those others brands seem to be more a matter of irrational attachment to the packaging. In the case of Saran, I have a personal connection. I remember having this product before anyone I knew recognized what it was, bringing sandwiches to school wrapped in Saran when other kids had sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. For some reason, my father, who worked for DuPont, had received a gift sample of the stuff in a giant-sized box at some point in the mid-1950s. Much later, the inferior thin Glad Wrap was introduced, and the thinness of the product made it more clingy, convincing some people that what was worse was better--an excellent example of spin. At some point Saran must have caved in and made a Glad-style clingy version of Saran. So Saran Classic is important!

Here's an interesting history of Saran:
In 1933, Ralph Wiley, a Dow Chemical lab worker, accidentally discovered polyvinylidene chloride or Saran. Ralph, a college student who cleaned glassware in a Dow Chemical lab, came across a vial he couldn't scrub clean. He called the substance "eonite", after an indestructible material in the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." Dow researchers made Ralph's "eonite" into a greasy, dark green film, which Dow called "Saran". The military sprayed it on fighter planes to guard against salty sea spray and carmakers used it for upholstery. Dow later got rid the of Saran's green color and unpleasant odor.

Yikes! That is so unappetizing! But it's a cool story. I like the idea of the college kid lab assistant recognizing that a seeming problem was really a good thing. It's like Post-It Notes and Silly Putty.

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