Dr. Lester Hankin was on the goddamned case, and it’s about time I stopped making fun of him.
You may recognize Hankin’s name from the three posts immediately preceding this one, which involve food analysis reports done by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Those reports don’t make for the most engaging reading, and they perhaps show Hankin and his fellow researchers in an absurd light.
After reading, one pictures them as a bunch of guys in lab coats, squinting over columns of numbers from fat-content analyses of Stew Leonard’s egg nog or Heluva Good clam dip, and in the end not saying much of relevance to the man on the street.
Still, I acknowledge the usefulness of their work. Food safety regs don’t magically enforce themselves, and somebody ought to check to see whether “diet” yogurt really comes out of the packaging plant any different from the regular stuff.
(I’m imagining a single tap — similar to that in the Duff Beer factory — belching out “regular” and “diet” yogurt, with the only difference being the label.)
Dr. Hankin — who only passed away about three months ago — also sounds like an interesting guy. His professional credits include the development of a new test for lead poisoning in children.
And outside work, he served on the board of directors of the Greater New Haven United Way; as president of both the ARC of Connecticut and the ARC of Greater New Haven; and on several committees in and around the town of Hamden, Connecticut.
So I’ll hoist my next spoonful of yogurt (Chobani Greek-style blackberry) in Dr. Hankin’s general direction, while hoping that some equivalent of his in modern-day Pennsylvania is testing the manufacturer’s quality control as intently as he did.
Archive.org makes quite a few of Dr. Hankin’s old reports available online. If you liked the last three posts, you might also enjoy these:
“Analysis of Honey,” March 1987. In which the doctor and his team test 58 honey samples for residual pesticide, microbes, and ash or other “inorganic constituents.”
“Fruit Content of Breakfast Cereals,” June 1982. What percentage of raisin bran actually consists of raisins? (For that matter, what about banana frosted flakes’ percentage of actual banana?) I found this report delightful simply because it reminded me of Kellogg’s Raisins, Rice & Rye, a cereal I remember liking back in the day.
“Quality of Butter and Blends of Butter and Oleomargarine,” July 1983. I spent a week in July 1983 visiting my grandparents in Stamford by myself. I’m sure there was butter on the table … and thanks to Dr. Hankin, I can now be sure that it was OK to eat.
“Analysis of Sizes in Packaged Prunes,” March 1991. Inspired by a complaint from an actual consumer who expected medium prunes in her box, but received small instead. How much more responsive to the man on the street could the Agricultural Experiment Station possibly get?
(Of course, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was supposedly based on actual events too, so you can’t trust everything you read. But still.)
“Quality of Aspirin,” August 1985. When you get a headache, you sure as heck want your aspirin to be high-quality and the correct dosage, right? If not, you’d just seek relief in beer instead. Speaking of which …
“Analysis of Beer and Wine Coolers for Alcohol 1988-1990.” Our man and his team tested 149 beers. One wonders whether they had to buy six-packs of all those brews, and if so, where the other five went.
This test had a real-world application: Since alcohol content was one of the factors used by Connecticut to levy taxes, an accurate measurement was important.
It’s interesting to see early microbrews getting included here — brands like Brooklyn, Catamount, Harpoon and New Amsterdam. What with the recent explosion of microbrewing, a statewide test like this today would be a real headache to run.
(You’d sure need a good aspirin afterward. I hope my aspirin is high quality and the correct dosage — hey, thanks, Dr. Hankin!)
“Quality of Tofu and Other Soy Products,” March 1983. This one’s a little tough, as there are no state regs (or weren’t then) for tofu products, but Dr. Hankin manages to incorporate some of the test results from his other recent publications, including chip dips.
“Quality of Tomato Paste, Sauce, Puree and Catsup,” January 1986. Dr. Hankin manages to work the phrase “love apples” into his very first sentence; surely he granted himself a good chuckle.
“Fat Content of Ground Beef,” November 1983. Some genuinely interesting results here, the kind that make headlines — like the Waldbaum’s market in Enfield, which was selling “13% fat” ground sirloin with 23% fat, or the Shop Rite in Norwich, selling “30% fat” ground beef with 17.6% fat. How do you screw up that far in either direction? That much error would be visible to a smart shopper. (A 1991 update to this study is also online.)
“Amount of Fish and Shrimp Found in Frozen Breaded Products,” January 1991. Is the noble, mackintosh-wearing fisherman on the frozen-food package shorting you? In 1991 he might have been: All eight samples of breaded shrimp fell well short of federal requirements for actual shrimp content.
“Analysis of Nutrients in Canned Baked Beans and Chili,” October 1990. The Cincinnati Reds were in the World Series that month, which might have moved a few more cans of prepared chili off of store shelves. The docs at the testing station were on the case, testing the validity of nutritional info on canned beans and chili.
“Quality of Delicatessen Meats,” September 1984. In which Doc Hankin sets off into the murky world of wursts, loafs, head cheeses, blood sausages, and something called Adolf’s Minced Delight. No real smoking guns are found, but the nutritional breakdowns are enough to steer you toward tofu, if you weren’t there already.
(Hey, I wonder what the doctor liked to eat, and whether any of his work ever put him off any of his favorites?)
“Analysis of Soy Sauce,” January 1992. Thirty-eight soy sauces are tested for salt, sodium, MSG and other substances of importance to consumers. (I don’t know how long it would take me today to find 38 different varieties of soy sauce; Dr. Hankin and his associates must have combed the state to put this together.)
“Quality of Crackers,” May 1982. In which snack crackers, saltines, animal crackers and graham crackers go under the microscope.
“Quality of Reconstituted Chilled Orange Juice,” April 1982. As a recovering orange juice addict, I found this one interesting. I had no idea the amount of vitamin C in orange juice varies from season to season, for instance.
“Pesticides in Groundwater in Connecticut,” October 1986. While southern Connecticut was exulting in the Mets’ victory and northern Connecticut was feeling the pain of the Red Sox’s defeat, Dr. Hankin and his colleagues were tackling a subject of undeniable importance. Good news: Most samples came back clean. Less-good news: One pesticide was lingering longer in nature than it was in lab samples. Wonder if it’s still in the water there?
“Analysis of Gas Line Antifreeze, Windshield Washer Fluid, and Ethylene Glycol Antifreeze,” February 1986. A few dodgy results among the gas-line antifreezes and windshield washer fluids — but, hopefully, nothing to surprise or inconvenience the hundreds of thousands of people who were presumably in active use of those products in February 1986.