Pop Tarts Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist Healthy Living, Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 72

Part of the overwhelming allure of processed foods beyond the colorful, creative packaging shouting at you from the shelf is the orderly, symmetrical and very consistent shapes of each cracker, chip, cookie, puff and flake.

The freakish uniformity of each Oreo cookie to all others that ever existed lulls the consumer into a complacent and dazed shopping routine that requires neither thought nor examination to execute.

Contrast the mindless grab and go mentality of supermarket shopping with the thoughtful and slow progression of a consumer through a farmer’s market as vegetables, fruits, and artisanal foods are picked up, touched and examined closely to determine which are ripest, most nutritious, and of highest quality.

When processed foods like pop tarts are examined under a scanning electron microscope (SEM), however, this uniformity fades away and a very different picture emerges.

Misshapen chaos and a horrifying lack of uniform chemical structure is revealed at 30,000 times the actual size.

In fact, artist/photographer Caren Alpert declares that pop tarts at electron microscope magnification strikingly resembles a pink calcium deposit.


Contrast the scary disharmony of a pop tart’s magnified chemical structure with the precision and conformity of a pineapple leaf.  Do all pineapple leaves look the same?  Definitely not.  But under an electron microscope, the true beauty and order is revealed.

How about a fortune cookie?  Does this look like something our digestive system would welcome and know exactly what to do with?

Compare this chemical chaos with that of a simple almond below.  Doesn’t it seem that the orderly perfection of our digestive enzymes would work a lot more effectively with this precise molecular structure?

The next time you are tempted to pick up that colorful package from the store shelf, remember that the comforting uniformity you see with your naked eye is a complete illusion. The true molecular nature of that enticing processed food is one of chaos and disharmony that will correspondingly bring decay and decline to the person that eats it.

It is ironically the visual irregularity of whole foods that is the clue to their true nature of orderly symmetry under intense magnification.

If these pictures astound you as they did me, you can view the entire collection of Ms. Alpert’s amazing photo series online here, or at New York’s Citigroup Building (153 E. 53rd St.) through January 31, 2013.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Picture Credit

Comments (72)

  • An Organic Wife via Facebook

    “The freakish uniformity of each Oreo cookie to all others that ever existed lulls the consumer into a complacent and dazed shopping routine that requires neither thought nor examination to execute.” – Love that!!

    November 26th, 2012 11:06 am Reply
  • Hanna McCown via Facebook

    I love the writing too. It is what I feel but have trouble expressing.

    November 26th, 2012 11:38 am Reply
    • Linda

      Yes! Me too. This is what I want to say but can’t find the words! Love this! Thanks once again Sarah!

      November 26th, 2012 12:13 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    For those of us who believe God is our creator, this just demonstrates one of His attributes–orderliness. Thanks for sharing this info!

    November 26th, 2012 12:01 pm Reply
    • Jesse

      Yes :-)

      November 26th, 2012 12:15 pm Reply
    • Amy

      Yes Rebecca, I totally agree. That is what I was logging on to say myself. God is not chaotic, but rather highly organized. Everything He does is well planned and thoughtful.

      November 26th, 2012 12:40 pm Reply
    • Sarah Beth

      As a chemical engineer I can look at nature VS what we make as engineers and can agree that God is our creator.

      Pop Tarts under magnification look YUCK. Hurrah for whole foods. Thanks for sharing.

      Wouldn’t a home made pop tart require some nutritious flour, high quality butter, and pureed fruit all baked together?

      November 26th, 2012 2:00 pm Reply
      • Andrea

        Exactly, Rebecca…nature tends toward entropy, but an Intelligent Mind has engineered incredibly precise and beautiful molecular designs…no accident for sure!

        November 26th, 2012 2:40 pm Reply
      • Lisa Buchanan

        YES! Thank you!

        November 26th, 2012 3:01 pm Reply
    • Rebecca Pitre

      Hey Rebecca!
      After reading this article, I immediately had the same thought as you, and posted as such. How funny to now look through the comments and see someone with the same name and the same thought!!

      November 26th, 2012 6:37 pm Reply
    • Renee N.

      I had this exact thought!! Glory be to God!

      November 26th, 2012 6:39 pm Reply
      • Liz

        Amen! Glory to God who provides in abundance in His creation all that we need to sustain good health.

        November 26th, 2012 9:14 pm Reply
        • Noel McNeil


          December 2nd, 2012 8:41 pm Reply
  • Dawn @ peelingbacktheonionlayers.com

    Disturbing. I can’t believe people still eat those things.

    November 26th, 2012 12:02 pm Reply
  • Tina

    A picture IS worth a thousand words! Thanks for sharing those beautiful images.

    November 26th, 2012 12:02 pm Reply
  • Sharon

    Awesome! My 7 year-old only went gaga only over the sprinkles :). All of the other fake food was clearly inferior.

    November 26th, 2012 12:06 pm Reply
  • Lisa

    Very nice post and definitely some additional food for thought (all puns intended). But I did look at the rest of pictures in Caren Alpert’s gallery and while I thought the natural foods had a beauty to them that the processed did not, not all of the natural foods showed the same kind of uniformity that the pineapple leaf & almond did. The cauliflower looks like a crevasse in a glacier…lol.

    November 26th, 2012 12:25 pm Reply
  • Julie Gerasimenko via Facebook

    The whole thing just makes so much sense! Processed foods are full of lies! Looks and taste can be deceiving!

    November 26th, 2012 1:46 pm Reply
  • Anita

    Oh, I’m disappointed! I thought Sarah was going to give us a homemade recipe for “poptarts!” I love them, but don’t eat them anymore. =(

    November 26th, 2012 1:50 pm Reply
    • Rebecca F

      I was thinking the same thing. We watched how fig cookies were made (Paul Neuman kind) and the kids were grossed out by it. Me too. I was amazed at how much HFS was added to the organic cookies.

      November 27th, 2012 2:02 pm Reply
    • Jen

      Check out the Heavenly Homemaker blog. Whe has a pretty good homemade pop tart recipe.

      November 28th, 2012 2:00 am Reply
  • Cassie Banks Jett via Facebook

    That sure is an eye opener (no pn intended)!!! YUCK..so glad I don’t eat junk like that!

    November 26th, 2012 2:49 pm Reply
  • Bethany Zacek via Facebook


    November 26th, 2012 3:00 pm Reply
  • Linda

    Those pics are fascinating. You can see the beauty of real food and the ugliness of the fake.

    November 26th, 2012 3:05 pm Reply
  • tereza

    You caught me by the title. I thought you had found some pop tarts that you approved of and was horrified. :) I am glad to have read the article. I am going to show it to my kids. TFS.

    November 26th, 2012 4:59 pm Reply
  • marybeth

    Boy am I glad I didn’t even know what a poptart was until I saw the picture. Never had one in my life and glad for it! Lol

    November 26th, 2012 5:07 pm Reply
  • Rebecca Pitre

    I have always known that God is orderly. Now the microscope shows us proof. Even the food he has made for us has order.

    November 26th, 2012 6:30 pm Reply
  • Emily @ ButterBeliever

    Drat. I got really excited because I thought this was going to be a recipe for an HHE-approved Pop-Tart! 😉

    But, these images are fascinating. Glad you shared them, Sarah.

    November 26th, 2012 8:55 pm Reply
    • Beth

      Me, too! Double drat. As a closet ex-pop-tart eater (shhhh! don’t tell anyone), I think this calls for some sort of recipe contest to create a lusciously lovely, splendidly symmetrical, tantalizingly traditional, modern makeover of a pop-tart!

      Is anyone up for the challenge? I bet someone could be a featured post here if you came up with a good lard, sprouted flour, whole fruit, honey, maple redux creation! The frosting could even be optional.

      November 26th, 2012 9:28 pm Reply
  • Bree

    Scary! Have you found a healthy version that you like?

    November 26th, 2012 11:05 pm Reply
  • Sally H.

    Did anyone else see the photo of the Shrimp Tale? Those have got to be FEATHERS! Weird!

    November 26th, 2012 11:37 pm Reply
  • Alison Harvey via Facebook

    Microscopic, yes, but it’s not the chemical structure of these foods we’re looking at in these photos. I think most everything you say Sarah makes a great deal of sense but I don’t know that these photos are necessarily telling you what you want them to be telling you …

    November 27th, 2012 12:46 am Reply
    • MaryLynn

      Agreed with Allison, here… If you took any food and put it in a blender, or even chewed it, or mixed it with something else, it would no longer look like this. The raisin looks pretty icky and it’s one substance. The vitamin C looks pretty creepy, too. The Oreo actually kind of looks pretty. The point I’m trying to make is, I think that almond blended with raw cream and maple syrup would probably look equally weird. The substances that look weird are combinations of things, for the most part, natural or not. And, as Allison said, this is just the physical appearance of the outside of a slice or piece of something. Smash it and it won’t look so pretty, but will that make it unwholesome?

      I don’t personally eat Pop-tarts, and I get my food locally and from farmers I know, but I think using this as an argument makes our side look like they missed the boat.

      November 28th, 2012 8:07 pm Reply
      • MaryLynn

        That should have read “Alison,” not “Allison.” Sorry :)

        November 28th, 2012 8:09 pm Reply
  • tina

    When I saw the picture of the pop-tart, I was thinking that’s gross but I wonder what an unprocessed food looked like and then you showed pictures of a pineapple leaf and almond. Wow. Mother nature is perfect.

    November 27th, 2012 12:47 am Reply
  • Christine J

    My son who is 6 asked what the poptart photo was. After telling him he just said,”Eww”.

    November 27th, 2012 3:23 pm Reply
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  • Rob

    Unfortunately you are comparing pictures of food that had to be prepared verses food that is a single ingredient. What would a picture look like of unprocessed food, with multiple ingredients look like? Probably the same as the processed food. Pineapples and almonds are single ingredients, hence the perfect uniformity. Mix those two into some sort of pineapple/almond paste, and it wouldn’t look so uniform under a microscope.

    November 30th, 2012 1:44 pm Reply
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  • Vicky

    Great article! I have never bought pop tarts and have never eaten them. They look terrible anyway, I could never see the attraction!

    Doesn’t the pineapple leaf look wonderful under the microscope!

    December 2nd, 2012 6:33 pm Reply
  • Tamara Ward via Facebook

    Captions from the artist’s gallery show the foods at varying magnifications, but none of them at 30,000x’s or anywhere near it.

    December 2nd, 2012 7:40 pm Reply
  • Brandee

    I’m wondering what the magnified photos of GMO foods would like verses the natural ones? Would be interesting to see if they vary or if they are all the same because of the alterations. I would guess that the symmetry may be off too. Would love to see some comparisons!

    December 2nd, 2012 7:45 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    A scanning electron microscope uses a beam of electrons to show magnification up to 30,000X actual size. It was Ms. Alpert’s artistic discretion to figure out how deep to go to achieve the artistic view of the specific food she was photographing in any given situation.

    December 2nd, 2012 7:45 pm Reply
  • Monique C. Melara via Facebook

    From the few that I saw, it seems like she was comparing apples and oranges. Yes, processed foods are bad, but I’d love to see them compared to their healthy food, properly prepared counterparts.

    December 2nd, 2012 7:59 pm Reply
  • Matt LaRoche via Facebook

    everything looks nasty under one of those scopes, lets just stick to facts and not scare tactics.

    December 2nd, 2012 8:28 pm Reply
  • Kelly Kindig via Facebook

    Can’t wait to show my kids

    December 2nd, 2012 8:39 pm Reply
  • Kelly Tillotson via Facebook

    yuck! once in a blue moon i buy these for my boys {they were 16 cents with a coupon…..} we havent fully transitioned off processed food, but this for sure grosses me out! id like to see a pic like that of sprouted bread or something, just for comparison

    December 2nd, 2012 8:50 pm Reply
  • Eileen Schafer Bader via Facebook

    I think it is so depressing that harful, processed food can be so cheap (16 cents!) which makes it so hard to resist the temptation. When healthy food is so expensive! Why can’t the government subsidize healthy food?!

    December 2nd, 2012 10:07 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    @Matt did you look at the pictures? The whole foods look beautiful under the electron microscope.

    December 2nd, 2012 10:18 pm Reply
  • thehealthyhomeeconomist via Facebook

    My favorite was the pineapple. Absolutely beautiful photography.

    December 2nd, 2012 10:18 pm Reply
  • Joseph Bianculli via Facebook

    I think this is a fantastic idea. It parallels a reductionist perspective with a wholistic one and in the end we’re left with a beautiful work of art.

    December 2nd, 2012 10:36 pm Reply
  • Matt LaRoche via Facebook

    beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    December 3rd, 2012 5:10 am Reply
  • Christy Saffold Freeman via Facebook

    My first thought when I saw the poptarts was, “Ok, but show me what unprocessed food looks like.” And then you did! Wow! What strikes me is the obvious design in the untouched food. There SO is a GOD!!! Wow!

    December 3rd, 2012 10:36 am Reply
  • Blanca Villanueva Perez via Facebook

    Gross…yet cool. Does make u think about putting that junk into ur body.

    December 3rd, 2012 5:52 pm Reply
  • Cheryl White Arvidson via Facebook

    The pop-tart is so-o-o gross! Yes Christy, you are right on

    December 3rd, 2012 11:30 pm Reply
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  • Kevin

    Well this is just ridiculous, great way of using science to baffle and deceive. Go have a look at charcoal and Tofu under a SEM, one is a delicious meat alternative, the other a very poisonous carcinogen. But if this article where true, then tofu is poison, and Charcoal is oh so healthy.
    Anyone with even a basic understanding of how a digestive system works will know everything in this article is rubbish.
    Eat healthy or don’t. It’s your choice, but don’t pervert science to support your political ideologies.

    February 13th, 2013 10:17 am Reply
  • Vicki Huckabee via Facebook

    Bethie Nichols

    March 14th, 2014 9:23 am Reply
  • Katrina Hoyle Mitchell via Facebook

    those cake sprinkles sure are pretty though!

    March 14th, 2014 9:25 am Reply
  • Jaime Robinson Votroubek via Facebook

    Wow, that is very cool!

    March 14th, 2014 9:43 am Reply
  • Cindy Shook via Facebook


    March 14th, 2014 9:44 am Reply
  • Kristy Morgan Buck via Facebook

    Thomas TBuck Buck

    March 14th, 2014 9:51 am Reply
  • Janice Campbell via Facebook

    Oh yuck

    March 14th, 2014 10:06 am Reply
  • Jennifer Hope via Facebook

    Honestly, I think it’s irrelevant what it looks like. All I’m interested in is what it does to our bodies.

    March 14th, 2014 10:09 am Reply
  • Shavauna Peterson via Facebook

    Dylan, Cara… because I can’t be the only one disgusted.

    March 14th, 2014 10:23 am Reply
  • Brandy Ellen via Facebook

    This might be the absolute most ridiculous argument for eating real food that I have ever heard. (coming from a professor who has spent her life and research dedicated to educating people about their bodies, food, true health, etc.)

    Articles and posts like this actually take AWAY from the very compelling argument to eat real food, to be frank. Because anyone with even SOME logic says something similar to what Jennifer Hope already said.

    I mean, really…you think people are choosing to eat Pop Tarts b/c they look “uniform and pretty” so when they find out that *gasp* it is NOT neat and uniform at the microscopic level they will suddenly have a complete mental makeover towards faux food. C’mon. I rarely post negative comments, and I even more rarely post with this kind of negative fervor…but this makes all of us who choose real food look like morons b/c it makes it look like we believe that this type of nonsense actually matters. sigh.

    March 14th, 2014 10:40 am Reply
  • Ryan Ballantyne via Facebook

    EVERYTHING looks bizarre and alien when viewed through an electron microscope. That being said, it’s still not a good idea to eat Pop Tarts.

    March 14th, 2014 10:54 am Reply
  • Dylan Conrad via Facebook

    Shavauna Peterson wow that is amazing!

    March 14th, 2014 3:23 pm Reply
  • Lori Grady via Facebook

    great article…not buying these anymore, I should know better.

    March 14th, 2014 5:55 pm Reply
  • Judi Copeland via Facebook

    Over and over again, there is always some ‘know it all’ who has to pick apart an article…..good grief….Take it for what it may or may not be worth and move on….This page owner is simply sharing information and it was with good intentions….Can’t you just leave it at that? :/

    March 14th, 2014 11:53 pm Reply
  • Sabrina Elizabeth Lindsay via Facebook

    April Puhaida it’s cause you love poptarts so much

    March 15th, 2014 1:12 pm Reply
  • April Puhaida via Facebook


    March 15th, 2014 2:15 pm Reply

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