Have you ever stopped to think about how a product you use comes into being? We know about the testing of cosmetics on animals, no matter how appalling that practice is to us, but what about products tested on humans? How are paintball guns tested? On live, moving (and well-paid) targets. And who writes the messages in fortune cookies? And if you think they taste-test dog food on dogs, think again… someone gets paid to eat it. I came across an odd job in my online research recently, and it got me thinking about obscure professions. I’ll be sharing them with you in small doses, as some of them are downright gross, while others seem on the surface to be dream jobs, yet when you shake a stick at it, it might not come up to snuff as a day-to-day routine.
When I was younger, I worked in various food industry jobs: My very first job was a summer job working in a Dunkin’ Donuts; the first day or two, I thought I was in heaven; by the second week, I found myself craving savoury things like Doritos and burritos – anything to counter the incessant mist of powdered sugar inhaled and permeating my hair and skin and clothes. A month later, I couldn’t even smell the sweet air.
That job was not in and of itself all that unusual; but the odd job I’d like to share with you today was one I worked at for a couple of years, off and on, through a temp service; I kept being called back for projects, because the head chef liked working with me: In the Pizza Hut Laboratories, I assisted him in creating new doughs, sauces, and dishes to be served in Pizza Huts worldwide. It was a fascinating job – before that, I’d never known what a difference 1 gram of yeast in a dough could make.
One memorable event from that time was assisting in the photo shoot for a billboard campaign; we needed four shots: One whole deep-pan pizza, one slice of a deep-pan pizza, and one whole thin pizza and one slice of it. For those four shots, we ensconced ourselves in the chosen photo studio for 10 days, nine-to-five, making literally hundreds of pizzas. Steam doesn’t show up on photos, and back then – before the digital age – it couldn’t just be photoshopped in… it had to be produced with dry ice. The pizza had 20 seconds to get from the oven to the studio across the hall before it would be declared “dead”… unusable for a photograph.
But have you ever seen a wilted, baked bell pepper strip, or a shrivelled mushroom? They’re very unappetizing when blown up to billboard size, believe me. However, according the the US regulations for advertising, we couldn’t just substitute those veggies for raw counterparts, as that would be fraudulent advertising – it had to be something customers could get in the store. So, we blanched vegetables (thus technically cooked); when the pizza left the oven, we had 10 seconds to go in with toothpicks, loosen the melted cheese, slip the offending veggie out and slip in a replacement to that exact gap, then whisk it across the hall, where the photographer was ready for us. At first I was extremely popular with my friends, as we all had to take home tonnes of pizzas! But after a few days, my friends and family were wishing I worked elsewhere… and still the pizzas kept coming. Needless to say, we got the shots, and we all survived the pizza overdose.
I remember one counterpoint to that penetrating smell of baking pizza: The photographer had a coffee machine in which he brewed a caramel coffee that smelled absolutely heavenly! I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but that was the closest I’d ever come to being tempted to try it! The only thing that stopped me was knowing that it probably smelled much better than it could ever taste, and I didn’t want to ruin the one highlight of my pizza-riddled days.