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The Straight Dope

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Last night as I was enjoying a Kraft Velveeta Extra Thick Individually Wrapped Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread sandwich, my attention was inadvertently drawn to the nutrition information on the side of the package. Here's the rub: there are 10 slices per package, but according to the label, the package contains 12 servings! Is this some sort of corporate typo or have I been making cheese sandwiches wrong all this time? If I can't even swing elementary lunchmaking my career in politics may just grind to a halt here and now. --Andy S., Washington, D.C.

You worry about mere ignorance in a country that just elected Dan Quayle? Besides, there's nothing wrong with your sandwich-making skills. Kraft just arbitrarily decided that its standard cheese "serving" was going to be one ounce, regardless of how much a slice actually weighed. Your package of Velveeta weighs 12 ounces, ergo 12 servings. By comparison, 12-ounce packages of Kraft Singles contain 16 slices, but a "serving" is still considered to be one ounce. Some ascribe dark motives to this procedure, saying Kraft is trying to jigger up the nutrition figures or fool you into thinking you're getting more servings than you really are. But the truth appears to be that Kraft simply wants to make nutritional information among different styles of cheese more readily comparable.

The company has come in for more serious criticism on another score. According to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, ads for Kraft Singles suggest that one slice contains as much calcium as five ounces of milk. In reality, however, a slice contains one third less calcium than five ounces of milk. The FTC also says Kraft lied when it said Kraft Singles contain more calcium than most imitation cheese slices. The matter is still in litigation. Can't trust anybody these days.

THE APPLICABILITY OF E=MC2 TO THE CONSUMPTION OF AIRLINE FOOD, CONTINUED

Regarding your column of October 7, in which you applied the equation E=mc2 to the digestive process: not many of us have nuclear stomachs. We get our energy from chemical reactions, not nuclear reactions--that is, unless airline food is even worse than I thought. It seems you're a beanbrain, too! --Rob Bonney, Lanham, Maryland

PS: I really enjoy your column!

Don't bandy words with me, you slime. Despite what many of the Teeming Millions apparently believe, E=mc2 applies to all reactions, not just nuclear ones. Permit me to quote from Space and Time in Special Relativity by N. David Mermin, a book I read myself to sleep with every night: "A loss of mass occurs whenever internal energy (nuclear, electrical, chemical, etc.) is converted into energy of motion. Only in the nuclear case is the amount of energy so large that [it results] in an observable change in mass, but in principle E=mc2 is as descriptive of a chemical explosive, a gasoline engine, or a flying bird [or, I might add, a flying human] as it is of a nuclear explosion." This is precisely the point I have been trying to make for lo these many weeks, and I hereby declare this discussion closed.

ON SHIPS VS. BOATS

Regarding your column concerning the difference between a ship and a boat [September 30]: 41 years ago at merchant marine school we were told that a boat was a boat as long as it could be hoisted aboard a ship. --Ernest May, Jr., Washington, D.C.

If only it were that simple, Ernesto. However, we must distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. For a vessel to be called a boat, it's sufficient that it be hoistable, but not strictly necessary: no way you could hoist some of your bigger fishing boats and ore boats. By way of ingenious analogy, we may note that while most totable humanoids are babies, just because you're non-totable doesn't mean you're not a baby, as witness my baby, who is 5-foot-7 and weighs . . . well, actually she's a little sensitive on that point. But you get the idea.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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