[30 May 2012]
“What makes serendipity so fascinating is the combination of the lucky find and the smarts…As Albert Einstein once said about discovery: “The really valuable factor is intuition…There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.” —Josh Chetwynd
Hard work pays off. This truism often eclipses the possibility of chance in individual success stories, and in the stories of successful products. But what is the role of chance? Stories of how chance played a role in the lives of successful individuals are plenty. What about products? What if your favorite foods are invented by accident? Author Josh Chetwynd has written the book that exposes just how much chance has been involved in the creation of some of the most popular foods and food brands in America and the world.
How the Hot Dog Found its Bun is an encyclopedia of accidental food discovery. Chetwynd provides dozens of stories about the creation of popular foods such as: potato chips, doughnuts, Buffalo wings, and such brands as: Coca-Cola, Kool-Aid, Bisquick and Nutella. It also provides stories of kitchen staples, appliances, and other common products.
A common theme is the role of the American military in the changes to our food. It’s widely known that several products have been created with the purpose of serving the US military, and were later adopted by the general American public. How the Hot Dog Found its Bun provides new narratives of products that are accidentally created either for wives of military soldiers or via shortages.
What is also learned is just how much perception can dictate who uses a product and for what purpose. While providing several interesting stories of accidental product creations that range from the anecdotal to the historic, Chetwynd’s latest offering doubles as a reminder of the power of product evolution. Next New Year’s Eve, when that bottle of champagne is being chilled, consider that in the 1600s, the bubbly drink was thought to have mystical powers. The power of champagne was thought to be so impenetrable that it was considered to be devilish, and the official drink of orgies. Its’ past folklore includes workers who would wear iron masks and freakish accidents involving those who would imbibe in the mystery drink.
In the ‘20s, long before PEZ candy and its cartoonish dispensers was targeted at children, it was marketed by placing seductive women in ads. At the time, PEZ was sold as an anti-smoking mint of sophisticates and international trendsetters. The dispenser (later to be stylized) was invented when soldiers of WWII (a specific recurring event in the book) came home with a nicotine addiction and needed a quick preventive fix. It’s unknown if PEZ actually help curb nicotine cravings. Eventually, PEZ was sold to help lose weight. Later, the dispenser was touted as an aid to fighting infections, as one’s hand didn’t have to touch the candy.
Currently, PEZ dispensers are a collector’s item, known to mark various periods in American history, and help to romanticize and time stamp the youth of generations passed. Despite its’ decades-long history, this book explains that PEZ has ironically not been marketed as candy as much as it has been sold as a solution, of some sort.
“…there are times when you actually know exactly what you want to create but struggle with how to get there. When happenstance allows you to find that missing link, these moments have been dubbed by scientist and author Royston M. Roberts as pseudoserendipity.” Ultimately, Chetwynd’s stories give the reader the notion that while food items do have carefully calculated brands, a lot of them weren’t created that way. These stories are also a reminder that accidents, to some extent, are inevitable in the creation of something long-lasting.
This debatable idea of the inevitability of chance is the larger substantive lesson that Chetwynd provides in How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun. He offers that chance, although random, can still be somewhat studied and observed as a matter of science. While exposing some myths, Chetwynd doesn’t try to completely spoil the notions of chance and mystery.