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PANDORA'S LUNCHBOX by Melanie Warner


How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

by Melanie Warner

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6673-1
Publisher: Scribner

The story of what happens to processed foods before they reach our plate. 

What is lost from, or added to, factory-produced food in the quest for uniformity, flavor, cohesiveness, moistness and the ability to withstand temperature extremes? To answer this question, journalist Warner examined Kraft prepared-cheese product, Subway’s sandwich bread, breakfast cereals, soybean oil, chicken tenders and other foods. The author clearly explains the procedures and chemicals used to keep mass-produced food consistent and unspoiled, and she identifies the paradox of the food-processing industry: “that nutrition and convenience are sometimes deeply at odds with one another.” The problem, she writes, with the “wholesale remaking of the American meal is that our human biology is ill-equipped to handle it.” Our bodies metabolize food much as they did in the Stone Age, long before the plethora of new ingredients that make meal preparation easier. While we assume the FDA regulates the estimated 5,000 food additives used in processed foods, the food industry is innovating so fast, it is hard to keep up. Warner outlines the loopholes and gaps in a regulatory system in which only several hundred additives are researched and controlled. Americans also now get more synthetic nutrients in their diets than naturally occurring ones. These vitamins may not be as beneficial since they lack the suite of natural compounds found in whole foods. Warner includes chapters on soy and the changing world of fats, meat extenders, flavorings, and early pioneers in food testing and regulation. Some of the chapters meander a bit—e.g., an excellent chapter on regulating food additives ventures off into enzyme use in baking. Warner’s take-home message is to seek out the least-processed of the processed foods.

A well-researched, nonpreachy, worthwhile read.