A thoroughly researched, well-written account that attempts to remove the stigma from the term “processed food.”
Temple, a Canadian science writer, conservationist, and biologist now based in England, has researched and exposed fraud in the food industry (co-author: Sorting the Beef from the Bull, 2016), but her mission here is not to expose but to educate. She seeks to help consumers sort out fact from fiction, to understand how processing has evolved and how it benefits society. She looks at the origins of some of the oldest processed foods—cheese and bread—and describes why and how it is processed. Among other reasons, food is processed to reduce waste, extend shelf life, improve nutrition, and provide convenience and diversity, and the methods are widely varied: smoking, fermenting, canning, dehydrating, refrigerating, freezing, and irradiating, to name a few. Temple reminds readers that washing, peeling, cutting, and packaging are also forms of processing that impact how consumers select fruits and vegetables. The author elucidates the processing of meat from the early days of sausage-making to current techniques of mechanically separating meat from bone and the latest attempts to produce cultured meat using stem cells. There is also a brief exploration of nanotechnology, but it is clearly a field in which Temple is not especially comfortable. She excels at telling stories from her own life, some from her childhood and more from her own kitchen or her outings to markets. As a shopper, she is concerned about the choices facing consumers living within a complex global food system. This book is an attempt to inform readers and make them more aware of that complexity and to understand how their decisions can shape the future, one likely filled with shortages and instability as well as innovations.
Despite the book’s decidedly British flavor, its subject, food, is universal, and so should be its appeal.