Tuesday, April 28, 2015

pandora's lunchbox: watch what you eat

I have been working hard over the past year or so to improve my diet. Not diet, but be more conscious of the food I eat. I found Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal both fascinating and terrifying. In a very accessible and readable style Warner talks to scientists and purveyors of processed foods to understand how they are made and what chemicals we are also ingesting on a daily basis.

Warner is a former business writer for the New York Times. She is also a mom and a self-confessed after of processed foods. She admits readily to relying on shortcuts like chicken nuggets to feed her kids. But she also wanted to look more closely at the laundry list of ingredients in much of the food we eat. And whether it technically could still be called food.

She writes about the history of how some foods we take for grated came about, like cheese slices, and how marketing can be used to allay customer concerns, such as when the FDA decreed that there was not enough real cheese left in a slice of individually wrapped cheese that didn't phase copies like Kraft, who just artfully (and in small type) changed their product wrappers to "processed cheese product." Most consumers either didn't notice or didn't care.

One of Warner's experiments from her Museum of Eternal Food, with processed cheese product on the left and fresh cheese on the right.

There are many fascinating and stomach turning things to be learned in Pandora's Lunchbox.

Most of our vitamins come from from China and are made using ingredients like sheep grease.

Soybean may account for 10% of the total calories in the American diets.

Toxic chemical compounds are created in the high temperature of the frying oil of fast food French fries.

The "fresh" blueberry muffin you grab on the way to work is actually made with "Flav-r-Bites" - pre-prepared jelly bits made from extruded flavored pectin, artificial flavor, sugar and artificial coloring.

Warner is not an extremist and doesn't want anyone to swear off all processed food forever more. But there are certain chemicals she suggests we should all avoid. Fresh of course, is best, but the author acknowledges that in our fast-paced lives making home-cooked meals may not always be possible. But we can be more informed about what we choose to eat. And read labels more carefully. And I, for one, will never again eat a pre-wrapped, processed, slice of "cheese."



Post a Comment