Friday, September 20, 2013

Title: Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
Author: Melanie Warner
Genre: non-fiction, food issues, health

"Just because it's edible doesn't mean it's good for you" (xvii)
Melanie Warner's mom, quoted above, was onto something and way ahead of her time. While most kids had the freedom to eat whatever processed food came their way, Melanie was only allowed to eat whole foods; "gooped-up" foods were not allowed in the house when Melanie was growing up.

Nowadays, food science has taken technology and food processing to a whole new level: hexane is used in the manufacturing of soybean oil, synthetic Vitamin D is created from sheep grease in Chinese factories (won't be buying vitamins anymore), other vitamins are created from coal tar and acetone. Yuck!

Warner takes us through the history of American cereal. Americans used to eat oatmeal and various meat products for breakfast until the Kellogg brothers figured out how to create cereal flakes. Sugar was added to make the flakes more palatable and now modern cereal grains undergo extrusion and gun puffing before they are filled in the cereal box. Unfortunately, "industrial processes like extrusion and gun puffing ... dismantle foods to the point where there's not much left for our digestive systems to do" (65). So what's the big deal about that? "Depriving our stomach of its gastric duties by giving it disassembled food appears profoundly to alter energy metabolism and the dynamics of hunger and satiety" (65). Sounds like our stomach needs to work out too.

Warner, like other food-issues authors I have read, discovered that food scientists don't partake of the products they create; the food scientists she interviewed bought their produce at farmer's markets, planted their own garden, and cook their own meals from scratch (one scientist she interviewed even makes his own yogurt!).

Not only are synthetic chemicals and vitamins added to our food, but there is special category that food scientists refer to as "food-contact substances." These are "things manufacturers use in their packaging and apply to machinery to keep it running" (109).

The American food industry is like a dog chasing its own tail. Natural nutrients are taken out of a food to make it cheaper to produce. Then synthetic vitamins and nutrients must be added back to said food product so that it can be marketed as healthy. To make sure these vitamins stick to the product, more chemicals must be used. Oy vey, when will it all end?

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