Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
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Coming on the heels of the excellent Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, Pandora's Lunchbox might have seemed an also-ran. But there is surprisingly little overlap and the style author Melanie Warner brings is entirely different than the scrappy journalism of Salt Sugar Fat.

You already know the story -- there is too much salt, sugar, fat in most of the prepared food items in the supermarkets and in restaurants. They are overprocessed and overpackaged. They have little nutrition and a host of ingredients we don't need or don't need in the vast quantities provided. And don't look to the government to inspect the products or determine what's dangerous -- the government has more of an interest in promoting agri-business as it does protecting us from abuses. It's nothing new, it's been this way for over a century.

What could have been a depressing and distressing account, in Warner's hands, turns out to be quite an entertaining story with a lot of new information. For instance, her interview with a specialist in creating aromas and tastes for foods was original and informative. Warner's conversational style makes a horrifying story downright fun to read.

There is a subtle theme running through the book along with the more obvious and alarming trends. Every executive and scientist Warner interviewed admitted that they do not eat the products they sell. For them, it's home cooked food from fresh ingredients or restaurants that specialize in organic food. No Lunchables for their kids.

(Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy.)
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on March 3, 2013
I heard the author on the Diane Rehm show--and decided to purchase the Kindle version of the book. At the same time, I also purchased Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us as he was on the show too. As I got my Kindle book immediately, I began with it first. I'm so glad I did.

First off, the book is just really well written. The author is an excellent writer--and her book is crafted quite well. It draws you in immediately. Th whole history of chemicals, additives,food science, and food safety is completely fascinating. I knew none of it. I also had no idea just how much artificial chemically engineered crap goes into our food--nor that the US allows so many additives which Europeans and other countries find harmful. Why??? I realize that we have a laissez-faire attitude to much--but we're talking about our and our children's health. You would think that based on that, we'd be a little bit more concerned with what went into our food and its safety vs. big business and profit. Like so many things in America, profit trumps all.

I've learned so much. I had no idea how cereal was produced... veggie burgers... artificial colors/flavors, etc. I had no idea just how prevalent all of the chemical preservatives, enzymes, and additives are in our foods--pretty much everywhere, and not always labeled so that you'd know that.

I'm about 3/4s of the way through. It's Sunday night, and I started reading this on Friday night. Today I went to the grocery store--and I was quite wary of purchasing my usual standard food--especially the cereal and other stuff. I'm sure I'll still buy Cheerios and some other processed foods--but probably less, and with my eyes a bit more open. Was going to purchase some cookies, and decided that we'd bake them instead.

I feel that we as a country need to at least work to get the food additives banned in other countries, banned here. Major food companies have alternative versions of their products already created for these non-US markets, we should at least pressure them to offer those versions here.

Oh, if you go to the author's website (or search on Youtube) you can see her videos of eternal food...including the liquified chicken tenders.

Eyes opened. Thank you Melanie!
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Melanie Warner has done a huge public service by writing this book. She delves into the unpronounceable ingredients you read on a package of prepared foods, and more, she traces the progression that prepared foods have taken to become the dominant products in the American diet. The next time you grab a package of cookies, you'll be able to read the ingredient label and really understand what's going into your mouth. These prepared foods now account for SEVENTY-PERCENT of the calories Americans eat. That's astonishing. But look at your aisles in the grocery store to see how many are devoted to prepared food (the majority.) And look at the coupons and sales fliers; most of the coupons are for prepared foods, encouraging the thrifty shopper to put these into their shopping basket.

I was absolutely delighted to see that Ms. Warner wrote in depth about "Flav-r-Bites" which are prepared jelly bits that are used instead of blueberries in commercial muffins, whether "fresh-baked" at the bakery or even at home by you (from a mix.) Flav-R-Bites are extruded flavored pectin, artificial flavor, sugar and color that imitate the look of blueberries in baked goods, but are stable on the shelf, cheap to make and 99 out of 100 people can't tell they aren't eating a real blueberry. I knew about these years and years ago, because I used to call on food manufacturing companies to visit their QA/QC labs. While sitting in the lobby waiting for an appointment at a very big-name food company, I read the trade journal and they described these new Flav-R-Bites. The next time I ate a blueberry muffin from the donut shop, I picked apart the blueberry and lo, it was exactly that extruded jelly product. Then I got a mix of "blueberry" muffins, a mix that years ago had a tin of wild Maine blueberries to toss in. Now, the mix had blueberry bits right in the flour, and yes, they were Flav-R-Bites.

But fake blueberries are the least of the issues that the author delves into. We can live without commercially-baked blueberry muffins. But what about cheese, "fresh" guacamole, and other foods that may look fresh but are actually not? She goes deeply into each additive and warns the reader where to look on packages of "deli-fresh" foods and even foods in the refrigerator section of the grocery store that are labeled fresh-made or store-made. And she leaves foods past their expiration date and finds out that they don't even spoil.

After you read this, I am certain you will want to be more choosy in what you put on your table. The sad thing is, these foods have become pervasive. I came back from a 3 year stint overseas, living in Europe where food is mostly fresh, and the change in the American foods available was a huge shock. We were not used to all the additives and literally, our tongues would feel "funny" and we noticed food didn't taste good. There has been a profound movement to these shelf-stable foods in the US. I'm convinced that this trend has been a big contributor to obesity in the US. For one thing, I notice that if I eat fresh, unprocessed food (such as locally-raised chicken) I get full and stay full after a meal, eating a lot less. If I eat a processed meal, I often feel just as hungry afterwards, and I tend to eat more. Avoiding these foods is difficult, but the author of "Pandora's Lunchbox" gives us some good guidance.
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on March 2, 2013
I really loved this book.. a lot of great information about what really happens to processed food, and what all those unpronounceable ingredients on packages are really made of. While I try to eat a healthy diet, and knew to avoid partially hydrogenated soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup, I've never really thought about the other ingredients in packaged food. This book helped me understand more about foods I used to consider somewhat healthy (ie: fortified cereal) and now I am a more informed consumer. The biggest eye opener in the book was the information about the process to have food additives "approved" by the FDA, and how most companies put their additives in the GRAS category, where they never undergo any actual government testing or certification. I appreciate the author's viewpoint of everything in moderation, since it would be very difficult to cut out all processed foods, and think her 70/30 (fresh/processed) goal is a realistic starting point.

The book wasn't overly technical or scientific; the author does a great job of explaining the different processing methods in an easy to read format. I also really enjoyed the history about how certain types of processed food first started, and how the first processed foods were advertised to consumers. I've already recommended this book to friends and family, and would recommend it to other Amazon customers too!
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on March 15, 2013
Decades ago I wondered about the food value of Butylated Hydroxytoluene, and found it is not a "food" but an antioxidant used as a preservative not only in foods but in cosmetics and rubber and other materials such as embalming fluid - major "yuck" factor.

Years later, I bought french fries from a major fast food purveyor that had recently switched from using sliced potatoes to extruding reconstituted dried mashed potatoes into boiling oil. My kids spilled some of these faux french fries in the back of our pickup truck - at first I didn't notice, and when I did, I neglected to pick them up right away...and then they turned into a science project. In spite of wind and rain and weather, months later they were still intact and crispy, due to the plastic ingredient used as a binder. Another major "yuck" factor.

I can't wait to finish "Pandora's Lunchbox" to see what else I have been missing.
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on April 15, 2013
I am a former food process engineer who worked in R&D at some of the world's largest food companies and I believe Melanie got this story exactly right. If you can go to an IFT (Institute of Food Technologists) convention and you aren't truly horrified, you are either not paying attention, or to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, your salary depends on you not being horrified. I have been trying for 20 years to tell folks what Melanie so eloquently and expertly has done in this understandable and honest portrayal of the food industry. Unlike other authors who only spoke to CEOs of "food" companies who make brand name finished goods and who speak vaguely of salt or fat, Melanie talked to the insiders and got the real scoop - the utter chemical stew that we have all been steeped in since before we were even born. She delved unafraid into the vats and chemical names and processes and actual science behind the ingredients, and turned it into a fascinating and easily understandable account of exactly how we arrived where we are at. In doing so Melanie created what I think will become the Silent Spring of the food industry. It is that important a book. If you only read one book this year about the food industry - this is absolutely the one.
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on March 16, 2013
This is an excellent book, easy to read, and one you may want to read a second time as you learn about all the chemicals and additives and things done to our food... and that we really don't know what the effects are. I've known for a long time that big business hasn't had our best interests in mind as they develop and market foods, but this book takes a deeper dive into the facts about cheese that's not cheese, vitamins that often don't even have a biological basis but which are added to our processed foods to give them some semblance of nutrition, and the games that the food industry may be playing with our very lives, a game in which we happily participate in the interest of cheap food, ease of shipping, long shelf life, and convenience.

I liked this book but at the same time I didn't, because now I can never un-know these things. It occurs to me how laughable Mayor Bloomberg's large soda ban is in the face of all the other stuff that's going on with what we eat every day. I went shopping today and put back the package of cream cheese after a glance at the ingredients. I don't think I will look at food the same way again. And that's a good thing.
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VINE VOICEon April 6, 2013
Ok, so if you're picking up this book it's probably because you agree with what it's saying already. Personally I don't mind that, because I am one of those people who agrees with what the book is about. And in this case, Pandora's Lunchbox takes a look at processed food in the American diet. And it is kind of scary.

There are thousands of additives that can be found in our food anymore. Ranging from things that help flavor, to dough conditioners, to texture enhancers, a simple piece of breaded chicken is no longer so simple. Or sometimes it's not even chicken. The author takes a look at how these additives are made, what they go into, and who the people are that develop them. She also researches historically to see who first invented this way of transforming our food, and even some safe food pioneers that helped get the FDA on its feet in the beginning.

While Warner doesn't come outright and say any of these people are evil, she isn't sugar coating what they are doing either. All the food scientist she meets it would seem she asks the hard question of why we even do this sort of thing to our food. But she does take the time to note the extensive education and research that goes into developing these additives, and gives them their dues there. These are not stupid people researching food flavorings or stabilizers. And she also meets with people on the other side, although not as extensively. Towards the end she relates the story of a family who went off of processed food and how it improved their health.

There was a lot of research done for this book and I appreciate the many attempts at interviewing people at the companies that make the processed food, even if they didn't always respond. At least she tried. And some of what she found what quite alarming. I don't want to give it away, but the guacamole story she had was VERY interesting. And I will make my own guacamole from now on probably. None of what she covers in this book is anything new, we all know that fresh foods are infinitely better for us than a frozen pizza, but some of what she finds is surprising. Like the use of additives in the organic and natural markets. I definitely learned a lot that I didn't already know in this book and as I sit looking at my soda that I'm drinking, it makes me feel bad about what I'm eating. Which is probably why my grandmother tells me to stop reading these kinds of books because she's frustrated with the foods I won't eat. Really, my only complaint about this book would be that it rambles at times. There were a few times where I became disinterested and found myself hurrying through to get to the next interesting fact.

I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. Buying whole foods and cooking them, but I will start trying to quit soda again, even if I will miss the caffeine. And I'll pay more attention to the natural products I buy too. A very good book for those people that are interested in what goes into their food.

Pandora's Lunchbox
Copyright 2013
249 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2013
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on September 27, 2013
Pandora's Lunchbox is authored to educate and enlighten the US consumer about the foods in the land of plenty created in "Frankenstein" test- tubes. "Pandora's Lunchbox" book, is a narrative that gives transparency on the "rat lab food" the masses stuff down their gullets without a thought. Sadly the masses do not read; is not inquisitive; is not analytical and believe in the euphemisms in those advertisements by the processed food merchants of bad health and early death.
I studied chemistry in college and I resented highly processed packaged food, even before I read this book. However this book has now given me more information to take a good look at minimally processed foods, like cooking oils; canned white chicken breast; canned beans etc. Luckily for me, I can do reasonable basic cooking (thanks to my parents). I grew up outside of US and I still maintain my immigrant sub-culture that resented processed foods. Home Economics was once a subject in schools, it taught basic food science and culinary skills. Your book tells me we were right track years ago. "Frankenstein's" re-engineered "dead foods" should not be gobbled down by anyone. "Real food" takes time to prepare, I must agree but it is no excuse to be "corn fed" and enter into the kingdom of bad health at an early age. Eating real food is an investment in our health and our longevity.
I am amazed that the Federal Government does so little to protect the general population from the onslaught of re-engineered foods and now with Genetically Modified foods to add to the mix. The big food processors have the morals of "pirates" and conscience of "vampires". They bribe politicians in political campaigns with their money. They then rotate from their companies to become moles and spies in government (FDA and USDA). Then head back to their lairs hauling their money bags of corruption, influence peddling and lobbying.
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on February 28, 2013
Warner pulls back the curtain to reveal the industry secrets of how our most basic staples are being transformed into processed foodstuffs to boost profits. We get an (un)healthy dose of hexane-extraction, gun puffing and roast chicken type flavor, but like the best investigative journalists, she uses the personal stories of food scientists, innovators, and crusaders not to mention her own home experiments, to show why you'll want to think twice before hitting the drive-thru or reaching for that `health bar.
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