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As teenagers and college students are prone to saying around bites of junk food, “Just, Wow!” Based upon the author’s diverse writing background, including two years as a staff reporter for The New York Times, I was hopeful that Pandora’s Lunchbox would be well written and engaging. As a chemist and an educator myself, I was hopeful that this book would find and walk the line between depth of accurate food science detail and clarity of presentation for a wide audience. Melanie Warner delivered on both counts. And delivered, and delivered some more!
Pandora’s Lunchbox is as smartly written as it is impossible to set down. From her personal food “experiments” (Did this used to be a chicken nugget? Is that facial mask or avocado dip?) to her broadly painted historical overview to the interview vignettes which highlight her journalistic expertise, Melanie Warner illustrates the landscape of modern day processed food in stark detail. Ms. Warner begins by explaining what a processed food is not (“pasteurized milk…. frozen peas, canned beans… frozen ground beef shaped into hamburgers”) before succinctly clarifying what we are really talking about: “A processed food is something that could not be made, with the same ingredients, in a home kitchen. Your home kitchen” (p. xvi).
Prior to reading this book, I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on the “no-no’s” of processed food. Little did I know! Pandora’s Lunchbox had me rethinking the origins (and wisdom) of my daily multivitamin, the journey of ingredients in my children’s “healthy” breakfast cereal, and even my store bought loaf of whole grain bread. As I progressed from chapter to chapter, I was both humbled by how little I knew and inspired to do better for my own health and the health of my family.
Pandora’s Lunchbox confronts the business realities of the food industry, where processing and preservatives allow longer shelf lives and lower costs, corporate shareholders demand high profits over high nutrition, and consumers respond to slick marketing and artificial flavors. Melanie Warner ends her well written book with 216 referenced endnotes, placing well organized facts gently and firmly in the hands of her readers. Read Pandora’s Lunchbox, and you will – to your benefit – never experience a trip to the supermarket quite the same way again.