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Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,004 ratings  ·  304 reviews
If a piece of individually wrapped cheese can retain its shape, color, and texture for years, what does it say about the food we eat and feed to our children?

Former New York Times business reporter and mother Melanie Warner decided to explore that question when she observed the phenomenon of the indestructible cheese. She began an investigative journey that took her to res
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ebook, 288 pages
Published February 26th 2013 by Scribner
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3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,004 ratings  ·  304 reviews


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Brendon Schrodinger
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, food
The trouble with books about food chemistry is they tend to be written by people with agendas and marketed by companies who want bold statements. Therefore the plethora of titles out there saying if you eat X YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! Everyone can appreciate that in general people are eating more and more pre-prepared food, and that also in general this type of food would never be as good as fresh produce and that this rising trend in changing diets has a lot of correlation with the rising trend in ...more
Henri K
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
I got this book because of an interview I heard with the author on NPR. I was intrigued about the history of processed food, especially how/where we source a lot of the ingredients that go into our food. I was disappointed to see a lot of descriptions along the line of "this ingredient is made using ____, which is also present in [bad thing]," which annoyed me because it's a facile argument and sometimes betrays a lack of understanding of science. She employs this often enough to make me wonder ...more
Moira Russell
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ebook, on-the-kindle
Not as good as Salt Sugar Fat, and not as good as this nytimes.com column made me think, either (I have GOT to stop buying books based on nytimes.com reviews). Yeah, it's witty, or at least amusingly snarky here and there, but this book lacks the terrifying piling-on of detail in Moss or the deeper thoughts and elegant prose style of Pollan. I wouldn't say "don't read it," but get it from the library if you do.
Heather in FL
So... another book to torture myself with. Considering I spend all my time working, reading, making sure my kids are fed, and on the internet, how am I ever going to find the time to actually make my own food at home from scratch so I'm not killing us all?

I suppose the gist of the book wasn't *really* that everything is dangerous, but it was more "icky". And it left me with a feeling of desolation that science has mucked with food so much that it's barely even food anymore and most of it's not
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Zach
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma answers "How should we eat?" Pandora's Lunchbox answers "Why should we eat natural foods?" Spurred by a blog project in which the author let processed food sit and recorded the unsettling lack of decay, this book tracks the historical precedent and health consequences for preservatives, additives, and other processing methods used in mass-produced food sold in America. I think it's fantastically accessible for a lay audience without dumbing down the res ...more
Bogi Takács
I did not expect to read this exact book over Shabbes, but I realized on Friday afternoon that it was due back to the library because someone put a hold on it. It loooked like a well-thumbed copy, too, which is usually a good sign.

It was a fascinating read, though on occasion it did slip into "Evil Chemicals!!" I generally eat organic, and a lot of the foods she mentioned drew kind of a blank from me, not having grown up in the US - I think many of these food items are primarily marketed toward
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Scott
Mar 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I was all set to read Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Michael Moss's Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us when a friend pointed out that this book, Pandora's Lunchbox, also exists. Written by former Fortune and Times staffer Melanie Warner, and subtitled "How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal", Pandora's Lunchbox clearly covers much (all?) of the same appealing-to-me ground as Salt Sugar Fat, and the author's creds are pretty identical. With so many other great b ...more
William Hamman
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-affairs
There's nothing particularly new or startling in this book - I guess my feeling is that anyone who didn't know about the proliferation of (sometimes very odd) additives and processing techniques hasn't really been paying attention.

But the material is presented in a fairly light and at times pretty amusing style, so even though it's not exactly penetrating investigative journalism, it's pleasant to read. Nor is it polemic - she never portrays the food scientists as evil, and never levels a parti
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Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
There's some overlap here with Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, but not as much as you might expect, considering that the topic is the same. While Moss takes a scrappy journalistic approach, Melanie Warner isn't necessarily looking for any dirt. She finds it anyway.

You know the story already if you're even reading this review, let alone the book. Much of our food is overprocessed, overpackaged, and filled with fat, salt, sugar, and additives that may or may not be safe. The government agency tha
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Melissa
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, food
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 c
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Jennifer
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Very interesting and even-handed account of the processed food industry. Ms. Warner never paints the food scientists as monsters, but it's telling that, in interviews, the scientists indicate that THEY aren't eating much of their product. We all know that the business of business is to make money; the only way the food industry will change is if consumers drive the change. Somehow we need to turn around our fast food/convenience food society and rescue our health.

Over 20 years ago, my son's pedi
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Aspasia
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
"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 Vitam
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Sam
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, food
I've read a great deal about food, researched and written an honors thesis on the National School Lunch Program, and taken several nutrition courses taught by the president of the German Nutrition Society. I've read most of Michael Pollan's cannon, Twinkie Deconstructed My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown Mined Yes Mined and Manipulated Into What America Eats, and Food Politics How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health to name a few. That sai ...more
Dinah
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read this as inspiration to get off the processed food train. I got a lot more than that.

The style in this book is advanced, but still readable. There is a fairly extensive usage of nearly indecipherable preservatives and additives, as well as somewhat confounding write-up of the methods used to make these processed foods. Obviously, that's completely necessary and expected within a book like this. I would recommend starting with a food doc like Food, Inc. or King Corn, or a book like Fast Fo
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Karla
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chick-lits
This book, although time consuming and sometimes cumbersome to read because of its textbooky lingo, was both educational and eye opening. And it is very well researched. Processed foods and additives have become a way of life for most of us. But at what cost? Most of us are not going to grow our own gardens, raise cattle and chickens and live off the land. We can hardly make it to the grocery store! But as all things, moderation would help. This book will educate you and make you think before ma ...more
Sharon
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
As a passionate home-cook and someone who makes her own bread and yogurt, I figured I probably knew most of what this book had to offer. However, there are still plenty of fascinating details in here about the processed food industry that kept me interested. Warner writes with an engaging voice that's easy to understand even for the most complicated industrial processes, like isolating soy protein or hydrolyzing corn oil. The book is an interesting mix of biography (featuring little stories and ...more
Patricia Murphy
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food
I read this book on vacation and could not put it down. I kept reading lines out loud to my travel companions.

Of course, I already agree with the premise of the book: that processed foods have made Americans sick. When I was in high school I had severe asthma and allergies. A classmate said to me, "my dad's a doctor and he could really help you." That was 1988, and the progressive Dr. Kreindler was already advising his patients to remove all processed foods from their diets. I followed his advi
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Evan Thomas
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I very much wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. In the beginning it was a fascinating look at how food science has fundamentally altered our food. Unfortunately, the argument rapidly slid into a mess of heavy handed speculation about what might be good and what might be bad. Anecdotes rapidly replaced data. And, frankly, some of those anecdotes suck. Is it really a surprise the stay at home mom who home schools her kids as enough time to cook? But don't worry your son or daughter will und ...more
Melody
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read books like this all the time. Most of them kind of run together, a vague worrisome muttering in the back of my head as I shop for groceries. This raises an entirely different sort of alarm, one that is both clearer and more frightening than the ones that have come before. This book goes into disturbing depth about how even ingredient labels you think you understand (oh, say, "cream") are fooling you. After reading this book I never, ever want to buy anything in a package again, even thoug ...more
John Behle
Jul 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
The latest wave of food industry books are laser sharp in their exposing all on the food industry. This book is woven with factory visits, interviews with insiders, and hard science data backups.

Melanie Warner provides a nearly undercover, hard and clear look at what manufactured food is and how to spot it. Her book is current, timely and a virtual field guide to the 1000's of additives in processed food.

My trip to the grocery will never be the same. Good.
Mary
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's a good book - with some good research and it does make you stop and think about what you're eating. I think she could have had a stronger finish - the end was a bit wishy washy - so well, what do we do? Considering all of the Monsanto crap, what's put into our food is very important. And I know I'm eating crap when I eat morningstar farms bacon. I would probably be better off eating organic bacon.
Adam
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
For all intents and purposes, I don't eat processed food. It is the end-product expression of a profiteering, destructive, and evil food system. In one sense, it's important for me, as an advocate and spokesperson (and I suppose I can't/shouldn't avoid that role even if I'd rather just read books and not talk to people), I need to understand the research about food additives and their health impacts. I wish I could say that I read this book in pursuit of that noble goal. Instead, I was just fulf ...more
Kayo
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So much good information. Great book!
Roger
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nutrition
In her new book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Foods Took Over the American Meal, Melanie Warner delivers an even-handed, often surprising and always thought provoking view of the processed food industry.

Told from the perspective of a modern mother struggling to put safe, nutritious foods on her family's table, while juggling the demands of a journalist and author, you may find yourself feeling like a good friend is talking to you over a cup of coffee at her kitchen table. In a quick read, s
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Nate
This is one of those rare books that works for people who are new to learning about food and nutrition, yet still provides plenty of fodder for those who consider themselves well versed on the subject. Often when you're into a topic, you start to notice the same information regurgitated again and again; the only difference being the title of the book and the author; and even then, sometimes the same author repeats the same information in their own books (I'll just use a hypothetical made up name ...more
Patsey
Feb 22, 2017 added it
Shelves: 2017
Just because we can , should we? I don't believe my body systems and functions have evolved to eat the "foods" produced in a lab. As Ange says "eat closer to the ground". I can't wait to plant tomatoes!! This book was well written and accessible for the average joe and, although packed with loads of science, a very interesting and informative read. Good motivation to continue to eat my veggies!
Badseedgirl
Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Trust me, the irony that is me sitting on the couch eating my “Turkey and American cheese Kraft Lunchable” while reading this novel was not lost on me. I will admit to removing the delicious little rounds of processed turkey, American cheese strips and Ritz-like crackers from their convenient and recognizable tray and putting them on a plate. I was alone at the time, but I still felt just a smidge of guilt. And that is the thing about this novel. The author, Melanie Warner, is not telling us any ...more
Annie Smidt
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
I found this book fascinating. Also, exceedingly bolstering to my practice of eating very little processed food. I knew some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes of packaged foods, but this let me in on so much more — and let me judge for myself whether I considered it a good thing or a bad thing.

I appreciated that this book was written in a rather non-sensationalized and non-proselytizing way. Even though I, personally, think processed food (and the industry and government structures th
...more
Lee
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I already avoided processed foods when possible prior to reading this book, but more from intuition than knowledge. Now I know why. I was in fact taken aback at how great the change is from the food our not-so-remote ancestors ate.

If you just want to know how processed foods are made today, and don’t care how the processes came to be, you can skip a lot of the early material, but I read it as I enjoy history.

For the most part Warner writes dispassionately and doesn’t appear to have an axe to gri
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Jim Mullen
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Do you take a Vitamin supplement? Vitamin D perhaps? Because, unlike the people you see featured on the “People of Walmart” web page, you’re concerned about your health. Good for you. So, let me ask you, what was in that Vitamin D gel cap you just swallowed? Where does Vitamin D come from? Where was it made? Did you just voluntarily eat one of the 80% of Vitamin D caps that are made in that quality control paradise, China? Did you know the gunk inside the cap is chemically extracted from lanolin ...more
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