Bookworm: Pandora’s Lunchbox

In my job, I have been exposed to aspects of the FDA and the pharmaceutical world to which I previously had little to no awareness.  I see how the side effects from pills or complications from devices (allegedly) harm people.  It has always prompted me to wonder: If we are willing to take a small pill, swallow it and expect it to fix our problems – why don’t we look at food the same way? (Disclaimer: this is an oversimplification.  Certain medications are important for certain health conditions).  So when I found Pandora’s Lunchbox and its examination of what is in our food supply, I was more than intrigued.

Pandora’s Lunchbox is the product of an informal experiment former food industry journalist Melanie Warner conducted in her office.  It started with her pondering how long certain shelf-stable foods would last.  When they lived past their expiration dates, she conducted more experiments with more foods.  When her mother ate nine-month-old store bought, fresh made guacamole and did not get sick (on my counter avocado browns after an hour), her informal experiments turned into more.   The more led her down the road of food science, FDA regulations and the composite of our food.  She exams everything from: 1) processed foods – where removing bacteria from cheese can make it last longer on the shelf, but may cause more twists and turns in the belly, to 2) vitamins – where Vitamin D = sheep grease + industrial chemicals?, to 3) food additives – where the Generally Recognized as Safe (“GRAS”) voluntary notification system operates.  We all know chips and french fries are “bad,”  but this book explains what makes certain french fries and chips really bad (and not why we have been told to think they are bad).   Even though extremely educational, it reads less like a textbook and more like a good novel.

Besides being scarily informative, her voice is relatively objective and realistic.  The last chapter looks at: what does this all mean and how do I live now?  She acknowledges that while she and her family strive to avoid non-processed food for their overall health, there are practical exceptions.  Fair warning, I found it virtually impossible to read this book and not change what we purchase at the grocery store and how I eat inside and outside of the four walls of our home.  Learning more about what is in our food or food-ish items, lends well to Michael Pollen’s oft-quoted guidance: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”


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