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

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




Breakfast is the most important chemistry experiment of the day!


If a piece of individually wrapped cheese retains its shape, color, and texture for years, what does it say about the food we eat and feed our children? Former New York Times 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 research labs, food science departments, and factories around the country. What she discovered provides a rare, eye-opening—and sometimes disturbing—account of what we’re really eating. Warner looks at how decades of food science have resulted in the cheapest, most abundant, most addictive, and most nutritionally devastating food in the world, and she uncovers startling evidence about the profound health implications of the packaged and fast foods that we eat on a daily basis.

From breakfast cereal to chicken subs to nutrition bars, processed foods account for roughly seventy percent of our nation’s calories. Despite the growing presence of farmers’ markets and organic produce, strange food additives are nearly impossible to avoid. Combining meticulous research, vivid writing, and cultural analysis, Warner blows the lid off the largely undocumented—and lightly regulated—world of chemically treated and processed foods and lays bare the potential price we may pay for consuming even so-called healthy foods.


‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’ is an in-depth look at the processed food industry. It examines the history of food and the things that have gone into it over the past hundred or so years. Warner goes to conventions and factories, meeting with food scientists and flavorists, to give the reader a sense of what’s really in their cereal box, freezer, or bag from McDonald’s.
There are some things that I found troubling in ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’ that maybe weren’t so obvious. The fact is that Warner talked to several food scientists that don’t regularly if ever consume any of their creations. That may be the most telling point when the people who “know how the sausage is made” don’t want to eat any of the sausages they made.
The truth is that the American lifestyle and actions of the food industry serve to feed one another. Americans want convenient, and they want it as cheap as possible. The food industry gives them exactly what they want and that makes companies profitable. Companies like to be profitable and Americans like their products, so they keep investing time and money into ensuring that the cycle continues.
After reading ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’, I did think of one question I wish had been asked. Does the average American really not know what’s in the food they consume, or is it that they’re somewhat aware but simply don’t care? I strongly suspect that apathy is greater than ignorance in most cases, but I can only really call it a hunch.


Even if Warner is mostly critical of the food industry and some of its practices, I still found her to be quite objective. You don’t need to provide perfect balance to achieve objectivity. I thought some of the more interesting comments in the book came from people who didn’t necessarily think all the food processing was bad. One scientist rightly noted that if you broke down a plain carrot into chemical formulas, it would probably not appeal to anyone.
Mostly though, Warner just reports on what she finds. She reports on chemicals used as preservatives and flavorings but doesn’t pass judgement on anyone who might read about them and decide that they’re perfectly content to continue putting them in their body. While it is clear what Warner supports, she is still able to present things in such a way as to allow the reader to reach his or her own conclusions.


Ann Marie Lee gives a very warm and enthusiastic performance of ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’. She has a voice that is easy to listen to, which comes in handy when you get to strings of chemical names that can be hard to tell apart. She has a steady cadence and adopts a couple of different accents when the situation calls for it.


The files contained no sound effects or musical cues. The book was divided into several files with each file standing as one of the book’s chapters. The sound is clean and clear throughout with no noticeable glitches or changes in volume level.


If you are looking for a book that is a stinging indictment of the processed food industry, you may come away from reading ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’ feeling a bit disappointed. It’s not that Warner is taking up for the major food producing companies, for she is both questioning and critical at times.
However, Warner does not entirely blame the industry for the measures it takes and the way it conducts itself. Warner realizes that the industry in many ways is just meeting the demand that society has placed on it. In fact, she argues that the processed food industry can’t change consumer habits, the consumer habits will have to be the mechanism that spurs the industry to adopt change.
Books like ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’ serve an important purpose. Everyone should be more aware of the things that they put into their body. In fact, simply following an organic diet may come at a cost that goes beyond the one it extracts from your wallet. So if knowing what you are eating is important to you, then ‘Pandora’s Lunchbox’ will definitely not be a waste of your time.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal Melanie Warner Ann Marie Lee Tantor Audio Science & Technology 04/29/2013 8 hours, 57 minutes 8.75/10


A copy of ‘PANDORA’S LUNCHBOX: HOW PROCESSED FOOD TOOK OVER THE AMERICAN MEAL’ was purchased from Tantor for review.