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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Melanie Warner – Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal (Scribner)

There’s an old saw that says hot dogs taste great, but you wouldn’t want to see how they are made. While working as a PR flack for a business association I helped businesses to celebrate major anniversaries by pitching stories to the media. I took a TV crew through a local meat product producer’s plant to learn more about how hot dogs are made.

Decked out in lab coat, shoe covers, head covering and even a facial hair mask, I got the full tour; from grinding, to stuffing to the smokehouse. While the TV crew couldn’t film everything due to proprietary processes, we got to see the whole story. While the gelatinous glop that gets stuffed into the casings was a pretty scary, it didn’t cause to stop eating and enjoying tube steaks on a regular basis.

The question becomes, if you know how the food you consume is made and what it contains, would you continue to eat it? In Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal author Melanie Warner explores the process and ingredients that go into processed foods. If you are at all curious about what it is that you are putting into your body, this is a great concept.

I went into reading this book with an open mind, but I have to admit that I chafe when food nannies like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and alleged “experts” from organizations from groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest try to jam laws down people’s throats trying to limit people’s freedoms when it comes to what they put in their mouths.

While the concept is a good one and the subject is important, it’s the delivery where it falls apart. It may be an attitude thing; with these food police taking a superior, holier than though, I’m better than you stance. Yes, the food industry is a BIG BUSINESS and like any business profit is important. Yet many comments that lace this book, like the “food processing industrial complex” and the denigration of profit tend to overshadow what could be important information.

To approach this concept from the point of view of the way things used to be, when Mom made things from scratch just isn’t realistic. With population growth and a shift in our daily lives, the good days of local markets and farms could not supply the demand. Processing of foods became a necessity to get things to the marketplace and in a volume to meet demand.

Price is an important factor. While U.S. residents are paying a smaller percentage of their disposable income for food, 9.8% currently, compared to 20.6% in 1950, the cost of other necessities has continued to spiral upward. The fact that food stamp usage is at a record high, in excess of 48 million Americans should put those numbers in a different perspective. There’s the ideal and then there is reality.

Whether it’s vegan’s, global warming alarmists, Prius drivers or food police, liberals lose the what can be important messages when they put their nose in the air and look down upon the lowly masses and in the process they lose the real story.

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