Pandora’s Box of Processed Food

In this information age, what isn’t on the Internet is often available through Inter-Library Loan. Such is the case with Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. It’s the story of how the food industry has attempted to replicate foods by “advancing them through science.”

Unless we shop the perimeter of food stores, we don’t find much food in its original form. Additives in the form of sweeteners, shelf life chemical extenders, thickeners, cellulose de-clumpers, imitation flavors, hormones, antibiotics, and the rest of the scary list make up what’s sold as “food.”

I took a closer look at the Parmesan cheese I brought home and found that it was made up of pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes and powdered cellulose to prevent caking. Only 5 ingredients, so it went into my basket at the store. When I topped my gourmet home-made spaghetti sauce with it at dinner, I found the cheese absolutely tasteless! $5.99 down the drain!

With Warner’s book  still joggling my mind, I decided to look up Parmesan Cheese on the Internet. Come to find out, Parmesan cheese is made from milk produced in the Parma/Reggio region of Italy and there is less than 20 hours from cow to cheese, according to columnist, Larry Olmsted. There are no antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones in the milk. The cows  are not fed silage; they are fed primarily vegetation grown in the Parma/Reggio region. The only ingredients in real Parmesan cheese are milk, salt and rennet (a natural enzyme from calf intestine.) Clearly, what I bought was no relation, yet it could legally call itself Parmesan in the US.

I  wondered  whether food companies count on us to be distracted enough with conversation or rushing to get to some meeting, that we aren’t even aware of what we are eating whether it’s loaded up with sugar, spices, or other flavor instigators, or not.

At the same time, Khalid Hosseni’s  new book,  And The Mountains Echo, paints the picture of  how we are shaped and, in turn,  shape others through the bonds we create. Hosseni’s  gifted storytelling of life in an Afghan village compels us to see ourselves in many of his characters, yet stirs us to break out of our own molds and mindsets.

It’s tempting to rail against the food companies and lobby for labeling but our responsibilities go beyond there. We have much more power than we realize. Given that processed foods have questionable nutritional value and threaten our health, despite what the package says, we can choose to slowly wean ourselves from them with whole foods we grow ourselves or find at local farmers’ markets,  produce,  and pick-your-own stands.


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