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Processed foods make up 70 percent of the U.S. diet

Author Melanie Warner discusses the complexities of the processed foods that line the shelves at the supermarket.

Image of Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
Author: Melanie Warner
Publisher: Scribner (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages
You cruise down the aisle of most any grocery store, and what you're seeing -- despite what you might think -- isn't properly called just "food." Most of those items are what we've come to know as processed food. Cookies, crackers, cereal, even yogurt, crammed with various chemicals that'll let it sit on the shelf for a good long time, all the while containing enough sugar and salt to make it taste good.

Processed foods are, plus or minus, 70 percent of what most of us eat.

"Nobody set out to dominate the American diet, to make everything we're eating so highly processed and so highly technical -- it was a gradual revolution," said Melanie Warner, the author of the new book, 'Pandora's Lunchbox.' "It basically started 100 years ago."

Warner said that while scientists and even marketing executives at food companies do care about making their food healthier, and want to do so, it's not easy.

"It's really difficult for them to do because it's not what they're designed to do," she explained. "And a lot of times, when they try and make healthy food and they try to take out things like sugar and salt, the products just kind of fall apart. And oftentimes, people don't buy them."

Warner said that there's an estimated 5,000 different additives that are allowed to go into our food, but: "The FDA doesn't actually know how many additives are going into our food. This is in part because regulations are not only self-regulatory -- so the food industry is doing the testing -- but it's also voluntary," she said. "The ingredient companies don't actually have to tell the FDA about a new ingredient. If they choose to, they can simply just launch it into the market. The FDA doesn't know about them, and nobody else really knows about them."

Offer your own favorite processed foods by commenting below or tweeting us @MarketplaceAPM.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal
Author: Melanie Warner
Publisher: Scribner (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 288 pages
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We have seen in last few decades number of restaurants and fast food restaurants and food points covering the area of every corner of United states of America. Extra fat over the body is the serious problem most of people facing today. Today we have number of storage appliances which provide us space to preserve natural food in a most authenticated way. Lg appliances introduce most adavnce refrigerators with special features http://french-door-refrigerator.net/lg-lfx28979st-dual-ice-maker-3-frenc... Its quiet necessary for us to maximum use vegetables and natural food and avoid process food.

Hi I'm a scientist by day and a mavin of the natural foods industry with a job at a worker managed food co-op by night. After 20+ years at this, I've seen a few changes. Also I've learned to try not to judge someone's food purchases. When parents, coming from work with small children in tow, are shopping for dinner as we're closing at 8- who am I to judge how they get food on the table? Preparing from raw or whole grain basics would be difficult to manage. Prepared food from the freezer case or a can may be a necessary route. An easy to understand nutritional label allows a beginning in making positive choices. As for a simple ingredient list allowing better choices- you'd be surprised how many people don't know sodium chloride is salt (as from a shaker on most tables) True!! When we decide that we should dumb down the population by eliminating Home Economics, which Could be a true Economic's lesson, then we can expect the public not to know some basics OR that they should care to know.
I read those publications on food product design. It's no mean feat to take something tasty from your kitchen into production in a cost effective manner. This is no excuse to simply make sleight of hand substitutions. Nor should the public assume that every manufacturer is being forthright in 'front of package' claims about the nutritonal benefits of a product (when did item X ever contain glutin in the first place??). I've always thought that in just 1 generation we lose knowledge about most anything. So now that we have parents who don't know but from advertising, don't know where to easily acquire knowledge but from questionable websites, how can we expecty our children to begin to make wise choices?
A book I once was reading was annoying me. As I put it down, the last line did stay with me: stop feeding your mouth and start feeding your stomach. Looking forward to this one you presented in your report.

Blaming the consumer for the choices they make regarding their food without giving them meaningful information is akin to blaming the victim of a fraud scheme for buying a stock that was sold after misrepresenting its value or omitting its risks. We need to hold the sellers of food to a standard where lies, obfuscations and misrepresentations will not be tolerated. Let the consumer know how salty, how sugary, how many processed ingredients it contains or if contiains GMO ingredients. When the information is clear and easily understood, then you can discuss whether the consumer made a poor choice. But until that day, lighten up about blaming the obese for their condition or the diabetics or the children for behavioral issues whcih may be related to the ingestion of artificial colors, preservatives and flavor enhancers derived from petroleum products.

It is ironic that food companies fight labeling laws and then claim that the consumer chose to ingest their product so they should not be responsible for their condition. Food companies can't have it both ways. Either stop putting this stuff into our food or let us know what is in it.

When are we going to start holding ourselves accountable for the decisions we make? It's frustrating to hear folks blaming "Big Food" for our obesity problems. They certainly did not hold a knife to my neck and force me to eat that bag of Cheetos instead of a bag of carrots. I feel our energy should be focused on teaching our youth and yes, even some adults, on what eating healthy really means. As a nation we need to learn a little self-discipline and start taking the stairs.

In essence, what we are talking about is "dead food". Our food supply, or processed foods are made to make us addicted...like a drug addict, but we're talking food.

I recently went to a "clean food" meeting, ran by a dietician. The dietician said our diets are addictive. Who benefits? It's better control by body and mind.

The additives make us obese. The refined, denatured foods make us obese...no nutrition. Our bodies need certain nutrients to survive, we aren't getting the nutrients. What a way to kill a population. I know, through studies you can make a person apathetic, unemotional, create alot of diseases through poor food/water. Follow the money trail, the motive trail.

The meeting was good, but I knew alot of the material. When they took the mother out of the home, pushed her into the working world, it was the beginning. We need home made meals, fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy foods, and drink. NOT sodas, fast foods, junk foods, refined foods.

Dwane73, overeating, i.e., becoming obese, may be preferable to malnutrition and starvation today or 100 yrs ago, but that doesn't make it good. Sticking with the U.S., refrigeration/freezing is generally available and transportation allows lots of fresh food options, then add simple canned food for even more options. Regardless of exact definition of processed or prepared food, isn't it like pornography - we know it when we see it (and see the label!)? What we should avoid is a bunch of additives: the basic ones of salt, sugar and fat; then all the chemicals we can't pronounce whether they are for preservation, taste, or poisons from a communist plot by russia or n korea to destroy our society!

And deckhand, whether your questions were facetious or not, obviously preparing o.j. or popcorn as described is no different than cutting, cooking, etc. other raw or fresh ingredients in your kitchen, not to mention freezing, canning, etc. The key issue is that you did it, so know what if anything was added
to the natural produce, meat, etc. To state the obvious, if you pickle herring or smoke salmon, it is "homemade" not prepared or processed.

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