Book Review: Pandora’s Lunchbox

A great friend of mine has recently taken up the challenge of eating clean; meaning she won’t eat anything processed or pre-made. I am so proud of her and everything she has accomplished in just the few short months that she’s been on this journey. It’s been a lot of fun to see her so enthusiastic for clean eating and it’s been a great joy of mine to discuss her challenges, joys, frustrations, and discoveries. She has been doing a ton of reading on the topic (a girl after my own heart!) and lent me this book saying that I, “had to read it!”.

The book was Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner and I have to say; this book was really eye opening. Even as someone who feels like she knows a lot about healthy eating, this book has taught me a lot. One of the first things I said to my friend after starting the book was, “I will never be able to eat anything every again.” And truly, if you want to read a book that will truly change how you see food, this is that book.


Warner has a great writing style that juxtaposes funny, witty narrative with really informative data on the source and process of packaged foods. As startling as a lot of this book is, it really was a fun quick read. Warner never lengthens any description or goes into more detail or scientific mumbo jumbo than is necessary. Yes this book dives into the nitty gritty, but in a very approachable, personable way.

There were 3  main points that I took from reading this book that I wanted to share with you.

1. Processed food is about a company’s bottom lines and never about your health

One of the most shocking stories to me, that Warner shares in her book is about soy. Soy has been a mainstay health food for years now and is used in a lot of processed “healthy” foods; especially in meat substitutes. Warner discusses in her book how after the “creation” of soybean oil (and trust me, it’s not just squeezing the beans), companies were left with tons of soybean meal which initially went into industrial products such as paper coatings and plastics; and used as a fast growth animal feed. Scientists started to wonder if the meal could be turned into something more lucrative; a product for human consumption. Raw soybean meal has a dirt-like taste and also contains a compound which blocks the absorption of certain minerals, but scientists thought they could process it enough to make it palatable. They found a way and started marketing their product. Now soy protein and all it’s “cousins” have found their way into imitation meats, processed meats (as fillers), non-dairy foods, protein shakes, meal replacement bars, and sooooo much more. It just boggles my mind that this product would be touted as a health/miracle food when the only reason it ever came to market was because they had so much of it just lying around.

2. Eating whole foods is the only way to truly know what you are eating

It’s always important to read food labels…but what if you have no idea what half of the ingredients are? Or even worse, you think  you know what you are eating. Warner’s book showed me that there are so many labels or code words that ingredients are hidden under, that unless you have a PhD it’s almost impossible to really decipher what is exactly in your food. Your safest bet is to buy foods that don’t have ingredients; real whole foods. That is the only way to really know what is in your food.

3. Moderation is key

One of the reasons that I really like Warner’s book is because though it does deliver some hard truths about our current food system it also isn’t completely doom and gloom. She acknowledges that there are a lot of positives and reasons for processed foods and that they have their place. Yes, most are not good for you and a lot should rarely (more like never) be eaten. And yes they have a lot of additives. But it is important to know that food does have a higher place in our society than just fuel. It’s a gathering place, a social setting, a way to celebrate a victory or recover from a defeat. No you shouldn’t eat processed food every meal, or even every day. And yes you should try to focus on processed foods that are as whole as possible, organic, and without a bunch of additives. But there are occasions when it will be “ok”. Use discretion and avoid when possible… but don’t be a food-Nazi. In fact, Warner admits that she ate more processed food than ever while writing this book due to time constraints. Eat whole foods as much as possible, but know that a once in a blue moon “cheat” isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Warner’s Pandora’s Lunchbox is a great book that I highly recommend. She uses a great mix of personal stories and informative dialogue to create an easy to read but extremely fact-packed book that will truly change how you see food and food-like products.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Next month look for my review of Matt Fitzgerald’s The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. 

Love and Joy,



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