Best Before: The Evolution and Future of Processed Food

In Best Before: The Evolution and Future of Processed Food, biologist, conservationist and translator Nicola Temple (Sorting the Beef from the Bull) sketches the progression of modern processed foods in everyday terms for everyday readers.

She moves from food fraud to faux food, but immediately dispels any assumptions that all processed food is bad. She explains that "food processing is any action, chemical or mechanical, that is done to food in order to change it or preserve it." So, jam counts as processed food. So does frozen corn. But so, too, more troublingly, does mechanically separated meat: "a gelatinous pink paste that looks a lot like the inside of a hot dog"--which, Temple clarifies, "is exactly what is on the inside of a hot dog."

In the tradition of Mary Roach, Temple wades through a morass of science, guiding readers with clever quips and memorable examples. Among intimidating terms like glyphosphate, lignin and nanosilic, Temple offers humor as a life raft. Regarding strawberries, she says, "It's important to note that cellular respiration is not the same as breathing; as much fun as it might be to think of strawberries as heavy-breathers, they are really just rapid respirers."

Ultimately, Temple dictates no hard rules, just general guidelines. Given the complicated nature of processed foods, her advice is refreshingly simple: "Stop. Cook. Eat. Enjoy. Do it with your partner, your kids, do it as often as you can." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

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