* Freelance writer for various publications, including the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Fast Company and CBSNews.com.
* Former staff reporter for the New York Times covering the food industry
* Former senior writer at Fortune magazine
* Lives in Boulder, Colorado with husband Rich Barone and their two sons.
For most of my career as a journalist, I’ve been a business writer. Despite never having taken an economics course in college, I somehow managed to get a job at Fortune magazine and worked there for seven years. It was a fantastic place to work, full of smart, creative, ambitious people. For a few of those years, I lived in San Francisco and covered the Silicon Valley dot com boom of the late 90s. I wrote about startups, ungodly wealthy entrepreneurs and Sand Hill Road venture capitalists, many of who at the time still regarded themselves as members of a clubby enclave and not deserving of national scrutiny.
In 2004, I took a job at the New York Times covering the food industry. I’d always been fascinated by the business of food, amazed by the industry’s innovation and wealth of choices it yields. Some of this interest undoubtedly came from growing up with a mom who was far more discriminating about food than was socially acceptable at the time. At the grocery store, she’d get out her glasses, flip over the box and squint to read the ingredient label. Whenever she did that, I knew we weren’t getting it. Entire aisles, it seemed, were off limits. There was no “gooped up” food coming into our house. This included things with too much sugar, chemical preservatives, artificial food dyes and other suspect ingredients. My brother and I found all this unspeakably annoying, and we eagerly awaited our next visit to grandma’s house when we could eat Apple Jacks and Slim Jim’s. But at some point later in life, as so often happens, the logic of my mom’s worldview sunk in.
When I started covering the food industry, I was struck by how little we knew about where our food comes from. We understood a fair amount about what happens on the large industrial farms that produce much of our food. But almost nothing was known about what takes place after that, inside the factories and research labs throughout the food industry. The idea for writing a book about this crystallized when I went to the Institute of Food Technologists trade show in 2006. It’s the place where ingredient companies go to sell the multitudes of ingredients you see on packages at the supermarket. There were companies selling microparticulated whey protein and inner pea fiber, and products for “cheese application needs.” It seemed that our food production had become far more technical and complicated than we realized, with “food technologists” not so much cooking food as engineering it. And that was the story I wanted to tell, because before we’re able to make good choices about our food, we need to know what exactly it is we’re eating.
It was a few more years before I started writing Pandora’s Lunchbox. Life intervened and I left the Times to move to Boulder, Colorado with my husband, where we now live with two wonderful boys. A few years later, my mom moved from my childhood home in Rhode Island to come to live with us. She’s in her early 80s now, in amazing health, and still doing her best to avoid “gooped up” foods.