A letter to Panera from someone who has actually taken a Food Science Class

Dear Panera,

I saw your newly dubbed No-No list on social media and am disappointed to say that because of it, I will no longer be a customer of your restaurant. Your video and list is insulting to someone who has taken chemistry and food processing courses, and is down right embarrassing. Apparently your PR company and marketing team never took a media ethics class because your No-No list isn’t a commitment to better food; it’s an attempt to play off of people’s lack of knowledge about the American food system and basic chemistry to make money.

Artificial additives were created for a reason and this thought that you shouldn’t eat something because you can’t pronounce it or haven’t heard of it before is just plain stupid. Three years ago, no one knew what Quinoa was or how to pronounce it either but now it’s marketed as health super food. And I’ll bet those same people you interviewed can’t pronounce Phenylalanine either but it’s an essential amino acid for body function and if you don't eat it, you can get very, very sick.

There is no reason for many of those ingredients to be on a No-No list. If you believe customers deserve to know what is in their food, where it comes from and how companies are impacting the food system why don’t you provide factual information and try to educate them, instead of just removing the things you have already been feeding us. Honestly, if I didn’t know that the ingredients were harmless in the first place it would look to me like you are saying “Hey these things are bad, sorry we used them to poison you, but look now we aren’t going to anymore! Yay for us!”

What you are doing is not transparency, it’s smoke and mirrors.

For example the first molecule addressed in your video is tert-butylhydroquinone better known as TBHQ. Here’s what the World Health Organization has to say about TBHQ.

   TBHQ is generally used as an antioxidant in animal-derived food products and in fats or oils. It is often used in conjunction with butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene, and propyl gallate to provide a synergistic antioxidant effect.

I don’t know if you are aware but antioxidants are good, whether they are produced synthetically or not.

Also I’m not sure if you realized this but you put Corn Syrup and Splenda on your No-No list. They just sound a lot scarier when you label them as Sucralose and High Fructose Corn Syrup and make you look like a hero for removing “scary” yet harmless ingredients from your food. On top of that you are only going to replace the several artificial sugars with cane sugar that is not produced in the U.S. making your food reliant on a foreign ingredient that you will need to pay more for when we can easily produce sugars in the United States at a more economically responsible price.

Or what about the fact that several of these ingredients on your list occur naturally? A molecule is a molecule, it doesn’t matter whether it was made by a person or plant or any other part of nature. The fact that you are going to remove the synthetically created version of ingredients but leave in the exact same thing as long as it is derived from a natural source is a huge slap in the face to your “guests."  It appears to me as if you are saying something is wrong with human made ingredients when there is no evidence or research to support that. What’s the difference if a human or nature makes the ingredient, if they are exactly the same. 

I trust food companies, retailers and processors who rely on peer-reviewed science for their information. Scientific research and review is what is going to make our food system better, not muddy marketing distorting what is really going on. The fact that you are using science to manipulate your customers makes your food appear sickening instead of appetizing.

This No-No list makes you part of the problem, not the solution. And personally I don’t want to purchase anything from a company that contributes to problems in our food system and insults my intelligence.


Nicole Lane
Agricultural Communications and Journalism Student