Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Anglais) Broché – 28 février 2013
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“Exploiting the Biology of the Child”
The first thing to know about sugar is this: Our bodies are hard-wired for sweets.
Forget what we learned in school from that old diagram called the tongue map, the one that says our five main tastes are detected by five distinct parts of the tongue. That the back has a big zone for blasts of bitter, the sides grab the sour and the salty, and the tip of the tongue has that one single spot for sweet. The tongue map is wrong. As researchers would discover in the 1970s, its creators misinterpreted the work of a German graduate student that was published in 1901; his experiments showed only that we might taste a little more sweetness on the tip of the tongue. In truth, the entire mouth goes crazy for sugar, including the upper reaches known as the palate. There are special receptors for sweetness in every one of the mouth’s ten thousand taste buds, and they are all hooked up, one way or another, to the parts of the brain known as the pleasure zones, where we get rewarded for stoking our bodies with energy. But our zeal doesn’t stop there. Scientists are now finding taste receptors that light up for sugar all the way down our esophagus to our stomach and pancreas, and they appear to be intricately tied to our appetites.
The second thing to know about sugar: Food manufacturers are well aware of the tongue map folly, along with a whole lot more about why we crave sweets. They have on staff cadres of scientists who specialize in the senses, and the companies use their knowledge to put sugar to work for them in countless ways. Sugar not only makes the taste of food and drink irresistible. The industry has learned that it can also be used to pull off a string of manufacturing miracles, from donuts that fry up bigger to bread that won’t go stale to cereal that is toasty-brown and fluffy. All of this has made sugar a go-to ingredient in processed foods. On average, we consume 71 pounds of caloric sweeteners each year. That’s 22 teaspoons of sugar, per person, per day. The amount is almost equally split three ways, with the sugar derived from sugar cane, sugar beets, and the group of corn sweeteners that includes high-fructose corn syrup (with a little honey and syrup thrown into the mix).
That we love, and crave, sugar is hardly news. Whole books have been devoted to its romp through history, in which people overcame geography, strife, and overwhelming technical hurdles to feed their insatiable habit. The highlights start with Christopher Columbus, who brought sugar cane along on his second voyage to the New World, where it was planted in Spanish Santo Domingo, was eventually worked into granulated sugar by enslaved Africans, and, starting in 1516, was shipped back to Europe to meet the continent’s surging appetite for the stuff. The next notable development came in 1807 when a British naval blockade of France cut off easy access to sugar cane crops, and entrepreneurs, racing to meet demand, figured out how to extract sugar from beets, which could be grown easily in temperate Europe. Cane and beets remained the two main sources of sugar until the 1970s, when rising prices spurred the invention of high-fructose corn syrup, which had two attributes that were attractive to the soda industry. One, it was cheap, effectively subsidized by the federal price supports for corn; and two, it was liquid, which meant that it could be pumped directly into food and drink. Over the next thirty years, our consumption of sugar-sweetened soda more than doubled to 40 gallons a year per person, and while this has tapered off since then, hitting 32 gallons in 2011, there has been a commensurate surge in other sweet drinks, like teas, sports ades, vitamin waters, and energy drinks. Their yearly consumption has nearly doubled in the past decade to 14 gallons a person.
Far less well known than the history of sugar, however, is the intense research that scientists have conducted into its allure, the biology and psychology of why we find it so irresistible.
For the longest time, the people who spent their careers studying nutrition could only guess at the extent to which people are attracted to sugar. They had a sense, but no proof, that sugar was so powerful it could compel us to eat more than we should and thus do harm to our health. That all changed in the late 1960s, when some lab rats in upstate New York got ahold of Froot Loops, the supersweet cereal made by Kellogg. The rats were fed the cereal by a graduate student named Anthony Sclafani who, at first, was just being nice to the animals in his care. But when Sclafani noticed how fast they gobbled it up, he decided to concoct a test to measure their zeal. Rats hate open spaces; even in cages, they tend to stick to the shadowy corners and sides. So Sclafani put a little of the cereal in the brightly lit, open center of their cages—normally an area to be avoided—to see what would happen. Sure enough, the rats overcame their instinctual fears and ran out in the open to gorge.
Their predilection for sweets became scientifically significant a few years later when Sclafani—who’d become an assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College—was trying to fatten some rats for a study. Their standard Purina Dog Chow wasn’t doing the trick, even when Sclafani added lots of fats to the mix. The rats wouldn’t eat enough to gain significant weight. So Sclafani, remembering the Froot Loops experiment, sent a graduate student out to a supermarket on Flatbush Avenue to buy some cookies and candies and other sugar-laden products. And the rats went bananas, they couldn’t resist. They were particularly fond of sweetened condensed milk and chocolate bars. They ate so much over the course of a few weeks that they grew obese.
“Everyone who owns pet rats knows if you give them a cookie they will like that, but no one experimentally had given them all they want,” Sclafani told me when I met him at his lab in Brooklyn, where he continues to use rodents in studying the psychology and brain mechanisms that underlie the desire for high-fat and high-sugar foods. When he did just that, when he gave his rats all they wanted, he saw their appetite for sugar in a new light. They loved it, and this craving completely overrode the biological brakes that should have been saying: Stop.
The details of Sclafani’s experiment went into a 1976 paper that is revered by researchers as one of the first experimental proofs of food cravings. Since its publication, a whole body of research has been undertaken to link sugar to compulsive overeating. In Florida, researchers have conditioned rats to expect an electrical shock when they eat cheesecake, and still they lunge for it. Scientists at Princeton found that rats taken off a sugary diet will exhibit signs of withdrawal, such as chattering teeth. Still, these studies involve only rodents, which in the world of science are known to have a limited ability to predict human physiology and behavior.
What about people and Froot Loops?
For some answers to this question, and for most of the foundational science on how and why we are so attracted to sugar, the food industry has turned to a place called the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. It is located a few blocks west of the Amtrak station, in a bland five-story brick building easily overlooked in the architectural wasteland of the district known as University City—except for “Eddy,” the giant sculpture that stands guarding the entrance. Eddy is a ten-foot-high fragment of a face, and he perfectly captures the obsessions of those inside: He is all nose and mouth.
Getting buzzed through the center’s front door is like stepping into a clubhouse for PhDs. The scientists here hang out in the corridors to swap notions that lead to wild discoveries, like how cats are unable to taste sweets, or how the cough that results from sipping a high-quality olive oil is caused by an anti-inflammatory agent, which may prove to be yet another reason for nutritionists to love this oil so much. The researchers at Monell bustle to and from conference rooms and equipment-filled labs and peer through one-way mirrors at the children and adults who eat and drink their way through the center’s many ongoing experiments. Over the last forty years, more than three hundred physiologists, chemists, neuroscientists, biologists, and geneticists have cycled through Monell to help decipher the mechanisms of taste and smell along with the complex psychology that underlies our love for food. They are among the world’s foremost authorities on taste. In 2001, they identified the actual protein molecule, T1R3, that sits in the taste bud and detects sugar. More recently they have been tracking the sugar sensors that are spread throughout the digestive system, and they now suspect that these sensors are playing a variety of key roles in our metabolism. They have even solved one of the more enduring mysteries in food cravings: the marijuana-induced state known as “the munchies.” This came about in 2009 when Robert Margolskee, a molecular biologist and associate director of the center, joined other scientists in discovering that the sweet taste receptors on the tongue get aroused by endocannabinoids—substances that are produced in the brain to increase our appetite. They are chemical sisters to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which may explain why smoking marijuana can trigger hunger pangs. “Our taste cells are turning out to be smarter than we thought, and more involved in regulating our appetites,” Margolskee told me.
The stickiest subject at Monell, however, is not sugar. It’s money. Taxpayers fund about half of the center’s $17.5 million annual budget through federal grants, but much of the rest of its operation comes from the food industry, including the big manufacturers, as well as several tobacco companies. A large golden plaque in the lobby pays homage to PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestlé, Philip Morris, among others. It’s an odd arrangement, for sure, one that evokes past efforts by the tobacco industry to buy “research” that put cigarettes in a favorable light. At Monell, the industry funding buys companies a privileged access to the center and its labs. They get exclusive first looks at the center’s research, often as early as three years before the information goes public, and are also able to engage some of Monell’s scientists to conduct special studies for their particular needs. But Monell prides itself on the integrity and independence of its scientists. Some of their work, in fact, is funded with monies from the lawsuits that states brought against the tobacco manufacturers.
“At Monell, scientists choose their research projects based solely on their own curiosity and interests and are deeply committed to the pursuit of fundamental knowledge,” the center said in response to my questions about its financial structure. Indeed, as I would discover, though Monell receives industry funding, some of its scientists sound like consumer activists when they speak about the power their benefactors wield, especially when it comes to children.
This tension between the industry’s excitement about the research at Monell and the center’s own unease about the industry’s practices dates back to some of the center’s earliest research on our taste buds—based on age, sex, and race. Back in the 1970s, researchers at Monell discovered that kids and African Americans were particularly keen on foods that were salty and sweet. They gave solutions of varying sweetness and saltiness to a group of 140 adults and then to a group of 618 children aged nine to fifteen, and the kids were found to like the highest level of sweet and salty—even more than the adults. Twice as many kids as adults chose the sweetest and saltiest solutions. (This was the first scientific proof of what parents, watching their kids lunge for the sugar bowl at the breakfast table, already knew instinctively.) The difference among adults was less striking but still significant: More African Americans chose the sweetest and saltiest solutions.
One of Monell’s sponsors, Frito-Lay, was particularly interested in the salt part of the study, since the company made most of its money on salty chips. Citing Monell’s work in a 1980 internal memo, a Frito-Lay food scientist summed up the finding on kids and added, “Racial Effect: It has been shown that blacks (in particular, black adolescents) displayed the greatest preference for a high concentration of salt.” The Monell scientist who did this groundbreaking study, however, raised another issue that reflected his anxiety about the food industry. Kids didn’t just like sugar more than adults, this scientist, Lawrence Greene, pointed out in a paper published in 1975. Data showed they were actually consuming more of the stuff, and Greene suggested there might be a chicken-and-egg issue at play: Some of this craving for sugar may not be innate in kids but rather is the result of the massive amounts of sugar being added to processed foods. Scientists call this a learned behavior, and Greene was one of the first to suggest that the increasingly sweet American diet could be driving the desire for more sugar, which, he wrote, “may or may not correspond to optimum nutritional practices.”
In other words, the sweeter the industry made its food, the sweeter kids liked their food to be.
I wanted to explore this idea a bit more deeply, so I spent some time with Julie Mennella, a biopsychologist who first came to Monell in 1988. In graduate school, she had studied maternal behavior in animals and realized that no one was examining the influence that food and flavors had on women who were mothers. She joined Monell to answer a set of unknowns about food. Do the flavors of the food you eat transmit to your milk? Do they transmit to amniotic fluid? Do babies develop likes and dislikes for foods even before they are born?
“One of the most fundamental mysteries is why we like the foods that we do,” Mennella said. “The liking of sweet is part of the basic biology of a child. When you think of the taste system, it makes one of the most important decisions of all: whether to accept a food. And, once we do, to warn the digestive system of impending nutrients. The taste system is our gatekeeper and one of the research approaches has been to take a developmental route, to look from the beginning—and what you see is that children are living in different sensory worlds than you and I. As a group, they prefer much higher levels of sweet and salt, rejecting bitter more than we do. I would argue that part of the reason children like high levels of sweet and salt is a reflection of their basic biology.” --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .
Revue de presse
"What happens when one of the country's great investigative reporters infiltrates the most disastrous cartel of modern times: a processed food industry that's making a fortune by slowly poisoning an unwitting population? You get this terrific, powerfully written book, jammed with startling disclosures, jaw-dropping confessions and, importantly, the charting of a path to a better, healthier future. This book should be read by anyone who tears a shiny wrapper and opens wide. That's all of us." (Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President)
"A mouth-watering, gut-wrenching look at the food we hate to love" (Publishers Weekly)
"A shocking, galvanising manifesto against the corporations manipulating nutrition to fatten their bottom line-one of the most important books of the year" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)
"In this meticulously researched book, Michael Moss tells the chilling story of how the food giants have seduced everyone in this country. He understands a vital and terrifying truth: that we are not just eating fast food when we succumb to the siren song of sugar, fat, and salt. We are fundamentally changing our lives-and the world around us." (Alice Waters) --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.
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The other point is the rationalization that is made when profit is at stake - "that's what the people want." It's just about as bad as intentionally hooking a drug addict with a habit and saying that's what they want - it's quite close to the same argument. The intense "science" that goes into hooking the population, the relish that major food company execs have for "heavy users" was amazing to see.
What this book points out to me is that the overall model of society is a bit off. That may be an understatement. The fact that any company pushing so hard on products that are so bad is just at cross purposes with the overall survival of the human race - if you really look at it. What's good for them is bad for us is not a correct scenario by any stretch of the imagination.
So, really what I see is that the entire social model needs to be rethought, and we as a race of people, across the entire planet have to align our efforts toward survival of us all. And don't say it can't be done - anything we can conceive we can very definitely create - but it will take a brush with death (unfortunately and that's my cold, hard opinion. I am very willing to be wrong on it...) to get the entire race to team up and look at this as a team.
So, the deeper implications of this book stare us in the face if we care to look. The paradigm must shift and non confront is just not going to work if we are to survive as more that just force fed droids.Lire la suite ›
You open up a bag of chips intending to eat only a few handfuls. You find the chips tasting quite good, and a few handfuls turns into a few more. Just one more… o.k., last one… definitely the last one. A few minutes later you find yourself staring down at an empty bag. Then your stomach starts to hurt—then your heart. The guilt isn’t far behind. Who among us hasn’t experienced this at one time or another? This is junk food in a nutshell: it tastes great (practically irresistible) and is very convenient, but if you indulge too much (which sometimes seems all too easy), it’s not too good for you. All of this has an easy explanation, it’s right there on the label: impressive portions of salt, sugar and fat, the junk food trifecta. Each has its own appeal, and each is very inexpensive (which explains why it’s in our food), but over the years each has also been implicated in some of our most common and serious conditions and diseases, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, the junk food trifecta is not only popping up in our junk food, it is increasingly being featured in virtually all of the processed foods that we eat—from chips and soda, to canned food and prepared meals, to cake and ice-cream. And as salt, sugar and fat have become more common in the foods that we eat, the conditions and illnesses associated with their abuse have reached epidemic proportions. In his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us journalist Michael Moss takes us behind the labels and explores the history and practices of the processed food industry—a story that features the rise of salt, sugar and fat, and the deterioration of our health.Lire la suite ›
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Note to folks thinking this is a diet or cooking type book: It's not. It is exactly what the subtitle suggests: "How the Food Giants Hooked Us." It's about how foods are made to take you to the sugar bliss point, to the higher fat realms of food pleasure, and so on. How we got these manufactured products Americans can't seem to stop guzzling and munching...and that have led to us being the fattest nation on the planet. Just know that. It might help you diet (opens your eyes to the scary "food" out there), but it's an investigative work within historical context. And it rocks.
Personal Preface 1: So, I've not requested a Vine book for review in, pshaw, a couple years. But I saw THIS one and had to have it. Yes, I got it free. No, I don't hand out five stars just for the heck of it. If I hated it, it would get 1 star.
Personal Preface 2: Food and health issues are key to me these days. I read labels, and I read science reports, and I read nutrition blogs, and I have found I need to eschew many packaged foods. To lose 115 lbs, I pretty much stopped eating out of cans/boxes/fast food places, period. I cooked simple foods the old-fashioned way, adding my own salt and fat and minimizing sugars. I chose dine-out carefully (since restaurants oversalt, oversweeten, and pretty much do on a smaller basis what Food Giants do, just with fresher ingredients mostly). THE END OF OVEREATING by Kessler was the single-most eye-opening book for me in my quest to heal my food issues in a society where we've gone pretty insane with what we do to food. That one also included some of the scientific and food corporations tactic info that Moss does in this.
The difference? Kessler is more clinical and dry. But he emphasizes how hyperpalatable foods (those with optimal mixes of salt/fat/sugar) make us overeat. Be we rats or humans, it sends signals to the brain's reward centers that can be hard to overcome.
~~~Now, SALT SUGAR FAT Review:
For a book containing a lot of business and science information, SALT SUGAR FAT is delightfully readable. The style is clean, smart, and has great narrative drive. Moss knows how to write. Here, he writes about how Food Giants maneuver around the boons and drawbacks of sugar, salt, and fat in order to make us want their products, and want them A LOT. Get a front seat ride to see how the tireless competition for our grocery dollars affects what's in the food you eat and how what's in the food products affects you and me, the consumers. Our health, waist size, time, perceptions, expectations, desires.
Convenience pops up a lot. Society's rapid changes--particularly women in the work force--have revolutionized how we use and view food/eating. Fast is good. Fast and easy is better. Fast and easty and tasty is best. Moss shows the industry responses and proaction, decade by decade, company by company, product by product, via uses of each of the focus ingredients: SALT SUGAR FAT. They learn how each drives us, and then use that to create dependencies. We get hooked on the fast, the easy, the sugary, the fatty, the salty.
Moss's access to key information sources is amazing. He conducted hundreds of interviews, but what really matters is that he interviewed people who themselves were players in the story: folks in high positions, with access to the developments/changes/decision-makers. Some WERE the decision makers. He's clearly had access to confidential documentation. He's also done his homework to get the pertinent and sometimes surprising background on his ingredients (salt, sugar, fat) and the motivations and the how-it-was-done. The why comes down to $$$, of course.
I am not surprised this guy has a Pulitzer Prize to his credit. His narrative of the history of our "Food Giants"--from the early starts of the cereal makers (and their own cereal wars) to the start of the cheese dynasty that is Kraft and others--hooks you. The number and scope of scientists and former executives is stunning--and necessary to obtain not just the outcomes (those foods, those marketing campaigns), but the process. It's really a page-turner.
While the book is SALT SUGAR FAT, the arrangement of the sections is actually SUGAR, FAT, SALT.
We start with the sweet. You're gonna learn about the bliss point and why cereals got to be up to 3/4 sugar. And you're gonna learn about some pretty deceptive practices to make moms/parents feel good about the mostly sugar water that gets targeted to kids. You're gonna learn some of the stuff you were taught about your taste buds is out of date. You're gonna get walked through the history--the creators, the competition, the labs and kitchens, the ad campaigns, the consumer reactions--so that it's like this dance that has some dire consequences for some and some mighty plump bottom lines for others. The soda industry information was super interesting to me, especially since I've given up soda except for an occasional Zevia or Coke Zero (the Coke I really wanted since I was 20 and out to lose some poundage, the one that actually kinda tasted like Coke).
You'll learn that we don't have a bliss point for fat, rather, we want more and like more. More and more. There's a reason for the explosion of cheese-accented or cheese-flavored or cheese-loaded products. The story behind that is weird and spellbinding. Maybe because my single fave protein source is cheese. :D I'm a bona fide cheesehead. Cutting back on that was the HARDEST. Harder than sugar. There are still some intriguing mysteries about fat for science to puzzle out, but what he presents is cool enough.
The segment on the creation and success of LUNCHABLES could have been so dull in another writer's hands, but Moss makes it practically enthralling. (Or maybe I just like these case histories.) Possibly because so much of this is about solving problems--raising the question then delineating the way to fail or succeed in making the product that serves consumer needs and feeds the bottom line.
What comes off as most disturbing is how powerful these corporations are, more than even I realized, and I read a lot. How they can fend off gov't control or squash activism. How they learn about our preferences and how they know and can use human psychological vulnerabilities. How infants and kids are especially vulnerable to the messages and products. What the young learn to like early--that affects tastes for life. The Food Giants also hire masters at manipulation, the ad folks, who can make a parent feel comfortable giving their kid a product that, if they whipped it up at home, ingredient by ingredient, would be tossed down the drain as nutrient-void swill by any responsible adult. It's scary and fascinating, both.
But awareness is the first step to making real changes. The public has to know so the public says "enough of that." This book is important as a building block of public awareness.
We hear it all the time from dietitians and nutritionists: We eat too little fresh produce. We consume too much sugar. Too much salt. Too much bad fats.
Food can be manipulated to be as addictive as narcotics. Fiddle with the sugar, fat, and salt content. Voila--"heavy users" are born.
Well, read this book and find out who controls what gets created for supermarkets. Learn some reasons why we're in a modern obesity epidemic. See how labeled ingredients can fool you.
Then go buy some produce and fresh protein sources and whole grains and eat real food you make in your own kitchen where YOU moderate the use of SALT SUGAR FAT. It's less convenient than a full meal heated up in 4 minutes, and it may make a kid light up less with glee to eat an orange than to drink a fake orange-flavored "fruit beverage," but it might save the next generation's health.
Read. Get scared. Take back control. :D
The author is the journalist who first cracked open the "pink slime" meat scandal and the depth of his investigative journalism is really impressive. It seems that he has spoken with scores of researchers, marketers and financial officers of the processed food companies in order to learn about things such as the invention of the Lunchable, as a way to sell more processed meats, and the growth of cheese from a food meant to be savored on its own into an ingredient that is shoved into a million different kinds of food.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in nutrition, or in the business of food. I would also recommend it to anyone who is looking for a push to close up the bag of chips or give up a soda habit.
The convenience of processed foods fits with our hurried society. It exacerbates the death of family meals, and encourages eating anywhere, anytime, and basically all day long. That by itself is enough to damn the industry, if traditional family values mean anything. Far more damaging than gay marriage, or abortion, or sexting, processed foods are destroying us, literally, physically. For hundreds of millions of Americans (and soon the world), this is normal. It is the way of life. There are no viable alternatives. This too, however, goes unexplored.
Moss divides the book into the three sections of its title. It contains the usual litany of incredible statistics - like how much of these ingredients the average American ingests annually, and how many billions of pounds the processors produce, but also some interesting developments on the way to perdition:
-Food processors call their customers users, like the drug addicts they want them to become.
-The "bliss point" is used by all of them to scientifically maximize the sugar effect along a bell curve. It allows food engineers to calculate how much sugar a child blisses out on compared to an adult, for example.
-Cereal makers spend twice as much on advertising as on ingredients.
-A child wanting cake for breakfast inspired Pop Tarts and its ilk. A whole new kind of meal evolved.
-Big Gulp, the 64 oz soda that New York's mayor is trying to ban, contains 41 teaspoons of sugar.
-Salt is a learned addiction. Newborns wince if you give them salt. But by six months they've accepted it, and for the rest of their lives they crave it. We start `em off young.
-Cheese used to be a food - an appetizer in the US, a dessert in Europe. Now it is an ingredient, and we put cheese in and on everything. We have tripled consumption to 33lb since the 70s.
-The cheese plague is the result of the Reagan administration's buying up and stockpiling excess cheese. The government bought it, marketed it, and provided it. Now it is normal to have cheese on everything, at every meal and snack. It's difficult to find any meal without it. "Healthy" salads come with cheese.
-Sugar is the methamphetamine of processed food ingredients; fat is the opiate. Perfectly legal drugs.
An interesting sidelight is Finland, where the government won. It mandated large bold labels "High In Salt", like cigarette warnings. The result has been an 80% reduction in heart attacks and strokes. In the US, the processors beat back the FDA and the USDA again and again.
The most disgusting food in the book comes from celebrity cook (and now diabetic patient) Paula Deen, who recommends taking a casserole of Kraft Mac & Cheese, scooping it into balls, wrapping the balls in bacon, and dropping them in the deep fryer. That's 0 for 4.
The book left two indelible impressions: the industry will do absolutely anything to beat back regulators. Health, untested chemical compounds, overeating, obesity - never even enter their equation, and the processors won't be told otherwise. Their freedom to poison Americans at will is all that matters. Now that Americans are nearing saturation, the processors are taking on the world. Obesity in Mexico is comparable to the US, and Brazil and India are being worked intensely.
Second was the overarching momentum and effort to overwhelm the consumer that make us think this is normal, this is right, this is exciting, this is ideal. Two hundred choices of sweet breakfast cereal mean you must choose from among them, or why would they be there? To overwhelm us into consuming more, they mobilize as armed forces, saturating stores and neighborhoods with pretend foods that do far more harm than good. The industry is on autopilot and is out of control. Their intensity is fearsome. This is war.
On the plus side, Sugar Fat Salt is enormously well researched. No lead, no document seems to have been too insignificant to follow up and interview the writer. Visits to executives, to factories, to stores, to conventions - all make the book comprehensive, thorough and fair. This is due in no small part to the interviewees themselves, who came to the conclusion on their own that what they were designing and selling was bad for living beings. Often, Moss found they were working to undo what they had done to the world. And they were, as he admits, incredibly open and generous with their time. It shows.
On the minus side, for all the evidence, the book draws no conclusions. There is no prescription, no way out. Moss does not call for the investigation, dismantling or regulation of anything. The facts he found are left to speak for themselves. The book simply ends.
Also on the minus side, Moss sometimes takes forever to deliver a fact. He'll foreshadow it in one paragraph, then spend several sentences describing some office building or scene before finally delivering the fact you were expecting. I guess he thinks he's adding color, but at 400 pages, Sugar Fat Salt could use a little pruning of its own.
The relentless pounding of the consumer is replicated by relentless pounding in the book. Case after case of singleminded efforts to get users hooked, of the thoughtless ruination of perfectly good foods that need chemical compounds to make them palatable again, and of the constant pressure to cut costs and increase sales are depressing insights into what's wrong with the food industry.
It's both insulting and sad, not to mention infuriating. The solution is as obvious as it is fantasy: people should steer clear of these poisons.
In the words of fitness buff Jack Lalane - if man made it, don't take it.
I do have mixed feelings about the book and this issue. On the one hand, all the food companies want to do is sell more food. They do have to make a profit, after all. And their mission is to make the tastiest, most appealing food they can, so they can sell more and more of it. They make it, we buy it, we eat it and like it, they make a profit. It's a simple, free-market, mutually beneficial exchange. But there's more to it than that.
The ball got rolling when food manufacturers started making soda, chips, TV dinners, which they "imagined as occasional fare." But as society changed, they found that "snacks and convenience food had become a daily--even hourly--habit, a staple of the American diet." As convenience became more important to Americans, food manufacturers had to make food "easy to buy, store, open, prepare, and eat." In the laboratories (not kitchens, note. These are chemists, not chefs, who are creating food.) of Kraft, General Foods, and other manufacturers, the "drive to achieve the greatest allure for the lowest possible price has drawn them" to salt, sugar, and fat. As one executive said, maybe there is too much salt or sugar in our products, but "that's what the consumer wants, and we're not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That's what they want. If we give them less, they'll buy less, and the competitor will get our market."
Some of the food industry insiders Moss spoke to had second thoughts and reservations about their work, like one former Coca Cola executive, who travelled to Brazil for a market study. "As he walked through one of the prime target areas, an impoverished barrio of Rio de Janeiro, he had an epiphany. 'A voice in my head says, "These people need a lot of things, but they don't need a Coke." I almost threw up.'" He was eventually fired. Virtually all of Moss's subjects stated their own aversion, or at least extreme moderation, when it comes to their own products, pointing out the "class issue at work in processed foods, in which the inventors and company executives don't generally partake in their own creations."
The companies are not alone in their culpability. The federal government has been their hypocritical partner in crime, with its "promotion of some of the industry practices deemed most threatening to consumers." Cheese, with its high fat content and warnings from dietitians to reduce consumption, enjoys huge federal subsidies. The federal government has caves full of it because they promised dairy farmers they would buy their cheese. Even the makers of the food pyramids produced and distributed by the USDA bow to the food industry lobby, putting politics before health. I wish Moss would have addressed the sugar lobby, too. Federal subsidies and import tariffs on sugar keep the cost of sugar unnaturally high and lead to many manufacturers using less healthy sweeteners.
Moss also points out that the drive for profits at the food giants has contributed to the obesity epidemic. "In the early 1980s, investors shifted their money from stodgy blue chip companies to the high-flying technology industry and other sectors that promised quicker returns," pressuring food companies to cut costs and increase marketing to satisfy Wall Streets demands for more and more profits.
Ultimately, the consumer is in control of what he or she eats. Moss doesn't call for government regulation, but he would welcome industry self-policing. The individual consumer "seizing control in order to ward off an unhealthy dependence on processed food seems like the best--and only--recourse we have." Moss's examples abound, his argument is readable and convincing, and I can almost guarantee he will have you reading labels and thinking carefully about what you are putting in your body.
Thanks to Edelwiess and the publisher for the complimentary review copy.
This book delved into the histories of different food companies. Told about the people who started the companies, and the problems they had along the way. It also tells of problems that the companies had through the years, in trying to keep up with (and surpass) the other food companies, all of which have now turned into huge conglomerates. There are people who tried to change the way things were done, and many who were able to make many good changes.
He included information regarding the pleasure centers of the brain when certain foods are eaten, which I found very intriguing. He also told about the way the companies do taste tests with people, to come up with the proper mix of ingredients for the best taste of the products.
The problem with the three big ingredients is, if you reduce or take any of them out, the product is pretty much inedible. So they're stuck. If they make it healthier, they're not going to make the sales. Even though people realize these things aren't good for them, it doesn't make the products taste okay if the ingredients are adjusted downwards. Additionally, the industry is very cutthroat. If one tries to adjust the ingredients downwards a little, the sales will just go to the other companies.
The question of convenience is very important. We don't have the same society we used to when mothers stayed home and cooked everything. After working hard all day, it's extremely hard to go in a kitchen and cook and clean every night, so these products are used really often for different meals and snacks.
So the question becomes, should government REGULATE the amounts of ingredients that can be used. I'm very divided on that issue. Especially when one sees how corporations seem to rule most of the arms of the government. There just doesn't seem to be an easy fix.
Several years ago I stopped eating pretty much all processed food, and gag on most of it I taste anymore. But the big three he talks about, the fat, sugar and salt, were not what drove me away from the processed food. It was the other stuff! The MSG and the aspartame and the hydrolyzed vegetable protein, the BHA and BHT, the nitrates, and all those other wonderful things that give people cancer. The high fructose corn syrup, the GMOs. Most of these ingredients were not even touched on in the book, which is where it varied from what I thought it would be. The research I have done on the above items makes me not even worry about the big three!
I particularly enjoyed the histories of Kellog and Battle Creek and Kraft. There was very interesting info on the companies that were taken over by Phillip Morris.
I was extremely surprised that these companies and people opened up to the author. I hope he will consider doing a followup book with the lesser known but just as, if not more so, dangerous ingredients in processed foods.
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