Salt, Sugar, Fat
How the Food Giants Hooked UsBook - 2013
The Atlantic * The Huffington Post * Men's Journal * MSN (U.K.) * Kirkus Reviews * Publishers Weekly
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * WINNER OF THE JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION AWARD FOR WRITING AND LITERATURE
From a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times comes the explosive story of the rise of the processed food industry and its link to the emerging obesity epidemic. Michael Moss reveals how companies use salt, sugar, and fat to addict us and, more important, how we can fight back.
In the spring of 1999 the heads of the world's largest processed food companies--from Coca-Cola to Nabisco--gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a secret meeting. On the agenda: the emerging epidemic of obesity, and what to do about it.
Increasingly, the salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden foods these companies produced were being linked to obesity, and a concerned Kraft executive took the stage to issue a warning: There would be a day of reckoning unless changes were made. This executive then launched into a damning PowerPoint presentation--114 slides in all--making the case that processed food companies could not afford to sit by, idle, as children grew sick and class-action lawyers lurked. To deny the problem, he said, is to court disaster.
When he was done, the most powerful person in the room--the CEO of General Mills--stood up to speak, clearly annoyed. And by the time he sat down, the meeting was over.
Since that day, with the industry in pursuit of its win-at-all-costs strategy, the situation has only grown more dire. Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It's no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It's no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.
In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century--including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more--Moss's explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the "bliss point" of sugary beverages or enhance the "mouthfeel" of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed--in a technique adapted from tobacco companies--to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as "fat-free" or "low-salt." He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: The industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of "heavy users"--as the companies refer to their most ardent customers--are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.
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Michael Moss’ *Salt Sugar Fat* is a complex, impressive exposé of the ways the processed food industry manipulates the public and government. It is sharp, comprehensive, entertaining, and incredibly thorough.
To make his case about the bewitching power of processed food, Moss breaks the book down into the three titular categories. Each of the three sections contains some shocking new information about the ingredient in question, how we experience it, and how it is used in processed food to produce the coveted “mouthfeel” (industry term) and flavour that will keep “heavy users” (industry term) coming back for more.
Moss is meticulous in backing up his claims with studies and knowledgeable named sources. It’s surprising how many of the industry insiders are willing to be named, and express reservations on the record about their participation in a system that’s led to poor public health and an obesity epidemic.
What makes this book truly remarkable is that Moss has no special bone to pick with processed food, in and of itself. He makes it plain on several occasions that he loves many of the convenient food options on offer, and he sympathises with food industry scientists when they mourn the metallic, chemical taste of their salt-reduced food offerings. Moss’s goal isn’t to take down the industry or ban all these items.
Rather, this book issues a plea for processed food giants to be more transparent about what their foods actually contain and don’t contain. No more inflated health claims for cereals fortified with more sugar than vitamins. No more bullying the USDA into changing their food guides. No more exploiting the addictive properties of their products without regard for the health of their heavy users. *Salt Sugar Fat* is a call to attention for all foodies, and essential reading for fans of Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle.
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