Salt Sugar Fat: new book ups the anti-food industry hype
This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on the notion of “food addiction,” claiming that food companies make food that is just too good. The article is a publicity-generating excerpt from a new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, just released. With it, most commentators say, the food-bev industries can expect the pressure to rise yet again as the political, media, and cultural elite work through its pages.
How The Guardian newspaper sees the book:
New York Times journalist Michael Moss spent three-and-a-half years working out how big food companies get away with churning out products that undermine the health of those who eat them. He interviewed hundreds of current and former food industry insiders – chemists, nutrition scientists, behavioural biologists, food technologists, marketing executives, package designers, chief executives and lobbyists.
What he uncovered is chilling: a hard-working industry composed of well-paid, smart, personable professionals, all keenly focused on keeping us hooked on ever more ingenious junk foods; an industry that thinks of us not as customers, or even consumers, but as potential “heavy users”.
How do the food giants do it? Moss’s central thesis is that junk food is a legalised type of narcotic. By deliberately manipulating three key ingredients – salt, sugar and fat – that act much like drugs, racing along the same pathways and neural circuitry to reach the brain’s pleasure zones, the food and drink industry has created an elastic formula for a never-ending procession of lucrative products…..
Salt Sugar Fat: Q&A With Author Michael Moss – Time Magazine
In his new book, Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss takes readers on a tour of the $1 trillion processed food industry, and the sights aren’t pretty.
The average American eats 33 pounds of cheese and 70 pounds of sugar a year, and health experts say those trends triggered the obesity epidemic that has left millions at risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Based on his interviews with top industry executives from Kraft to Coca-Cola as well as leading food scientists, Moss discusses how we became so dependent on processed food.
How does covering the food industry compare to your other investigative reporting projects?
In some ways the food companies are fortresses. They share so little of what they do with nosy reporters. At the same time, I kind of discovered that food companies are in some ways are like hotels. When you really start meeting the people inside who work [there], there are few precious secrets. People really do love to talk about their work.
I was also incredibly fortunate to come across thousands and thousands of pages of internal documents that shed huge light on the dark corners in the processed food industry and convinced some of the key executives to talk me.
It’s pretty widely known that sugary cereals and Cheese Whiz are not good for you. What surprised you?
One of the things that really surprised me was how concerted and targeted the effort is by food companies to hit the magical formulation. Take sugar for example. The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the “bliss point.”
Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves. It is the process they’ve engineered that struck me as really stunning…..
This comment from the Center for Consumer Freedom:
Moss hopes that his book will result in government regulation of consumer choices, and he says that the White House has talked to him about the book’s findings. But recent polling shows the nation has little taste for laws to make food worse. Bloomberg’s soda ban — set to be law in NYC in two weeks — faces opposition from about three-quarters of Americans, according to an Associated Press poll.
But is Moss’s claim that foods are simply opiates in disguise credible? No. Researchers from Cambridge University reviewed the scientific evidence purporting to back up the theory and advised that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviours.”
And Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle can only laugh at Moss’s insinuations of dark conspiracies in food companies’ research and development divisions. Hinkle notes that the book’s argument boils down thusly: “Food companies work very, very hard to find out what will give you, the consumer, the most pleasure for your money — and then the diabolical fiends actually give it to you!”
The only “solutions” that exist for this obvious non-problem are to make foods (that you can afford, at least) taste worse.
What an appetizing thought. If you were wondering which foods and beverages are next in line for the food police ban-hammer after soft drinks, an enthusiastic review by the Daily Beast suggests gourmands should start hoarding steak and stinky cheese. According to the reviewer, Moss “shames the Center for Nutrition Policy for having skewed guidelines that fail to mention the dangerous fat content in beef and cheese.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), America’s centre of food policing, can be expected to enjoy pushing additional “sin” taxes on cheese and meat for which it has advocated for a long time. The rest of us won’t be so happy.
Commentary by Bob Messenger, Editor, The Morning Cup, foremost US food industry commentator:
Aw, jeez, when will the East Coast media geeks let up? Okay, you guys, we get it: Americans are obese. The food industry is evil. We’re all gonna die.
If you haven’t read the Feb. 20 New York Times hatchet piece on the industry (“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”), well, by all means, have at it. What you’ll find is a running account of clichés about how the food industry just doesn’t care about you and your health, how it uses science to lure you in, then addict you.
Back in 1999, then General Mills CEO Stephen Sanger pretty much threw cold water on a meeting of General Mills execs who were worried about the growing obesity trend and wanted to respond to it. Sanger’s answer? According to the New York Times reporter, he told the people at the meeting that he was not interested in talking about nutrition, because taste is what consumers really care about. Debate over.
But I’m going to say something that will probably get me bushwhacked by some readers. SANGER WAS RIGHT! Taste is and always has been the decisive deciding factor for 99% of Americans in choosing what they eat. You could be General Mills and market the healthiest, most nutritious product ever made by man, and if doesn’t taste good? Bomb! No chance of survival.
I don’t think Sanger meant he didn’t care if people ate food perceived as crap, what I think he was saying is, whatever it is we’re making, it better taste good because taste is the consumer’s bottom line. How is that wrong?
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