Friday, June 21, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss 
Random House, 2/26/2013
Hardcover, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400069804

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....
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, NestlĂ©, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
My Thoughts:
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us is by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist. While Salt Sugar Fat may seem like a nutritional guide, it really is a look at the history of the convenience food industry and their use of sugar, salt and fat in their products. Moss takes us inside companies like General Foods, Kellogg, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Nestle, and shows us the development of some famous products. From the lab research to the marketing campaigns, Moss delves into what the food giants do to entice us not only to try their products, but to crave them and  keep coming back for more.
Part of this requires finding the bliss point for the food. Moss writes: "For all ingredients in food and drink, there is an optimum concentration at which the sensory pleasure is maximal. This optimum level is called the bliss point. The bliss point is a powerful phenomenon and dictates what we eat and drink more than we realize. The only real challenge for companies when it comes to the bliss point is ensuring that their products hit this sweet spot dead on. (Location 515-518)."
Of course it is sugar, salt, and fat that people enjoy and the food giants would not have products without these key tastes. Combine the bliss point in the convenience foods with clever marketing campaigns and it's no wonder people are deceived by what the labels really indicate. It is not the presence of sugar, salt, and fat in foods, but the large quantities found in convenience foods that may end up spurring a national debate on health.  Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are all linked to the highly processed foods and their phenomenal amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.
Yes, we all knowingly buy the soda, chips, cookies, and cheese that may be undermining our health. One of the questions may be at what point are the food companies responsible for the unhealthy amounts of the sugar, salt, and fat in the things we are buying? Aren't we responsible for our own choices? But aren't they also responsible on some level for the deceptive advertising on products? Or the marketing of these products to children? I think these questions have actually been asked for years with no satisfactory answers.
While I'm not going into specifics, I see enough examples of unhealthy lunches being provided to children by parents who, I truly believe, think they are providing a healthier lunch than what the schools could provide. The sugary drinks, convenience yogurts, snack packs, prepackaged meals, sugary processed fruits....  While I can't hold the food giants responsible for parental choice, I can't help but wonder if these highly processed foods teeming with salt, sugar and fat were not available wouldn't these kids be taking a healthier lunch? Of course, looking at the other side, these foods normally do ensure that the child will be eating some lunch. Obviously, I'm not going to solve the questions here, and we all need to accept the fact that the food giants will not be giving up these three key ingredients.
In the epilogue Moss writes: "It had taken me three and a half years of prying into the food industry’s operations to come to terms with the full range of institutional forces that compel even the best companies to churn out foods that undermine a healthy diet. Most critical, of course, is the deep dependence the industry has on salt, sugar, and fat. Almost every one of the hundreds of people I interviewed in the course of writing this book—bench chemists, nutrition scientists, behavioral biologists, food technicians, marketing executives, package designers, chief executives, lobbyists—made the point that companies won’t be giving these three up, in any real way, without a major fight. Salt, sugar, and fat are the foundation of processed food, and the overriding question the companies have in determining the formulations of their products is how much they need of each to achieve the maximum allure. (Location 5662-5668)"
Will this book change me? It may certainly make me more intentional in the grocery store. All of the processed convenience foods were originally imagined as occasional fare rather than a staple or all inclusive part of our diet. Salt Sugar Fat may be part of the clarion call that sends more people back to preparing most meals from scratch. However, I think even Moss would admit that to expect people to give up all convenience foods will likely not happen, and in the end he doesn't provide any answers to the problem.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.

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