Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The food industry's motive behind adding obscene amounts of salt, sugar, and fat to processed foods wasn't to make us fat. That was just a side effect. What they wanted was to give consumers a product so tempting, so irresistible that not only would we buy it, we would buy lots of it again and again.
This is an amazing look into the food industry and the history of our grocery store shelves. It sheds some light on how things got so out of control, and why the food industry isn't in any rush to kowtow to the public health advocates who claim that our modern diet (heavy on processed foods) is responsible for a whole host of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
What shocked me the most is how much money is spent to ensure we buy foods that we know we should avoid. From brain scans that show how our brains react to sugar, salt, and fat to thousands of focus groups used to discover the formula for the perfect end product to mega marketing campaigns that appeal to our emotional brains to product placement that directly influences our purchases. Food companies are using food science and psychology to find the cheapest way to give us what we want (convenient and cheap food that tastes good) while maximizing their profits.
Unfortunately, the food companies are in the business of making food to make money. Period. The way they see it, their job is not to police consumer behavior but instead to meet an unfilled demand better than the other guy.
There was a recent study that concluded unhealthy diets now kill more people than tobacco, which is ironic when you consider that Phillip Morris actually bought out Kraft Foods and General Foods in the 80s as they sought to diversify.
And don't think our elected officials or other government organizations are going to rescue us from ourselves. How can they when they have to balance the public health implications of processed foods with the mega millions/billions that is big food?
If only big food would start to police themselves. But this seems unlikely since even if one company tried to do the right thing, the moral thing some would argue, unless their competitors also agreed, they'd simply lose market share and get punished for doing the right without anything changing.
The only thing that will really change the current state of our food system is consumer demand, and thanks to the fact that we are hooked on processed food, it's doubtful. But don't fear. The food companies have our collective back. They are on it. In fact, some are seizing the opportunity created by gastric bypass surgery to develop shakes that a patient recovering from the surgery can tolerate.
Moss seems to think that education is the consumer's best chance. Maybe if we realize how the food we're eating has been engineered to keep us eating (and overeating) by giving us what we want, whether it is good for us or not, than we have a hope of resisting temptation and making better choices.
This is a great read. It provides a historical perspective of the food industry. But it also adds valuable insight into the role that salt, fat, and sugar play in obesity.