“I really want you, my fellow American, maybe my fellow tubby American (yes, I’ve lost a bunch of weight, but I’m still XL) to read this book. Before I review the contents, a note and a couple prefaces, ok?
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. 😀 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”