40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2013
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.
You open a bag of chips intending to eat only a few handfuls. You find the chips tasting quite good, and a few handfuls turns into a few more. Just one more... o.k., last one... definitely the last one. A few minutes later you find yourself staring down at an empty bag. Then your stomach starts to hurt--then your heart. The guilt isn't far behind. Who among us hasn't experienced this at one time or another? This is junk food in a nutshell: it tastes great (practically irresistible) and is very convenient, but if you indulge too much (which sometimes seems all too easy), it's not very good for you. All of this has an easy explanation, it's right there on the label: impressive portions of salt, sugar and fat, the junk food trifecta. Each has its own appeal, and each is very inexpensive (which explains why it's in our food), but over the years each has also been implicated in some of our most common and serious conditions and diseases, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, the junk food trifecta is not only popping up in our junk food, it is increasingly being featured in virtually all of the processed foods that we eat--from chips and soda, to canned food and prepared meals, to cake and ice-cream. And as salt, sugar and fat have become more common in the foods that we eat, the conditions and illnesses associated with their abuse have reached epidemic proportions. In his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us journalist Michael Moss takes us behind the labels and explores the history and practices of the processed food industry-a story that features the rise of salt, sugar and fat, and the deterioration of our health.
Moss divides his book into 3 parts, one for each of salt, sugar and fat (not in this order).
In Part I, on sugar, we learn how the processed food players have used very precise science to identify just what amount of sugar they need to add to their products to hit our `bliss point' (a self-explanatory concept). We also learn how the bliss point (as well as marketing) has figured into the evolution of breakfast cereals, the soda wars, and the composition of so-called fruit drinks (such as Tang, Kool-Aid, and Capri Sun)-as well as many other processed foods. Interspersed throughout we learn about the emergence of science that has fingered sugar as a major culprit in numerous health concerns from tooth decay to obesity and diabetes.
In Part II, on fat, We learn how this substance, unlike sugar, has no bliss point, but is instead something whose allure just seems to keep on rising the richer it is, and the more of it we find in our mouths. The focus in this section is on the history of processed cheese, and the explosion of cheese consumption since the 1970′s. This explosion, we find, has been aided and abetted in the United States by certain government policies and interventions. Indeed, while one arm of the USDA has identified cheese as being a source of deep concern for its high quantity of fat, another arm has actively promoted it through a marketing program intended to prop up the dairy industry. Processed meat is also discussed in this section, with a special focus on hamburger and bologna.
In Part III, on salt, we learn how our taste for salt can be amplified through increased intake (and how our blood pressure tends to suffer as a result). We also learn how salt is used in the processed food industry for a plethora of purposes from enhancing certain flavors, to masking others, to adding crunchiness to products, to delaying spoilage. Finally, we learn of the ins and outs and ups and downs of the snack food sector, with its heavy reliance on salt (as well as sugar and fat).
The journalistic expose is inherently a tension-filled genre. On the one hand, there is often an issue of real public concern at play; but on the other hand, it is ever in the interest of the journalist to inflate the controversy (and the blame). Moss does do a fairly good job of steering clear of these traps--for the most part--though the objective reader will occasionally rankle at Moss' presentation, and his choice of words and focus. On the whole, I've come away with a renewed interest and concern in just what goes into the food that I eat, and how much salt, sugar and fat it contains--and this, I think, is very valuable in itself. A full executive summary of the book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com; a podcast discussion of the book will be available soon.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Society is slowing understanding that there is a downside to the convenience of ready-made, processed food that supermarkets typically sell, just as we now understand the pitfalls with fast food. What is less known is the various "tricks" used to make many of us de facto addicts.
This book, written by a New York Times investigative reporter, details the rapid growth of the (American) processed foods industry and takes a look at the various methods being used to make us want to consumer more and more. It is no accident, it is design. Design of a big business worth over a trillion US dollars a year in just America alone.
Some of the statistics cited are alarming. The average American (note that word - average) will eat over 33 pounds (15 kg) of a fat-laden cheese each year, equivalent to the weight of a small child. Not alarmed yet? How about 70 pounds (31.7kg) of sugar? Or double the amount of salt that we should ingest... and all of this is only from processed food! Of course, a bit of everything can be good for you, but when this means that one in three adults is clinically obese and the problem is still growing you really need to sit up and pay attention.
The author takes a thoughtful look at the problem which is a worldwide issue and examines the role, or possibly collusion, that the processed food industry has been involved in. This is no conspiracy theory-style drama but a matter-of-fact, an articulated consideration of the problem. The role of product development and various food scientists, marketeers and ad men and even industry lobbying efforts are brought together to get us eating more, more, more.
The reader is free to draw their own conclusions and inferences.
Processed food is said to be affordable to the general population, at least by its advocates. Often the reality is a lot different when you check it out. Of course, it might be faster, more convenient and be attractive, but it is not necessarily cheaper, more wholesome and as good for you. Time after time we are seeing various scandals affecting "big food" such as, at the time of writing, the growing mislabelling crisis affecting meat in Europe where horse meat apparently has been "mislabelled" and sold as beef, passed on through a chain of suppliers, subcontractors and processors. If you are not worried by various animal welfare issues, mislabelling, pesticides and other chemicals or the various addictive or health damaging properties of your foods, what will get you to look at what you eat. Is anything really what it seems to be?
Reading about the gradual resistance to the domination of "big food" and the changing shape, if you pardon the pun, of our dietary habits was also interesting. What stood out from the book was the reaction of many people who work within the industry. They are not necessarily the most enamoured with their (employer's) own products. Whilst polished marketing departments will no doubt mumble phrases about everything being fine in moderation when forming part of a balanced diet and so on, the following text is really thought-provoking and possibly telling. "I found that many of the executives I talked to go out of their way to avoid their own products. It got so that I couldn't resist asking everyone I spoke with about their eating habits: John Ruff from Kraft, who gave up sweet drinks and fatty snacks; Luis Cantarell from Nestlé, who eats fish for dinner; Bob Lin from Frito-Lay, who avoids potato chips, along with most everything that is heavily processed; Howard Moskowitz, the soft drink engineering whiz who declines to drink soda. Geoffrey Bible not only stopped smoking his company's cigarettes; when he oversaw Kraft, he worked just as hard at avoiding anything that would send his cholesterol surging."
The book ends, leaving the reader feeling like a bomb has detonated around them, such is the impact of the author's work, with an extensive series of notes that can lead to further reading and research should you doubt what you've read or want to know more. Whilst this reviewer is a reasonably level-headed, cynical soul, even if you could discount half of the book as being false and misleading (and there is NO evidence to suggest it is) then the remaining half is still deeply troubling and concerning.
61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2013
For decades, I have been referring to the title of this book as America's three basic food groups. Salt, sugar and fat are the most abundant additives in food, and their effects are cumulative - the more we eat them, the more we can eat them, and the more want to eat them, so the more we eat them. The result is pandemic obesity and its further unintended consequences - miserable chronic diseases in an age just when we thought we were overcoming them forever. This irony goes unexplored, but the book is packed with evidence of it.
The convenience of processed foods fits with our hurried society. It exacerbates the death of family meals, and encourages eating anywhere, anytime, and basically all day long. That by itself is enough to damn the industry, if traditional family values mean anything. Far more damaging than gay marriage, or abortion, or sexting, processed foods are destroying us, literally, physically. For hundreds of millions of Americans (and soon the world), this is normal. It is the way of life. There are no viable alternatives. This too, however, goes unexplored.
Moss divides the book into the three sections of its title. It contains the usual litany of incredible statistics - like how much of these ingredients the average American ingests annually, and how many billions of pounds the processors produce, but also some interesting developments on the way to perdition:
-Food processors call their customers users, like the drug addicts they want them to become.
-The "bliss point" is used by all of them to scientifically maximize the sugar effect along a bell curve. It allows food engineers to calculate how much sugar a child blisses out on compared to an adult, for example.
-Cereal makers spend twice as much on advertising as on ingredients.
-A child wanting cake for breakfast inspired Pop Tarts and its ilk. A whole new kind of meal evolved.
-Big Gulp, the 64 oz soda that New York's mayor is trying to ban, contains 41 teaspoons of sugar.
-Salt is a learned addiction. Newborns wince if you give them salt. But by six months they've accepted it, and for the rest of their lives they crave it. We start `em off young.
-Cheese used to be a food - an appetizer in the US, a dessert in Europe. Now it is an ingredient, and we put cheese in and on everything. We have tripled consumption to 33lb since the 70s.
-The cheese plague is the result of the Reagan administration's buying up and stockpiling excess cheese. The government bought it, marketed it, and provided it. Now it is normal to have cheese on everything, at every meal and snack. It's difficult to find any meal without it. "Healthy" salads come with cheese.
-Sugar is the methamphetamine of processed food ingredients; fat is the opiate. Perfectly legal drugs.
An interesting sidelight is Finland, where the government won. It mandated large bold labels "High In Salt", like cigarette warnings. The result has been an 80% reduction in heart attacks and strokes. In the US, the processors beat back the FDA and the USDA again and again.
The most disgusting food in the book comes from celebrity cook (and now diabetic patient) Paula Deen, who recommends taking a casserole of Kraft Mac & Cheese, scooping it into balls, wrapping the balls in bacon, and dropping them in the deep fryer. That's 0 for 4.
The book left two indelible impressions: the industry will do absolutely anything to beat back regulators. Health, untested chemical compounds, overeating, obesity - never even enter their equation, and the processors won't be told otherwise. Their freedom to poison Americans at will is all that matters. Now that Americans are nearing saturation, the processors are taking on the world. Obesity in Mexico is comparable to the US, and Brazil and India are being worked intensely.
Second was the overarching momentum and effort to overwhelm the consumer that make us think this is normal, this is right, this is exciting, this is ideal. Two hundred choices of sweet breakfast cereal mean you must choose from among them, or why would they be there? To overwhelm us into consuming more, they mobilize as armed forces, saturating stores and neighbourhoods with pretend foods that do far more harm than good. The industry is on autopilot and is out of control. Their intensity is fearsome. This is war.
On the plus side, Sugar Fat Salt is enormously well researched. No lead, no document seems to have been too insignificant to follow up and interview the writer. Visits to executives, to factories, to stores, to conventions - all make the book comprehensive, thorough and fair. This is due in no small part to the interviewees themselves, who came to the conclusion on their own that what they were designing and selling was bad for living beings. Often, Moss found they were working to undo what they had done to the world. And they were, as he admits, incredibly open and generous with their time. It shows.
On the minus side, for all the evidence, the book draws no conclusions. There is no prescription, no way out. Moss does not call for the investigation, dismantling or regulation of anything. The facts he found are left to speak for themselves. The book simply ends.
Also on the minus side, Moss sometimes takes forever to deliver a fact. He'll foreshadow it in one paragraph, then spend several sentences describing some office building or scene before finally delivering the fact you were expecting. I guess he thinks he's adding colour, but at 400 pages, Sugar Fat Salt could use a little pruning of its own.
The relentless pounding of the consumer is replicated by relentless pounding in the book. Case after case of singleminded efforts to get users hooked, of the thoughtless ruination of perfectly good foods that need chemical compounds to make them palatable again, and of the constant pressure to cut costs and increase sales are depressing insights into what's wrong with the food industry.
It's both insulting and sad, not to mention infuriating. The solution is as obvious as it is fantasy: people should steer clear of these poisons.
In the words of fitness buff Jack Lalane - if man made it, don't take it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2013
I like to know what I put into my body. It is not the case that I am Ms perfect who eats only what is good and nothing else -but I want to decide. This book is one of the most informative, non judgemental, documentary style reads that I have enjoyed for some time. I believe there should be more of this. This is up there with Michael Pollan's -The Omnivores Dilemma. We have the right to know what is in our food, we should be in posession of the knowledge to make an informed decision. I would like this to be compulsory reading for every parent, or parent to be. Well done Michael Moss, there is still hope for the USA as long as we have Michael Moore, Michael Moss and Michael Pollan.........Michael what an interesting co-incidence!!!!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2013
An absolute must read for anyone interested in what goes in their mouths and through their bodies. Fascinating information about the links between the food industry and the tobacco one...you'll never feel the same walking into a supermarket again! As a European who spends quite a bit of time in the US, it was a real eyeopener on some type of foods I was not familiar with. The book definitely requires some familiarity with American food products, although many of the brands examined are ubiquitous and you would recognize them all over the globe. Michal Moss does draw comparisons with Europe whenever possible and you do feel glad for the (unfortunately still too small) extra-protection afforded to European consumers! Perhaps his next endeavor could be a comparison between consumer protection between the two continents? This is definitely the kind of book you'll need to keep handy on your bookshelf even after you finished reading it...I bought the kindle edition, but it's annoying that the footnotes appear at the end of the book - I'll get a paper copy to keep and lend around!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2013
I bought this book and have found the contents to be factual and very interesting. Could not stop reading it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2013
I ordered this book right away after reading Michael Moss' article in The New York Times on the same topic, and I was not disappointed. If you're interested in consumer psychology, marketing, or the food industry, then this is truly a must-read. In each section of his book, Moss comprehensively explores how the food industry manipulates salt, sugar, fat, or a combination of the three in order to get us hooked. Everything from the crunch of your Dorito, to the creaminess of your milkshake, and the bitter/sweet combination of your oreo has been carefully engineered by experts in the food industry to get us coming back for more. The book is interesting and straight-forward to read as Moss has combined statistics, history, records of personal visits, and interesting observations to create a book that I struggled to put down.
This book will change the way you see junk food forever. Having read many books on junk food, the food industry, and the obesity epidemic, this is unequivocally my favourite.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2013
Although written for the American market, it has never been more accurate that where America leads (and especially where obesity is concerned), Britain closely follows. At a time of increasing concerns over the obesity epidemic and the damage processed foods are doing to our collective health, an easy to digest book such as this is an essential read if one is to understand the link between big business and bad health.
The cynical way in which large multinationals manipulate the food we and our children are eating is laid bare and if anything is to encourage a more healthy eating lifestyle (and a longer, leaner life too) it is books such as this. As a committed foodie with a passion for home cooking and a dislike of heavily processed slop I would heartily recommend this book to parents and non parents alike.
Understanding the "Salt, Sugar, Fat" issues today can have a direct impact on your health tomorrow. Read it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
How The Food Giants Hooked Us is the wry subtitle of this intriguing read. Children too obese to play suffer from diabetes and the early signs of hypertension and heart disease, all caused by diet. Why do the food giants add harmful ingredients and fool us into thinking a yoghurt with twice the sugar content of a sweetened cereal is good for us?
SALT SUGAR FAT is the list of three main additives used by processed food firms which make food more alluring, or specific to children's tastes. By the end of the 1990s over half the adult American population was overweight and nearly a quarter obese, healthcare costs were high and linked illnesses such as cancers were on the rise. Adults worked a second job and needed quick food, with no time for exercise. Generals testified in Washington that young people were too obese to recruit while surgeons blamed a rise in maternal deaths on overly fat mothers undergoing problematic caesareans. Yet in 1999 a meeting of CEOs of all the major food companies was presented with the alarming facts and refused to change policies.
Low-fat food often contains high levels of sugar, disguised by names such as glucose, fructose and dextrose. Sugar, fat and salt are cheap and useful additives. Neurologists have found that the brain lights up on receiving sugar just the way it does for cocaine, so manufacturers pour it into everything from breakfast cereal to main meals. This empty-calorie filler replaces tomatoes, fruits and grains. Salt brings out the taste of food and fat improves texture, also adding bulk.
The tobacco industry and food industry firms in some cases had the same parent company and were undergoing the same threats - from people concerned about marketing to children and ingredients listings.
Michael Moss persuaded some firms to make him versions of his favourite products without the additives. Kellogg's made him a saltless cracker which he now found was like tasteless, chewy cardboard. Campbells made him soups with reduced fat, sugar and salt; they were either bland or metallic and bitter.
The book contains Moss's visits to molecular biologists and biopsychologists, results of lab rat experiments and comparisons with addictive drugs. We learn the science behind the term 'mouth watering' and see that food technicians experiment to add the three ingredients to food in innovative ways. Diet soft drinks make people prone to eat more and high-fructose corn syrup added to soft drinks makes people eat more and even when they don't they still gain weight.
This book is similar to 'Fast Food Nation' - showing the demand for quick, easy, tasty, cheap food; the dubious methods used by industries to protect themselves, such as paying private food health inspectors. Slaughterhouses refuse to supply meat to food processors unless they are guaranteed it will not be tested for harmful e-coli bacteria prior to being mixed with meat from other producers. In Europe we value traceability 'from farm to fork' and at the order of the Irish Commissioner, the whole of the EU area is currently testing the DNA of processed meat products - finds have included pork DNA in supposedly halal meat supplied to prisons and a supermarket own-brand beef lasagne which was 100 percent equine DNA; arrests have been made, meat producers closed and major contracts cancelled.
The message of SALT SUGAR FAT is that no matter what we do about banning advertising to children of unhealthy foods, or taxing sweet drinks, the manufacturers are so dependent on their processes, often with government connivance in America, to make profits that they are not going to stop. We need to protect ourselves from this diet with correct nutritional advice and to make the right choices.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2013
This book provides a peek into the raging abyss which is the processed food industry of America.
Everyone should read this book, its shockingly stark in and brazenly honest, it teaches you to look out for yourself when surviving the traps of processed food.
In contrast to most other educative books regarding food intake, this book compels you to keep flipping pages, revealing a larger and larger piece of the neverending spiral which is the american food industry, leaving you in the end, with a feeling that its nobodies fault and everybodies fault and that you are the only person who can stand up for yourself.