Title: Salt Sugar Fat
Author: Michael Moss
Genre: non-fiction, food issues, health
Salt. Sugar. Fat.
Humans beings need all three to function but these three ingredients have become ticking time bombs in American society. Why? Because we eat too much of all three-usually at the same time! Who do we go to for help? The food companies? Nope. The government? Nope.
Unless you have been held captive in a cave for the last two decades, you have probably noticed the expanding waistlines and rising obesity rates over the past two or three decades and the decrease of physical activity for all ages. Michael Moss explains how we got here and it's a perfect storm of convenience foods, bad choices, busy schedules, psychological advertising and food companies determined to increase their sales, no matter the cost.
Food companies specifically target children and their guilt-ridden mothers. Why do food companies exploit the guilt of mothers? In the morning rush, some mothers claim they have no time to feed their children a healthy meal. Well, the food giants will take care of that for you, as long as you don't mind cereal with 50-70% sugar content! Or cereal that specifically targets kids by featuring their favorite cartoon character. Dinner is rushed meal as well as parents deal with whiny, hungry and tired children. The parents themselves are tired from the stress of working outside the home during the day. Frozen, packaged food to the rescue! Unfortunately, these convenience foods have high levels of sugar, salt and fat.
"Food manufacturers now spend nearly twice as much money on advertising their cereals as they do on the ingredients that go in them." (77) Coke is notorious for marketing "toward particularly poor and vulnerable parts of the country where consumption seems to know no bounds." (109) Food companies spend millions of dollars each year on the "bliss point" of food. The bliss point is the "precise amount of sweetness (or fat or salt) that makes food or drink most enjoyable." (10) In other words, the bliss point keeps us coming back for more- buying more and more until you become addicted. Of course, the word "addiction" has a negative connotation to it, so the food industry refers to their most loyal buyers as "heavy users." (109) Sounds similar to drug addiction, no?In fact, scientists have treated overeating by using the drug that "counters the effect of heroin." (156)
The government (the FDA and the USDA) are guilty parties as well: "When it comes to nutrition, the role the government plays is less a matter of regulation than it is promotion of some of the industry practices deemed most threatening to the health of consumers." (211) Michael Moss uses cheese and red meat as a case study. We know that cheese and red meat are high in saturated fat, yet the government continues to encourage Americans to eat cheese and red meat. Cheese consumption has skyrocketed in this country, mostly because it is included in other processed foods. The government allows ammonia and other additives to be added to the meat supply for various reasons, knowing that said additives can be dangerous.
Humans are born loving sugar not salt, but the high rates of salt in processed food has created an unnatural addiction (er, heavy usage) in America. "Each year food companies use 5 billion pounds of salt." (281) As increased salt consumption has come on the public radar, food companies have responded by changing the wording on their packaging (especially when targeting ads to women). "Fried" has been replaced with "toasted" or "baked" and the 100-calorie packs were invented a few years ago but with mixed results; people still overate when eating from the packs- they just opened another package. Thankfully, salt addiction can be reversed by eliminating processed food from your diet (283)
Why aren't food companies more health conscious? In the business world, it is not "in the nature of these companies to care about the consumer in an empathetic way. Food companies are also deeply obligated toward their shareholders... they're thinking about consumption and sales." (338) In other words, money is the bottom line, not the health of their fellow human beings. Many of the executives interviewed by Michael Moss avoid their own products! (341) "There is a class issue at work in processed foods, in which the inventors and company executives don't generally partake in their own creations. Thus the heavy reliance on focus groups with the targeted customer." (209) "People who work in these companies have very little in common with their audience." (209) What does this mean? Food company head honchos don't eat crappy junk food! Is that a wake up call or what?
"Some food industry insiders argue that the low cost of processed foods has been thwarting the development of healthier ways of feeding the world." (340) Think about that statement. Read it again if you have to. Instead of spending millions of dollars on the next soda or snack chip, these companies could have been figuring out how to feed starving people in the Third World or helping citizens in undeveloped countries improve their farming practices. Instead Coke and Oreos have been introduced to the Third World.
Thankfully, newer generations are challenging the "doctrine of convenience foods."
So what can we do? As Michael Moss simply states, "Only we can save us." (343) Be aware of advertising tactics that prey on your emotions; look out for the soda and chip display that are placed at convenient eye-level and usually in front of the store; don't let your kids beg, whine, and demand for sugar-laden cereal. Wean yourself from processed food and start eating healthy, fresh food again.