Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Salt Sugar Fat is a shocking eye opener into the various ways that the food giants get us to eat their products. It will change the way you think about processed, convenience foods.

A customer recommended Salt Sugar Fat, and I'm glad I followed through. Michael Moss is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist. In this well rounded book Moss gives us an alarming picture of the business side of the food giants. We all have a vague idea of the food industry employing marketers to advertise foods that are perhaps not so good for us. Moss pulls back the veil to show what they really think and how they really operate. It's much, much worse than you could ever have imagined.

The first thing to note is the paradox that the processed food industry is not primarily in the business of nutrition. They are in the business of getting consumers hooked on salt, fat and sugar, the key ingredients that create that irresistible craving. Even more amazingly, the upper eschelons of these corporate behemoths are fully aware of the health implications of the foods they are pushing. The opening chapter of the book chronicles a secret meeting between all the big industry players, as they tried to nut out some sort of response to the obesity crisis.

The reader may wonder why key players in the food industry would get together over this issue. At the time of this 1999 meeting, Kraft was owned by tobacco company Philip Morris. Philip Morris knew all about litigation: they'd had to pay out billions in damages to state governments due to the havoc that had been wreaked on their hospital systems by tobacco related illnesses. The food industry saw the writing on the wall and wanted to avoid similar actions in the future.

There's plenty to amaze, stun and shock in Salt Sugar Fat. Merely the facts of the food and drink industry's composition is enough to do your head in. This is a business made up of scientists, technicians, lawyers, marketers, psychologists, researchers etc. etc. They even employ neuroscience to try and figure which parts of the brain light up when consuming salt, fat and sugar. This is a business so big that the stakes are necessarily high. Either sell in huge volumes or go under.

Another bonus feature of the book is that Moss has interviewed plenty of key figures from the industry who have left and now want to blow the whistle. Another irony Moss learnt from these interviews: many of the key figures driving the industry avoid the foods they sell to the public. They care too much about their own health.

Anyone who eats processed foods from these big companies will find much of interest in Salt Sugar Fat. 

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss. Published by WH Allen. ISBN: 9780753541470 RRP: $19.99

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