Apr 3, 2013

The Weeknight Book Club: Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.

www.goodreads.com

Today's book is from a genre not often featured in the book club section of my blog. 'Salt, Sugar, Fat... How the Food Giants Hooked Us' (hereby abbreviated to 'Salt, Sugar,Fat') is a fascinating and disturbing investigative work by award winning New York Times journalist Michael Moss. As the title suggests, the novel explores the science and psychology behind the competitive and high stakes convenience food industry in the United States. 'Salt, Sugar, Fat' was released this year and has been on the NY Times bestseller list, I'm linking to the paper's review here. The impetus for writing this book was the alarming rise of obesity and its complications in North America. In addition, there is the mystery of why the industries implicated as part of the cause have done little to help stem the tide of obesity either voluntarily or else under government regulation.

When it comes to healthy eating, I'm one of those people who knows what the right thing to do is. I have no excuse for eating in any other way. My family food budget is more than adequate, I live in a city blessed with access to abundant fresh produce and I have an education and career in a health related field. It's just that well, you know, a girl really does need that can of Coke Zero when she's been up all hours feeding and settling her newborn. And speaking of newborns, did you know how hard it is to eat one handed when holding a baby? Don't even think about eating anything involving cutlery, peeling or seeds. There are only so many apple and toast dinners you can have before KFC or a bowl of Cheezels starts to look like a substantial meal.

 

'Salt, Sugar, Fat' taught me possibly too much about food processing to the point that I can't even walk past the chips at the supermarket without feeling both manipulated and nauseous. What I thought were urban myths about the origins of fast food are in fact standard practice for many suppliers.

 

Moss begins by addressing the three elements that make convenience foods so addictive and tasty - saltiness, sweetness and the effect of fat in giving food good 'mouth feel'. There is a 'sweet spot' for the concentrations of each of these that make consumers want to keep eating and buying a food. Millions is spent on research both in the lab and on consumers. Children are targeted specifically. Ethnic sub groups are profiled. The eating habits of men and women of different age groups and socio economic classes are researched. It's all in aid of producing a product that is irresistible to an increasingly segmented market.

 

He goes on to discuss the financial and political motives behind how foods are marketed. Part of the reason that cheese is ubiquitous in fast foods is that the US government had to do something about all the excess full fat milk product that dairy farmers have in the wake of reduced fat milk becoming so popular with consumers. Cheese is made with the milk solids and it returns to market as an item manufacturers have to find more uses for. Cheese has moved from being an item savoured on its own every so often to something that could be part of every meal and snack in your day.

 

More disturbingly is how the vulnerable segments of society are almost defenceless in the face of the slick marketing and supply of food manufacturers. It is ridiculously cheap and easy for children in poorer areas to go to the corner store and buy chips and soft drink for breakfast. Brand name food websites encourage 'cooking' meals based on heavily processed cans of soup and cured meats. Before you know it, processed food has become part of your lifestyle.

 

It's easy to say that we all have choices and can therefore choose not to buy these foods. And we know we shouldn't. But we do for all sorts of reasons. On a personal level, reading 'Sugar, Salt, Fat' helped make the little voice in my head telling me to make just that little bit of an effort to make dinner after a draining day speak louder and with enough conviction for my hands and eyes to take notice.

 

 

2 comments:

  1. It's shocking how the processed food industry can get away with what they do and that consumers are so ignorant of what's going on. Maybe the ingredients lists should explain exactly how regular consumption of their product will impact on your health....cigarettes do. Happy cooking! Rx

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  2. Sounds interesting....though I am often overloaded with evidence re: nutrition doing research on obesity...
    The fast/junk food companies - that is their job to hook us in.
    Did you know, though, that the healthy food pyramid was designed by the US department of agriculture? There is little evidence for this pyramid, or indeed for most of the conventional wisdom regarding weight control and loss.

    This is even more outrageous than the work of the junk food companies, I feel. What hope does the average person have?

    ReplyDelete

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