Flap Copy: In the spring of 1999 the heads of the world’s largest processed food companies—from Coca-Cola to Nabisco—gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a secret meeting. On the agenda: the emerging epidemic of obesity, and what to do about it.
Increasingly, the salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden foods these companies produced were being linked to obesity, and a concerned Kraft executive took the stage to issue a warning: There would be a day of reckoning unless changes were made. This executive then launched into a damning PowerPoint presentation—114 slides in all—making the case that processed food companies could not afford to sit by, idle, as children grew sick and class-action lawyers lurked. To deny the problem, he said, is to court disaster.
When he was done, the most powerful person in the room—the CEO of General Mills—stood up to speak, clearly annoyed. And by the time he sat down, the meeting was over.
Since that day, with the industry in pursuit of its win-at-all-costs strategy, the situation has only grown more dire. Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It’s no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.
In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century—including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed—in a technique adapted from tobacco companies—to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt.” He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: The industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of “heavy users”—as the companies refer to their most ardent customers—are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.
Review: What is there to say about this book that hasn’t already been covered on talk radio? Basically, if you have any interest in nutrition or healthy eating, go read this book.
Michael Moss delivers a damning indictment of modern food production, with in-depth research into the engineering of our favorite processed foods. The addition of salt, sugar, and fat, particularly into foods where they aren’t really needed (ie, salt is frequently added to increase the flavor sensations of other ingredients [making something more addictive], even though it’s not needed for taste, preservation, or other reasons).
While not a prescriptive book, Salt Sugar Fat makes a very compelling case for all of us to take a deeper look, past the marketing, at the actual ingredients in our food. Instead of simply believing claims about “low fat”, “reduced sodium”, or “all natural”, what if we read the ingredients and paid attention to the serving sizes and impact on our health of each thing we eat? What would our waistlines and our wallets look like?
The nice thing about Salt Sugar Fat not having a prescriptive element is that the reader is able to determine for him or herself what action to take. I have found myself scrutinizing the labels on all products – even milk! – and making decisions based on the information that I find there. This doesn’t always mean that I make healthy choices – I have been on an Oreo kick for weeks – but it means that I am making informed choices. Which I think is Moss’s ultimate goal: the food companies hold all the cards and make purposeful choices to mislead the consumer. Salt Sugar Fat gives us a little power on our side.
Source: Advance Reader’s Copy from Random House