It is not often that a book I’ve read affects me so powerfully, but this one was really an eye opening experience. I am a long time junk food junkie and I’ve consumed many processed foods in my lifetime and after reading this book I have to say I felt a bit nauseous!
The book is divided into three sections as the title suggests, salt, sugar and fat, all those lovely ingredients that are added to processed foods to make them tasty and addicting to us the consumer and have a great deal to do with our current obesity epidemic.
I’m not telling anyone anything new when I say that the number of large people in this country is well, huge. It’s an alarming epidemic that has resulted in seat belt extenders on airplanes, larger clothing sizes in the stores and Disney World digging a deeper trench for the SMALL WORLD ride because the boats kept getting stuck. I have always been perplexed by why this has happened. I mean when I was a kid if anyone carried a lot of extra pounds they were the exception not the rule. I realize that people are eating more, and there are more convenience foods than ever in the grocery store, but I was the product of a household where both my parents worked and we had a lot of these convenience foods in our house too, and I was skinny.
Well this book was able to give me some answers. Yes, we as a society eat a lot of convenience foods, but over time the food manufacturers have gotten more and more liberal with their additions of sugars, salts and fat in their products. It’s to the point that the average consumer is now consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, 33 pounds of cheese a year and 850 milligrams of salt a day. The cheese amount alone is three times what we used to consume back in the 1970’s and the sugar and salt is way over the recommended daily allowance.
How did this happen?
Michael Moss has done a great deal of research and presented it in this book in a way that is interesting and not dry and clinical. He visits the major manufacturers of these foods, delves into their histories, visits their labs and interviews the food industry inventors and executives. It is fascinating, enlightening and scary all at the same time.
For instance it was fascinating to learn that the founder of Kellogg’s cereal, John Harvey Kellogg was a health nut who invented his cereal mixture to give to his patients at the sanitarium he ran in Battle Creek, Michigan. John Harvey was trying to find an alternative to the nations digestion problems caused by the heavy, greasy breakfasts they were consuming. His healthy grain filled cereal mixture was a hit with his patients, so he and his brother Will started manufacturing the healthful cereal to be sold to their patients and other locals, but Will had greater ambitions. While John Harvey was away in Europe, Will added some sugar to the mix and then their customers really liked it! John Harvey was pretty unhappy when he returned and found out about the change to his recipe. so little brother Will started his own sugary cereal company (not without a fight) and as they say, the rest is history.
It was also enlightening to learn that the majority of the current and past executives at the big food giants don’t consume the foods they sell. I would have expected a bunch of physiques similar to the Governor of New Jersey, but instead Moss found a bunch of healthy eaters. In fact the majority of them realize that they are the cause of the obesity problems but they aren’t quite sure how to fix it. It’s a complex problem.
It was scary to learn that all those low-fat, fat-free and lo-cal items that people buy to try to eat a little healthier are just pumped and chemically enhanced with more sugars and salts to make them edible. “No Sugar, No Fat, No Sales” is one of the chapter titles and Moss discovered this for himself when he taste tested a stripped down version of his favorite snack Cheez-Its and discovered it was inedible.
I hope a lot of people read this book and get their eyes opened because I know that I will never go to the grocery and shop the same way again. I will never be able to stop purchasing those foods I crave the most like salty potato chips, a divine sugary cereal or the occasional PopTart, but I hope that I at least will be more aware of what I’m buying and think twice before I throw it in my cart!
As Moss says in his book,
….this book is intended as a wake-up call to the issues and tactics at play in the food industry, to the fact that we are not helpless in facing them down. We have choices, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping, and I saw this book, on its most basic level, as a tool for defending ourselves when we walk through those doors.