Friday, March 15, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat

by Michael Moss
Random House   2013
480 pages            Non-Fiction
The Shortlist     ebook

My granddaughter aged 20 months, sits in her highchair. Her lunch is some strawberries, some carrots, and a hotdog with cheese in the middle. She pokes a few strawberries in her mouth and drops all the carrots on the floor. Then she eats one slice of the hotdog with cheese. With a smile on her face, she looks at me and says, "Umm, delicious!" In an instant, the hotdog slices are gone. Another child lost to "salt, sugar, and fat."

In his book with the same name,  Salt, Sugar, Fat, Michael Moss has created a highly readable study of the food industry and its drive to create ever more edible concoctions to please the palate and the pocketbook and keep you coming back for more. Food scientists strive to "optimize" their products to maximize our cravings for them. You all remember the slogan, "betcha you can't eat just one," for Lays potato chip. Well, that was a food scientist at work, creating a product with just the right amount of salt and fat to make you want to eat those chips until the bag is empty. And then there is the "bliss point" for the soft-drink industry--the point where you open up the can and go "Ahhh." Combine the right amount of sugar, the right amount of salt and a whopping dose of fat and you have food science in a nutshell (with salt on it of course.) The whole reason for adding things to food is to optimize products to maximize cravings. Moss says: "These are the pillars of processed foods, the three ingredients without which there would be no processed foods. Salt, sugar and fat drive consumption by adding flavor and allure. But surprisingly, they also mask bitter flavors that develop in the manufacturing process. They enable these foods to sit in warehouses or on the grocery shelf for months. And, most critically to the industry's financial success, they are very inexpensive."

The preface of the book is very enlightening. In the late 1990s when the epidemic of obesity was just being recognized, a group of food industry leaders, including CEOs of many of the food giants, gathered together to discuss business strategy. The leader of the meeting was trying to impress upon the businessmen that they were most likely going to need to change their strategies if they were going to weather the coming storm of criticism about their industry regarding obesity. At the end of the meeting, no one was convinced that they wanted to change any strategy, and most went back to their companies and added more salt, sugar and fat to their already laden products. 

Moss's book is very well researched, and he also acts like a journalist doing many interviews. I found the book very helpful as my husband and I continue to rid our lives and our pantries of the junk that has weighted us down all our lives. Our mothers were part of the 1950s when convenience foods were just coming into their own. Mixes, frozen foods, packaged cookies, TV dinners and chicken pot pies. My oh my! The scourge of our generation. After reading Salt, Sugar, Fat, I renewed with vigor my nutritional quest. I am now reading nutritional information on every single item I buy, shopping only the outside aisles of the store, and emptying my cupboards of snacks. If I don't eat one, I will never eat the whole bag. I am proud to say that we are making good progress.

The grocery chain where I shop, Meijers, has a big promotion every couple of months where they offer dozens of items on a 10 for $10 sale with the eleventh item free. Last week for the first time they had nearly as many fresh items on the sale as they did processed items. So for every can of Spaghetti o's, there was an avocado; for every bag of cookies, there was a bag of lettuce. I am proud of the company for making the decision to promote fresh items. My challenge for this year is to try to not buy any processed food items when I go to the grocery. Is it possible? Hope so!

You might also like to read Taste What You're Missing by Barb Stuckey. Stuckey is a food scientist and she tells about how and why salt, sugar, and fat are added to foods from a food science point of view. Her intent is to show us why these elements are necessary in making palatable food. A good companion to Salt, Sugar, Fat.

Following this review, I am going to look at a book I just received from the publicist, Foods that Harm; Foods that Heal. It discusses hundreds of food items and what they do to the body. Look for it.

The New York Times review

No comments: