Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: Salt Sugar Fat

In this stunning expose' of the processed food industry, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Michael Moss warns the American public of the pressing problems of obesity and health concerns brought on by the economic exploits of the makers of processed foods.  He considers his book to be a wake-up call to consumers to become more aware of the tactics and methods used by the processed food industry.  He likens the grocery store to a battlefield, complete with minefields and subtle enemy attacks.  But his final exhortation is this: "We have the power to make choices."

I found this book absolutely fascinating, while at the same time deeply disturbing.  Moss outlines clearly (and with plenty of documented support) the way we got to this point.  Weaving history lessons on societal shifts along with explanations of the processed food industry's giant pull towards making more money, Moss leaves the reader with no doubt that we are in a very dangerous state when it comes to the foods we are choosing to ingest.  These foods are pillared on three of the most dangerous ingredients: salt, sugar, and fat.  These are the things which the industry relies on to keep us coming back for more - more Oreos, more macaroni and cheese, more sugared cereals, more chips, more inexpensive and convenient foods - despite the fact that these foods are causing tremendous health problems.

Moss shows that "sugar, salt, and fat are the foundation of processed foods."  He outlines the growing tensions between consumers and these food giants who are determined to put "the pursuit of sales above consumer welfare."  I don't know which aspect I found more engaging: the history of how our society has advanced to this state of affairs (where we are more concerned with saving time and grabbing quick snacks instead of sitting down as a family to three established daily meals, where we are determined to find the cheapest, fastest foods available, where we glibly buy into the marketing genius of these companies to feel good by eating the foods which actually hurt us the most) or the investigative reporting the author provides about the key players and their endless pursuit of the mighty dollar.

Written in a narrative fashion, this book will change the way you look at the food you are purchasing in the store.  Even if you weren't an advocate of the "real food" movement before, you might begin to lean that direction after you ingest all of this telling information.  I found myself afraid of entering a store, for fear I might get sucked into the strategies and persuasions offered by the processed food industry.  I have a bent towards this food.  It is the most appealing fare for kids today.  When I go to feed my kids, it is macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and sweetened yogurts they are after.  Although I can summon enthusiasm from my middle son for a good meal of salmon, steamed baby carrots, and fresh fruit, it is still a constant battle to keep him away from his favorite processed foods.  We eat entirely too many of these foods and this has to change. 

Thankfully, this book has given me even more motivation for making the switch from a diet full of processed foods to a diet more full of real foods and things which take more time and money to prepare, because my family's health and well-being should, indeed, be more important to me than saving a dollar and the energy it takes to prepare wholesome fruits, vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken.  The heads of these processed food giants don't eat their own foods.  That should tell us something right off the bat!  They value their health, so they avoid the very chips, Lunchables, Hot Pockets, and colas they are making for the general consumer.  Europe won't even allow the levels of salt, sugar, and fat, which we willingly consume.  Something has to change and Moss's great argument is that it should start with you, the reader.  Each of us can only control what we do in response to these companies and we have the power, as he says, to make different choices from here on out.  This book will open your eyes and hopefully, change your behaviors.  I certainly hope it helps me to change our family's food consumption habits.

For an interesting interview with the author, a 3 minute video pitch by the author, and plenty more positive reviews of this book, head here.

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