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Book Review: Salt Sugar Fat

This has been on my nightstand lately.

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I first heard about  Michael Moss’ book through an NPR show I was listening to in the car. Moss was discussing the food industry’s marketing practices, focusing on how Coca-Cola used terms synonymous with addicts such as “heavy users” to describe their consumers.

It peaked my interest, so I requested the book from the library.

The 352-page book offers an in-depth look at the processed food industry and how it uses three key ingredients — salt, sugar and fat — to achieve “bliss points” in several of our country’s most recognizable grocery store brands to hook us. These foods with their bliss points, of course, are hazardous to your health if eaten in large quantities.

The book is a slow read, but interesting, with tidbits of information on every page from industry insiders about their strategies to get Americans to eat more and more convenient, yet bad, foods.

Moss clearly put in a huge amount of time and research into this book based on the number of interviews and stories he cites in the book.

A few interesting takeaways:

* Moss became obsessed with asking food executives about their diets and found many didn’t eat the stuff their companies made. (Reminiscent of tobacco company execs not smoking)

* Lawyers for a food company researched the food industry’s vulnerability to obesity lawsuits that would be comparable to the ones facing the tobacco industry

* The industry’s top execs met in 1999 to discuss the obesity epidemic, but dismissed it.

I will say there were a few holes in the book. One is that it really made no mention, aside from Michael Bloomberg’s war on soda, on the massive anti-obesity campaign that many public figures (we’re looking at you Michelle Obama) have begun. And continuing on that thread, it has no mention if the sales are beginning to decline for these giant food companies because of the intense focus on the country’s obesity problems.  It almost feels like this book would have been edgier/more interesting if it had been written four to five years ago.

That all being said, I thought it was an interesting read and it gave me a greater appreciation for how careful my Mom was about limiting our intake of processed food. We didn’t have a lot of soda in the house — if we did, it was diet.  She rarely let us have lunchables — something Moss spends a lot of time on in the book.

And we always had veggies with our dinner.

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