CBR-V Review #58: Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I’m really interested in books on food/food systems, and I was excited to find a copy of this book (which has been getting a lot of buzz) available at the library, as I’d heard good things and the subject matter is right up my alley.

You may know Michael Moss as the guy who broke the “pink slime” story a little while back, so he’s definitely well qualified to write a book investigating the secrets of the processed-foods industry. He’s a great writer, and presents his information in a really compelling and fascinating way, never letting his ideas and the insane facts he’s presenting get bogged down by jargon or too much science. He never dumbs it down, though, and I liked the balance he strikes, incorporating just enough studies and scientific principles to ground his claims.

The basic concept of the book is fairly simple, charting the rise of the processed-foods industry, primarily through the use of three key ingredients: the titular salt, sugar, and fat. Moss details the ways in which each ingredient is used to create maximum pleasure and to create what essentially amounts to an addiction to the products that the biggest food companies in the world (think Coca-Cola, Kraft, etc.) put out–which has in turn resulted in an obesity epidemic for the American people, and unbelievable wealth for those leading the industry.

I think it’s pretty easy to fall into preachiness when it comes to topics like processed foods, and the fact that Moss  never does is impressive. He does an excellent job of examining the socio-economic factors that come into play when it comes to the consumption of processed foods, and many of the details he reveals about the industry’s marketing methods and selling tactics make it clear that a lot of our nation’s eating problems can’t always be blamed on individual citizens–there’s a lot of really messed up stuff going on behind the scenes. I also appreciated how Moss humanizes the people working in the industry–it’s a job, and they’re human beings, and while it’s easy to get up in the “corporate evil” mindset, it’s important to remember that it’s not quite so black and white. A lot of the people Moss interviews seem like pretty decent people, and many of them are creative and driven and excited by the science and, in a way, the art behind what they do. That being said, he does reveal hypocrisies when they appear–many of the higher-ups at the big processed foods companies refuse to consume their own products, citing health reasons, for example.

My one complaint is that Moss was a bit repetitive, and kept redefining words or reexplaining concepts that he’d already gone over in earlier chapters, which was a little unnecessary. Otherwise, though, this is a great read, and if you have any interest in learning more about the science of food and the complexities of the food industry, I’d highly recommend this book. And if you’re not someone who’s interested in this, I’d recommend it anyway–it’s an eye-opening read and, I think, an important one.

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