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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069807
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069804
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 3.7 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (620 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Q&A with Michael Moss

Michael Moss

Q. How did you land on salt, sugar, and fat as your way to write about the industry? Why these three ingredients?

A. I’d been investigating a surge in deadly outbreaks of E. coli in meat when an industry source, a microbiologist, suggested that if I wanted to see an even bigger public health hazard, I should look at what food companies were intentionally adding to their products, starting with salt. And sure enough, when I looked at this--by gaining access to high level industry officials and a trove of sensitive, internal records--a window opened on how aggressive the industry was wielding not only salt, but sugar and fat, too. 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.

Q. So, how big is the processed food industry, exactly? What kind of scale are we talking about here?

A. Huge. Grocery sales now top $1 trillion a year in the U.S., with more than 300 manufacturers employing 1.4 million workers, or 12 percent of all American manufacturing jobs. Global sales exceed $3 trillion. But the figure I find most revealing is 60,000: That’s the number of different products found on the shelves of our largest supermarkets.

Q. How did this get so big?

A. The food processing industry is more than a century old--if you count the invention of breakfast cereals--so it’s been steady growth. But things really took off in the 1950s with the promotion of convenience foods whose design and marketing was aimed at the increasing numbers of families with both parents working outside the home. The industry's expansion, since then, has been entirely unrestrained. While food safety is heavily regulated, the government has been industry's best friend and partner in encouraging Americans to become more dependent on processed foods.

Q. What three things should a health-conscious supermarket shopper keep in mind?

A. The most alluring products--those with the highest amounts of salt, sugar and fat--are strategically placed at eye-level on the grocery shelf. You typically have to stoop down to find, say, plain oatmeal. (Healthier products are generally up high or down low.) Companies also play the better-nutrition card by plastering their packaging with terms like "all natural," "contains whole grains," “contains real fruit juice,” and "lean," which belie the true contents of the products. Reading labels is not easy. Only since the 1990s have the manufacturers even been required to reveal the true salt, sugar, fat and caloric loads of their products, which are itemized in a box called the "nutrient facts." But one game that many companies still play is to divide these numbers in half, or even thirds, by reporting this critical information per serving--which are typically tiny portions. In particular, they do this for cookies and chips, knowing that most people can't resist eating the entire three-serving bag. Check it out sometime. See how many “servings” that little bag of chips contains.

From Booklist

The U.S. has the highest rate of obesity in the world, much of it due to the abundance of cheap, calorie-rich, processed food. Food companies manipulate our biological desires to scientifically engineer foods that induce cravings to overeat, using terms like mouth feel for fats and bliss point for sugars to tinker with formulations that will trigger the optimum food high. Coke even refers to their best customers as heavy users. Moss portrays how the industry discovered the allure of added sugar in the 1900s, and has been jacking up the levels ever since, without regard for consumer health, in everything from soda to breakfast cereals to instant pudding, in a race for market share. The food industry is not about to change, but this book is a wake-up call to the issues and tactics at play and to the fact that we are not helpless in facing them down. Moss is an investigative reporter with the New York Times; he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his investigation of the dangers of contaminated meat. --David Siegfried

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Customer Reviews

If you're in the processed food industry, buy this book.
Gabe
Thank you, Michael Moss, for one of the most well researched, scientifically based, and informatively written books I have ever read.
Elise M.
This book was very informative and I learned valuable information from reading it. .
Margaret Stevens

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really want you, my fellow American, maybe my fellow tubby American (yes, I've lost a bunch of weight, but I'm still XL) to read this book. Before I review the contents, a note and a couple prefaces, ok?

Note to folks thinking this is a diet or cooking type book: It's not. It is exactly what the subtitle suggests: "How the Food Giants Hooked Us." It's about how foods are made to take you to the sugar bliss point, to the higher fat realms of food pleasure, and so on. How we got these manufactured products Americans can't seem to stop guzzling and munching...and that have led to us being the fattest nation on the planet. Just know that. It might help you diet (opens your eyes to the scary "food" out there), but it's an investigative work within historical context. And it rocks.

Personal Preface 1: So, I've not requested a Vine book for review in, pshaw, a couple years. But I saw THIS one and had to have it. Yes, I got it free. No, I don't hand out five stars just for the heck of it. If I hated it, it would get 1 star.

Personal Preface 2: Food and health issues are key to me these days. I read labels, and I read science reports, and I read nutrition blogs, and I have found I need to eschew many packaged foods. To lose 115 lbs, I pretty much stopped eating out of cans/boxes/fast food places, period. I cooked simple foods the old-fashioned way, adding my own salt and fat and minimizing sugars. I chose dine-out carefully (since restaurants oversalt, oversweeten, and pretty much do on a smaller basis what Food Giants do, just with fresher ingredients mostly). THE END OF OVEREATING by Kessler was the single-most eye-opening book for me in my quest to heal my food issues in a society where we've gone pretty insane with what we do to food.
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160 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. I thought this book was amazing! I consider myself to be a fairly healthy eater. I like fruits and vegetables and try to stay away from too much processed food. However, after reading this book I have even more of a commitment from staying away from any food that was developed in a laboratory. The author is not preachy. He is not advocating for a certain diet. I have been turned off by other authors such as Michael Pollan who seem to be pushing eating rules on people that are not practical. Instead, Moss has set himself the task of investigating how the processed food giants, including Kraft, Kellog's and others, have relied on the three pillars of Salt, Sugar and Fat to seduce people into eating the maximum amount of processed foods.
The author is the journalist who first cracked open the "pink slime" meat scandal and the depth of his investigative journalism is really impressive. It seems that he has spoken with scores of researchers, marketers and financial officers of the processed food companies in order to learn about things such as the invention of the Lunchable, as a way to sell more processed meats, and the growth of cheese from a food meant to be savored on its own into an ingredient that is shoved into a million different kinds of food.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in nutrition, or in the business of food. I would also recommend it to anyone who is looking for a push to close up the bag of chips or give up a soda habit.
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249 of 294 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
For decades, I have been referring to the title of this book as America's three basic food groups. Salt, sugar and fat are the most abundant additives in food, and their effects are cumulative - the more we eat them, the more we can eat them, and the more want to eat them, so the more we eat them. The result is pandemic obesity and its further unintended consequences - miserable chronic diseases in an age just when we thought we were overcoming them forever. This irony goes unexplored, but the book is packed with evidence of it.

The convenience of processed foods fits with our hurried society. It exacerbates the death of family meals, and encourages eating anywhere, anytime, and basically all day long. That by itself is enough to damn the industry, if traditional family values mean anything. Far more damaging than gay marriage, or abortion, or sexting, processed foods are destroying us, literally, physically. For hundreds of millions of Americans (and soon the world), this is normal. It is the way of life. There are no viable alternatives. This too, however, goes unexplored.

Moss divides the book into the three sections of its title. It contains the usual litany of incredible statistics - like how much of these ingredients the average American ingests annually, and how many billions of pounds the processors produce, but also some interesting developments on the way to perdition:

-Food processors call their customers users, like the drug addicts they want them to become.
-The "bliss point" is used by all of them to scientifically maximize the sugar effect along a bell curve. It allows food engineers to calculate how much sugar a child blisses out on compared to an adult, for example.
-Cereal makers spend twice as much on advertising as on ingredients.
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