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Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
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616 of 646 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon January 31, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine 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. That one also included some of the scientific and food corporations tactic info that Moss does in this.

The difference? Kessler is more clinical and dry. But he emphasizes how hyperpalatable foods (those with optimal mixes of salt/fat/sugar) make us overeat. Be we rats or humans, it sends signals to the brain's reward centers that can be hard to overcome.

~~~Now, SALT SUGAR FAT Review:

For a book containing a lot of business and science information, SALT SUGAR FAT is delightfully readable. The style is clean, smart, and has great narrative drive. Moss knows how to write. Here, he writes about how Food Giants maneuver around the boons and drawbacks of sugar, salt, and fat in order to make us want their products, and want them A LOT. Get a front seat ride to see how the tireless competition for our grocery dollars affects what's in the food you eat and how what's in the food products affects you and me, the consumers. Our health, waist size, time, perceptions, expectations, desires.

Convenience pops up a lot. Society's rapid changes--particularly women in the work force--have revolutionized how we use and view food/eating. Fast is good. Fast and easy is better. Fast and easty and tasty is best. Moss shows the industry responses and proaction, decade by decade, company by company, product by product, via uses of each of the focus ingredients: SALT SUGAR FAT. They learn how each drives us, and then use that to create dependencies. We get hooked on the fast, the easy, the sugary, the fatty, the salty.

Moss's access to key information sources is amazing. He conducted hundreds of interviews, but what really matters is that he interviewed people who themselves were players in the story: folks in high positions, with access to the developments/changes/decision-makers. Some WERE the decision makers. He's clearly had access to confidential documentation. He's also done his homework to get the pertinent and sometimes surprising background on his ingredients (salt, sugar, fat) and the motivations and the how-it-was-done. The why comes down to $$$, of course.

I am not surprised this guy has a Pulitzer Prize to his credit. His narrative of the history of our "Food Giants"--from the early starts of the cereal makers (and their own cereal wars) to the start of the cheese dynasty that is Kraft and others--hooks you. The number and scope of scientists and former executives is stunning--and necessary to obtain not just the outcomes (those foods, those marketing campaigns), but the process. It's really a page-turner.

While the book is SALT SUGAR FAT, the arrangement of the sections is actually SUGAR, FAT, SALT.

We start with the sweet. You're gonna learn about the bliss point and why cereals got to be up to 3/4 sugar. And you're gonna learn about some pretty deceptive practices to make moms/parents feel good about the mostly sugar water that gets targeted to kids. You're gonna learn some of the stuff you were taught about your taste buds is out of date. You're gonna get walked through the history--the creators, the competition, the labs and kitchens, the ad campaigns, the consumer reactions--so that it's like this dance that has some dire consequences for some and some mighty plump bottom lines for others. The soda industry information was super interesting to me, especially since I've given up soda except for an occasional Zevia or Coke Zero (the Coke I really wanted since I was 20 and out to lose some poundage, the one that actually kinda tasted like Coke).

You'll learn that we don't have a bliss point for fat, rather, we want more and like more. More and more. There's a reason for the explosion of cheese-accented or cheese-flavored or cheese-loaded products. The story behind that is weird and spellbinding. Maybe because my single fave protein source is cheese. :D I'm a bona fide cheesehead. Cutting back on that was the HARDEST. Harder than sugar. There are still some intriguing mysteries about fat for science to puzzle out, but what he presents is cool enough.

The segment on the creation and success of LUNCHABLES could have been so dull in another writer's hands, but Moss makes it practically enthralling. (Or maybe I just like these case histories.) Possibly because so much of this is about solving problems--raising the question then delineating the way to fail or succeed in making the product that serves consumer needs and feeds the bottom line.

What comes off as most disturbing is how powerful these corporations are, more than even I realized, and I read a lot. How they can fend off gov't control or squash activism. How they learn about our preferences and how they know and can use human psychological vulnerabilities. How infants and kids are especially vulnerable to the messages and products. What the young learn to like early--that affects tastes for life. The Food Giants also hire masters at manipulation, the ad folks, who can make a parent feel comfortable giving their kid a product that, if they whipped it up at home, ingredient by ingredient, would be tossed down the drain as nutrient-void swill by any responsible adult. It's scary and fascinating, both.

But awareness is the first step to making real changes. The public has to know so the public says "enough of that." This book is important as a building block of public awareness.

We hear it all the time from dietitians and nutritionists: We eat too little fresh produce. We consume too much sugar. Too much salt. Too much bad fats.

Food can be manipulated to be as addictive as narcotics. Fiddle with the sugar, fat, and salt content. Voila--"heavy users" are born.

Well, read this book and find out who controls what gets created for supermarkets. Learn some reasons why we're in a modern obesity epidemic. See how labeled ingredients can fool you.

Then go buy some produce and fresh protein sources and whole grains and eat real food you make in your own kitchen where YOU moderate the use of SALT SUGAR FAT. It's less convenient than a full meal heated up in 4 minutes, and it may make a kid light up less with glee to eat an orange than to drink a fake orange-flavored "fruit beverage," but it might save the next generation's health.

Read. Get scared. Take back control. :D
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192 of 207 people found the following review helpful
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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291 of 342 people found the following review helpful
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.
-A child wanting cake for breakfast inspired Pop Tarts and its ilk. A whole new kind of meal evolved.
-Big Gulp, the 64 oz soda that New York's mayor is trying to ban, contains 41 teaspoons of sugar.
-Salt is a learned addiction. Newborns wince if you give them salt. But by six months they've accepted it, and for the rest of their lives they crave it. We start `em off young.
-Cheese used to be a food - an appetizer in the US, a dessert in Europe. Now it is an ingredient, and we put cheese in and on everything. We have tripled consumption to 33lb since the 70s.
-The cheese plague is the result of the Reagan administration's buying up and stockpiling excess cheese. The government bought it, marketed it, and provided it. Now it is normal to have cheese on everything, at every meal and snack. It's difficult to find any meal without it. "Healthy" salads come with cheese.
-Sugar is the methamphetamine of processed food ingredients; fat is the opiate. Perfectly legal drugs.

An interesting sidelight is Finland, where the government won. It mandated large bold labels "High In Salt", like cigarette warnings. The result has been an 80% reduction in heart attacks and strokes. In the US, the processors beat back the FDA and the USDA again and again.

The most disgusting food in the book comes from celebrity cook (and now diabetic patient) Paula Deen, who recommends taking a casserole of Kraft Mac & Cheese, scooping it into balls, wrapping the balls in bacon, and dropping them in the deep fryer. That's 0 for 4.

The book left two indelible impressions: the industry will do absolutely anything to beat back regulators. Health, untested chemical compounds, overeating, obesity - never even enter their equation, and the processors won't be told otherwise. Their freedom to poison Americans at will is all that matters. Now that Americans are nearing saturation, the processors are taking on the world. Obesity in Mexico is comparable to the US, and Brazil and India are being worked intensely.

Second was the overarching momentum and effort to overwhelm the consumer that make us think this is normal, this is right, this is exciting, this is ideal. Two hundred choices of sweet breakfast cereal mean you must choose from among them, or why would they be there? To overwhelm us into consuming more, they mobilize as armed forces, saturating stores and neighborhoods with pretend foods that do far more harm than good. The industry is on autopilot and is out of control. Their intensity is fearsome. This is war.

On the plus side, Sugar Fat Salt is enormously well researched. No lead, no document seems to have been too insignificant to follow up and interview the writer. Visits to executives, to factories, to stores, to conventions - all make the book comprehensive, thorough and fair. This is due in no small part to the interviewees themselves, who came to the conclusion on their own that what they were designing and selling was bad for living beings. Often, Moss found they were working to undo what they had done to the world. And they were, as he admits, incredibly open and generous with their time. It shows.

On the minus side, for all the evidence, the book draws no conclusions. There is no prescription, no way out. Moss does not call for the investigation, dismantling or regulation of anything. The facts he found are left to speak for themselves. The book simply ends.

Also on the minus side, Moss sometimes takes forever to deliver a fact. He'll foreshadow it in one paragraph, then spend several sentences describing some office building or scene before finally delivering the fact you were expecting. I guess he thinks he's adding color, but at 400 pages, Sugar Fat Salt could use a little pruning of its own.

The relentless pounding of the consumer is replicated by relentless pounding in the book. Case after case of singleminded efforts to get users hooked, of the thoughtless ruination of perfectly good foods that need chemical compounds to make them palatable again, and of the constant pressure to cut costs and increase sales are depressing insights into what's wrong with the food industry.

It's both insulting and sad, not to mention infuriating. The solution is as obvious as it is fantasy: people should steer clear of these poisons.

In the words of fitness buff Jack Lalane - if man made it, don't take it.

David Wineberg
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
It's no secret that Americans are hooked on processed foods. In Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss takes us inside the food industry to tell the story of our national addiction. It's a troubling tale, or a whole series of troubling tales, that make me want to go to the farmer's market, or at least to the produce aisle, and avoid processed foods altogether.

I do have mixed feelings about the book and this issue. On the one hand, all the food companies want to do is sell more food. They do have to make a profit, after all. And their mission is to make the tastiest, most appealing food they can, so they can sell more and more of it. They make it, we buy it, we eat it and like it, they make a profit. It's a simple, free-market, mutually beneficial exchange. But there's more to it than that.

The ball got rolling when food manufacturers started making soda, chips, TV dinners, which they "imagined as occasional fare." But as society changed, they found that "snacks and convenience food had become a daily--even hourly--habit, a staple of the American diet." As convenience became more important to Americans, food manufacturers had to make food "easy to buy, store, open, prepare, and eat." In the laboratories (not kitchens, note. These are chemists, not chefs, who are creating food.) of Kraft, General Foods, and other manufacturers, the "drive to achieve the greatest allure for the lowest possible price has drawn them" to salt, sugar, and fat. As one executive said, maybe there is too much salt or sugar in our products, but "that's what the consumer wants, and we're not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That's what they want. If we give them less, they'll buy less, and the competitor will get our market."

Some of the food industry insiders Moss spoke to had second thoughts and reservations about their work, like one former Coca Cola executive, who travelled to Brazil for a market study. "As he walked through one of the prime target areas, an impoverished barrio of Rio de Janeiro, he had an epiphany. 'A voice in my head says, "These people need a lot of things, but they don't need a Coke." I almost threw up.'" He was eventually fired. Virtually all of Moss's subjects stated their own aversion, or at least extreme moderation, when it comes to their own products, pointing out the "class issue at work in processed foods, in which the inventors and company executives don't generally partake in their own creations."

The companies are not alone in their culpability. The federal government has been their hypocritical partner in crime, with its "promotion of some of the industry practices deemed most threatening to consumers." Cheese, with its high fat content and warnings from dietitians to reduce consumption, enjoys huge federal subsidies. The federal government has caves full of it because they promised dairy farmers they would buy their cheese. Even the makers of the food pyramids produced and distributed by the USDA bow to the food industry lobby, putting politics before health. I wish Moss would have addressed the sugar lobby, too. Federal subsidies and import tariffs on sugar keep the cost of sugar unnaturally high and lead to many manufacturers using less healthy sweeteners.

Moss also points out that the drive for profits at the food giants has contributed to the obesity epidemic. "In the early 1980s, investors shifted their money from stodgy blue chip companies to the high-flying technology industry and other sectors that promised quicker returns," pressuring food companies to cut costs and increase marketing to satisfy Wall Streets demands for more and more profits.

Ultimately, the consumer is in control of what he or she eats. Moss doesn't call for government regulation, but he would welcome industry self-policing. The individual consumer "seizing control in order to ward off an unhealthy dependence on processed food seems like the best--and only--recourse we have." Moss's examples abound, his argument is readable and convincing, and I can almost guarantee he will have you reading labels and thinking carefully about what you are putting in your body.

Thanks to Edelwiess and the publisher for the complimentary review copy.
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120 of 151 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 30, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book was very well reseached and written, as well as very interesting, but was not exactly what I thought it was going to be.

This book delved into the histories of different food companies. Told about the people who started the companies, and the problems they had along the way. It also tells of problems that the companies had through the years, in trying to keep up with (and surpass) the other food companies, all of which have now turned into huge conglomerates. There are people who tried to change the way things were done, and many who were able to make many good changes.

He included information regarding the pleasure centers of the brain when certain foods are eaten, which I found very intriguing. He also told about the way the companies do taste tests with people, to come up with the proper mix of ingredients for the best taste of the products.

The problem with the three big ingredients is, if you reduce or take any of them out, the product is pretty much inedible. So they're stuck. If they make it healthier, they're not going to make the sales. Even though people realize these things aren't good for them, it doesn't make the products taste okay if the ingredients are adjusted downwards. Additionally, the industry is very cutthroat. If one tries to adjust the ingredients downwards a little, the sales will just go to the other companies.

The question of convenience is very important. We don't have the same society we used to when mothers stayed home and cooked everything. After working hard all day, it's extremely hard to go in a kitchen and cook and clean every night, so these products are used really often for different meals and snacks.

So the question becomes, should government REGULATE the amounts of ingredients that can be used. I'm very divided on that issue. Especially when one sees how corporations seem to rule most of the arms of the government. There just doesn't seem to be an easy fix.

Several years ago I stopped eating pretty much all processed food, and gag on most of it I taste anymore. But the big three he talks about, the fat, sugar and salt, were not what drove me away from the processed food. It was the other stuff! The MSG and the aspartame and the hydrolyzed vegetable protein, the BHA and BHT, the nitrates, and all those other wonderful things that give people cancer. The high fructose corn syrup, the GMOs. Most of these ingredients were not even touched on in the book, which is where it varied from what I thought it would be. The research I have done on the above items makes me not even worry about the big three!

I particularly enjoyed the histories of Kellog and Battle Creek and Kraft. There was very interesting info on the companies that were taken over by Phillip Morris.

I was extremely surprised that these companies and people opened up to the author. I hope he will consider doing a followup book with the lesser known but just as, if not more so, dangerous ingredients in processed foods.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
*A full summary of this book is available at here: An Executive Summary of Michael Moss's 'Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us'

You open a bag of chips intending to eat only a few handfuls. You find the chips tasting quite good, and a few handfuls turns into a few more. Just one more... o.k., last one... definitely the last one. A few minutes later you find yourself staring down at an empty bag. Then your stomach starts to hurt--then your heart. The guilt isn't far behind. Who among us hasn't experienced this at one time or another? This is junk food in a nutshell: it tastes great (practically irresistible) and is very convenient, but if you indulge too much (which sometimes seems all too easy), it's not very good for you. All of this has an easy explanation, it's right there on the label: impressive portions of salt, sugar and fat, the junk food trifecta. Each has its own appeal, and each is very inexpensive (which explains why it's in our food), but over the years each has also been implicated in some of our most common and serious conditions and diseases, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Unfortunately, the junk food trifecta is not only popping up in our junk food, it is increasingly being featured in virtually all of the processed foods that we eat--from chips and soda, to canned food and prepared meals, to cake and ice-cream. And as salt, sugar and fat have become more common in the foods that we eat, the conditions and illnesses associated with their abuse have reached epidemic proportions. In his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us journalist Michael Moss takes us behind the labels and explores the history and practices of the processed food industry-a story that features the rise of salt, sugar and fat, and the deterioration of our health.

Moss divides his book into 3 parts, one for each of salt, sugar and fat (not in this order).

In Part I, on sugar, we learn how the processed food players have used very precise science to identify just what amount of sugar they need to add to their products to hit our `bliss point' (a self-explanatory concept). We also learn how the bliss point (as well as marketing) has figured into the evolution of breakfast cereals, the soda wars, and the composition of so-called fruit drinks (such as Tang, Kool-Aid, and Capri Sun)-as well as many other processed foods. Interspersed throughout we learn about the emergence of science that has fingered sugar as a major culprit in numerous health concerns from tooth decay to obesity and diabetes.

In Part II, on fat, We learn how this substance, unlike sugar, has no bliss point, but is instead something whose allure just seems to keep on rising the richer it is, and the more of it we find in our mouths. The focus in this section is on the history of processed cheese, and the explosion of cheese consumption since the 1970′s. This explosion, we find, has been aided and abetted in the United States by certain government policies and interventions. Indeed, while one arm of the USDA has identified cheese as being a source of deep concern for its high quantity of fat, another arm has actively promoted it through a marketing program intended to prop up the dairy industry. Processed meat is also discussed in this section, with a special focus on hamburger and bologna.

In Part III, on salt, we learn how our taste for salt can be amplified through increased intake (and how our blood pressure tends to suffer as a result). We also learn how salt is used in the processed food industry for a plethora of purposes from enhancing certain flavors, to masking others, to adding crunchiness to products, to delaying spoilage. Finally, we learn of the ins and outs and ups and downs of the snack food sector, with its heavy reliance on salt (as well as sugar and fat).

The journalistic expose is inherently a tension-filled genre. On the one hand, there is often an issue of real public concern at play; but on the other hand, it is ever in the interest of the journalist to inflate the controversy (and the blame). Moss does do a fairly good job of steering clear of these traps--for the most part--though the objective reader will occasionally rankle at Moss' presentation, and his choice of words and focus. On the whole, I've come away with a renewed interest and concern in just what goes into the food that I eat, and how much salt, sugar and fat it contains--and this, I think, is very valuable in itself. A full summary of the book is available at here: An Executive Summary of Michael Moss's 'Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us'
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Society is slowing understanding that there is a downside to the convenience of ready-made, processed food that supermarkets typically sell, just as we now understand the pitfalls with fast food. What is less known is the various "tricks" used to make many of us de facto addicts.

This book, written by a New York Times investigative reporter, details the rapid growth of the (American) processed foods industry and takes a look at the various methods being used to make us want to consumer more and more. It is no accident, it is design. Design of a big business worth over a trillion US dollars a year in just America alone.

Some of the statistics cited are alarming. The average American (note that word - average) will eat over 33 pounds (15 kg) of a fat-laden cheese each year, equivalent to the weight of a small child. Not alarmed yet? How about 70 pounds (31.7kg) of sugar? Or double the amount of salt that we should ingest… and all of this is only from processed food! Of course, a bit of everything can be good for you, but when this means that one in three adults is clinically obese and the problem is still growing you really need to sit up and pay attention.

The author takes a thoughtful look at the problem which is a worldwide issue and examines the role, or possibly collusion, that the processed food industry has been involved in. This is no conspiracy theory-style drama but a matter-of-fact, an articulated consideration of the problem. The role of product development and various food scientists, marketeers and ad men and even industry lobbying efforts are brought together to get us eating more, more, more.

The reader is free to draw their own conclusions and inferences.

Processed food is said to be affordable to the general population, at least by its advocates. Often the reality is a lot different when you check it out. Of course, it might be faster, more convenient and be attractive, but it is not necessarily cheaper, more wholesome and as good for you. Time after time we are seeing various scandals affecting "big food" such as, at the time of writing, the growing mislabelling crisis affecting meat in Europe where horse meat apparently has been "mislabelled" and sold as beef, passed on through a chain of suppliers, subcontractors and processors. If you are not worried by various animal welfare issues, mislabelling, pesticides and other chemicals or the various addictive or health damaging properties of your foods, what will get you to look at what you eat. Is anything really what it seems to be?

Reading about the gradual resistance to the domination of "big food" and the changing shape, if you pardon the pun, of our dietary habits was also interesting. What stood out from the book was the reaction of many people who work within the industry. They are not necessarily the most enamoured with their (employer's) own products. Whilst polished marketing departments will no doubt mumble phrases about everything being fine in moderation when forming part of a balanced diet and so on, the following text is really thought-provoking and possibly telling. "I found that many of the executives I talked to go out of their way to avoid their own products. It got so that I couldn’t resist asking everyone I spoke with about their eating habits: John Ruff from Kraft, who gave up sweet drinks and fatty snacks; Luis Cantarell from Nestlé, who eats fish for dinner; Bob Lin from Frito-Lay, who avoids potato chips, along with most everything that is heavily processed; Howard Moskowitz, the soft drink engineering whiz who declines to drink soda. Geoffrey Bible not only stopped smoking his company’s cigarettes; when he oversaw Kraft, he worked just as hard at avoiding anything that would send his cholesterol surging."

The book ends, leaving the reader feeling like a bomb has detonated around them, such is the impact of the author's work, with an extensive series of notes that can lead to further reading and research should you doubt what you've read or want to know more. Whilst this reviewer is a reasonably level-headed, cynical soul, even if you could discount half of the book as being false and misleading (and there is NO evidence to suggest it is) then the remaining half is still deeply troubling and concerning.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 11, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
WARNING: Reading this book may be dangerous to your health! Many readers will find their blood pressure rising, perhaps to dangerous levels!
We have all heard about the health problems associated with the modern American diet. And anyone who regularly reads food labels is well aware of the high levels of salt, sugar, and fats in much of the food on our grocery shelves. In one sense, there is nothing in Salt, Sugar, Fat that I did not already know, but Michael Moss has mined an impressive investment of research and put together a story that is both informative and highly entertaining. It is the kind of book where I often had to stop and regale my long-suffering spouse with, "OMG, listen to this...." I can understand why the author has won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting once and been a finalist two other times.
Note that Moss's Pulitzer was for EXPLANATORY reporting, because I think that may be significant. This book could easily have been a rant, but it isn't. Moss traces the development of processed foods, the growing emphasis on "the big three" ingredients, and the subsequent effect on consumers in America and abroad. Given the fact that Moss' Pulitzer was won for an expose of contamination in the beef industry, it surprised me that he gained access in the food industry as he did. In addition to reviewing thousands of pages of documents, Moss visited labs, factories, and executive offices of companies who make brands like Kraft, Coca Cola, Taco Bell, and Nestle. He interviewed current and former food industry executives, scientists, and consultants and learned their perspectives on the battle for "stomach share". The resulting book could have been an unrelieved picture of "corporate greed", a cliché that would have satisfied the self-righteous but would not have been nearly as interesting or as accurate. Instead, the reader can see the natural desire on the part of a company to make products that customers will like. Depending on my temperament, I may also be strongly motivated just to "beat the competition". Science bears out that adding sugar, fat, and salt DO make food more appealing to people, and companies go to great lengths to learn the "bliss point" where our taste buds think just enough and not too much. When it becomes increasingly clear that doing too good a job finding the "bliss point" may not be good for the consumers' health, a genuine ethical dilemma arises, and Moss shows how different companies and different employees deal with this situation.
There is an interesting cast of characters, such as food industry consultant Howard Moskowitz, who pioneered the approach of grouping consumers into segments with different emotional needs and targeting those specific segments, or Al Clausi, the inventor of Tang, a forty-year food scientist at General Foods who tangled with his employer over chemical additives.
In addition to personal stories, fascinating case histories describe the pressures that cause companies to introduce "line extensions" like Nabisco moving from simple Oreo cookies to Banana Split Creme Oreos, Triple Double Oreos, and Oreo Fudge Sundae Crème or promotePaula Deen's creation in which a scoop of Kraft macaroni and cheese is wrapped in bacon and then deep-fried.
Moss does not attempt to give pat answers, which means he will not satisfy some readers. He reports, explains, and tries to point out where the science is inconclusive. Ultimately, as Moss says, "we...have the power to make choices. We decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat."
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If you're in the processed food industry, buy this book. If you're in the advertising industry, buy this book. If you have ever eating food out of a box, a can, a bag, anything wrapped in plastic or tin foil, buy this book. You're part of the story.

I had the pleasure of accompanying Michael Moss on one of his reporting trips to the Monell laboratories in Philadelphia, which were doing research on "the bliss point," the precise amount of sweetness that makes food most enjoyable. Not only does he accurately represent peoples' opinions (he's an excellent journalist - he did, after all, win the Pulitzer Prize) but he paints a wonderful portrait of the bizarre world of processed foods. That, I believe, is one of the keys to the book's excellence - it's a lot of fun to read. It's kind of wonderful to read about so many familiar products: lunchables, coke, kool-aid, and to learn how they were invented and brought to market.

In the end, this book satisfies a deeper hunger for knowledge. Moss invites us to see the industry as it actually is: filled with almost-heros and almost-villians, extraordinary intrigue, and of course, sugar, fat, and salt.

If we are indeed what we eat, this is a book about how we became what we are. Read it.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewers who said the book needed some severe editing. I guess it could have been slimmed down by at least a third by eliminating most of the instances of "...containing more than [insert number] times the maximum daily [salt/sugar/fat] intake recommended in government guidelines..."

My biggest problem with the book, however, is that the author never once questions the validity of those guidelines, particularly as they pertain to fat. It seems that he never mentions saturated fat without adding, "the kind of fat associated with heart disease," or "the kind of fat that raises cholesterol," and as another reviewer pointed out, this supposed association seems destined for the dust heap of bad science. It's a pretty unforgivable omission considering that it was four years ago, in March 2009 that the findings of a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition were widely publicized, the conclusion being, "...there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD."

It seems strange that Moss doesn't merely accept the outdated conventional wisdom, but seems completely unaware of any controversy around it. There's one short quote from a food researcher pooh-poohing the Atkins diet and that's it. It seems a glaring omission from a book that aims to identify the causes of obesity, and to pin the blame on Big Food. I certainly don't think Big Food is blameless, but it's the recommendations of the USDA that keep people buying the reformulated "lower-fat-reduced-sodium-healthy-wholegrain" products.
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