‘Salt Sugar Fat’: The seductive powers of processed foods

Our review of Michael Moss’s new book

Walk into any grocery or convenience store and you’ll be confronted by the unholy trinity of the processed-food industry: salt, sugar and fat. These are the not-so-secret ingredients most human beings can barely resist. They’re also the basis of enormous profits for Kraft, Kellogg, Nestlé and PepsiCo. Once tasted, readers may also be unable to resist Moss’s book, subtitled How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times interviewed most of the captains of this industry, discovering that many “go out of their way” to avoid eating their own products. Clearly, they know something the rest of us do not. Until now. Moss’s book is a consumer manifesto to guide the unwary away from the shoals of the processed-foods industry. The moment you leave the fresh-produce section of the grocery store, says Moss, you enter this unhealthy netherworld of slick packaging and advertising.

Behind such legendary advertising slogans as Lay’s Potato Chips’ “Betcha can’t eat just one” lies a concerted effort by food scientists to craft the perfect “bliss point,” one that renders the average person incapable of resisting. Sugar and fat exert the same addictive pull as heroin does for drug addicts, while salt transforms bland to savoury. Some products, like s’mores, combine all three with devastating caloric consequences. To fight back, Moss says, consumers need to scrutinize the labels and fine print on packaging. Far easier to resist at the point of sale than when these concoctions find their way into the larder and refrigerator.

The author reminds us of the sad truth that fresh, healthy food costs more. Processed foods are more affordable for the average person, as well as highly profitable for the manufacturers. So as income disparities grow, those with limited financial resources become the victims of these unnatural foods, with overeating and obesity the inevitable result.

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