Book review

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Book review

Michael Moss exposes the tactics employed by the processed food industry to ensnare our taste buds.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
by Michael Moss
WH Allen
ISBN:  0753541467

In the processed food industry, salt, sugar and fat are the holy trinity. When carefully combined, these ingredients can elicit a feeling of euphoria among snackers, called the “bliss point”. It’s this point of pure ecstasy that big food companies have been exploiting for decades, and it’s the focus of Michael Moss’s revealing exposé of processed food.

Split into three sections—one for each facet of the holy trinity—Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat paints a disturbing and yet completely believable picture of the journey processed food takes: conceptualisation, formulation, testing, perfecting, marketing, into our grocery carts and finally into our bodies.

In “Sugar”, Moss discusses our innate love of the sweet stuff, especially as children when our threshold for sweet is much higher than later on in life. Big food companies use this biological phenomenon to their advantage, marketing sugary cereals, snacks and drinks to children and providing them with an early-developed preference for sweet foods.

In “Fat”, we learn that when this slippery ingredient is consumed, our brains respond just like a drug addict’s brain does when getting a fix. Moss also touches on one of our most beloved foods: cheese. He reveals that its popularity surged not out of demand, but out of the US federal government’s desperation to get rid of its growing cheese reserve, which it accumulated due to dairy subsidization.

Finally, in “Salt”, Moss addresses the third and final pillar of big food’s holy trinity. As with sugar and fat, when we consume salt, the reward centres in our brain light up, prompting us to feel good and thus want more. It’s this cycle that sparked a popular potato chip’s slogan, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”

Throughout Salt Sugar Fat, Moss interviews several former and current bigwigs in the processed food industry—some who are now paying their “karma debt” by pitching marketing campaigns for baby carrots, and others who are unapologetic for their contribution to big food’s rise and thus the world’s obesity epidemic.

Presented in a simple, well-structured and interesting format, and sprinkled with mind-blowing statistics, Salt Sugar Fat is a captivating read. Add to that Moss’s access to big food marketing execs, Harvard graduate food chemists and reputable whistle-blowers and the result is a sad truth about the processed food industry that cannot be ignored: the bottom line is the only thing holy. 

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