I was at the supermarket recently with my mother. My dad’s health makes it especially necessary for us to read food labels – namely for sugar and salt content. An elderly woman overheard us as we discussed the sodium content in a box of pretzel crackers.
“You know,” she said, “they add so much salt and sugar to our food. It’s not right. People like me can’t eat it. And people without health problems don’t want it.”
“You’re right,” I said. “They do that to keep us hooked. There’s a book called Salt Sugar Fat that discusses this issue.”
I’m not sure the woman heard me; she seemed instead to really want me to know that she’d written Cheerios to complain. I applauded her letter-writing and suggested her next one go to the editor of the local paper.
I’ve been digesting what I read in Michael Moss’ book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us for almost two months now. The information in this book may not be shocking, but it’s infuriating.
Sure, there are the cold, hard facts: hamburger makes up seven billion pounds or more of ground beef annually, millions of Americans are taking drugs for cholesterol and millions more have type 2 diabetes, obesity isn’t just for humans anymore (as many as 40% of dogs are now overweight or obese)… it goes on and on. But let’s look at a few of the statements made between the covers of this work that, as Peter Griffin would say, “really grind my gears”:
“I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature.” – Howard Moskowitz
Moskovitz is just one of the figures behind “food optimization” – what businesses do to find the bliss point of a food, mainly through sugar. I don’t know what’s more upsetting – the fact that Moskowitz considers being a “moral creature” a luxury, or the fact that he was struggling in such a way that his science brought struggle to all the consumers that came after him.
“If sugar is the methamphetamine of processed food ingredients, with its high-speed, blunt assault on our brains, then fat is the opiate, a smooth operator whose effects are less obvious but no less powerful.”
It’s mind-blowing to read about the chemical reactions in our brains when it comes to food. I was especially interested in reading about how fat’s powerful effects don’t cause the same end result as sugar’s. With sugar, you eventually go beyond your “bliss point.” With fat, there is no bliss point. Perhaps this explains why I can sit with a family bag size of potato chips and finish it in the course of an evening.
“Milk is one of the most stunning examples of overproduction in the American food supply system, with huge consequences on obesity.”
The thing that’s so maddening about this statement is the word overproduction. Any production of dairy milk is too much, but to have a surplus of this stuff while cows are living in unjustifiable conditions and their young are being turned into veal is enough to inspire rage.
“The manufacturers of processed foods have been creating a desire for salt where none existed before.”
“Without salt, processed food companies cease to exist.”
We aren’t predisposed to crave salt. Thank those food chemists! But there’s a bright side… “Addiction to salt, it turns out, can be readily reversed. All that is needed is to stop eating processed foods for a while.”
“Every year, two hundred thousand obese people in the United States—including kids as young as nine—have their stomachs surgically shrunk to help them cut back on eating.”
Nine-year olds are getting gastric bypass surgery? Really? How can this be acceptable? What’s the success rate in childhood surgeries like this?
The bottom line of what I learned in Salt Sugar Fat is this:
“It’s simply not in the nature of these companies to care about the consumer in an empathetic way. They are preoccupied with other matters, like crushing their rivals, beating them to the punch.”
How can one not see the parallels between the processed food industry and the animal food industry? All of these companies, as entities, are in it for the thrill of victory and the swell of a bank account. We could all use a little more empathy – for the animals we raise into lives of great pain and exploitation, for the people who buy foods because they are cheap and convenient, not knowing they are chemically tinkered with until they are addictive, and for the people who might enter into these industries under grand delusions of betterment, only to become part of the machine themselves.
My journey to veganism led me to realize that it’s important to know where our food comes from. This book strengthens that realization – vegan or non-vegan, we must all question whose best interests are being looked out for whenever we buy anything. Without questions, there is no room for change, and change we must.
Photo credit: Patrick Lentz via Flickr