Saturday, 18 May 2013

Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss

I'm not exactly an organic food goddess, but I do try to eat home-cooked meals, even if they aren't always the healthiest!  I've really discovered cooking over the last few years, and my repertoire of meals that I can successfully make is gradually expanding. I cook a dinner from scratch every night.  One thing I've noticed is that the more I eat meals I have made myself, the more that ready meals or sauces from a jar taste wrong.  My taste buds must have acclimatized because ready made pasta and chilli con carne sauces now taste overly sweet and ready meals just taste salty, missing the range of different tastes that come when you cook the meal for yourself.

I was interested to read Salt, Sugar, Fat to find out more about processed foods and the way ingredients are used to create combinations that leave us craving more.  With a section devoted to salt, sugar and fat separately, Moss covers the history of the use of these ingredient in processed foods, and how the major (mainly US-based) food manufacturers use them to cultivate dependency, heavy use and therefore large profits.

That salt, sugar and fat are bad for you is hardly going to be news for the majority of readers and indeed, Salt, Sugar, Fat contains lots of information that I've heard before, from lots of different sources.  Some of the familiar facts included; fizzy drinks make you more hungry, cheese is chock-full of fat and too much salt can lead to heart conditions.  A book like this always runs the risk of preaching to the choir but luckily Moss also includes information about newer research findings, such as the way sugar lights up the same pleasure centres in our brains as hard drugs, or that it can be so addictive that rats will willingly undergo electric shocks in order to get another slice of cheesecake.  There is no 'stop signal' in our bodies when it comes to eating fatty foods, and it becomes invisible to consumers as soon as sugar is also added.

The most interesting part of the book for me was when Moss interviewed industry insiders and looked at the social implications of their product development and marketing.  Poorer families and districts are deliberately and explicitly targeted.   I teach in a socially deprived area of inner London and the majority of children in my class eat processed, fatty, fast foods every single day.  According to Moss, this is a deliberate move, presumably as chaotic families lack the skills or budget needed to resist.  At one point, Moss interviews a food executive who was in charge of opening up a new market in Brazil.  As he tours the slums, the exec realises that whilst the children and families there need a lot of things, they don't need a can of Coke.  The morality of such marketing campaigns deserves to be questioned.

Reading Salt, Sugar, Fat was fascinating, but it was all heavily US-based.  I think the problem of processed foods is larger than that, it's a problem the whole Western world faces, so it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgement of this in the text.  Apart from that, I found it engaging and well written, one I would definitely recommend.

You will enjoy Salt, Sugar, Fat if:

  • You are interested in the politics of big corporations and their effect on society.
  • You enjoy social history.
  • You are interested in where your food comes from or in trying to eat healthily.
  • You simply like well written, engaging non-fiction.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2013
Score: 3.5 out of 5

19 comments:

  1. I just know that I will love this book. I need to get my hands on a copy. Wonderful review!

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    1. Hope you enjoy it, I really think you will.

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  2. I'm strangely interested to food-related non-fiction. The last thing I read was Brian Wansink's "Mindless Eating", which was such an interesting read generally trying to explain the most surprising and interesting factors that may lead to our eating-related decisions. It's highly likely that I will give "Salt, Sugar, Fat" a go once I get craving for "culinary" non-fiction again.

    But yea. I totally see how those books being too much US-based may be a bit off-putting for the rest of us. It's more difficult to relate, for one, and secondly, as you say, the problem is far wider than just the States.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. *interested in. (must have been some weird mind link of interested in/intrigued with/attracted to :))

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    3. I'm drawn to food non-fiction too, but then I also love cooking and food related shows on TV :P
      I'll have to look out for Mindless Eating, it sounds very interesting.

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  3. When I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I was hooked. I'm intensely aware of what might be in every bite of food I put in my mouth as well as the goals of the processed food industry. One of those little blue boxes of macaroni and cheese is .60 at the grocery while a salad is 6.00...something's wrong with that. We've fallen back into the rut of eating out over the last few hectic weeks of the summer, but we're getting back on track next week. No more processed food bought, no more fast food, and more as clean as possible eating for us. I can't wait to get my hands on this book.

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    1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has been on my wishlist for a while, so I'm glad to see that you found it such a powerful read.
      I think we all have times where processed food can't be turned down - when I've had a bad day at week we usually slip 'off the wagon' so to speak and have take-out.
      Hope you enjoy the book :)

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  4. This is on my library reserved list - I should have it sometime this summer and am really looking forward to it.

    Thanks for whetting my "appetite" for it further. ;-)

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    1. Hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it, Debbie :)

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  5. I totally agree with you on the sensibly home-cooked over organic, that's kind of the realm I'm coming from, too (though sometimes it's just so much easier to buy things prepared). I've been very interested in reading this since it came out, though I know it will make me quite frustrated.

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    1. Yes, when I've had a long, tiring day, cooking can feel more like a chore than a pleasure! Hope you enjoy the book, even if it does make you frustrated!

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  6. Sounds like a really interesting read. I too have been working on making more homemade food, and agree that ready-made bolognaise and chilli jarred sauces just don't taste right anymore since I've learnt to make it myself.

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    1. It's weird, isn't it? When I lived with my parents we would eat the Uncle Bens and Dolmios sauces regularly, but they just don't taste right now.

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  7. I try to eat as much fresh food as I can because I have very sensitive skin and ready meals (i.e Krafts' mac and cheese) make me suffer from a rash in my face from two to three weeks. But I do let myself indulge being chips my favourite treat. Having said that and taking into account how I eat due to my allergies, you wouldn't believe how bad some people eat (from my point of view) and they consider it "normal". Certainly, I'm sure this book would help everyone to put their eating habits in perspective.

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  8. I know exactly what you mean about the more you eat at home, the more processed foods taste wrong. So. Very. Wrong. I think this book might be a bit repetitive in spots for me, too, but I'm still tempted to give it a go. :D

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  9. Even if it is a bit preaching to the choir, this book sounds excellent. And you're so right about the more you cook the worse processed foods taste, though there are still times when you just want processed-hardly-really-counts-as-food.

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    1. Random follow up but the comment section is sort of acting wonky, at least for me. It took awhile to get it to show up and once it did I was seeing duel comment boxes (not reply boxes under an existing thread either). Just a heads up!

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  10. I'll be picking this book up. In Taiwan diet is still very much linked to the local market, but that is changing very rapidly. The encroachment of fast food and processed foods in the supermarkets is happening at an alarming rate. My family has been able to maintain our distance from the encroachment, but it gets more and more difficult as the years go by. I do a lot of research about food and the things we buy. This books sounds like something I need to read.

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