Table of Contents:
- a. Working Moms and Television
- b. Convenience Food
- c. The Resistance to Convenience Foods: Tradition, Home Economics Classes and Extension Agents
- d. The Counter-Resistance to Convenience Foods: Marketing (and Betty Crocker)
- a. Sugar is Delicious (and Has Many Other Uses)
- b. The Bliss Point
- c. Just How Much Sugar Are We Talking About?
- d. Sugar on Trial (Beginning in 1975)
- e. More and More Sugar
- f. The Health Epidemics
- a. That Ooey-Gooey Feeling (and Other Uses of Fat)
- b. The Health Issues
- c. The Story of Cheese
- d. The Back-Story of Cheese
i. The Government Subsidy of the Dairy Industry
ii. The End of the Dairy Subsidies, and the Beginning of the Dairy Marketing Campaign
iii. The Government’s Dilemma
- a. Salt and Hypertension
- b. Whence the Salt?
- c. Salt and Processed Food
- d. Addressing the Salt Problem
i. In Britain
ii. In Finland
- a. Kraft’s Anti-Obesity Campaign
- b. Campbell’s Reduced Salt Campaign
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 following is a CBC news segment on the processed food industry that features Michael Moss discussing the research that went into his new book:
What Follows is a full executive summary of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss.
a. Working Moms and Television
Modern processed food has been around since at least the late 19th century (loc. 1450); however, the true rise of the processed food industry may be said to have begun immediately following the Second World War. Numerous societal changes occurred in the industrialized world at that time that led to this phenomenon. Two of these changes are particularly important.
To begin with, an increasing number of women were finding work outside of the home. As Moss explains, by 1955 “nearly 38 percent of American women were leaving the home to work” (loc. 1342). Traditionally, these women had been responsible for the care and nourishment of their husbands and children; and traditionally, this included preparing home-cooked meals—a time consuming and arduous process indeed (loc. 1319-25, 1329-33, 1343). Now that women were leaving the home in increasing numbers, they had as little time as their husbands to tend to these matters, and yet the responsibility remained on their shoulders (loc. 1344). Less time, same responsibilities.
At the same time, an increasing number of American households now had a television, which provided an additional distraction. As Moss puts it, “who wanted to be still eating dinner or doing the dishes when Lassie and Gunsmoke were on?” (loc. 1345).
The food companies sensed an opportunity. Specifically, they understood that meals (including desserts) that could be prepared in less time, and with less effort, would be a huge hit. It was the dawn of convenience foods. As Moss explains, “the family-owned grocery store was fast evolving into the supermarket, and food manufacturers were scrambling to fill the shelves with time-saving innovations that fed directly into the country’s frenzy to modernize” (loc. 1068).
b. Convenience Food
One of the first players to spot the opportunity that lay in convenience foods was General Foods. In the early 1950’s, General Foods succeeded in making an instant pudding that shaved hours off of the home-made process (loc. 1108-15). The product: Jell-O instant pudding (loc. 1114). It was a huge hit (loc. 1115).
Here’s a Jell-O pudding commercial from the 1950s that captures both the product, and its selling point.
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