A podcast discussion of this book is also available here:
Table of Contents:
1. The Rise of the Processed Food Industry
- 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
5. Addressing the Salt, Sugar and Fat Problem in America
- 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.
1. The Rise of the Processed Food Industry
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.
If General Foods was the leader in the convenience food department, then Charles Mortimer was their guru. Indeed, it was none other than Mortimer who coined the term ‘convenience foods’ (loc. 1071). Mortimer had started off in the marketing department of General Foods, but by the early 1950’s he had risen to become the company’s CEO (loc. 1069, 1145, 1154).
At a conference of food executives in 1955, Mortimer made his philosophy of convenience public (loc. 1301). Specifically, he told the audience that “convenience is the great additive which must be designed, built in, combined, blended, interwoven, interjected, inserted, or otherwise added to or incorporated in products or services if they are to satisfy today’s demanding public. It is the new and controlling denominator of consumer acceptance or demand… Modern Americans are willing to pay well for this additive to the products they purchase… not because of any native laziness but because we are willing to use our greater wealth to buy fuller lives and we have… better things to do with our time than mixing, blending, sorting, trimming, measuring, cooking, serving, and all the other actions that have gone into the routine of living” (loc. 1305)
Not long after Mortimer’s speech, convenience foods of all kinds started popping up in increasing numbers in grocery stores. As Moss explains, “time-saving gadgets and gizmos started arriving in the grocery store that year that helped the modern homemaker trade a little more of her new wealth for some extra time away from the kitchen. Ready-to-make biscuits appeared in tubes that could be opened by merely tugging a string. Special detergents came out for the electric dishwashers that had special compounds to get off the water spots. One entrepreneurial firm even made plastic lids with spouts that snapped on cans of milk or syrup for easier pouring” (loc. 1317).
c. The Resistance to Convenience Foods: Tradition, Home Economics Classes and Extension Agents
While convenience foods were certainly easier and quicker to prepare than home-made recipes, it was nevertheless the case that there remained the ideal of the home-cooked meal. This ideal was not only entrenched in the culture—it was upheld and defended within America’s very schools via Home Economics classes.
As Moss explains, “a network of professional homemakers across the country were struggling to keep America’s food simple and pure. These were the twenty-five thousand women who taught high school students how to shop and cook, and they promoted the ideal of home cooking with as much vigor as the food manufacturers were pushing the frozen, fast, and boxed” (loc. 1073).
And the home economics teachers were not alone in defending the home-cooked meal. Indeed, they were joined by a few thousand government agents (called extension agents), “who worked for the federal and state departments of agriculture and who made house calls to teach young homemakers the ins and outs of gardening, canning, and meal planning with nutrition in mind” (loc. 1322).
d. The Counter-Resistance to Convenience Foods: Marketing (and Betty Crocker)
In order to overcome the resistance, the processed food players would need to throw real resources at the problem. This they did mainly by way of clever marketing (though, eventually, they would also resort to infiltrating the home economics association itself [loc. 1369]). Specifically, in order to counter the influence of the home economics teachers, the processed food companies marched out a cadre of home economics teachers of their own. As Moss explains, “in the mid-1950s, the food industry… create[d] its own army of home economics teachers. Bright and fashionable, these women worked for the companies, held their own cooking contests, set up popular demonstration kitchens, and conducted cooking classes for moms and their daughters in direct competition with the home economics teachers who taught in the schools. By 1957, General Foods had sixty of these home economists on its payroll, promoting its products” (loc. 1352).
The most famous of this new breed of ‘home economics teacher’ was none other than the very dignified (and very fictional) Betty Crocker. As Moss explains, “Betty Crocker had been invented by the manager of the advertising department at Washburn Crosby, which later became General Mills, and this Betty never slept… Her catchy slogans, like ‘I guarantee a perfect cake, every time you bake—cake after cake after cake,’ rang out in radio, magazine and television advertisements. She opened a set of show rooms, known as Betty’s kitchens, where women were taught quick ‘n easy, heat-and-serve cooking with Bisquick and other General Mills products… Betty Crocker also unleashed the Big Red, a string of bestselling cookbooks… As Susan Marks writes in her book Finding Betty: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food, the recipes and advice in these cookbooks helped to drive ‘the fundamental shift in American diets toward the factory-processed convenience foods that were becoming fixtures in grocery aisles’” (loc. 1367).
Here’s Betty Crocker in action in two of her many commercials:
With both convenience and marketing on their side, the processed food industry began making real inroads in changing the face of the American diet. And one of the biggest changes here included the rise of the processed food industry’s 3 favorite ingredients: Salt, sugar and fat. Let us begin, where the book begins, with sugar.
a. Sugar is Delicious (and Has Many Other Uses)
Sugar is delicious. This is no accident, it’s entirely natural (loc. 410, 489). As Moss explains, “we don’t even have to eat sugar to feel its allure. Pizza will do, or any other refined starch, which the body converts to sugar—starting right in the mouth, with an enzyme called amylase” (loc. 567). The food scientist Danielle Reed adds that “‘the faster the starch becomes sugar, the quicker our brain gets the reward for it… We like the highly refined things because they bring us immediate pleasure, associated with high sugar’” (loc. 567).
We like sugar because sweetness is an indicator of quick, concentrated calories, and in the environment in which we evolved, quick, concentrated calories meant survival. Children’s bodies, which are growing quickly, are especially demanding of calories (loc. 581), which helps explain why children’s preference for sweetness outstrips even that of adults (loc. 579-81). As the biopsychologist Julie Mennella explains, “the liking of sweet is part of the basic biology of a child / There are individual differences, but as a group, in every culture that has been studied around the world, children prefer more intense sweetness than adults… sweet taste is their signal for foods that are rich in energy, and since kids are growing so fast, their bodies crave foods that provide quick fuel” (loc. 485, 581).
So, sweet things taste great, which goes a long way in explaining why sugar has become such a mainstay of the processed food industry (loc. 425) (more on this in a moment). However, taste is not the only factor that explains why the processed food industry has come to rely on sugar so heavily. As Moss explains, “sugar not only makes the taste of food and drink irresistible. The industry has learned that it can also be used to pull off a string of manufacturing miracles, from donuts that fry up bigger to bread that won’t go stale to cereal that is toasty-brown and fluffy” (loc. 424; see also 715-26).
b. The Bliss Point
With all the benefits that sugar brings, you may think that there would be no bounds to how much food companies would add to their products. As it turns out, though, there are limits here; and these limits are mainly determined by our taste buds. Indeed, while it is certainly the case that we are attracted to sweet foods, our taste for sweetness isn’t infinite. And food companies are fully aware of this. Indeed, most companies spend a significant amount of money investigating just how much sugar they need to add to their products to hit what’s called the ‘bliss point’—which is “the precise amount of sweetness—no more, no less—that makes food and drink most enjoyable” (loc. 492).
Calculating the bliss point of a product is relatively straightforward—though nevertheless very painstaking. The process normally unfolds as follows: To begin with, a large cohort of everyday people are brought into the lab. Each subject is given two versions of the same product. The subject tastes both (cleansing the palette in between), and indicates which of the two they like best. The subject is then presented with two more samples, and the process is repeated (often times dozens of samples are produced [loc. 570, 820]). At every stage, the subject’s choice is used to guide the sweetness level of the next two samples. Slowly but surely, the subject’s exact preference is narrowed down and identified precisely. There you have it: the bliss point (loc. 527-49, 570-74).
As mentioned above, the exact blisspoint of each individual varies somewhat, and our bliss-point changes as we age. Take vanilla pudding, for example. Most children prefer a concoction that is between 24% and 36% sugar; while most adults prefer around half as much sugar in their pudding (loc. 574).
All of this is taken into account when food companies are designing their products. For instance, line extensions of a single product often include different amounts of sugar (in order to cater to different gradations of sweet toothness [loc. 942]); and, of course, many products aimed at kids (including certain breakfast cereals) are deliberately loaded with more sugar than those intended for adults (more on this in a moment).
c. Just How Much Sugar Are We Talking About?
So, just how much sugar is in the foods that we eat? Well, to begin with, as Moss points out, “on average, we [Americans] consume 71 pounds of caloric sweeteners each year. That’s 22 teaspoons of sugar, per person, per day” (loc. 424). And of this, more than two-thirds comes from processed foods (loc. 608).
Which ones, precisely? There are the usual suspects of course, such as soda. A 12-ounce can of Coke, for instance, has “roughly nine teaspoons of sugar” (loc. 1944). Interestingly, certain so-called fruit-drinks (such as Tang, Kool-Aid and Capri Sun) contain almost as much sugar as soda—and in some cases even more. As Moss notes, “some of Capri Sun’s flavors, in fact, [are] higher in sugar than soda. Wild Cherry for instance, ha[s] 28 grams of sugar—more than six teaspoons—in each 6.76-ounce pouch. Coke, in its larger 12-ounce can, has 39 grams—28 percent less” (loc. 2565).
Sugary snacks are right up there as well. Take the S’more, for instance—Hershey’s boxed version of the campfire favorite that features marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers (loc. 237). As Moss explains, “each of these mega-rich cookies weigh[s] less than two ounces and contain[s] five teaspoons of sugar” (loc. 241).
Certain breakfast cereals are also a big culprit when it comes to added sugar (especially the sugary ones that kids love). For example, many of the sweet cereals aimed at kids are a whopping 50% sugar (with some going as high as 70% sugar) (loc. 1523). (I took a gander at some cereals this weekend on my shopping trip. The sweetest cereal I could find was Sugar Crisp. It had 16 grams of sugar per 30 gram serving—so 53%).
Even many foods that we do not necessarily identify as being sweet have been subjected to a good bit of added sugar. Take spaghetti sauce, for instance—and Prego sauce in particular. As Moss explains, “the Prego sauces—whether cheesy, chunky, or light—have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. A mere half cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as three Oreo cookies, a tube of Go-Gurt, or some of the Pepperidge Farm Apple Turnovers that Campbell also makes” (loc. 944).
Just to put these numbers in perspective, in 2009 the American Heart Association recommended that “moderately active women should get no more than 5 teaspoons of sugar—9 for sedentary middle-aged men—in what nutritionists call ‘discretionary calories.’ These are the treats that people who are watching their weight can have once they meet their daily nutritional needs… For women, the 5-teaspoon daily limit would mean barely half of a 12-ounce can of coke, or one Twinkie, or one-and-a-half Fig Newtons, or a half-cup of jell-O… Five teaspoons don’t get you very far in the grocery store” (loc. 711).
Today’s processed foods certainly contain an impressive amount of sugar. However, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Indeed, the practice of adding copious amounts of sugar to processed food was already well under way by the 1950’s, as the processed food industry was just entering its heyday. To take just one example, consider breakfast cereals. As Moss points out, by 1956 “many cereal makers were not only adding sugar, they had made it their single biggest ingredient, pushing levels past 50 percent” (loc. 1191).
A couple of things have changed since the 1950’s, though. One is that we began eating more and more processed foods; and two is that high quantities of sugar have increasingly been implicated in a number of health problems. First to the health issues.
d. Sugar on Trial (Beginning in 1975)
By the mid 1970’s, the only health problem that sugar was known to cause for certain was tooth decay. Now, it just so happens that tooth decay was becoming quite a problem among young people in the United States at the time (loc. 1519). Indeed, as Moss explains, “by one estimate, there were at any given moment one billion unfilled cavities in American mouths” (loc. 1521). Even then, it was difficult to blame processed foods for the problem, for the food companies were not required to list their ingredients on the packaging (this regulation would set in only in the 1990’s [loc. 4442]). Still, it was not exactly a secret that a whole lot of sugar was being added to certain processed foods. Just consider the names of some of the cereals that were being sold: ‘Count Chocula’; ‘Sugar Frosted Flakes’; and ‘Kaboom’ (loc. 1514).
In 1975, one upset dentist, Ira Shannon, “alarmed by the exploding rates of tooth decay he’d seen in his young patients” (loc. 1520), decided to have a number of breakfast cereals tested to find out just how much sugar was being added. The results were staggering: “a third of the brands had sugar levels between 10 percent and 25 percent. Another third ranged up to an alarming 50 percent, and eleven climbed even higher still—with one cereal, Super Orange Crisps, packing a sugar load of 70.8 percent” (loc. 1524). What’s more, it was found that the sweetest cereals were the very ones that were being advertised the most on Saturday morning cartoons (loc. 1524).
This was just the beginning of the problem for the processed food companies, though. Indeed, in the same year that Ira Shannon revealed the amount of sugar being added to breakfast cereals, sugar was implicated in a much more serious health issue than cavities. Indeed, 1975 was also the year that the very prominent nutritionist Jean Mayer (who taught at Harvard, and had acted as nutrition adviser to Richard M. Nixon [loc. 1529]), decried sugar as a factor in both obesity and diabetes. As Moss explains, “what made Mayer an industry threat was his pioneering research on obesity, which he called a ‘disease of civilization.’ He is credited with discovering how the desire to eat is controlled by the amount of glucose in the blood and by the brain’s hypothalamus, both of which in turn are greatly influenced by sugar. He became an early critic of sugar, which he saw as one of the most dangerous additives in food, citing its link to diabetes” (loc. 1533).
By 1977, the anger and disgust on the part of health professionals towards the processed food industry had reached a fever pitch. It was in this year that the health professionals took their qualm to Washington. As Moss explains, “in 1977, twelve thousand health professionals had signed petitions asking the Federal Trade Commission to ban the advertising of sugary foods on children’s television shows” (loc. 1564).
Under its new activist chairman, Michael Pertschuk, the FTC took up the challenge, and even upped the ante. Indeed, rather than just proposing to end advertising for sugary foods to children, the FTC “laid out a set of recommendations that included a total ban on all advertising to children—for any product, food or otherwise” (loc. 1579).
The battle for public acceptance was on. On their side, the processed food industry framed the proposal on the part of the FTC as a prime example of over-exuberant government interference. Many agreed. The Washington Post, for example, made the following argument: “what are the children to be protected from? The candy and sugar-coated cereals that lead to tooth decay? Or the inability or refusal of their parents to say no? The food products will still be there, sitting on the shelves of the local supermarkets after all, no matter what happens to the commercials. So the proposal, in reality, is designed to protect children from the weaknesses of their parents—and the parents from the insistence of their children. That, traditionally, is one of the roles of a governess—if you can afford one. It is not a proper role of government’” (loc. 1604).
Ultimately, the proposal of the FTC lost support on Capitol Hill, and the new regulation foundered (loc. 1604-07). Still, the cat was out of the bag, and the public were now more wary of the processed food companies—and sugar—than ever.
So, how did the processed food industry respond? Mainly by way of downplaying the role that sugar played in their products, and redesigning their marketing campaigns (occasionally bordering on outright deception [loc. 1801-28])—without lessening the amount of sugar in their products. As Moss explains, “the persistent attacks on sugar had an effect. That same year, Post changed the name of its Super Sugar Crisp Cereal to Super Golden Crisp, though its sugar levels remained at more than 50 percent. A spokeswoman said at the time that the change was made in ‘recognition that there’s a sensitivity to the word sugar.’ ‘It’s a marketing tool to give a modern image to an old product,’ she added. This followed Kellogg’s earlier move to drop the word sugar from two of its own 50-percent-plus mega-sellers: Sugar Frosted Flakes became Frosted Flakes, and Sugar Smacks turned into Honey Smacks” (loc. 1662).
(The deceptive practices in advertising certain breakfast cereals, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, have continued right up to the present day–as the following video illustrates):
In the years that followed, the health concerns surrounding sugar would continue to pile up. For example, as Moss notes, by “ 1990… sugar was coming under attack from a variety of quarters… the World Health Organization proposed changing its nutritional guidelines to lower the recommended daily levels of sugar to 10 percent of a person’s caloric intake, citing various research that suggested links between sugar and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity” (loc. 2509). The latest example of a study damning sugar was one conducted in 2011 at the University of California at Davis (loc. 2523). In this study, young adults were sequestered in a lab over a two-week period and given drinks with their meals sweetened with either glucose, fructose or corn syrup (loc. 2525). Here are the results: “the glucose group emerged largely unscathed, but those who got the fructose or corn syrup beverages experienced a 25 percent jump in their triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and a fat-binding protein, all markers for heart disease” (loc. 2527).
e. More and More Sugar
Despite the mounting health concerns, though, our consumption of processed foods heavy in sugar has just kept going up. Take breakfast cereals for example. As Moss notes, “cereal sales surg[ed]—from $660 million in 1970 to 4.4 billion by the mid-1980’s” (loc. 1499). Super-sweet soft drinks are in the same boat. Take Coca-Cola, for example. As the author explains, “for Coca-Cola stockholders, the years from 1980 to 1997 were especially sweet. Sales more than quadrupled from $4 billion to $18 billion… By 1997, Americans were drinking 54 gallons of soda a year, on average, and Coke controlled almost half of the soda sales, with a 45 percent share” (loc. 2121). And while everyone’s consumption of soft-drinks had gone up, this was especially so among teens and pre-teens. As Moss explains, “by 1995, two in three kids were drinking a 20-ounce bottle [of Coke] daily” (loc. 1949).
Cereal and soda aren’t alone, though. Processed foods in general have taken up a greater and greater proportion of our diets over the years. Why? Mainly because of our perceived lack of time. With no time to fix meals for ourselves, we have increasingly turned to processed meals and processed snacks—both of which are high in sugar.
f. The Health Epidemics
With sugar having been tied to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and our consumption of sugary foods ever on the rise, it is not much of a surprise that we are now facing epidemics in each of these conditions and diseases. At a conference of top food executives in 1999, a vice president of Kraft, Michael Mudd, presented the sobering facts. The facts ran thus: “More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the population—40 million adults—carrying so many extra pounds that they were clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980, the year when the fat line on the charts began angling up, and the number of kids considered obese had shot past 12 million. (It was still only 1999; the nation’s obesity rates would climb much higher.) ‘Massive social costs estimated as high as $40-$100 billion a year,’ announced one of Mudd’s slides in bright, bold lettering. Then came the specifics: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, three types of cancer—breast, colon, and that of the uterus lining—all on the rise. To varying degrees, the executives were told, obesity was cited as one of the causes for each of these health crises” (loc. 162).
Mudd’s point in the presentation (and an unwelcome one it was) was that all of these health issues—and especially obesity—could ultimately be (and had been) traced back, at least in part, to the processed food industry (loc. 167-82). And it wasn’t just the sugar in processed food that was contributing to the problem. Fat and salt were a part of the problem as well (we shall get to these in a moment).
(It should also be mentioned here that the health epidemics mentioned above are not confined to America. Indeed, processed foods have become popular throughout the industrialized world. And wherever they have become popular, the health issues associated with their consumption have emerged [loc. 694-702]).
If the industry did not do something about the ingredients in their products, Mudd argued, it was only a matter of time before the government and the lawyers came calling to force them to it (loc. 81, 187-205). Importantly, a crucial precedent had been set just a year before (in 1998) when a group consisting of 40 states had successfully sued the tobacco industry for a whopping $365 billion for the health care crisis that its product had caused (loc. 4362). Now, with the research piling up that implicated the processed food industry in a health crisis of its own, the food giants could expect the same kind of law suit sooner or later (loc. 190).
What was the response in the room? We shall get to that soon enough. But first let us turn our attention to the remaining elements in the processed food equation: fat and salt.
a. That Ooey-Gooey Feeling (and Other Uses of Fat)
Fat is far different than sugar, but in its own way it is just as appealing. Interestingly, we have no taste buds for fat (the way we do for sugar) (loc. 2683-88). Rather, fat is something that is detected by feel alone—through a nerve in our mouths known as the trigeminal nerve (loc. 2820). And as it turns out, fat feels pretty good when it hits the old trigeminal nerve (loc. 2690, 2737).
When it comes to the different feelings that sugar and fat bring, Moss puts it this way: “fat doesn’t blast away at our mouths like sugar does; by and large, its allure is more surreptitious… 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” (loc. 2711).
As with sugar, there is a good biological reason as to why fat tastes so good to us: it’s loaded with calories—even more so than sugar, in fact. Indeed, as Moss explains, fat “packs 9 calories into each gram, more than twice the caloric load of either sugar or protein” (loc. 2799).
So, fat tastes really good. Sounds like something the food companies might want to add to their products. And guess what? They do! (More on this in a moment.) But that’s not all. As with sugar, the food companies have found that fat has far more uses than just enhancing taste. As Moss explains, “like sugar, some types of fat furnish processed foods with one of their most fundamental requirements: the capacity to sit on the grocery store shelf for days or months at a time. Fat also gives cookies more bulk and a firmer texture. It substitutes for water in lending tenderness and mouthfeel to crackers. It lessens the rubbery texture in hot dogs, deepens their color, keeps them from sticking to the grill, and, as an added bonus, saves the manufacturers money, since the fattier trimmings of meat they use in making hot dogs [and other processed meat—like hamburger] cost less to buy than the leaner cuts” (loc. 2695).
With all the benefits that fat brings, you may think that there would be no bounds to how much food companies would add to their products. Wait a second, though. When we looked at sugar, we found that there was a certain bliss point that the food companies had to contend with. Does such a bliss point exist for fat?
Actually, it appears not. Rather, it seems that it’s a matter of the richer the better. For example, in one study, the University of Michigan food scientist Adam Drewnowski tested subjects using various mixtures of milk, cream and sugar (loc. 2871). Here’s how Drewnoski explained his results: “‘there was no bliss point, or break point, for fat… the more fat there was the better… if there was a break point, it was somewhere beyond heavy cream” (loc. 2880).
Even more interestingly, Drewnoski later performed a similar study wherein he asked subjects to identify the relative amounts of sugar and fat in each concoction that he gave them. While the subjects were able to accurately pick out just how much sugar each of the offerings contained, they were not as accurate when it came to the fat. As Moss explains, “the tasters were able to taste and quantify the sugar content of each sample quite accurately, but not the fat content; the participants in [Drewnowski’s] study found it difficult to detect its presence with any precision at all. On top of that, when sugar was added to the fattier formulations, the students mistakenly thought the fat had been reduced. In effect, the fat had gone into hiding” (loc. 2888).
So, fat tastes great; has a whole range of uses in processed food; there’s no bliss point; and it’s hard to tell how much is there even if we did care about limiting our intake. Uh oh.
All of this helps explain why the processed food companies pack so much fat into so many of their products; and it also helps explain how they are able to do so without it ever really being noticed. As Moss explain, “many soups, cookies, potato chips, cakes, pies, and frozen meals deliver half or more of their calories through fat, and yet consumers [don’t] identify these as fatty foods, which is great for sales. For some extra insurance on this, all the manufacturers have to do is add a little sugar” (loc. 2892).
b. The Health Issues
Given how much processed foods we’re eating, this also helps explain how we’ve come to a point where we’re eating far more fat than we should. As Moss explains, “day in and day out, Americans on average are exceeding the recommended maximum of fat by more than 50 percent” (loc. 2965; see also 3817).
And, of course, we all know what happens when we eat more fat than we should: we get, well, fat. And we are getting fat. As mentioned above, by 1999, “more than half of American adults were… considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the population—40 million adults—carrying so many extra pounds that they were clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980” (loc. 140). Also mentioned above is that that these rates have climbed since. The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, indicated that over 1/3 of American adults (35.7%), and 17% of children and adolescents are now considered obese (http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html; see also loc. 701). And, of course, obesity is not just a health-risk in itself. It is also closely associated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer (loc. 140).
c. The Story of Cheese
As mentioned above, many of the processed foods that we eat contain an impressive amount of fat. However, certain ones are a bigger threat than others. And cheese, it seems, is one of the biggest threats of all.
As many will no doubt know, cheese is very high in fat. As Moss explains, “a hunk of cheddar cheese is one-third fat, along with protein, salt, and a little sugar, and even that statistic understates the force that fat brings to food. Two-thirds of the calories in that cheese are delivered by the fat, which packs more than twice the energy of sugar” (loc. 2682). Many heavily processed cheeses are even fattier than this. Take Kraft’s Cheez Whiz, for instance. As the author explains, “a single serving, which Kraft define[s] as just two level tablespoons, deliver[s] nearly a third of a day’s recommended maximum of saturated fat” (loc. 2926).
And we eat a lot of cheese. As Moss reports, “Americans now eat as much as 33 pounds or more of cheese and pseudo-cheese products a year, triple the amount we consumed in the early 1970’s” (loc. 2957). We eat so much cheese, in fact, that, as Moss notes, “cheese has become the single largest source of saturated fat in the American diet” (loc. 2963). Actually, the story of how we have come to eat so much cheese is interesting in its own right. So I will now spend a bit of time telling this very story.
d. The Back-Story of Cheese
i. The Government Subsidy of the Dairy Industry
Our story begins in the 1930’s when the United States government first began subsidizing the country’s dairy industry (loc. 3049). This it did because the government felt that the dairy industry was “vital to the nation’s health” (loc. 3049). The specifics of this subsidization program were that the government would set price supports on dairy products, and also buy up any excess dairy products that the producers were unable to sell on the market (loc. 3051). As Moss explains, “the dairies didn’t have to bother with the normal commercial concerns in selling food. They didn’t have to mess… with any of the marketing tactics deployed by food manufacturers to boost consumption. The government simply bought as much as the dairies could make” (loc. 3053).
Now, in the 1950’s, milk was beginning to be seen as a fatty product (loc. 3032). And with this realization, milk sales began to suffer (loc. 3036). What’s more, those who did continue to buy milk were increasingly switching to the low fat varieties (2%, 1%, and even skim) (loc. 3033). The stripping of milk-fat from whole milk was leaving the milk producers with a whole lot of excess milkfat. This wasn’t such a big problem for the milk producers, though, because they were able to use the excess milkfat to make cheese, which was also protected under the government subsidy (loc. 3053-59).
This was a problem for the government, though, because they suddenly found themselves buying up more cheese than they knew what to do with. As Moss explains, “these government purchases hummed along rather quietly until 1981… By that point, there were so many operators sending so much excess milk and milkfat to cheese makers that the government was buying more cheese than it could ever give away. This cheese, along with surplus butter and dried milk, accumulated into a stack that weighed 1.9 billion pounds, and it cost taxpayers $4 billion a year… The storage fees alone were running upwards of $1 million a day. It grew so large, in fact, that the government began secreting it away in caverns and a vast, abandoned limestone mine near Kansas City” (loc. 3064).
ii. The End of the Dairy Subsidies, and the Beginning of the Dairy Marketing Campaign
The mountain of milkfat continued to grow until the early 1980’s, which is when Ronald Regan came to power. Regan, of course, was not such a fan of government subsidies, and so the program was axed (loc. 3077). Nevertheless, the Regan administration was concerned about how this move would affect the dairy producers. So, in lieu of continuing subsidies, the government set up a program to help sell all the excess cheese. Specifically, the government required all dairy producers to chip in a certain amount to a new fund that would be used to market and advertise cheese to Americans (loc. 3086). As Moss explains, “under [the] plan, the government allowed a special assessment to be levied on every milk producer in the country, with the money to be spent on marketing schemes that were aimed at making milk and cheese more alluring” (loc. 3085).
And guess what? It worked! Not only did Americans start buying more cheese, they also warmed to products that featured cheese among their ingredients (loc. 3139-66). And as they did, their consumption of cheese went up and up. As the author notes, “where Americans, on average, were eating 11 pounds of cheese a year in 1970, they were up to 18 pounds in 1980, 25 pounds by 1990, 30 pounds in 2000, and 33 pounds by 2007, when the rates dipped in the recession before resuming their surge” (loc. 3186).
One of the main reasons why our consumption of cheese rose so much, is because we started eating a lot more pizza—and a lot more cheese was being added to the pizza we ate. As Moss explains, “frozen pizza used to be made with the bare minimum amount of cheese, as manufacturers were always looking for ways to save on ingredient costs. But the new math on cheese turned that upside down. The more cheese that was added, the better the pizzas sold, and the better they sold, the more [they] could charge… By 2009, frozen pizza had reached $4 billion in annual sales, with Kraft alone pulling in $1.6 billion from DiGiorno and its other brands, and there appeared to be no end in sight” (loc. 3172).
iii. The Government’s Dilemma
The government’s efforts to prop up cheese sales certainly helped the dairy industry. However, the government’s success here would eventually leave it with a bit of a dilemma. To begin with, in 2010, the USDA report on health had singled out saturated fat as a major health concern. The report noted that “saturated fat… has been associated with heart disease… It is a primary cause of high cholesterol in the bloodstream, a waxy substance that leads to heart attacks and strokes” (loc. 3805). Not only that, “but for the first time, the panel also stressed that saturated fat was partly responsible for another health epidemic: type 2 diabetes, the kind caused by poor diet. The latest estimates were that 24 million Americans had type 2 diabetes, with another 79 million people having pre-diabetes” (loc. 3808).
Given the links between saturated fat and both heart disease and diabetes, the USDA reduced its daily recommendations regarding saturated fat. Specifically, as Moss explains, the USDA “took the bold step of lowering its recommended maximum allowance for saturated fat for everyone, kids and adults. The old limit was 10 percent [of caloric intake]. Now, said the panel, everyone should strive to reduce their intake to 7 percent, or barely more than half what kids are consuming today on average” (loc. 3819).
But this left the question of what foods in particular Americans should be cutting back on. When the USDA looked into where all the saturated fat we’re eating was coming from, they found that cheese and pizza (which, as Moss notes, “is basically a vehicle for conveying cheese” [loc. 3820]) were the biggest culprits. As the author explains, “together, cheese and pizza contributed more than 14 percent of saturated fat being consumed. Second on the list was red meat in its various forms, which accounted for more than 13 percent of the fat in our diet. In third place—at a bit less than 6 percent—were all those grain-based desserts like chocolate cake and cookies, which are laden with oils” (loc. 3824).
Some nutritionists saw this as a clear sign that the USDA should be warning Americans to cut down on their consumption of cheese and red meat (loc. 3828-32). However, this is not what the USDA did. Instead, the USDA argued that it would be wrong to single out any foods in particular as being bad foods, and that one had to look at diet in a holistic way instead (loc. 3847). Still, some nutritionists suggested that the USDA’s policy here was somewhat suspicious—in that it looked like the organization was going out of its way to protect the cattle and dairy industries (loc. 3842). (In defense of the USDA, however, the 2010 report did go so far as to recommend that Americans should be eating more low-fat cheese and meat [loc. 3851-55] [Moss himself, just to be clear, does not see this as being much of a defense loc. 3851-84]).
No matter what our diet happens to be, many of us could afford to cut down a bit on our fat intake. It helps to know where much of the fat we’re eating is coming from, but where we decide to cut back is up to us.
So much for fat—on to salt…
a. Salt and Hypertension
Like sugar and fat, salt is yummy (loc. 4724, 4823). But unlike sugar and fat, salt has no calories (loc. 4782). Instead, we’re attracted to salt mainly because it’s an essential mineral—or at least sodium is (loc. 4674, 4784, 4805). The problem with sodium, though, is that while a little bit is essential for good health, excessive amounts lead to just the opposite. Indeed, as Moss explains, “in large amounts, sodium pulls fluids from the body’s tissues and into the blood, which raises the blood volume and compels the heart to pump more forcefully. The result: high blood pressure” (loc. 4678). High blood pressure, or hypertension, really isn’t good, because it leads to heart disease, and even heart failure (loc. 4672).
Now, in the 1980’s, hypertension was becoming a real problem in America. Indeed, as Moss notes, “in the late 1980’s, a flurry of news reports and editorials focused the country’s attention on a growing menace: high blood pressure. A public health survey found that one in four Americans were afflicted by this condition… and the numbers were climbing steadily” (loc. 4670).
Salt was not the only culprit that was identified as contributing to high blood pressure (obesity, smoking, and diabetes were all found to be connected to the condition as well [loc. 4672]). Nevertheless, salt did receive its fair share of attention—especially when doctors found that “Americans were eating so much salt they were getting ten times—even twenty times—the amount of sodium the body needed” (loc. 4676).
b. Whence the Salt?
At this point, health officials just assumed that all of this sodium must be coming from the most obvious source: the salt shaker. As a result, these health officials “urged Americans to trash their saltshakers, or at least relegate them to the knick-knack shelf. In 1989, the American Heart Association began marketing an alternate way for people to season their food. It created and sold its own shaker, which contained a salt-less blend of cayenne pepper, basil, thyme, and other herbs, and it even came up with a catchy slogan to brand it as the answer to high blood pressure: ‘Shaking the salt habit.’” (loc. 4684).
Something was amiss, though. Sodium levels in people’s blood indicated that they were consuming between 1 and 2 teaspoons of salt per day (if not more) (loc. 4688); and yet virtually no one was adding this much salt directly to their food. The salt had to be coming from a different source. But where?
In order to get to the bottom of the matter, the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia ran a study. The study (which ran in 1991 [loc. 4714]) closely followed 62 participants for a week, in order to determine just where the sodium in their blood was coming from. Much to the researchers’ surprise, they found that the salt from the salt-shaker accounted for only about 6% of the sodium in the subjects’ blood (loc. 4709). Even the sodium that exists naturally in certain foods outstripped this—accounting for about 10% of that found in the subjects’ blood streams. What of the rest? Here’s Moss to explain: “the researchers discovered that more than three-quarters of the salt [the subjects] consumed in the week came from processed foods. The companies making these products weren’t just adding salt. They were dumping sack after sack of it into their boxed macaroni and cheese, their chicken a la king heat-and-serve meals, their canned spaghetti and meatballs, their salad dressings, tomato sauces, pizzas, and soups… From one aisle to the next, there wasn’t much in the grocery store that didn’t have added salt” (loc. 4722).
c. Salt and Processed Food
Now, it is true that we consumers have a taste for salt. However, this doesn’t quite explain why the processed food companies have come to rely on the mineral so extensively. To begin with, even in the realm of taste, salt is not only added to processed foods in order to add flavor, but to mask certain bad tastes from coming to the surface. For example, when Moss visited Campbell soup’s head offices, the company’s senior vice president for global research and development, George Dowdie, had Moss try some of the company’s vegetable beef soup without the added salt. As Moss reports, “the soup had some bad tastes, tastes that hovered somewhere between bitter and metallic. These undesirables—what the industry calls ‘off-notes’—were likely still present in the regular soup, but the salt—in one of its functions—covers them up. ‘The salt is masking these off-notes?’ I asked Dowdie. ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ he replied” (loc. 5211).
Over and above its role in fixing taste, sodium is also added to processed food for a host of other reasons. As the author explains, “salt is not the only way that food manufacturers pump sodium into America’s bloodstream… They do this through the dozens of sodium-based compounds that are added to processed food to delay the onset of bacterial decay, to bind ingredients, and to blend mixtures that otherwise come unglued, like protein and fat molecules in processed cheese” (loc. 4918).
With all the benefits that salt brings, you may think that there would be no bounds to how much food companies would add to their products. But the question, again, is this: is there a bliss point? When it comes to salt, the answer to this question is not so straightforward. To begin with, it is true that our taste for salt is not infinite. However, it turns out that increased salt intake actually increases our taste for the mineral (loc. 4867-80, 4939-49).
So, salt does have a bliss point, but it appears to be somewhat flexible. And it can be ramped up through increased salt intake. It’s no wonder, then, that a significant (and increasing [loc. 5063]) amount of sodium is finding its way into our processed food (and our blood streams).
When it comes to recommended daily levels of sodium, the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines advisory committee has set this at 2,300 milligrams (loc. 4729, 5041) (the number is even lower—1,500 milligrams—for those who are especially at risk from the dangers of high blood pressure [loc. 4731]). However, many processed foods contain ¼ or more of this recommended daily limit in a single cup. As Moss explains, “when it comes to salt even health-conscious manufacturers deliver heavy doses. Amy’s Organic Minestrone Soup has 580 milligrams of sodium in a cup. Newman’s Own Organic Pasta Sauce has 650 milligrams in half a cup. In perusing an expansive supermarket in New York City, my personal favorite was a frozen roast turkey dinner from Hungry Man… In all, the sodium in this microwavable dish came to 5,400 milligrams, which is more salt than people should eat over the course of two days. Unless, that is, the people are baby boomers or older, black, or suffering from sodium-sensitive disease. In this case, the Hungry Man dinner would deliver enough salt to meet their quota for half a week” (loc. 4742).
d. Addressing the Salt Problem
i. In Britain
Of course, the United States is not the only place where salt intake has become a point of serious concern. Indeed, as mentioned above, processed foods have spread all over the industrial world (and as they have, the health problems that are associated with them have followed in their wake). Now, in certain countries, the government has stepped in and imposed certain restrictions. Take Britain, for example. As Moss explains, “starting in 2003, the food Standards Agency in London developed a scheme to hold manufacturers accountable. It set targets for how much sodium they could add to their products—crafting limits for dozens of foods, from bread to cookies, to frozen meals. The system was voluntary, but the authorities pressed the industry to meet these targets, and, for companies who were used to heaping as much salt into their products as they wanted, the details were alarming. Soups had to lose 30 percent of their salt, breads 16 percent, meats 10 percent, and so on” (loc. 5056).
Though the new stipulations in Britain were purely voluntary, many manufacturers did comply (and the public appears to have taken notice as well), and the effects have been impressive. As Moss explains, “in the first six years of the British program, the average person’s intake of salt fell by 15 percent… Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine in London and an early proponent of the salt reduction effort [noted that] ‘it has saved 10,000 deaths a year from strokes and heart disease, through a public policy that has cost virtually nothing’” (loc. 5119).
ii. In Finland
Measures to reduce salt consumption have also been instituted in Finland. In the late 1970’s, Finnish people were consuming on average over 2 teaspoons of salt per day—and Finnish men were the biggest consumers of all (loc. 5235). This high-salt diet “brought an epidemic of heart attacks and strokes—indeed, men in the eastern part of Finland had the highest rate of cardiovascular disease in the world” (loc. 5235). When researchers looked into the matter, they found that the food industry held the brunt of the responsibility—so the government went after it directly (loc. 5238). New regulations specified that “every grocery item that was heavy in salt would now have to be marked prominently with the warning ‘High Salt Content.’” (loc. 5240). On the flip side, grocery items that were low in salt could be labelled with “the comforting phrase ‘Low Salt.’” (loc. 5375). In addition to this, a public health campaign was launched to educate the Finnish people about the dangers of a diet high in salt (loc. 5239). The results were spectacular. As Moss explains, “by 2007, Finland’s per capita consumption of salt had dropped by a third, and this shift was accompanied by an 80 percent decline in the number of deaths from strokes and heart disease” (loc. 5242).
5. Addressing the Salt, Sugar and Fat Problem in America
In America, where there is quite a bit more opposition to government restrictions on the market, no such measures have been instituted (though talk of this has come up on several occasions [loc. 79, 4534]). Nevertheless, at least a few companies have tried to impose restrictions on themselves when it comes to salt, sugar and fat. To begin with, it was mentioned above how, in 1999, a vice president of Kraft, Michael Mudd, made an impassioned plea to a room full of the most powerful food executives in America (representing such companies as Nestle, Nabisco, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Mars [loc. 87]). The thrust of the plea was that Mudd wanted the industry to impose restrictions on itself regarding its use of salt, sugar and fat, before the government and the lawyers stepped in and started suing and/or imposing restrictions themselves.
I have kept you waiting this long for the response from the other executives in the room, but now it shall be revealed. It was this: Not all of our products are loaded with salt, sugar and fat, they said. We make healthy alternatives, too. So, if people want to eat healthy, they have that option. Why should we take out the salt, sugar and fat in all of our products, when people have clearly shown that this is what they want? Let’s not overreact here (loc. 242). As Moss explains, “except for Kraft, all eleven of the major food manufacturers at the meeting spurned the idea of collectively down-formulating their products to ease their effects on Americans’ health” (loc. 247).
a. Kraft’s Anti-Obesity Campaign
Without industry-wide acceptance of self-imposed restrictions, Kraft new that it would have a tough time going this road alone. Nevertheless, in the early 2000’s it set out to do just this (loc. 4344). To begin with, in 2003, Kraft modified its advertising campaigns aimed at kids (loc. 4440). As Moss explains, “no longer would Kraft pitch products to kids that lacked nutritional value. Now, these products had to have substantial amounts of whole-grain fiber, fruits or vegetables, and key vitamins and minerals” (loc. 4442).
Next, Kraft made an effort to ensure that its labeling was more honest with the consumer (loc. 4442). Specifically, rather than framing the amount of ingredients in its products in terms of x per serving, they would mark the total amount of each ingredient in the entire item. Kraft even toyed with the idea of putting the total number of calories on the front of each item (loc. 4461). In the end, though, “Kraft settled on putting this number—along with the calculations for salt, sugar and fat in the whole box or bag—in the nutrition facts” (loc. 4462).
Then the folks at Kraft really got radical. In 2003, the company introduced caps on the amount of salt, sugar and fat that they added to their products. As Moss explains, “the initiative they proposed in late 2003 was nothing short of heretical: In developing new products, Kraft’s food scientists and brand managers could no longer add all the salt, sugar and fat they wanted. Kraft, in fact, set caps on each of these ingredients, along with calories, across every category of food it produced. The idea was to start shrinking the salt, sugar, fat, and calorie loads of its entire $35 billion portfolio” (loc. 4495).
The ball was now in the consumers’ court. Would the healthy changes be well-received? Not really. Actually, Kraft’s sales had already begun to dip on the run up to their new health campaign (loc. 4522). And the health campaign didn’t help (loc. 4536).
For example, the new restrictions that Kraft placed on itself necessitated a complete revamping of the company’s famous Oreo cookie (loc. 4578). And, ultimately, Oreo began losing ground to the competition (loc. 4597). In order to compete with the big players, like Hershey, an exception would have to be made for Oreos when it came to the fat cap—and such an exception was made (loc. 4601). As Moss explains, “the Oreo line went from the 100-calorie packs to the Triple Double Oreo, the Banana Split Creme Oreo, the Oreo Fudge Sundae Creme, the Dairy Queen Blizzard Creme Oreo, the Oreo Golden Double Stuff. In 2007, Kraft went all out with the Oreo Cakester, a soft Oreo filled with chocolate or vanilla cream and bulked up to deliver an additional gram of saturated fat, four more grams of sugar, and 92 added calories” (loc. 4609).
The new line of Oreos took off like a rocket (loc. 4610). Not only that, but Kraft soon began exporting its ultra-rich Oreos all over the world, in an attempt to achieve global cookie dominance. As Moss explains, “by the 100th birthday of the Oreo in 2012, the ever-expanding lineup of Oreo cookies had become a $1-billion-a-year seller in the United States. And that number accounted for only half of their success. Kraft, that year, hauled in an additional $1 billion from selling the Oreos in other countries. Even more than the fat cap waivers, this global expansion by Kraft put the company’s anti-obesity campaign in a much darker context” (loc. 4612).
A certain portion of the population may have been happy with Kraft’s new healthier line-up, and may have continued to buy these products. However, the products stuffed with salt, sugar and fat were the real winners (loc. 4628-47). To forsake these products entirely meant lost sales, lost revenue, and unhappy shareholders (loc. 4523-35). Kraft couldn’t afford to go the healthy route alone (loc. 4546).
b. Campbell’s Reduced Salt Campaign
Other companies besides Kraft have also tried to cut the amount of salt, sugar and fat that they put in their products over the years. Campbell’s soup is one of them. Indeed, in the late 2000’s Campbell’s reduced the sodium content in several of its soups, and other products (loc. 5179). What happened? Sales dropped, and the company’s stock fell (loc. 5216).
So, just recently, Campbell’s decided to backtrack a bit. As Moss explains, “on July 12, 2011, Campbell’s incoming CEO, Denise Morrison, announced a plan to spur sales. She assured investors that she knew what was needed, first and foremost, to drive consumption. It was the same thing [George] Dowdie had said about earning the consumer’s trust: no salt, no flavor; no flavor, no buy. She said that the company would be adding more salt to some of its soups. Where the sodium had been lowered from 700 to 800 milligrams per serving, down to 480, the CEO said, it would now be raised back up to 650. ‘Sodium reduction is important,’ Morrison told the analysts. ‘But we have to do other things, like taste.’” (loc. 5220).
Unfortunately, it cannot be said that we, the consumer, are not aware that many of the foods we eat are full of salt, sugar and fat, and not all that good for us. For example, in recent surveys “people conceded that they were not doing enough to achieve a healthy diet, but three in four cited the same excuse for their failure: ‘I don’t want to give up the foods I like’” (loc. 4938).
We, the consumer, have spoken. So long as we continue to buy products that are ultra-rich in salt, sugar and fat, the food companies will continue to want to make them. So long as the government does not step in and put an end to this (which, I needn’t remind you, would involve opposing the free choices of both consumers, and the companies that cater to them), the products will continue to be made. Ultimately, our health is up to us. Food companies will not look after it for us.
The fact is that we love salt, sugar and fat “and if you accept this, then it becomes apparent why the food industry is so reliant on [them]. They are cheap. They are interchangeable. They are huge, powerful forces of nature in unnatural food. And yet, for us, knowing all this can be empowering. You can walk through the grocery store and, while the brightly colored packaging and empty promises are still mesmerizing, you can see the products for what they are… They may have salt, sugar, and fat on their side, but we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat” (loc. 5985).
**Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you have enjoyed this summary of Michael Moss’ Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us or just have a thought, please feel free to leave a comment below. Also, if you feel others may benefit from this article, please feel free to click on the g+1 symbol below, or share it on one of the umpteen social networking sites hidden beneath the ‘share’ button. Finally, if you would like to tip me for my efforts, then please do! I have given you the opportunity to do so below.
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