The only way out of the fast-food dilemma is to do it yourself. And only people who live a natural lifestyle and an intelligent minority who have the necessary financial means manage to do this.
Junk food is very cheap, available almost everywhere, requires very little or no preparation, and is an especially quick and easy option for meals.
Most convenience products are also handy, quite tasty, cheap, and cool—sometimes even entertaining. And there are two additional reasons why many people can’t give up convenience foods: they get hungry again very quickly and fast food makes them very happy.
Moss, other journalists, and a number of scientists have predicted that the future will bring catastrophic health care costs. And as long as these don’t have a noticeable impact, no effective measures will be taken. Political involvement is to blame here.
See the section “The Secret Meeting in 1999”, which is a MUST-READ if you want to understand this dilemma. For readers who are interested in learning more about the topic, I have included links to Wikipedia. There, you will find a lot of interesting and helpful information. Often, the pages are only available in English as pages in languages other than English are often created by individuals whose opinions are influenced by specific industries.
Many people assume that the topic of food safety is well regulated by the government. This book provides strong examples that show how much control the food industry really has. As a result, there are many places where laws to protect consumers are lacking. The food industry has an increasing say here.
The fact that the liberal idea of “Everybody is responsible for themselves” is not true for a majority of the population can be seen in society itself.
The book is a critical history of multinational food companies. This includes their makers, research, product development, production, and marketing. And in telling this story, Moss often points to the dangers for the human population.
Readers shouldn’t expect a nonfiction book that works carefully with a purely factual common theme, but rather more of a novel. In the book, time, places, and facts are all woven together—somewhat like with a stew.
“Salt Sugar Fat” is the best book that I have yet to read about the problems of popular convenience foods (including pizza) and industrially produced foods.
For those who avoid these types of foods, this book will serve as a confirmation. Unfortunately, those who are affected usually don’t read this type of book. But if so, they should expect a difficult struggle with their own emotional brain or rather limbic system and amygdalae (emotional reactions). Most people unfortunately develop a sense of resignation—before they would try to take their fate into their own hands.
Moss offers an impressive explanation of how the brain responds to stimuli. Industrial foods are created to make the biggest profits possible and very skillfully make use of the phenomenon of addiction. He describes studies with salt that show how programming errors are already possible in the mother’s womb and in the first months after birth. But it is also possible for us to get out of this cycle, as the study described below shows. However, this takes three months and requires a lot of willpower.
Those who have analyzed the numbers in the past several years and calculated for the future know what society is going to be faced with. The facts are now on the table. It isn’t eating disorders that are the problem here, but rather the masses of people who have poor eating habits. Most people lack information, education, and financial resources.
In February 2013, principal investigator Robert Moodie published the following statement in the scientific journal “The Lancet”. Moodie teaches at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Having hope that multinational companies will freely choose to produce healthier products is like entrusting burglars to install door locks.
Corrective laws and measures are lacking. Given the corruption in the food industry and politics, such laws are not yet possible. Personal suffering and health care costs will have to first increase much further.
- Book review
Michael Moss begins his book with a description of the extraordinary secret meeting on April 8, 1999, where the most important top managers (CEOs) of the food industry giants met. One of these 11 men supervised a total of 700’000 employees and annual sales of $280 billion.
After the prologue, Moss uses the three book sections to explain the role of sugar, fat, and salt and why, for example, the food industry has to use these and other additives in order to achieve the necessary shelf life—and to capture market share.
In certain sections, Moss describes the industry’s actions in the areas of research, development, production, marketing, and sales in detail. For this book, he spoke with numerous persons who are or were in positions of responsibility and with government and public officials. With in-depth insider knowledge, Moss was able to report on the dilemma that concerns us all.
The Secret Meeting in 1999
James Behnke, who was 55 at the time and a special advisor to Pillsbury’schief executive, organized this meeting. He suspected that the US government would intervene and do something about the ever increasing problem of obesity in the population. He also feared that the government would blame the food industry for the growing health care crisis.
At this meeting, there were no agenda items, notes, or journalists. The CEO of each of the following eight companies took part: Nabisco, Kraft, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Mars, Pillsbury, and Nestlé. As competitors, these food industry giants fought hard and still fight hard today on the market. That same year, General Mills acquired the major cereal producer Kellogg.
The CEOs from the two most important suppliers were also present. These are Cargill (United States), a family company with $134 billion in annual sales that is responsible for the purchase, processing, and sales of grains and grain products, and Tate & Lyle (UK).
John Cady from the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) arrived only in time to take part in the dinner together. Note: The NFPA is now called the Food Products Association (FPA).
Tate & Lyle’s sucralose business has belonged to the American Sugar Refining Company since 2010.
James Behnke, PhD in chemistry, had a successful career at Pillsbury for several years and was appointed special advisor to the CEO in 1999. He proved to have great ability to see the increasing health problems. He recognized that the industry was causing the dilemma. The industry assumed that several of their products would be eaten occasionally, but the competition caused these products to become so cheap that they took front and center stage. In addition, the industry determined a bliss point that really makes consumers want to have more.
Michael Mudd, who at the time was the vice-president of Kraft, explained that huge numbers of young people in the United States were overweight. And that not doing anything about this problem would be a big mistake because it would come back to hurt the companies, he believed.
Mudd included the fact that Walter C. Willett, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, had been on a PBS Frontline report called “Fat” and had already been pointing to industrial food production as the cause of this obesity epidemic. Among other things, he explained that most grains are converted to starches, sugar is used in a concentrated form, and many foods contain trans fatty acids.
Next, Mudd presented ways to get around this problem. The industry itself should investigate the links between diet and obesity and put industry-wide limits on salt, sugar, and fat. Mudd also wanted to change the way that products were marketed to children. He then ended by saying that the industry should be part of the solution instead of the problem.
Then all eyes turned to the CEO of General Mills, Stephan W. Sanger(1946-present, previously at Procter & Gamble) as his company was the one that had the most to lose. His particular exploits in supermarkets had impressed the others in the industry. Under his leadership, General Mills had conquered the supermarkets with convenience foods.
The S’more products made by Hershey took the levels of fat, sugar, and salt to new heights. Daryl Brewster, CEO of Nabisco, told Michael Moss that Hershey’s move had put them in a position where they were practically forced to add more fat in order to get to the bliss point. This was the only way that Nabisco could regain lost market share.
Based on extensive insider knowledge, Michael Moss explains how the industry researches the proportion of sugar, salt, and fat that needs to be added to a product so that special impulses are triggered in our brain.
2.1. Exploiting the Biology of the Child (p. 3)
The bliss point is different for each person, depending on their age and other factors. Small children require a recipe with significantly more sugar in order to reach their bliss point.
The food industry computes this with cleverly devised studies—primarily conducted at Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit independent scientific institute.
Moss writes that half of Monell’s annual budget of $17.5 million comes from taxpayers. The other half comes from donations, but also from specific studies conducted for PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestlé, Philip Morris, and other food manufacturers (p. 7).
Monell financed research that would put cigarettes in a more favorable light. Moss also describes tests conducted with children to “determine their bliss point.” These tests have allowed the industry to develop foods that children really crave.
In the 1980s, the majority recognized that increased consumption of sweet foods can over time cause tooth decay, heart diseases, diabetes, and the like. But authorities were no longer able to appeal to stay-at-home moms since two thirds of the sugar consumed came from processed foods.
At Monell, Michael Tordoff determined that sugary drinks cause people to feel hungry. This happened no matter if the drinks contained artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup.
Monell tried to develop a drink that would help consumers to lose weight. In 1987, all of their attempts to do so failed. And if the drink contained high-fructose corn syrup, the test subjects gained an average of nearly a pound and a half in three weeks.
Julie Menella established that when she had children drink these types of sodas they generally wanted more sweet things to eat or drink.
2.2. How Do You Get People to Crave? (p. 25)
Using the examples of John Lennon, The Beach Boys, ZZ Top, and Cher, Moss shows how addictive sodas can be.
Everyone wanted Dr Pepper, which at least in England was almost impossible to find at the time. Dr Pepper is a carbonated and caffeinated soft drink. Charles Alderton invented the drink in 1885, much earlier than Coca-Cola. Moss describes the struggle for survival between the companies Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper.
During this time, the industry began using magnetic resonance imaging(MRI) for such studies, but it was only in 1977 that full-body scanners also existed. In 1972, Prof. Dr. Joseph L. Balintfy (1924–2008) determined the optimal amount of sugar in Moskowitz’s statistics and called this the “bliss point.” Moskowitz asked him if he wouldn’t want to call it the “optimum sensory liking.”
2.3. Convenience with a Capital “C” (p. 45)
Starting on page 45, we read that Al Clausi (actually Adolph S. Clausi—see Nicholas Appert Award 2001) began developing products for General Foods in 1946.
Clausi headed a team for three years that tried without success to create an instant pudding using only natural ingredients. The company had given the team strict instructions to use only natural ingredients.
The head of marketing Charles G. Mortimer (1900–1978) coined the term convenience foods and wanted to introduce new convenience products onto the market. And most important was to develop an instant version of Jell-O pudding. But after three years of work, the team still didn’t have any good results.
In the summer of 1949, National Brands filed a patent for instant pudding. This was only possible with the help of chemical additives, for example, orthophosphate and pyrophosphate. Immediately thereafter Clause received a message from the management that additives were now permitted. Using these, the team was able to develop a significantly better product within a few months. The product from the competition ended up never making it to market.
Moss explains how the companies fought for market shares. Betty Dickson from the American Home Economics Association (AHEA) was the role model for the army of school teachers who fought against convenience foods. Dickson gave traditional cooking classes on the radio and on TV. Michael Moss describes the fight of the traditional against the modern and how the industry used the fictional character Betty Crocker (similar to Betty Bossi in Switzerland) to thwart the true Betty and get the upper hand. After this, the industry infiltrated the organization and turned it in an entirely different direction.
2.4. Is it Cereal or Candy? (p. 68)
Starting on page 68, Moss explains how the change from a meat-based breakfast to a sweet breakfast took place. John Harvey Kellogg (1852–1943) wanted to find a breakfast that wouldn’t cause indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, or heartburn. In the late 1880s, many Americans suffered from this condition of impaired digestion. Their breakfast consisted of sausage, beefsteaks, bacon, eggs, fried ham, and oatmeal. When Kellogg was a medical student, he saw the negative effects of this type of breakfast.
Starting in 1894, he developed the cereal Corn Flakes together with his brother Will Keith Kellogg. And then in 1897, Dr. Kellogg began to serve this for breakfast at his sanatorium. The unsweetened corn flakes replaced a type of popcorn made from wheat.
In 1906, Dr. Kellogg was gone for a longer period of time, in which his brother Will Keith began to add sugar to the corn flakes. This change to the original recipe caused a falling out between the brothers. Will Keith established his own company, which became the Kellogg Company (p. 70).
One of the guests at Battle Creek Sanitarium, Charles William Post “C.W.” Post (1854–1914) started a rival health spa in 1892. Starting in 1897, he had his guests served Postum, a coffee substitute, and also Grape-Nuts. Grape-Nuts is a mixture of wheat and barley that is mixed with sugar and then baked. Post manufactured this cereal at his company Postum Cereal Co., which he established in 1895. His sweet breakfast cereal was the core business of his company.
By 1970, the Big Three, Kellogg, Post, and General Mills controlled about 85 % of the cereal market (p. 72). Annual sales grew rapidly, from $660 million in 1970 to $4.4 billion in the mid-1980s.
In 1976, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a complaint against the Big Three because they weren’t leaving any shelf space free for other companies and had therefore jacked up the cereal prices. In this way, the companies had earned $1.2 billion additional profit by overcharging customers since 1958.
The industry’s incredibly strong defense made sure that nothing ever came of this antitrust action. The commission dropped the case in 1982.
2.5. I Want to See a Lot of Body Bags (p. 95)
Michael Moss points out that it is primarily the calories in sugary drinks that are the problem. Researchers have determined that people don’t hardly experience a feeling of fullness after they have had calorie-rich drinks. The drinks apparently flow too quickly past the taste buds.
If you look at the sales statistics for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and compare these with statistics on obesity, you will see what has happened. And many additional drinks have also been introduced onto the market.
It wasn’t until 1990 that Charlie Frenette, the chief marketing officer for the entire group, determined with the help of Givaudan why Coca-Cola is so addictive. Moss explained the considerations and points out that Coca-Cola changed from sugar to high fructose corn syrup in 1980. The advertising budget alone was $181 million in 1984.
Between the years of 1980 to 1997, Coca-Cola‘s sales worldwide increased from $4 to $18 billion (p. 109). By 1997, Americans were drinking an average of 200 liters (54 gallons) of soda a year. Consumers normally find sodas in the prime selling positions in supermarkets and corner stores (c-stores and convenience stores). The latter are often located near schools or students pass by these on the way home from school, meaning that Coca-Cola is really the cash cow for the owners (p. 114ff).
2.6. A Burst of Fruity Aroma (p. 121)
In this chapter, which reads almost like a novel, Moss describes an important meeting in February 1990 where the 12 most important heads of Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, came together.
The WHO had wanted to recommend that only 10 % of a person’s daily caloric intake should come from sugar, but it withdrew its proposal as a result of pressure from the food industry.
In 1991 and after the success with Kool-Aid, Philip Morris purchased Capri Sun for $155 million and then soon had annual sales that amounted to $230 million. Capri Sun is a drink that is made up of fructose concentrate and fruit concentrate.
On page 134, Moss lists off the differences between concentrates and real juices – at its extreme, a concentrate can be a purely chemical formula that is known in the industry as stripped juice.
There is more than sweet, which Aristoteles (see details below) named the first taste. We also have bitter, salty, harsh, astringent, and acid, which he saw as a counterbalance to sweet. Even back then, Aristotles knew that the “fat or oily” taste is just as important as the sweet one.
Today, we also recognize umami as one of the basic tastes. This taste can be described as meaty and savory. See also sodium glutamate, also known as monosodium glutamate (E number E621), which is used as a flavor enhancer. This is often mixed with some guanosine monophosphate (E626) or inosinic acid (E630–E633) in order to achieve the best effect.
2.7. That Gooey, Sticky Mouthfeel (p. 145)
Fat does at least two things for convenience foods: the industry uses it to achieve more volume and a firmer texture, for example, with baked goods.
Based on studies conducted by industry and research, Michael Moss discusses things that the industry has discovered in connection with fat. The newest studies use very expensive functional magnetic resonance imaging(fMRI).
Adam Drewnowski, a professor for epidemiology, began his research on fat in 1982. He was familiar with the bliss point for sugar and also the work done by Szczesniak at General Foods on the texture of fat. He searched in vain for the bliss point, or break point, for fat and then determined that there was no such thing for fat. He discovered that the brain doesn’t give a signal to stop eating fat. He found that the test subjects liked foods even better when sugar was added. Fat and sugar together increased people’s cravings dramatically.
2.8. Liquid Gold (p. 160)
Dean Southworth worked at Kraft for 38 years, where he invented many products, the most notable of which was Cheez Whiz. Mondelēz International called a newer version of this Easy Cheese. Note: The term cheese analogues (cheese alternatives) is generally used for these processed cheeses.
After a year and a half of development, the product came on the market in July 1953 as one of the first convenience foods. This cheese alternative was a great spreadable cheese to use on salty and buttery crackers. People enjoyed eating crackers with spreadable cheese on top while watching TV in the evenings.
This cheese alternative contained so much salt and saturated fat that people ended up consuming more than the day’s recommended maximum of salt and saturated fat in one sitting!
In 2001, after Southworth had retired, he was eating Cheez Whiz one day and knew immediately that Kraft had changed something. The list of 27 ingredients no longer included cheese. Before this, Kraft had always included some real cheese as a way to give the product legitimacy.
Compared to the early 1970s, Americans now eat triple the amount of cheese and pseudo-cheese. This means that Americans are now exceeding the maximum recommended allowance of fat by more than 50 %. Each year, Kraft alone sells $7 billion of cheese and cheese alternatives.
Soon after Kraft was acquired by the tobacco giant Philip Morris (PM), it introduced a line of flavored cheese. After extensive consumer testing, the perfect formula was developed and consumers loved this cheese alternative even more. This was also because of the increased fat content, which made the cheese even more attractive. After this, Macaroni & Cheese was introduced, which the industry called “the blue box.” It sold for only $1.19 and was a big hit—it had annual sales of $300 million.
2.9. Lunchtime Is All Yours (p. 182)
Moss traces the history of Oscar Mayer, which as of 1883 was considered the king of quality meat. As described in Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle“, the industry manufactured products very negligently when it came to purity. Since red meat, in particular, came under attack because of its large proportion of saturated fats, sales fell by 10 % between 1980 and 1990. But sales of poultry increased by 50 %.
The industry understood that if they didn’t create products that customers craved they would quickly lose ground to the competition.
Oscar Mayer altered its Beef Bologna, a type of Bologna sausage or Brühwurst (cooked sausage) but also a convenience food, in order to improve the numbers. But only new products were able to help prevent a loss of sales.
The book continues with the story of how more sugar was added to Lunchables in 1991. This made it possible for Lunchables to regain its popularity, in particular, when it came to children. Kraft initially tried to add carrots, apples slices, and other fresh products to these ready-to-eat lunches, but they soon realized that this wouldn’t work because of the constraints of the long storage period that was required (transport and shelf life).
By the mid-1990s, pizza had become one of the most popular foods in the United States.
Result: by 2009, almost 25 % of adults had diabetes. In comparison, the 1990s showed that 10 % of children ages ten and above had joints that had stiffened and thicker arteries, such as those found in 45 year olds.
The worst-rated prepackaged meals contained 57 grams of sugar, 1.6 grams of salt, and an additional 9 grams of saturated fat.
2.10. The Message the Government Conveys (p. 212)
This chapter describes the history of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with its 111’000 employees (2004, later 117’000). This agency is supposed to serve the about 312 million people in the United States, but it has a conflict of interests between the people and the $1 trillion food industry.
Instead of protecting people from diseases, the USDA has helped to persuade consumers to consume more.
The USDA report from 2010 estimates that 32 million Americans take tablets to lower their cholesterol levels. That is a little over 10 % of the population.
For the first time, the USDA acknowledged that people were developing type 2 diabetes so frequently and early as a result of their poor diets.
They estimated that about 24 million Americans were affected and that another 79 million had prediabetes. And even worse, an increasing number of children were getting type 2 diabetes: 3’600 new cases per year. Diabetes mellitus is an umbrella term; it is commonly known as diabetes.
Luckily for consumers, there is also the Food and Drug Administration(FDA), which is independent of the USDA and in 1990, the FDA was able to require companies to clearly label the ingredients and nutritional information on their products. Then at least those consumers who are trying to live mindfully and ask questions will know what the main ingredients in a product are.
On page 230, he discusses convincing scientific studies that show how eating meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer significantly: Every 1.7 ounces of processed meats consumed per day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 %.
2.11. No Sugar, No Fat, No Sales (p. 236)
In chapter 11, “No Sugar, No Fat, No Sales,” Michael Moss uses numerous examples to show how the tobacco and food companies take action when they come under criticism or when they discover new opportunities to design and advertise products so that they will generate increased revenue (pp. 236–254).
He also includes information taken from the industry’s secret papers. We learn what happens with employees who try to address and solve the problems, for example, Michael Mudd and Betsy Holden (co-CEO of Kraft).
Around 1980, salt was given the nickname “the silent killer” as Americans were eating ten to twenty times more sodium than the body needed. First, saltshakers were seen as the cause of the problem.
However, it was only later that critics discovered that more than three-fourths of the salt consumed came from processed foods.
Science had finally identified salt as a problem and recommended that the maximum amount of salt consumed per day be reduced from 2.3 g to 1.5 g.
This also meant that half of the population was eating too much salt. Just eating one convenience food dinner brought in 5.4 g of salt per portion. Consumers desire salt so much that even health-conscious companies use too much salt.
2.12. People Love Salt (p. 267)
Salt doesn’t have any calories, but the sodium in salt is important for physiological functions.
Stephen Woods, a professor at the University of Cincinnati compared eating and drinking to taking narcotics (p. 276). All three bring your body out of balance and substances end up in your blood. But the body needs the blood levels to remain constant.
With popular convenience foods, in particular, the organs have to work extra hard in order to get the high levels of salt, sugar, and fat out of the bloodstream.
The industry sees salt as a magical element. This is because, for example:
- Cornflakes taste metallic without added salt.
- Crackers would be bitter and mushy, and stick to the roof of our mouth. Ham would tend to taste rubbery.
- In commercial bread making, a certain amount of salt is added to the fast-spinning machines to keep them from clogging. And salt is added to bread to slow down the rising time.
- The most important thing that salt does is to eliminate the unpleasant smell that reheated meats without salt have. In the industry, this is called the warmed-over flavor (WOF). This WOF is caused by the oxidation of fat components, or lipids to be precise, which is similar to decomposition (p. 281). This causes the meat to taste rancid, bland, or like cardboard or damp dog hair. The industry could prevent this from happening when convenience dishes are reheated by adding healthy fresh spices such as rosemary, but these antioxidants are too expensive.
- The food industry requires a lot of salt in order to increase the shelf life (storage) and to bind certain ingredients that would otherwise not hold together. An example of this are the proteins and fats in cheese. The industry also sometimes adds sodium to the other ingredients to achieve the bliss point. Note: Examples of added sodium are trisodium citrate (E331, e.g., as an emulsifying salt), sodium phosphate (E339), and disodium pyrophosphate (E450a).
Then Moss explains how the raw material suppliers such as Cargill understand how to grind salt so fine that the brain and body can assimilate the salt we crave even quicker. For this, additives and food additives have to be added to prevent the salt crystals from caking.
After this, we learn how the food industry reacted to the new guidelines in 2005 on reducing salt consumption. Most significantly, Cargill was able to achieve the same taste with 33 % less salt by replacing salt with potassium chloride (E508). On page 294, Moss describes how the British have tried to discourage manufacturers from doing this as many studies link large amounts of potassium to kidney problems.
2.13. The Same Great Salty Taste Your Customers Crave
Jody Mattsen, a technician at Cargill, gave Michael Moss a taste test so that he could experience the difference. While bread without added salt tasted like tin, the bread with the new combination was delicious. The new combination is much pricier than salt, but it is serving the food industry well. However, it does taste bitter in some products and some companies are now using even more additional additives in order to mask this bitter taste.
Moss describes how he tried a number of experimental products developed by the industry and was able to experience himself how the products without salt were almost inedible. He gives a wide variety of examples showing what the industry has developed in order to position themselves as well as possible in the market.
2.14. I Feel So Sorry for the Public (p. 302)
Starting on page 302, Moss writes about the efforts of the Finnish government to reduce the consumption of salt—they did this by putting strict regulations in place. They took action because of the large number of people with high blood pressure and/or heart attacks. In the eastern part of Finland, in particular, the Finns had very high levels of salt consumption.
Finland had the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world. Officials had long claimed that this was caused by genetic disposition.
By 2007, the salt consumption in Finland had dropped by a third, and the number of deaths from strokes and heart disease had declined by 80 percent!
A group of activists that was founded in 1971 and has 900 thousand members was at least able to force PepsiCo to change the name of its Tropicana Peach Papaya Juice. The product doesn’t contain any peaches, papayas, or juice, and it in no way contains fruit juice. And it also made Sara Lee change the name of its “whole grain bread” since it only contains 30% whole grains.
Moss describes various products and some of their ingredients and history. In doing so, he also quotes professors who would like to fight against the increasing obesity and related diseases.
2.15. We’re Hooked on Inexpensive Food (p. 331)
The last section (pp. 331–347) deals with the fact that people are often not able to afford better quality food. Fast food and junk food are by far the cheapest types of food.
In 1960, overeaters founded Overeaters Anonymous (OA) in Los Angeles. It is a twelve-step program that is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Moss describes the efforts of a group of parents who wanted to keep the school children from buying junk food. They took turns standing in front of stores during school breaks and after school. This is reminiscent of how some parents try to prevent their children from doing drugs.
It has been shown that a child’s taste preferences are influenced by their mother’s diet during the breastfeeding period. This is because the flavors of the foods she eats are in the breast milk.
After they have been weaned, a child will more readily accept foods with tastes that they recognize.