Resisting processed food might be less a matter of willpower than a fight with addiction similar to tobacco, according to Michael Moss in his new book, Hooked- Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions. Amy Mills has this month’s book review.
In 2013, investigative reporter Michael Moss came out with his bestselling book, Salt, Sugar, Fat -- How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Through his research and interviews, Moss found that US food manufacturers load up processed food with salt, sugar, and fat to reach what they call the optimal mouthfeel and blisspoint. The taste, convenience, and often low cost of processed food drives consumers to eat more and buy more. According to the food industry, the onus is on individual consumers to control excessive eating. Yet the increase in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure in the US over the last few decades can be linked to excessive salt, sugar, and fat, and indicates that self-control is not sufficient or not occurring at all. Hard-won legal battles have held the industry accountable to some degree, such as the requirement that companies reveal nutritional information on food packages.
In his new book, Hooked – Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, Moss builds on his earlier work by delving into the biological basis for salt, sugar, and fat addiction and effects of these substances on the brain. From an evolutionary perspective, Moss explains, there’s a survival advantage to finding quick, high caloric food. But what sustained humans thousands of years ago is mismatched with the foods and lifestyles of today. Further, we develop powerful addictions to food similar to the body’s response to tobacco and certain drugs. Even when we recognize the unhealthy effects of salt, sugar, and fat, exerting willpower and trying to make smart eating choices are often not enough to override this potentially fatal attraction. Then Moss exposes how the sophisticated food industry employs literally thousands of food chemists, engineers, psychologists, marketers, and lawyers to take advantage of addictive properties of food in their quest to sell us an ever-expanding variety of quick, convenient products.
I found both of these books very eye-opening, particularly the author’s description of food formulation and marketing strategies that manipulate my reach into a bag of Doritos or Oreos. The newer book, Hooked, is valuable for bringing the science of food cravings up to date in an understandable writing style. He offers some solutions, although in my view not quite up to the daunting challenges of industry profit motive and individual dietary change. But if you read these books, you may never look at your grocery cart the same way again.
Hooked – Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, by Michael Moss and his earlier book, Salt, Sugar, Fat -- How the Food Giants Hooked Us, are available from the Park City and Summit County Libraries. This is Amy Mills, of Friends of the Park City Library.