Sunday, September 29, 2013

Taste This!

"Salt Sugar Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” by Michael Moss, 2013

Part of upbringing, low-income or ignorance is eating what ‘tastes good,’ fills us up or is cheap - and only that.  Health is a distant fourth, though people are beginning to understand that food can be medicine, and ‘medicine’ can taste good too.  Moss highlights the 3 top ingredients in processed food – sugar, fat and salt - showing how the large capitalist food corporations added these ingredients into their products until they become virtually addictive.  It is called ‘the bliss point’ for sugar and salt.  In the process, they changed people’s tastes in favor of more fat, sugar and salt than ever before.  These foods are now spreading overseas, bringing American-style health problems to the rest of the world.

Moss, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter, skewers well-known brands, and shows how concern for ‘health’ will lead a firm to remove one bad ingredient only to increase another.  Even 50% ‘less’ salt, fat or sugar still means too much in many products.  Spices and herbs are more expensive flavorings, though healthier, and their expense is why companies don’t use them.  Instead they use the cheapest and most addictive ingredients possible – these 3.  I.E. health is not what Phillip Morris, General Mills, Kraft, Coke, Kellogg, Nestle, Pepsi or Post do.  Theirs is the methodology of pure capitalist food, where profit is the ultimate arbiter.  Whole aisles at the grocery store contain little more than different variations of sugar, salt or fat delivery.  Just take a look.

If this reminds you of the tobacco companies, that is no accident.   General Foods and Kraft were even owned by Phillip Morris in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Moss first goes into the development of cereal, which started out as a health food in Battle Creek, Michigan and morphed into a sugar-delivery system when Kellogg’s brother hijacked the recipe.  Moss interviews a former head of Coke, Jeffrey Dunn, and their drive to get everyone, especially ‘heavy users,’ to drink more Coke, which contains large amounts of sugar and empty calories.  Dunn eventually realized he was selling poison to poor people and quit the firm.   Moss interviews many food scientists who work or worked in the development of ‘processed foods,’ where New Jersey laboratories, and now especially advertising, drive consumption of fats, which when combined with sugar are irresistible to many.   One point he made was that most subjects in tests will stop eating when something is ‘too’ sugary or salty, but not with fat – the ‘bliss’ point is always more.  Ubiquitous cheeses and red meats are the main delivery vehicles for fat according to Moss.

Advertising is key to factory food, as anyone who watches a bit of TV can tell.  Psychological and emotional campaigns that target various needs are used to promote factory food when the engineered taste is not enough.  Teens, tweens and children are the targets for much food advertising in order to develop ‘brand loyalty’ or brand addiction at an impressionable age.  Moss describes the weak push by the U.S. government to stop advertising certain unhealthy food items to children on TV.  This campaign was defeated in the late 1970s, when the first claims of ‘the nanny state’ were made by the cereal companies.  Nothing has happened since.  Instead the Agriculture Department works with businesses to promote corn sweeteners, milk cow products, corn-fed beef, etc. while a tiny group in the department works on a ‘food pyramid’ that negates these products.  The Agriculture Department, like nearly every other regulatory agency, has been captured by the capitalists they pretend to watch over. 

One of the continuing issues in the book is how the corporations responded to the lack of time in the home, and the entry of women into the workforce.  They came out with many instant and pre-cooked products that took little time to make, involving a simulacrum of cooking like Hamburger Helper, Toaster pastries or Kraft’s juggernaut Macaroni & Cheese.  ‘Fast food’ entered the home through this door.  Lack of time is the main issue for parents who both work, so these foods were designed to ‘liberate’ them.  When many working-class people each work two jobs, and children are handed off between parent, babysitter, relatives, day care or school, time is always tight.  But the real problem is the structure of child care and labor in the U.S., and it can’t really be solved by these products, a TV dinner or its new form, the microwave meal. 

Even the development of ‘convenience’ stores has been largely driven by soft drink and snack companies.  Super-sized drinks went from the fast food outlets into the neighborhoods through these stores.  These are the same stores widely available in poor and working-class neighborhoods, holding the worst ‘tasty’ foods imaginable at cheap prices. 

Moss describes the contents of many common food products, which will make you want to study labels even more.  Some cereals have been shown to be 70% sugar.  Sugar Frosted Flakes is 50% sugar.  Coke has 9 tablespoons of sugar per 12 oz can.  Cheez Whiz has no cheese.  Some cheeses and cheese products are 30% fat.  Most Americans get most of their saturated fat from cheese, and the percentages have been going up for years.  Ground hamburger is 30% saturated fat.  Or “Hot Pockets” – 6 teaspoons of sugar, enough salt for a day, and 10 grams of fat, with preservatives for 420 days of shelf life. The kiddie MRE “Lunchables’ are a perfect delivery system for all three ingredients – while making the child feel in control of ‘making’ their own lunch. 

Alleged ‘healthier products’ like rising-crust DiGiornio pizza have 50% of daily fat in one ‘serving.’  So-called healthy ‘fruit and yogurt breakfast bars’ have more sugar and less fiber than an Oreo.  Look on a bottle of “Newman’s Own” spaghetti sauces – sugar is the #2 ingredient.  Or the ‘women’s’ yogurt, Yoplait – it has twice as much sugar as ice cream.  One of Moss’ telling stories is how processed fruit sugar was added to various products in order to claim they were ‘natural’ or ‘contained fruit.’  This was purely a sales gimmick, as everything from real fruit was removed except a distilled sugar syrup.  The toll of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and hypertension is increased by ingesting ANY processed foods, even the ones that claim ‘health’ benefits. 

As Michael Pollan suggesting in his sequel to the “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” eating anything with more than 5 listed ingredients is asking for health trouble.  You can actually get to a point where foods that are too sugary, fatty or salty become repulsive, if you back off your intake.

Moss describes salt as ubiquitous in processed food – indeed a handful of snack chips like Doritos deliver half the salt for a person in a day. A product like Cheetos is carefully engineered to melt in your mouth, and to delivery a fat burst of flavor, yet to also make you feel it is ‘less’ by melting. The ‘light and airy’ potato chip is the perfect delivery vehicle for all 3 ingredients – added salt, fat from frying and sugar from potato starch, and through tests, has been shown to be a leading source of weight gain.

Every time the industry is threatened about the health contents of their ‘food’ they launch a massive, well-paid avalanche of lobbyists, or make nice noises about changing their recipes.  Ultimately, the recipes return to higher quantities of bad ingredients in order to compete.  Self-policing, the neo-liberal answer to unhealthy food, has failed here too.  Yet in line with this, the Obama administration is now going to reduce the number of meat inspectors and increase the speed of the ‘disassembly’ lines, which will create more injuries and fecal food poisoning. 

The class angle to food is obvious.  Most of the executives from these companies avoid eating the food their company’s sell. Right-wingers claim that healthy food is for the upper-classes – hence being in a lower class means that you should eat and LIKE bad food.  Poverty and working-class income levels lead people to buy foods that are cheaper and give an immediate ‘high’ from the sugar, fat or salt.  To berate people for eating non-nutritious factory products doesn’t solve anything except make the moralist feel superior.   Information is helpful, as many people don't even know they are eating slow poisons, but this is not the real answer.

Moss concludes that kicking fat, salt and sugar are as difficult as cigarettes or other addictions.  And since corporations and government look like they will never act, it is ‘up to us.’  As the Black Panther Party figured out in the ‘60s and ‘70s, serving brown rice and vegetables to poor people was their way of combating the silent racist death of convenience store food.  Health is one of the key indicators of class position, and, like bad working conditions, lack of medical care, violence and environmental poisons – bad and cheap food is another health marker, and should be opposed in the same way as the others.  Karl Marx even talked about this in the 1800s, when he referring to what the English working classes were being forced to eat.  

This is done not by blaming the victims for ‘moral failings,’ but by ultimately socializing the food companies, putting them under workers control.  Only this will ultimately stop the salt/sugar/fat factory that kills people every day.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
September 29, 2013

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