Nonfiction

Reporter gives readers a lot to digest

 

A can of Coke contains roughly nine teaspoons of sugar. Lunchables were created as a way to revive a flagging interest in bologna. People like chips that snap with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

Those are just some of the nuggets of information Michael Moss feeds readers in his new book about the food industry, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. But while the book is sprinkled with food facts, Moss doesn’t just want to entertain. Instead, he systematically shows readers how processed food makers manipulate their goods to get consumers to buy, often at the expense of their health.

Moss takes readers on a grocery store tour through the lens of three key ingredients: salt, sugar and fat. By the time he’s done, a host of iconic American products, from Oreos to Hot Pockets and spaghetti sauce to soda, don’t look so appetizing.

Moss goes the distance, literally, in researching the tactics companies use to create craving for their products. In Libertyville, Ill., he inspects the cheese in the refrigerator of a former cheese expert with Kraft. In Hopkins, Minn., he visits the headquarters of one food industry supplier that sells 40 types of processed salt, one that’s perfect for popcorn to others used in soups and cheese. And at a noted food lab in Philadelphia, he watches a 6-year-old down a series of different vanilla puddings to determine her perfect sweetness level, something called her “bliss point.”

Along the way, Moss meets tastemakers from former leaders at Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay to the creators of Cheez Whiz and instant pudding.

What he learns is enough to give readers serious indigestion. Companies often add salt to products rather than fresh herbs, which have the same effect, because it’s cheaper. Coca-Cola says it won’t market to kids under 12, but the company targets them anyway by advertising at amusement parks and sports venues. One ice cream maker cites scientific research that “ice cream makes you happy,” but even the scientist who did the study sheepishly downplays the results.

Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, is at his best when he’s acting like a journalist: talking to people, sifting through and explaining documents, and writing with finger-licking flair. There are places, however, when he can feel like a lecturer repeating his salt, sugar, fat mantra until you want to scream: “I get it!”

Moss doesn’t really offer solutions for getting companies to produce healthier products. The companies argue they’re producing what Americans want, and Americans seem to agree by continuing to buy them. In the end, his message is about personal responsibility. We’re the ones who decide what we put in our shopping carts — and in our mouths.

Jessica Gresko reviewed this book for the Associated Press.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">THE BOOK OF LIFE.</span> Deborah Harkness. Viking. 559 pages. $28.95.

    Fantasy

    Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion

    A witch in love with a vampire comes into her full powers in the final satisfying installment of the All Souls trilogy.

  •  
 <span class="bold">Courtney Maum</span>

    What are you reading now?

    “I’m reading Brando Skyhorse’s Take This Man. Several years ago, I applied for a scholarship at the Can Serrat residency program in Spain and got a letter back saying that the stipend had gone to a writer named Brando Skyhorse. I remember pacing around the house yelling, ‘Who the hell is this Brando Skyhorse?!’ I’ve calmed down in the years since and am glad that the scholarship went to a writer as fearless and funny as Skyhorse. The things his mother put him through as a child could have destroyed a man’s integrity, but Skyhorse saved himself through writing, and in that, he is a role model for me.”

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">A MOST IMPERFECT UNION: </span>A Contrarian History of the United States. Ilan Stavans. Illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz. Basic. 269 pages. $26.99.

    History

    Collaboration takes a more colorful look at U.S. history

    A New England college professor and a California cartoonist collaborate on a colorful look at our storied past.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category