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The Weaponizing of Salt, Sugar and Fat: The Secrets of How Big Food Got Us Hooked on Junk

Michael Moss talks about his new book, "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us."

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AMY GOODMAN: The problem with obesity, what it means for, for example, children?

MICHAEL MOSS: You know, in my own household, I have two boys, eight and 13. And you can just see the sugar craving that kids have, inevitably, for sugar. You know, we’ve tried to work with our grocery shopping to get control and to—and I think that’s one of the key things—

AMY GOODMAN: How do you do it with your kids?

MICHAEL MOSS: Well, so, with the kids, my wife Eve kind of arbitrarily said, "Hey, guys, let’s try to limit your cereal, when we eat cereal in the morning, to five grams or less of sugar." And we found that when you engage them in that, shopping becomes an Easter egg hunt, and they’re able to go to the cereal aisle and find those cereals that meet that quota. And they may have to reach low, or I may have to reach high, to find them, because the most sugary ones tend to be at eye level, by calculation. But I think it’s a really important issue, is—you just can’t throw fresh carrots and fresh apples at kids without engaging them. They’ll chuck them out in the lunchroom. But if we could invigorate the home economics program in this country, which fell by the waysides, I think that would be a huge—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, home economics?

MICHAEL MOSS: Well, home economics—kids in school used to be taught how to shop, how to cook from scratch, how to be in control of their diets. Doesn’t happen anymore. And I write about this in the book. What did happen is we got Betty Crocker, a figment of the imagination of a marketing official at a food company. She began pushing processed foods, convenience foods, as an alternative to scratch cooking.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain more.

MICHAEL MOSS: This was back in the '50s and ’60s. Betty Crocker, as you all know—I mean, I used to think she was a real person. She wasn't. She started out just as a marketing tool for the companies. But she was—became emblematic of the food industry’s usurpation, if you will, of the home economist. And their notion was, "Hey, look, who’s got time for scratch meals anymore? Let’s encourage consumers to buy our convenience foods to make things easier for them."

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Lunchables, how they were invented, what they mean.

MICHAEL MOSS: I got to interview and see documents that were kept by Bob Drane, who worked for Oscar Meyer back in the ’80s when the company faced a problem with its meat. People were cutting back on consumption of red meat because it has saturated fat and salt. And Mr. Drane and his team set about looking for a way to repackage those products. He was most interested in saving jobs, and he cared very much about the company. And they came up with the Lunchables, which, as you know, is basically a TV—a cold TV dinner aimed at kids for school lunches.

But it has two remarkable things beyond kind of the ingredients that they used—meat, cheese, crackers, typically. First they went after working moms, who work outside of the home, and designed it and marketed it as a way for moms to get through the crush of the—the 7 a.m. crush in the household where everybody’s scrambling to get out of the house and off to school and work. But then they went after the kids with an amazing marketing campaign, because they realized that the Lunchables wasn’t about food. It was about empowerment for kids. And they came up with this slogan: "All day, you gotta do what they say. But lunchtime is all yours." And kids went nuts for it. Pizza Lunchables, think about it. It’s a piece of cold dough, cheese, tomato sauce, that the kids assemble themselves. But that meant everything to kids, and sales skyrocketed.

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