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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."

Photo Credit: Adisa/


AMY GOODMAN: We spend the rest of the hour going deep inside the "processed-food-industrial complex," beginning with the "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food." That was the  cover story in the recent  New York Times Magazine that examined how food companies have known for decades that salt, sugar and fat are not good for us in the quantities American’s consume them, and yet every year they convince most of us to ingest about twice the recommended amount of salt, 70 pounds of sugar—22 teaspoons a day. Then, there’s the fat. Well,  New York Times reporter Michael Moss explains how one of the most prevalent fat delivery methods is cheese.

MICHAEL MOSS: Every year, the average American eats as much as 33 pounds of cheese. That’s up to 60,000 calories and 3,100 grams of saturated fat. So why do we eat so much cheese? Mainly it’s because the government is in cahoots with the processed food industry. And instead of responding in earnest to the health crisis, they’ve spent the past 30 years getting people to eat more. This is the story of how we ended up doing just that.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pulitzer Prize-winning  New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss. His new book is called  Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. He goes deep inside the laboratories where food scientists calculate the "bliss point" of sugary drinks or the "mouth feel" of fat, and use advanced technology to make it irresistible and addictive. As a result of this $1 trillion-a-year industry, one-in-three adults, and one-in-five kids, is now clinically obese.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael. You open your book with a remarkable summit. Talk about who was there.

MICHAEL MOSS: This is a meeting in 1999 that engaged the CEOs of some of the largest food companies in the country, and they were presented with a vivid picture of the emerging obesity crisis. And what really amazed me about this meeting, when I found out about it and found the records to it and talked to some of the people who were present, is that it was none other than one of their own, a senior executive at Kraft, who basically laid the emerging obesity crisis at the feet of the processed food industry and pleaded with them to do something collectively to turn the corner.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened?

MICHAEL MOSS: And coming from him, it was just so powerful. They reacted, as you can imagine, rather defensively. They said, "Look, we’re already providing people with choices in the grocery store. We are committed to nutrition, as we are to convenience and low prices." Frankly, they were worried about the lost millions in sales if healthier products they created weren’t as attractive as the ones they do make.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the CEO who basically ended the meeting.

MICHAEL MOSS: The head of General Mills made all of these points and was especially, I think, aghast at being blamed for the obesity crisis, because, again, he felt that in the cereal aisle, for example, General Mills was providing Cheerios with low amounts of sugar, and he didn’t see a need to down-formulate, if you will, all of the products in the grocery store in order to deal with this obesity crisis, which, you have to remember, back in ’99, was not as grave as it is today.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the obesity crisis, I mean, in their terms, is about lawsuits, class action lawsuits. What does obesity mean? Why is this such a critical issue?

MICHAEL MOSS: Well, yes and no. The Kraft official who raised this back in 1999 was actually very deeply and sincerely concerned about the health effects on people and not so worried about litigation.

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