Book Review: ‘Hooked,’ by Michael Moss

To trick us to eat more they also lure us in with low prices, dazzling packaging, convenience and trumped-up variety. One example among m...


To trick us to eat more they also lure us in with low prices, dazzling packaging, convenience and trumped-up variety. One example among many: Differently colored M&M’s taste the same but dupe our brains to consume more than if they were all just brown. Perhaps most cunningly, Big Food has also acquired many major brands of processed diet foods like Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine. One has to admit it’s clever to make money helping us get fat and then profit from our efforts (usually futile) to lose weight.

All in all, “Hooked” blends investigative reporting, science and foodie writing to argue that the processed food industry is no different from tobacco companies like Philip Morris that for decades lied about the harmful and addictive nature of cigarettes. In Philip Morris’s case they were the same company (until recently, Philip Morris owned Kraft and General Foods).

Which leads to a question: Who is at fault? No one is forced to eat at McDonald’s or drink Dr Pepper, and few Americans are unaware that a salad for lunch is healthier than a cheeseburger with fries. But Moss’s argument is that free will is an illusion, at least for certain foods.

He’s right. It is sometimes said that for some of us sugar is as addictive as cocaine, but from an evolutionary biological perspective, cocaine is actually as addictive as sugar, because it takes advantage of ancient mechanisms we inherited from our distant ancestors that helped them acquire rare but needed calories. To stay healthy in our current, modern food system, consumers have to overcome instincts and make choices over which we have little control.

Moss’s attention to food addiction should open eyes and convert some free market advocates. On legal grounds, Big Food may be safe in court for now, but their actions raise ethical questions. Should we judge companies solely by their profits or by how they affect the world? Regardless of debates about the law and free will, is it acceptable to market to children breakfast cereals like Cotton Candy Cap’n Crunch, which is nearly half sugar? These and many other harmful habit-forming foods have fattened corporate bank accounts at the cost of fattening hundreds of millions of Americans, contributing to countless premature deaths and debilitating illnesses as well as costing trillions of dollars. Even if you don’t consume these foods, you are paying big time for their consequences.

“Hooked” can also help us pay more attention to the relationship between food quantity and quality. Over the last few decades modern, westernized attitudes toward food have increasingly focused on nutrition labels that inform us how many grams of saturated fat, fiber and other stuff are in the foods we buy. These labels can make many highly processed foods seem deceptively harmless compared with more calorie-dense natural foods like avocados, salmon and walnuts. Yet how many people overeat unprocessed wholesome foods?

Nutritionist perspectives on food combined with the challenges of losing weight also generate confusion over the relative merits of alternative diets, sometimes promoting new kinds of disordered eating as we Google the glycemic index of muffins or bananas, and worry about whether chocolate, eggs or peanuts are “good” or “bad.”

I’ve done my share of Googling and fretting, but I’m done with this. One doesn’t need a degree in nutrition science to recognize that just about every traditional, nonprocessed diet from every culture on the planet that isn’t loaded with junk food is probably generally healthy. What’s more, like those walnuts, those diets are tastier too.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Book Review: ‘Hooked,’ by Michael Moss
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