Salt, Sugar & Fat or Spinach, Squash & Fresh Herbs

Before you crunch another potato chip, or quench your thirst with a sweet sip of carbonated cola, consider these:

Would it make a difference to you if you knew the top executives of the companies that invented the snack in your hand would not eat it?
How much creativity and research went into knowing how to grind the salt on the chip so that you get a burst of flavour that makes you crave more, but does not tire our your taste buds?
How could researches know your bliss point, or just how sweet you like your snacks without being too sweet?

Michael Moss answers these questions in Salt, Sugar, Fat: how the food giants hooked us. Moss describes how food manufacturers are doing impressive work as they find ways to make food affordable, safe, convenient, and tasty. Many of their practices, though, should be questioned. Can we trust a company that markets their high-fat, high-sodium, sweet snacks to young people and also makes food-like drugs (or drug-like foods) for older people who have compromised their ability to digest food through a lifetime of unhealthy consumption?

The book is an enjoyable, though at times alarming read. What do we do with knowledge like this? Moss writes that his motivation for researching and writing the book was raising awareness – if we know the tactics that the food giants use, we can make better choices.

This is true. But we also need regulations around the harmful substances we pop into our mouths. As the health consequences of trans fats became apparent, the BC government worked with industry to make some positive changes to foods available in restaurants and on grocery store shelves. The Ministry of Education implemented guidelines for food and beverage sales in schools. We cannot wait for food manufacturers to take the lead. Our government will respond to the recommendations of its constituents, so what do we ask for next? And how can join our voice together to amplify our request?

As consumers, we want choice, but we sometimes need help with making good choices. And we sometimes need to help the more nutritionally vulnerable make good choices. The Westside Mobile Market is a great example of a group bringing fresh, seasonal produce to seniors who struggle to bring home the foods they need to maintain their health. At Planted, we will keep seeking and telling good stories – not about salt, sugar and fat, but about spinach, squash and fresh herbs, or whatever happens to be in season this month.

Note: for a briefer summary of Sugar, Salt & Fat, check out the NY Times article, or an interview with Moss on the CBC?

Thank you to the BC Regional Dietitian’s Book Club for a delightulf evening discussion and the insights captured here.

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