This book was so interesting and informative to me. The book covers the history of packaged, processed food, where and why it started, the original reasons for it and how it morphed into something awful that impacts every single person in America and nearly everyone around the world. So it’s a history book. I learned things. Originally, after World War II, American families changed. Mothers had entered the work force in large numbers and suddenly no one had two hours to make pudding, for example. The scientists figured out how to simulate the ‘mouth feel’ and taste of pudding and then put it single-serving containers. It was a miracle!!! And then appliances evolved. The microwave could – somehow – bake/cook/zap food and make the food hot in seconds. How convenient!!! No preheating. That takes forever. The evolution started innocently enough, just trying to make things easier, but it wasn’t too much later that the giant food companies got it down to a science. They tested and tested and found – almost diabolically – something they called the ‘bliss point.’ They determined the amount of sugar needed to make consumers ‘need’ to eat it. People get hooked on food, just like cigarettes.
It wasn’t necessarily just about taste, it was about creating an urge. And when consumer groups complained about sugar, companies simply added more fat. If fat became an issue, they added more salt. Basically, a combination of sugar, salt and fat created gigantic food companies, and then food companies devoured other food companies and then tobacco companies bought the food conglomerates.
The book discusses the role of marketing to kids and parents. The author cites a case where Frosted Mini-Wheats were sold as ‘brain food.’ It’s not brain food.
And, here’s the thing, if there were any profits to be made selling healthy food with less sugar, salt and fat, many companies would have done so. But there wasn’t. One executive investigating the expansion of sales in Brazil had an epiphany, walking around the poor neighborhoods, noting that the Brazilians needed a lot of things, but a sugary beverage wasn’t one of them.
The CEO from General Mills: “We at General Mills have been responsible not only to consumers but to shareholders … there’s no way we could start down-formulating the usage of salt, sugar, fat, if the end result is going to be something that people do not want to eat.”
The author does not slant his reporting, attacking food companies. He just reports what happened. He interviews everyone who was involved in every breakthrough, every scientific advance. He goes step-by-step inside the food companies’ playbook and illustrates the history with amazing examples that everyone can relate to. For me, the example that stood out: The Lunchables.
Somehow, America got it into their heads that we all shouldn’t drinking milk with all that fat. (This is actually a hopeful part of the book; if America talks, the companies do listen, sometimes.) So the companies started pulling fat out of the milk and had all of this leftover fat, which they turned into cheese. Suddenly, frozen pizzas that used to barely have any cheese on them now offered ‘four-cheese’ pizzas. Was America asking for ‘four-cheese’ pizzas? No. America didn’t know what they were missing until the food companies showed them the way.
Now Americans eat 33 pounds of cheese a year, triple the rate in the 1970s (and 70 pounds of sugar).
Each Lunchable came with slices of cheese. But the school lunch tray cost a lot of money to produce, so they worked on changes to make it smaller and lower the cost-per-unit down. But sales didn’t soar until they added … sugar … a bag of Skittles.