by Marion Nestle
Feb 25 2013

New books on how the food industry hooks us on junk food

Two new books out on the same day, both looking at similar topics but from different angles, both well worth reading.  I did blurbs for both.

Melanie Warner, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, Scribner, 2013.

Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal

Warner used to cover the food business beat for the New York Times.  She knows what she’s talking about.

My blurb:

In Pandora’s Lunchbox, Melanie Warner has produced an engaging account of how today’s “food processing industrial complex” replaced real foods with the inventions of food science.  Her history of how this happened and who benefits from these inventions should be enough to inspire everyone to get back into the kitchen and start cooking.

And here is Warner in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal on the liquification of chicken nuggets (white slime, anyone?).


Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  Random House, 2013.

Moss wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article for the New York Times on failures in our food safety system.  His article based on his new book appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

My blurb:

Salt Sugar Fat is a breathtaking feat of reporting.  Michael Moss was able to get executives of the world’s largest food companies to admit that they have only one job—to maximize sales and profits—and to reveal how they deliberately entice customers by stuffing their products with salt, sugar, and fat.  Anyone reading this truly important book will understand why food corporations cannot be trusted to value health over profits and why all of us need to recognize and resist food marketing every time we grocery shop or vote.

And here’s the Wall Street Journal’s review of both (which is what happens when books on the same topic are published on the same day).

  • Love the overview of these recent books & will have to check them out! It’s always great to understand fully why cooking clean & organic is important for us and our families. Thanks!

  • I am not sure why it is news that a business’s main goals are to maximize sales and profits. The problem is that these corporations have been allowed to do this with complicit government support. Leadership at USDA and FDA has been politicized and their actions belie the revolving door between regulatory agencies and industry.

    The manipulation of nutrition information is apparent and a critical mass of customers in my community are not buying any of it. I see evidence of people voting with their dollars. My local farmer’s markets, Santa Monica Coop, and Whole Foods are teaming with customers. More conventional markets are empty. Cooking is more common and the most popular restaurants offer local, sustainable, and organic products. Customers are voting with their dollars as long as they can afford to do so–and that is the critical issue.

    We are cultivating two food supplies, one that values health and the other that values profits. Customers are forced to navigate between two worlds, the one that honors our entire ecosystem or the one that offers the lowest price. Health demographics will probably track accordingly. Corporations need clean up their act and do what they can to change this or they risk all.

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  • It is a shame that consumers have forced the food producers to provide them with more salt, sugar and fat in food.

  • I am a personal chef in San Diego and I go out of my way to avoid garbage in my diet. This is a true shame.

  • B.

    The first book to address this issue, and only book written by a doctor, is The End of Overeating, by Dr. David Kessler. These two new books seem to be variations on his theme.

  • Kathrin Lewis

    So this is how it goes! We shouldn’t ever trust food companies, we have to cook our food in order to be sure we will avoid huge amounts of these 3 food demons! As for me i mostly avoid Fat! Probably i should reduce at 60% my daily salt and sugar consumption!

  • I had no idea what pre-packaged and processed food had in it until a couple years ago. Since, I’ve almost gotten to the point that if I don’t grow it, I don’t eat it. People wonder why the US has an obesity problem.

  • Tim Lee

    That Salt, Sugar, Fat article is really good. It helps show that lots of time, money and smarts have been used to precisely engineer food that drives the reptilian side of our brain into a feeding frenzy.

    There’s evidence that this isn’t unique to humans. Domesticated and even wild animals are getting fatter if they have access to human processed food. (–too/)

    There are lots of people who will say that food addiction is a choice. As if it’s as simple as choosing to go left or right.

    They just don’t get it.

    There’s a ton of genetic, mental and circumstantial factors that control what we do. Open up a psychology or marketing book and you’ll see a ton of examples on how to subtly influence a human being with something as simple as a word change.

    So what are some possible solutions to the obesity epidemic?

    Government Regulation? Eh…Maybe. But given the ideology and power struggles plus the huge amount of food lobby money pumped into Washington, it’s hard to imagine any meaningful change.

    Education? Seems to work only a little. Every smoker, alcoholic, and overweight person knows what they’re doing is horrible. Yet they can’t stop.

    More exercise? Helps. Feels good too. However, there’s evidence to show that exercise plays a small roll in weight loss. Makes sense. Work out all day then eat a ton of junk? That ain’t gon’ work.

    Seems like there’s no easy solution.

    However, I believe that there is a way to tame the overeating habit and that’s through…

    Habit and Technology.

    We can train ourselves and eventually get into a healthy habit. Yeah, this is much easier said than done. And that’s where technology comes in. You see, people are notoriously bad at keeping track and predicting anything. What did I eat for lunch? Uh, no idea.

    However, through the use of technology we can better keep track of and even motivate ourselves to make better decisions. Our iPhone, Apps, Facebook, Twitter, and soon Google Glasses might be able to dramatically change how we eat.

    The future is an exciting time to live in.

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  • Thanks for the overview of the two books on ”how the food industry hooks us on junk food”. The American meal is took over by the processed and junk foods and this counts for obesity in US. Real awareness is needed to overcome this and let’s hope such books can bring out the real facts on processed foods!