Weekend reading: Michael Moss’s Hooked
Michael Moss. Hooked: Food, Free Will,and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions. Random House, 2021.
This follows Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat which was about how food companies used these ingredients to hook us on junk food. The new book focuses on the “addictive” qualities of junk foods—what we are now calling “ultra-processed.” I put addictive in quotes because his definition is looser than others I’ve seen: habits that are hard to quit.
By this definition, his book provides convincing evidence for what food companies do to make their products irresistible—remember Frito Lay’s “You can’t eat just one?”
The book starts by going into the physiology of addiction:
When we taste sugar, the taste buds on our tongue send the signal. By contrast, the signal for fat gets transmitted by the trigeminal nerve that extends from the roof of the mouth to the brain. Food that has both sugar and fat will activate these two different paths, sending to separate alerts, and thus doubling the arousal of a brain that appears to place a high value on information for information’s sake .
No wonder we like ice cream so much.
In speaking about how the food environment sets us up for overeating, he says:
…we simply haven’t had anywhere near the time we would need, vis-à-vis evolution, to catch up with the dramatic changes in food and our eating habits of the past forty years. As a result, we are fundamentally mismatched to the food of today. Small [Dana Small, an expert Moss interviewed] puts it this way: “It’s not so much that food is addictive, but rather that we by nature are drawn to eating, and the companies have changed the food [p. 99].
Moss is a terrific writer and tells a compelling story. Even if you don’t have a problem resisting fast food, sodas, or chocolate, this book has a lot to say about why so many people have put on pounds during the Covid-19 pandemic.