Everyone knows how hard it can be to maintain a healthy diet. But what if some of the decisions we make about what to eat are beyond our control? Is it possible that processed food is addictive, like drugs or alcohol? Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Michael Moss began searching for answers, to find the true peril in our food.
... [an] excellent new book ... If you are not a neuroscientist, you’ll be relieved by Moss’s jargon-free approach to...complex biology ... In unforgettable language, Moss describes how less than a second after you bite into a luscious chocolate or a glazed doughnut, flavor sensations derived from a combination of sugar and fat, as well as other smells and tastes, hit your brain ... Moss’s attention to food addiction should open eyes and convert some free market advocates ... Hooked can also help us pay more attention to the relationship between food quantity and quality.
Investigative reporter Michael Moss explains why a major food corporation — Lay's is owned by PepsiCo — would produce such an over-the-top number of versions of potato chips. We are prone to what food scientists called sensory-specific satiety, feeling full when we take in a lot of the same taste, smell, or flavor. Changing a food item even just a little, from barbecue to honey barbecue, let's say, makes for novelty that lights up our brain ... Moss explores, through the lens of addiction, the relentless striving of Big Food corporations to hook us on highly processed foods. These are foods loaded with sugar, salt, fat, and preservatives ... A theme for Moss is that the food giant companies consciously exploit our evolved biology, as I mentioned in the example about the potato chips and sensory-specific satiety ... Occasionally, Moss runs into trouble when reporting beyond the realm of food science ... Overall, though, Hooked is smoothly written, with just the right amount of fascinating scientific detail. Moss describes ingenious experiments where people enter brain scanners with squares of chocolate already in their mouth, so that researchers can assess effects on the brain as the sweet treat melts on the tongue.
What if the foods we’re scarfing down have been designed and marketed to become addictive? While presenting his case, Mr. Moss offers a gripping, if incomplete, tour of America’s food landscape, taking side trips into biology and psychology and, not least, into the world of corporate food conglomerates. Mr. Moss begins with the science of addiction. A skilled storyteller, he talks to an array of experts and cites surprising facts—for instance, 17% of those who try cocaine, and 15% who try alcohol, become addicted. The definition of addiction he likes best—'a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit' ... One major theme of Hooked is that the food industry exploits this mismatch—even creates it. Mr. Moss argues that the industry’s growth has been enabled by its 'manipulation of our instinctual desires,' not least through marketing and sales strategies ... Mr. Moss identifies the problems across America’s food culture, but his account would have benefited from a deeper exploration of counterarguments to his addiction thesis. He portrays individuals as having little or no capacity for reasoned judgment or for controlling their desires and replacing bad habits with good ones. It’s an uncomfortable fact that many Americans recognize they’re eating unhealthy food and continue to do so for reasons other than addiction. Mr. Moss briefly mentions research showing that only 15% of us meet the food-addict criteria.