Award-Winning Journalist Discusses Addictive Nature of Fast, Processed Foods

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Michael Moss spoke about the addictive nature of processed and fast food in his talk Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us on Saturday at Campbell Hall.

Hosted by Arts and Lectures, the talk featured a presentation on the results of investigative research into how the processed food industry uses the “unholy trinity” of salt, sugar and fat to make their products as addictive and irresistible to consumers as possible. The lecture was organized in conjunction with the Orfalea Foundation, an organization which focuses on childhood nutrition in schools in and around Santa Barbara and follows the release of Moss’s newly-released book, also titled Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Moss’s talk went into detail about why large processed food companies such as Kraft rely on using “gobs” of salt, sugar and fat to make their products “low-price, utterly convenient and irresistibly tasty.”

“The problem lies in their collective zeal to do what all companies want to do … which is make as much money as possible by selling as much product as possible,” Moss said.

During the lecture, Moss also spoke about his visit to Kellogg’s research and development center, where he was presented with salt-free versions of many Kellogg’s popular food items — including Cheez-Its.

“This was one of the most horrific dining experiences I’ve ever had,” Moss said. “Without the salt, you couldn’t swallow them. They stuck to the roof of your mouth because salt adds texture and solubility.”

According to Moss, another reason processed food producers utilize high amounts of salt is to mask bad tastes that are “inherent to many processed foods.”

“Salt is a miracle ingredient to them,” Moss said. “It’s so inexpensive — 10 cents a pound — but it lets them avoid using other more costly ingredients that you use at home, like fresh herbs and spices.”

While Moss said he was reluctant to offer solutions to problems his investigation revealed — as an investigative journalist and not an activist — he also said he believed in educating people about what they put into their bodies, as the method through which information is presented, especially to children, is extremely important.

“[They have to be] engaged in a conversation about food … and talked to about how they are hard-wired for sweet taste and how the part of their brain that can keep them from over-eating is very, very small in relation to the reward center,” Moss said.

Director of the Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative Kathleen de Chadenèdes, who introduced Moss, said she realized through her work at schools in Santa Barbara that kids had already been heavily influenced by the processed food industry.

“There’s a formidable force shaping children’s food preferences,” de Chadenèdes said. “And this force has tinkered with their hardwiring to hijack not only children’s palettes, but also their neurochemistry.”

Malachi Mickelonis, a second-year marketing major dual-enrolled at UCSB and SBCC, said the talk inspired him to continue striving to live a healthy lifestyle.

“I do try to eat healthy,” Mickelonis said. “And I do think that with all these schemes that have been revealed that I will look a little closer at healthier cereals and stuff like that.”