Food & Drink

Michael Moss's 'Times' Mag Cover Story On The 'Extraordinary Science Of Junk Food' Is Extraordinary

An expose on the techniques the food industry uses to get Americans addicted to food.
02/20/2013 11:00am ET | Updated February 20, 2013
Bags of potato chips are displayed at a market in Glendale, Calif., Tuesday, June 21, 2011. The potato chip is the biggest demon behind that pound-a-year weight creep that plagues many of us, a major diet study found. Bigger than soda, candy and ice cream. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

If there were ever a reason to be disloyal to HuffPost and read a story about food on another site (the jury's still out), this week's New York Times cover story is it. Written by investigative journalist Michael Moss, who won a Pulitzer in 2010 for his reporting on E. coli in beef, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" is a gargantuan expose on the techniques the food industry uses to get Americans addicted to food, the product of a whopping four years of reportage. It's also a relatively quick read, despite its 9500-word length, so it's worth reading in full.

But here's a nibble to tide you over if you want to "Read It Later" on your Instapaper iPad app or whatever. The piece is divided into case studies on various foods. The one that hit closest to home for HuffPost Full Plate is the one on Lunchables, a staple of this writer's school lunches in elementary school and of lists of some of the least healthy foods sold in grocery stores. Here's a key passage:

When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”

Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. “You bet,” he said. “Plus cookies.”

The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.” (Bible would later press Kraft to reconsider its reliance on salt, sugar and fat.)

There's so much more good stuff like that! Seriously, read it!

The piece is adapted from Moss's new book "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” on the same topic, which is being released in hardcover and e-book on Feb. 26. In an email to HuffPost Full Plate, Moss said that there would be "Lots more in the book, including [his] own favorite chapters," adding that it's structured as a linear narrative and not disconnected vignettes like the Times story.