The anticipation of Michael Moss’s new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, released this week, is almost too much to bear for food law attorneys such as myself. The 14-page excerpt, which ran in last week’s New York Times Magazine, may have been a horrific read, but it was a most exciting horrific read. Why? Because Moss’s findings may be the golden ticket out of the nation’s rising obesity epidemic.
Despite the overwhelming evidence linking processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages to Type II diabetes, heart disease, and a whole host of other health problems, the food and beverage industries have, by and large, eluded consequences. They have successfully bought and marketed their way out of any responsibility or regulations. The dirty truth about these multibillion-dollar corporations has been known for years, even decades, but the proof has finally reared its ugly head.
Moss’s article is rich with guilty admissions from chief executives and top food scientists from the food and beverage industries. One page after another, we hear from confessors who can’t help but spill their heavily-processed, pesticide-latent GMO beans about the “conscious effort . . . to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive,” which reads like pleas for redemption and atonement for their past bad behavior.
These revelations excite us public health advocates because, if Moss has proof that the food industry knowingly and intentionally manufactures addictive foods and actively lies to the public, then the same bogus argument that big tobacco sold us years ago — that consumers are free to stop if they want to — is no longer tenable. Urging consumers to eat responsibly and to moderate their consumption is the current tactic utilized by the food and beverage industries as a means of transferring blame to the (supposedly) irresponsible eaters for their resulting health problems. This very argument is what has made the food and beverage industries so untouchable for the past quarter century. So, evidence that food science has removed the eater’s ability to effectively moderate consumption makes not only the public, but also the courts more receptive to holding these major corporations accountable for their actions. And a court victory would lead to monumental change in education, policy, and regulation of the food and beverage industries, which we would all benefit from.