Engineering an obesity epidemic

Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael MossHow would you react if I told you it wasn’t your fault you’re fat?

Not entirely, anyway. Not the way that the medical profession or society at large would have you believe.

At least part of your spare tire — and the cause of the obesity epidemic generally — is because the processed food industry has engineered it for their own needs. That is the central theme of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. This comprehensive look at the food industry by Michael Moss is a brilliant bit of journalism.

Through the manipulation of the key ingredients of sugar (which our brain reacts to in ways that are similar to cocaine), fat (which we’re hard-wired to crave) and salt, the processed food industry has beefed up their own profits while increasing the gross tonnage of the population at large.

Of course, it’s the profit motive that drives the industry, not some evil desire to turn us all into Fat Albert. Moss’s examination of the industry is at times extremely positive. It’s clear that he admires the creativity, ingenuity and business acumen of many of the central players in this drama that is promising to shorten the life spans of our children. His reportage is scrupulous, fair, and peppered with insight. I’m not surprise he’s already won a Pulitzer. He should get one for this book too.

At times the book seems repetitive, but that is a minor flaw, given how comprehensive and wide-ranging his reportage into this secretive industry is, and how generally readable the narrative is.

The other major theme that I pulled out of the book is that while the food giants have hooked us on sugar, salt and fat, they have also hooked themselves on the profits those key ingredients generate. They are going to fight tooth and Tootsie-roll too keep our foods laden with them, and work against any efforts to make their foods more healthy. And now that the North American markets are saturated (pun intended), they’re looking to other countries. I found one of the anecdotes about an ex-Coke executive walking around a bario in Brazil kind of heart-breaking and enraging at the same time.

“The people here need a lot of things, but a Coke isn’t one of them.”

Yet the company has created smaller serving bottles for poor neighborhoods in countries like Brazil, so that everyone can afford the 20-cents they need to get a taste of “the real thing.”

While the book is informative, it is not a self-help book. There are no prescriptions for how to use this information to save your own waistline, except for the obvious one:

If your food was made by a food processing company, you probably shouldn’t be eating it!

Why Internet make you dumb

Much of this video’s content is covered in Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, in detail. Here’s my review of the book:

The irony is a spongy wad, so thick the fine edge of your keyboard or netbook would be enough to cut it.

The Shallows = cover artI’m trying to write a review of Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Shallows, and all the while, I can’t seem to stop myself from checking TweetDeck every few minutes (there just did it again); or a quick dip in to my email, or to check my blog comments…

This is the welter of distractions we face every day, for those of us who are wired, reading, and working. Even if you’re disciplined, the distraction is there — it takes an act of will to resist it, and what happens to your brain in that instant while you’re deciding if you should click on that link, open up that Facebook app, or make a comment on the article you’ve been reading between tasks?

A lot. In fact, your brain is being rewired while we you read this, assuming, of course, you’ve made it this far in the review and you’re still reading.

This is why I believe everyone who has any interest at all in the Internet, the web and reading should study this book. If you’re intrigued by the ultimate the fate of the human species, and where this information age is taking us, you’ll want to have a look. Hell, probably anyone who uses the net should consider at least scanning it. (Yes, more irony.)

Carr’s writing and research is excellent, and his thesis is straightforward: we’re giving up part of our humanity in the headlong rush to absorb as much information as we can, as quickly as we can. The book discusses the history of media, and how our brains have changed before — first with the advent of writing, and then with the development of Guttenburg’s press; he carries the argument from current studies of the brain and consciousness to the flawed model of our brains as computers and our minds as software; he delves into how philosophers and other thinkers have meditated on this subject throughout history.

And it is exactly the discipline of meditation, and “deep reading” as he calls it, that we are starting to lose with the web. It’s changing our writing, our thinking, and ultimately, it’s changing our culture.

If nothing else, this book will help you be more aware of what is happening to you on a daily basis. I’ve already been aware of some of the effects he discusses — for example, when I’m writing a piece of long fiction, I always make sure my computer is disconnected from the net, and I don’t have any other programs except for my word processor (and iTunes) open. Now, I see that I need to give my brain at more of a break from the constant info-dump of the net than that.

We’re all altering human evolution with this experiment, and who knows where it will end? Carr is not optimistic, and he worries that when it is all over, we will no longer be homo sapiens, we will be homo informavore.


On a purely side note, this is one of the themes I explore (comically) in The Fridgularity, which is currently available as an ebook for 99-cents. Here on Kindle, and in all other formats on Smashwords. (Use Coupon Code YU86X.) If Carr’s observations interest you, I’m sure you’ll find the satire fun.

Alltop has many formats of humor, much of it dumb.

Midwest Book Review: The Fridgularity is “highly recommended”

pile of books
Woo, great review news — the Midwest Book Review, which is one of the few well-respected review outfits used by librarians and archivists that still reviews independent and small press books — has given The Fridgularity a glowing review:

“The Internet is accessible by more and more things, even when it may be that it isn’t the best idea. “The Fridgulairty” is a science fiction adventure following Blake Given and his web-enabled fridge which has chosen to take on the world by shutting off the internet, and Blake has to deal with the sudden disappearance of the once so vital internet, while trying to live life as a human being. With plenty of humor and much more, “The Fridgularity” is an exciting, sci-fi view askew, highly recommended.”

I was intrigued to see they’d listed it under SF and Fantasy, not humor, so the book is clearly working in that genre. You can see it here, and check out MBR’s whole website here.

Alltop comes highly recommended, by its mother. Photo by AlwaysBelieve on DeviantArt.

The obligatory Fridgularity review roundup post

Raven in a tree

Loved Duffbert’s take: “One of the most entertaining and funny books I’ve read this year.”

Katy Sozeva has a rave review of the book at her blog, Now is Gone: “Rayner has a real gift for vivid (and hilarious) description.”

Kane Faucher also gives The Fridguarity a thumbs up in Read All Over Reviews, on Western News: “As any good science fiction does, Rayner presents us with the underlying critique of unbridled technological integration. And, hey, who could turn down a novel that stars a megalomaniacal talking fridge?”

A thoughtful review from Lori Hettler and her The Next Best Book Club review: “Go ahead, I don’t care what generation you were born into, try to live a week without being able to access the internet. I bet you use it more than you realize you do. And I bet by the end of the week you’d be biting your nails down to the nub… no email, no facebook, no evernote to jot down reminders for things… That’s the power of Fridgularity… the more you think about it all, the more scary it becomes…. Mwahhahahaha.”

And there’s Michael N’s take on if The Fridgularity is “Re-Birth” of the Internet in his review: “Mark Rayner has created a very funny yet serious work along the lines of a Max Barry novel (see Company, Syrup, Jennifer Government).”

I also enjoyed Charlene’s take on the Literary R&R blog.

And while we’re at it you may want to check out the interview I did with LitBridge on writing & satire.

You can get The Fridguarity at most online bookstores, in paper and Kindle formats. Other ebook formats coming in February! And if you’be been waiting for it to be available in multiple ebook formats, you can get Pirate Therapy and Other Cures now on Smashwords.

Alltop has advice on how to make you laugh. Photo by John Morgan on Flickr.