How would you react if I told you it wasn’t your fault you’re fat?
Not entirely, anyway. Not the way that the medical...more Engineering an obesity epidemic
How 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!
In 1961 Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience on the New York University campus: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step t...moreIn 1961 Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience on the New York University campus: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
This seems an easier idea to accept than what John Gray is presenting us with in The Silence of Animals. The book wants us to accept that there is no progress, and more than that, the idea of progress itself is mythical. A fiction.
No matter your reaction, you will find this a fascinating read. Gray is conversant with authors I’ve never heard of, and of the writers and thinkers I’ve read and know, he casts into a new light with his lateral, almost poetic thinking.
In the first part of the book Gray examines what he calls “an old chaos” -- the human propensity to sink to barbarism. Civilization, to Gray, is a thin veneer, and he makes this case quite devastatingly. He introduced me to some writers and thinkers who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, both world wars, depression, pogroms and purges … many of the darkest moments of the 20th century. (In particular, I was intrigued by his etymology of the Orwellian idea -- which is not Orwellian at all -- that two plus two could equal five.) Despite these stories of human depravity, I could not square his statement that progress does not exist with the reality we see today. By all measures, the human condition has improved. Some may argue that we have reached its zenith, but that is not what Gray is trying to convince us. He wants us to see that it is a delusion.
In the second part of the book, called “Beyond the Last Thought,” Gray is much more successful. His argument here shifts to the idea of myth. His ruminations on Freud are fascinating, and his discussion of myth and language is worth a read of the book on its own. The following quote is one of my favorites from the book:
Negative theologians use language as Mauthner thought it should be used: to point to something (not a thing in any ordinary sense) that cannot be expressed in words. If only that is real which can be captured in language, God is unreal. But it is not only ‘God’ that is unreal in this way -- abstractions that have featured in the catechisms of unbelief. Atheism does not mean rejecting ‘belief in God’. It means giving up belief in language as anything other than a practical convenience. The world is not a creation of language, but something that -- like the God of the negative theologians -- escapes language. Atheism is only a stage on the way to a more far-reaching skepticism.
And of course, in the final part, “Another Sunlight”, Gray leads us on this pathway, though by the end of the book, I was not still not convinced.
He had, however, led me closer to understanding the Camus quote: “I do not believe in God and I am not an atheist.”
3.5 stars -- really worth your time, though not a complete success... (less)
Full disclosure first: I'm a huge fan of Maron's podcast, WTF, and I listened to this as an audio book, rather than reading it myself. (I figured that...moreFull disclosure first: I'm a huge fan of Maron's podcast, WTF, and I listened to this as an audio book, rather than reading it myself. (I figured that I would be hearing is voice in my head anyway, so I thought I might as well just let him read it to me.)
The first half of the book is really well written and fascinating. If you haven't been listening to his podcast for years, you'll probably think the same about the second half too.
I really admire the frankness of Maron's stories, and his ability to put his life story into perspective. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone figures out why they're making a mess, and then does something to stop it. This book is more about the mess and less about the clean up, but that's fine. Messes are fun, and so's the book.
I really enjoyed the opening story of this collection by George Saunders, and based on it alone, I will search out some more of his work. I do have to...moreI really enjoyed the opening story of this collection by George Saunders, and based on it alone, I will search out some more of his work. I do have to say, however, that many of the stories are kind of repetitive and one-note. I would characterize his satire as less Vonnegut-like, and more Swiftian. It's cutting and a bit on the harsh side. The characters tend to be a bit flat. Not all of them. Some are nuanced and well-drawn, but the flat characters outweigh the well-drawn ones.
If you're a fan of satire, I'd still recommend it, as it's overall still a good read.(less)