It's the stuff that young journalists dream of, and the sort of situation that usually unfolds only in idealistic movies about reporters: A powerful source from inside an industry provides proof of a cover-up so deep and so awful that it implicates entire corporations in corrupt and harmful practices. Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter whose investigations into the ground-beef industry made "pink slime" a household term, unveils those sorts of orgasmic revelations repeatedly in his new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Random House, $28). Even before the book's publication last week, when the New York Times ran an extended excerpt in its Sunday magazine, you could tell Moss was up to something special, a book that could stand with the other monoliths of industrial-food journalism—Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, and Sinclair's The Jungle.
Turns out, Salt Sugar Fat is just that good. It's the most scandalous book to be published this year—narrowly beating Lawrence Wright's Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief—and it's more compelling reading than any novel I've read in months. Taking information from an army of sources embedded deep inside the prepared-food industry, Moss alleges that the handful of corporations that dominate junk food have met on multiple occasions to discuss strategies to hoodwink the American public and keep us hooked on products that are poisoning us.
Moss structures Salt Sugar Fat in three sections. He opens with sugar, describing the long, weird evolution of breakfast cereal, from health food to candy (most of the popular brands of cereal, Moss explains, are now fully half sugar). These foods don't wind up sugar-soaked by accident; they're the result of years of scientific research to pinpoint what the industry refers to as the "bliss point," in which each bite is as loaded with as much sugar as possible without tipping over into nausea.