Of the many interesting books I read last year, one of the most surprising was Fighting The Food Giants by Paul A. Stitt. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Food Industry intentionally puts chemicals in our food that encourage us to eat too much of it. That’s old news by now.
What surprised me was that this book was published in 1980 and Paul had done most of his work in “the industry” during the 70s. But the book was every bit as relevant in 2011 as it was in the 80s, 90s, and at the turn of the new century. In fact, the book opens with a paragraph that could just as well be a voice-over introduction for the latest episode of Dr. Oz.
When was the last time you asked yourself, “Why am I constantly hungry? Why do I gain weight so easily? Why do I feel so lousy all the time?”
So who is Paul? He’s a former food industry insider (one of the biochemists paid to “engineer” foods). He started out in life hoping to put his skills to use to help feed the starving children around the world by engineering cheap protein but, as luck would have it, he ended up working for one of the largest food manufacturers: Quaker. He wasn’t able to stomach the work long enough to make a career out of it, and he eventually struck out on his own to start a successful business (Natural Ovens) making healthier breads.
But Paul was in the industry long enough to learn many of its dark secrets. For that alone, this book is an excellent read. He goes on to answer the questions posed in the introduction. Did you know that pet food has to pass a certain level of testing before it can be sold? It has to be a “complete” food, containing sufficient nutrients for the animal to live on without additional nutrition. There’s a fairly long testing period involved to establish whether or not the food is good enough to be sold as pet food.
Oddly enough, the foods in the grocery store intended for human consumption have no such testing requirement. Many of them are actually engineered to provoke our desire to eat, while at the same time draining our body of essential nutrients (sometimes the same ones that were removed in the extensive “processing” the food undergoes to make it survive in shrink-wrap on store shelves for months at a time).
One of the more famous examples that he recounts involves documentation of an experiment done on rats in 1942 to test the safety of puffed wheat. Paul found it in the company research archives…
In accordance with good science, there were actually four groups of rats tested, three of which served as control groups:
- one group was fed a diet of plain whole wheat, water, and vitamin/mineral supplements
- another was fed puffed wheat, water, and the same nutrient supplements
- a third group received water and white sugar
- the final group received only water and the supplements
The results were interesting. The first group lived over a year on their diet. The water and vitamin group lived for about eight weeks. The sugar and water group lived about one month. But the rats fed water, vitamins, and all the puffed wheat they wanted? They died in two weeks!
The report concluded that the company should not continue producing puffed wheat, due to the poisonous effect it exhibited during testing. When he brought this up to one of his superiors (who’d never seen the original study), his superior took it straight to the company president.
How did the president of Quaker respond? “I know people should throw it on brides and grooms at weddings, but if they insist on sticking it in their mouths, can I help it? Besides, we made $9 million on the stuff last year.”
It’s sad to think about how much “puffed wheat” (often in the form of “healthy” breakfast cereals) is given to kids every year by well-meaning parents.
Paul goes beyond the sins of the food industry by also including some clear and comprehensive discussion about how our metabolism works and what foods and additives can do to it. He hits on diabetes and cancer, along with other common health issues.
If you’re interested in learning about the food industry of 30 years ago, Paul’s book is well worth reading. It’s well written, quick to read, and still relevant after 30+ years. It’s also a sad reminder of how little progress we’ve made in the last 30+ years when it comes to nutrition for the masses.