413: Michael Moss, part 1.5: Maybe that was the addiction speaking

2020-11-24

Michael wrote me the morning before we scheduled this conversation to say he ended up spending more time on the screen when he intended less. He wondered if we should skip it. Longtime listeners may remember similar results with guests Jim Harshaw and Caspar Craven. I told him I'm not looking for a Disney version implying that acting sustainable was easy. I believe listeners engage more with hearing the challenges than perfection, though it would mean him sounding human. He magnanimously agreed. So we'll get to hear his challenges. As it happens, his next book is called Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, which overlaps with getting hooked on screen time. We ended up with some sneak preview of the book and how it relates to polluting behavior, especially Michael's challenge. We describe a parallel between changing eating habits and sustainability habits came across, as well as the techniques doof industries use to establish habits that help them, however unhealthy for you or damaging to Earth's ability to sustain life and human society. Since they work to get past your defenses, often with children too young to have developed defenses, I would call them insidious or creepy, like a tick creeping slowly past your defenses. The challenge in changing these habits, from one perspective, is to create new neural pathways. We focus on the objects of our craving and the craving, but looking past our craving to seeing that we are training ourselves and the feelings of withdrawal will pass seems to make it easier.

404: Michael Moss, part 1: Salt, Sugar, Fat, Convenience, Addiction, and the Environment

2020-11-05

Michael Moss had already risked his life as a reporter in Baghdad, where he interviewed Islamic militants and exposing that US marines lacked body armor. He had also already won a Pulitzer prize for reporting on food. Then he wrote Salt Sugar Fat, which has become one of the core books on the field of the food and doof industries. For me, the title has become one word, SaltSugarFat, to which I often add convenience, SaltSugarFatConvenience. The book shows how the system evolved its incentives and motivations. They lead all players to create products and behavior that take advantage of our reward systems to induce craving, temporarily satisfy that craving while re-creating it, and continuing that loop. The book pulls you along with detailed stories, often insiders where you can't imagine how he learned the details. They combine to a greater story of our industrial food and doof system. The book was a number 1 NY Times bestseller and won awards including a James Beard award. In our conversation, he shared some back story not in the book, and we spoke about the environment and his values. I don't have to tell you how food touches everything in our lives. I see our beliefs and behavior toward food and doof as parallel to our beliefs and behavior toward the environment. Michael's book intrigues and fascinates at the sentence level. All the characters in the book rang true. Their stories were compelling. The results outraged me, but they also motivated me to keep away from their insidious work. Most of all it pointed to a playing field with incentives that motivate overproducing and getting people to eat more cheap products. Each person is doing what he or she thinks is best. No one intends it, but they create obesity, disease, helplessness, addiction. Beyond those easily measurable results, it leads the people targeted, to protect their identities, to promote their lifestyles as if they were born that way, attacking people who disagree as if they were attacking accidents of birth, like racism or sexism. But we aren't helpless, however effective doof engineers have become at manipulating and controlling us. SaltSugarFat helps us prepare. You'll also enjoy reading it.

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