Mission Chinese Food wunderkind Danny Bowien appears on a podcast for Bon Appetit with Michael Moss, author of the upcoming book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. (You probably read the excerpt in New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, or at least heard about it at a dinner party.) Also in the mix are Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of New York's Prune and author of the culinary memoir Blood, Bones and Butter; and Bon Appetit columnist Andrew Knowlton. Moss's book is about the methods in which the convenience food industry gets customers addicted to its sweet, salty, sugary products, and it's worth a listen to hear what he and the chefs have to say about it.
The podcast starts with Moss talking about how he got interested in the book and his findings during his research, but it's very much a conversation between the four. There are interesting insights from Bowien, who grew up in the eighties when Lunchables were first introduced and a status item (a story I definitely remember playing out in my lunchroom as well), and Hamilton, wondering why people fall for the marketing claims. Both chefs serve rich food at their restaurants, and talk about balancing their obligation to customers' health vs. what they want.
I haven't had a chance to read Moss's book yet, but it's on my short list. You should definitely read the Times excerpt if you haven't already (it involves a mechanical mouth developed to test how many chews a chip can stand up to, among other things).
Knowlton also wrote a thoughtful piece in Bon Appetit about the current craze for high-fat cooking in restaurants -- everything layered with bacon and pork belly and bone marrow -- wondering if it is the chefs' responsibility to serve lighter food to customers.
Ultimately, the podcast left this question: Is Moss the Upton Sinclair of the processed food world, shining light on a sinister, profit-driven industry that doesn't have the best interests or health of its customers in mind? Could this book be the agent of change we need to change American eating habits, battle obesity and diabetes, and generally become a more healthy population? It could be, but only if we all summon enough outrage. Read it and rage.