Hard to swallow: a book review

Swallow This: serving up the food industry’s darkest secrets by Joanna Blythman (Fourth Estate London 2015)

There are many interesting books on food. There are few fascinating detailed readable ones on food processing. This one is a must read for those feeling brave or curious. It is not a reassuring one for those who believe that regulators guard our food supply, and  that those of us who read labels can rest easy that we know what we are eating.  We don’t.

The chapter headings outline the content. The first part of the book is about how the processed food system works: why it all tastes the same, how food factories work, what clean label means in reality, where companies find new solutions to help with processing problems, and what fresh really means. The second part discusses the defining characteristics of processed food, under a series of descriptive adjectives: sweet, oily, flavoured, coloured, watery, starchy, tricky, old, and packaged. This is a true eye opener, explaining for instance, the presence in foods of many ingredients that can cause problems for the allergic, which do not need to be label-declared because they are not food ingredients, but processing aids, and what innocuous label terms like ‘modified starch’ really mean.

I have just ordered five copies to give to family members, and I would urge readers of this review to do the same (I don’t get a commission on sales!). Personally, I would like to meet Ms Blythman, as those interested in infant formula and its manufacture will find that this book raises disturbing questions that go beyond some of what is in my book Milk matters: infant feeding and immune disorder, and which I would dearly love this erudite food journalist to address.

Paperback of 306 pages, 50 or so of which are footnotes, references and index. Available from Book Depository postage free globally,  if your local bookshops don’t stock copies.