Book Review: Swallow This by Joanna Blythman

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Reading books has been a bit of a struggle for me this year. Having a second baby and the exhaustion that goes with that and then renovating a house and the additional exhaustion that goes with that! Every time I would sit down to read, I’d almost fall asleep or would get distracted by something else I just ‘had’ to do.

But I did manage to get through this book. It took me a few months but I got there. The thing is, I was really into it but just didn’t prioritise finishing it.

But now I have, I’m so glad I did because it is just explosive! If you are interested in your food and where it comes from, this book completely and utterly lifts the lid on all the dirty secrets of the processed food industry. It’s true to it’s title ‘Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets.’

Joanna is an investigative journalist. A self titled ‘thorn in flesh of processed food industry and supermarkets.’ And I can see why. Her no holds barred approach to exposing the utterly devious tactics they employ for profits is truly fantastic. To us, the consumer obviously but not ‘Big Food.’

They don’t want us to know all their trade secrets and how they make their foods last longer, taste better and look better. They don’t want us to know all the additives and preservatives (well chemicals really) that they add to everything and disguise as something like ‘natural flavour.’ They don’t want us to know what has really gone on to bring that package labelled ‘healthy,’ ‘natural’ or ‘fresh’ to the supermarket shelf. In fact, this industry will go to (not) surprisingly extreme lengths to keep it all inaccessible to the public.

What is most shocking is what also happens to things such as washed salads, smoothies, yoghurts, cereal bars, bread, fruit juice and pre prepared vegetables. Things we think are not ‘processed.’

Each and every chapter is full of more ‘horror’ stories:

  • How complex and laboratory synthesised ingredients are hidden on ‘clean’ labels under safe sounding names such as ‘yeast extract’ and ‘modifed starch’ to try and trick the consumer
  • How ‘processing’ aids added to things such as liquid polyunsaturated fats to keep them stable don’t have to be declared on the label
  • How healthy sounding terms such as ‘beetroot extract’ and ‘carrot concentrate’ are used to make you believe the colouring agents used come from these sources but in reality they are far from it
  • How processed foods are pumped full of water to increase the weight and gelling agents to make them seem fresher for longer. Another example of processing aids that don’t have to be on the label
  • How the use of enzymes is ever increasing to speed up the manufacturing process. That ‘aged’ cheese taste isn’t always from the cheese maturing for an extended period of time. Enzymes are considered natural so aren’t tested and we have no idea that they are added or whether they have come from a genetically engineered bacteria or a laboratory
  • How those pre washed salads and vegetables are actually washed in bacteria inhibiting chemicals
  • How the ‘atmosphere’ inside packaged food is manipulated to extend their life (i.e. pumped with gas).

Next time you are shopping and pick up something in a package, really think about whether it’s something you and your family actually need to eat. Just because it is available for sale, doesn’t mean it’s actually safe for you and your family. ‘Big Food’ don’t have our health as their number one interest or priority. Profits are. And due to the complicated political wrangling’s, commodities markets, and sponsorship (sorry ‘research’) deals that go on behind closed doors, neither does our government or peak ‘health’ organisations. But whilst people want cheap food and shareholders want profitable companies, this will continue.

I know it’s impossible to avoid all processed and packaged food but if you do need that packet, don’t you think you have the right to know exactly what has gone into it? Amd for me that’s the crux of this book. Transparency. We have a right to know exactly what we are eating and not be part of a massive human experiment that we didn’t consent to.

If you don’t believe me, get the book and read it. It is seriously a game changer. If you are considering moving to a more real food and whole foods lifestyle, it may be just the thing to convince you.

A true ‘food for thought’ book.

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