Michael Moss is a Pulitzer prize winning reporter and author of Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions. Michael is known for his work as an investigative reporter and his time spent digging into the food industry and their questionable tactics. He has been a reporter for the Wall Street Journal before joining the New York Times in 2000. He has been a guest on various talk shows, including The Daily Show and CBS This Morning.
Michael joins me today to discuss the life of an investigative reporter. We talk about some of his greatest discoveries and how he dug them up. We also talk at length about the food industry and how they have adapted their products to play to our natural inclination towards sugar. He details to me a dilemma between the “go” brain and the “stop” brain; and how sugar can confuse the two. We finish by talking about the creative process and how it differs for investigative reporters.
“You can’t jog off junk food.”
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Michael Moss [00:00:00] So it turns out that body fat is a living thinking organ that communicates with other parts of the body.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:12] Hi, I’m brilliant, your host for this show, I know that I’m incredibly blessed as the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success. And I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do have and give more. This podcast is for you.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:34] My guest today is Michael Moss, author of Hooked Food Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addiction. Michael is also author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Salt, Sugar, Fat How the Food Giants Hooked Us. In this interview, we talk about addiction, what it is, what is an eating disorder? When does something become a dependency? We talk about something Michael calls the go brain and the stop brain. We talk about fat. We talk about how our eating has changed over the last 40 years in particular, and of course, the host of lifestyle diseases. Michael was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting in 2010. He’s been a finalist for the prize two other times. He’s a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and he joined The New York Times as a journalist in 2000. He’s an occasional guest on shows like CBS This Morning, Dr. Oz, CNN and even Jon Stewart, The Daily Show. You can learn more about Michael and his work at Moss Books US. I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend, Michael Moss. Michael, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Michael Moss [00:01:39] Thank you so much for having me.
Brilliant Miller [00:01:42] It’s been a journey just to get here. Well, you tell me, please, what’s life about?
Michael Moss [00:01:49] Oh, wow, I thought you were the one to sort of answer those questions. I mean, you have to realize I’m an investigative journalist, right? To mean my brain is focused on those hard to get facts that big, powerful interests don’t want us to kind of know about. So life for me in a working form is about finding ways to find and prying loose those facts to to tell some significant story about the world that we didn’t know before. So when I think about my working lives, that’s what it is.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:32] OK, and your recent your most recent book, Hooked Food Free Will and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions. Incredible book. It just released this week, the week we’re recording this, which was March 2nd. Twenty twenty one. But I’m really interested to know who did you write this book for and what did you want it to do for them? Why did you write it?
Michael Moss [00:02:52] I wanted to write it for people who were starting to think about their eating habits, starting to try to maybe change their eating habits for the better. Finding that to be difficult and not knowing why people who are reading the labels of these processed food products, which are basically occupying 90 percent of the grocery store and maybe seeing the salt, sugar, fat on there, but also not seeing some other things that were interfering with their ability, their free will, if you if you will, to kind of make decisions about trying to change what they value in food. And so my hope was to explain to people all the things that are in these products that that are causing trouble for them.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:49] Something I read you tweeted, it really surprised me, but then I reflected on it and it didn’t surprise me all that much, you said. Starting looked five years ago, so you’ve been working on this book for five years, which is amazing, you tweet no way. I would say fast food and groceries were as addictive as heroin. And here I am knowing from very smart people that in some ways they’re worse. Is that true?
Michael Moss [00:04:14] Oh, yeah. I mean, I still cringe a little bit inside when I compare Twinkies with or Lunchables or potato chips or what have you to to cocaine or heroin. And I came full circle and hooked. This book started with a question from an interviewer. It was a British tabloid TV reporter who was taking me to task for leaving, having the audacity to leave some hope in the minds of the readers of the last book. Because being a journalist, I’m of the mind that knowledge is is empowering and even more so knowledge of what these food companies are doing to get us not just to like their products, but to want more and more. But here goes Michael. How can you see that? Because isn’t the stuff you’re writing about as addictive as drugs? And if that’s true, where is the possibility of free will on our part in that? And I’m like back pedaling on TV and hemming and hawing. You know, the addiction is such a harsh word. And the images and images we have of drug addicts and junkies is so vivid still in our heads that I couldn’t answer the question, but but I wanted to know and I found that to be really, really interesting, you know, is that at all true? And if it is, I mean, what you know, not only are there comparisons to be made, but are there lessons to be learned from how we’ve dealt with or tried to deal with cigarets and alcohol and and narcotics for dealing with this huge part of so many of our lives and those sort of processed food industry?
Brilliant Miller [00:06:08] And, of course, one of the big differences is that we need food, we need food to live. Right.
Michael Moss [00:06:13] That is one of the ways that food is more problematic than drugs. If you are a drug habit, by and large, you’re going to be coached and helped hopefully to deal with that through abstention, cold turkey, you know, avoiding to everything you possibly can to avoid contact with the drug or people who are selling that drug to you. Right. We can’t do that with food. You can’t stop eating. And even if you’re, say, isolating one part of the processed food world like sugar, it’s still so extremely difficult to walk into a grocery store or a restaurant and look for products that don’t have sugar in them. And I met people who are single grain of sugar will cause them to lose control. And so the difficulty they’re facing in trying to regain control of the food seems to be in that way more problematic than a drug addiction.
Brilliant Miller [00:07:19] And, you know, I learned so much from this book and it caused me to think about a number of things I’ve never really thought about before or I thought I knew, but I didn’t when when I went to look at it a little more closely. And one of those is the term addiction itself. And you opened my eyes to this idea that there are differences between what is an addiction and what is simply habit forming and what is a dependency and what is a compulsion and what is an obsession and when does something become a disorder? Right. And one of the things you say that really resonated with me might be misquoting you a bit here, but that we all have disordered eating to some degree. Right. Or we’re all faced we’re certainly all faced with this challenge. But what what did you learn that surprised you or how do you now think about these terms, addiction and habit and disorder and all of that?
Michael Moss [00:08:11] You know, I spent the first chapter looking at the definition of addiction because one of them, one of the defenses of the processed food industry was how can you call us addicted? There’s no real withdrawal symptoms with, you know, even a sugar lover or an increasing need for, you know, the tolerance and increasing need for evidence about those people.
Brilliant Miller [00:08:33] But my wife, by the way,
Michael Moss [00:08:38] you know, so it turns out that the definition of addiction has changed over the years because the more we knew about drugs, the more we realized that even drugs don’t all have those criteria. That used to be sort of part of the formal definition of addiction. And a light really went on in my. Reporting head when in the year 2000, the head of the largest tobacco company in the world, Philip Morris, which had spent decades vehemently denying that smoking was addictive and then suddenly completely turned around and said, you’re right, it’s addictive. The CEO was asked in a legal proceeding what his definition of addiction was, and he goes. Addiction is a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit. And the reason that was eye opening to me is that at the time, Philip Morris was also the largest manufacturer of processed food in North America through its acquisition of the old company General Foods, Kraft, Nabisco, which makes Oreo cookies. And that definition fits perfectly. Many of our reactions to their food products in the grocery store and in restaurants as much as it does to to cigarets. So that opened up that part of the world to me and certainly made it much more plausible to look at food as addictive using that very real and understandable sort of definition. The other thing about addiction is that it does happen on a spectrum. And that’s one of the things I learned from looking and talking to experts on drug addiction. Right. You’ve got at one end, you can have binge eating, you can have sort of total out of control eating disorders. And the other end you can have maybe just like a nagging feeling that something’s not right with your eating habits or it’s taking too much effort on your part to stay in control of your eating or or you just miss the beauty and the rituals of having a home cooked meal with your family before we fell so hard for these convenience foods in the and that and the well, the very disturbing thing about that spectrum is that we can be in one end, one moment and on the other end the next moment. That can change over our lifetime. It can change over the course of the day. And the real thing that got me going in this book, too, is realizing that that’s true with drug addicts, too, and smokers and people who drink alcohol. There are casual smokers, there are casual drinkers. There are people who can use heroin casually without losing control, which I thought was, again, a totally fascinating, irrelevant parallel to comparing drugs to food.
Brilliant Miller [00:11:50] Yeah, that’s amazing. If I had heard that from anyone other than a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, I don’t know that I would have believed it, honestly.
Michael Moss [00:11:57] Mhm. Well, I also heard it from, from people in the tobacco industry and I was, I was struck when I, when I sat down and met the former general counsel, the chief top lawyer for Philip Morris, who told me about his smoking habit, if you will. He started smoking when he went to work for the company, but he only smoked in meetings. And through the course of the day, he might only have one or two cigarets, put his pack away, never feel any temptation or urge to smoke outside of the office or any other time of the day. But he said and remember, Philip Morris has another giant brand out there right now, not just Marlboro cigarets, but Oreo cookies they were making. He said, I can’t go near a bag of Oreo cookies for fear of losing control and eating the entire pack. I mean, I’m like, what? You know, these are experts on addiction, you know, explaining to us how, in fact, for them him certainly the food can be far more problematic from a control standpoint than even smoking, which is one of the more addictive substances in the world.
Brilliant Miller [00:13:11] Yeah, that is remarkable. And one of the challenges we point out about how the cues that we’re exposed to, you know, whether it’s through advertising or in the physical locations, our workspaces, our homes, the grocery stores. And you shared something in the book that I thought was really remarkable about the research that Anna Rose Childress, this clinician and researcher in Philadelphia, did with drug addicts, seeing how they responded to these cues. Yes. Will you talk about that a little bit?
Michael Moss [00:13:44] Yeah. So so memory is a really important part of addiction. The more we do something, the more we sort of deepen our habit, the more we’re up to kind of respond to cues or things out in the world that signal and prepare us to expect and want whatever that substances that we’re imbibing. And she she found in looking at people through brain scans that, you know, the tiniest fraction of a second cue, a picture of, you know, a crack cocaine vial spliced in between bucolic scenes of nature could be enough to sort of light up the brains of of people addicted. To that substance, crack cocaine in this case, just that mere flash of an instance, and she did she called it the the moment of desire and she she first was the first person to express to me that the brain could be divided into two parts. One is our most primitive instinct part which calls the go brain, which is the part of the brain that gets us to do stuff, whether it’s to flee from danger or to eat or to have sex, to procreate or basic sort of functions. And then there’s the stop brain, which is which is the frontal cortex, generally the thinking part of the brain where we have what psychologists call executive function willpower. And the balance between these two parts of the brain is what we’re talking about here. When when you’re in control of your habits, no matter what they are, that stop part of the brain. Is is there with the go brain sort of helping to modulate moderate, sort of impulsive decisions that the brain has. And when you’re not when you’re out of control and cravings are hitting you so hard and so fast to go, brain is sending you running before the stop brain even catches on to of what’s happening.
Brilliant Miller [00:16:07] And to see that these scenes, as you said, were spliced in these images, these beautiful images for as little as three thousands of a second, well below the conscious level of awareness. Yeah. And nevertheless, it triggered this go brain, as you say, and that while that was done with drug addicts, that we’re all subject to that when it comes to food.
Michael Moss [00:16:30] Yeah, and not only sort of the images, too. I mean, speed is a hallmark of drug addiction. Researchers found out the faster the substance can get into your system and hit the brain with those signals, the harder you more apt you are, the harder you’re going to fall for that substance and be lured to it and wanted and want more. And there’s nothing faster in that sense than food in the way it gets to the brain. And it’s because of a little trickery. It so people did this test. It’s been some years now, but they set some people down. They said, we want you to push this button when you taste something sweet on your tongue. So the researchers put a little dab of sugar on their tongue and in less than really about eight hundredths of a tenth of a second, they were pushing that button, having recognized the sweet taste. And what’s happening is and this is another way that food is more troublesome than drugs is our body was designed to attract us to food. And so it created this nervous system where the sugar doesn’t go to your brain right away. It hits the taste, bud, which sends a signal to the brain. And that goes so fast in the way and it goes incredibly fast, faster than smoking can take as long as ten seconds to arouse the brain. Some drugs are sort of somewhere, somewhere in between. And I realize that, you know, not only is food and sugar and things like that faster, but these groceries we’re talking about in this restaurant, food we’re talking about is fast. I mean, fast food suddenly sort of took on this new connotation for me and, when you look at the processed food industry, everything about it is fast. You know, they came up with a way of making cheese in a day. They called it milk in cheese out. The entire manufacturing process is speeded up. That’s to reduce the cost of the food. But they also perfected this whole business of snack foods, which all about are all about eating quickly, mindlessly between meals to where now on average, Americans are getting a quarter of their calories in the entire day through snacking. And that’s speed. You’re in there for sure. What’s your snack?
Brilliant Miller [00:19:05] You know, I really like right now those Lennie and Larry cookies that have protein added. And of course, you talk about that, how food manufacturers have got on this protein craze and. Yeah, yeah. But they’re about four hundred and sixty calories and little almond milk. And I love those.
Michael Moss [00:19:20] You know, I’m a big snacker two, I have to say. I mean, I’m, I’m, I’m doing some training these days. I’m burning a lot of calories, but depends what you snack on. But, you know, the issue is, of course, is that they’re making all these snacks and they’re so seductive. That, you know, a lot of our cupboards resemble vending machines and you’re snacking on a lot of junk, empty calories, that becomes problematic.
Brilliant Miller [00:19:46] Yeah, well, and you you mention in the book that it’s become socially acceptable to eat anything, anywhere at any time. And that’s the kind of thing that I think many of us probably never really think about. But that hit me years ago when I was an exchange student in Japan and I was conducting my American habit of that, of just eating on the street. And I didn’t understand why I was getting such strange looks until a a Japanese student explained to me, like, hey, we don’t do that here.
Michael Moss [00:20:17] People in France think we’re insane to snack. I mean, why would you do something that would at all diminish the appeal of food and kind of what are the most wonderful moments of the day when you sit down to to have a meal with family, friends? I mean, it’s it’s absolutely crazy. But, yeah, there seems to be this this moment one researcher suggested to me in the 80’s when it when suddenly it became socially acceptable to eat anything anywhere. And that’s when you started seeing people eat going down the street and in the business meetings and, you know, and in between meals and the food industry jumped on that, creating for us the perfect sort of mindless snackable and the food that we could we could indulge in and snacking as much as we wanted.
Brilliant Miller [00:21:14] Yeah, I’m thinking now, of course, of Go-gurt, as you point
Michael Moss [00:21:18] out, right in the little tubes, you don’t need to spoon. Look, I mean, I’m laughing. But look, there are kids who grow up without using utensils because they’re they’re eating at fast food from fast food restaurants and fast food in the grocery store. That doesn’t require, you know, a fork and a spoon.
Brilliant Miller [00:21:41] So in this book and by the way, some of this what manufacturers are doing, I was I was surprised to learn never again, never really thought about it, that this this food industry that we’re talking about, manufactured fast food industry, have I got this right is one point five trillion dollar industry.
Michael Moss [00:21:56] If you include restaurant food, which is the kind of sort of heavily processed.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:00] So massive business. And some people call it big food, you know, which of course, calls to mind big pharma. Big Tobacco maybe implies perhaps a little insidiousness and so forth. And I tend to look for the best in people and think, you know, it’s not that anybody’s got you know, there’s no Illuminati plotting to exploit, you know, the masses. Maybe there is. I don’t think so. But instead that they’re merely capitalizing on our innate tendencies. And in the book, you quote an evolutionary like a biologist who says that nothing. And in science, what is this? Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Yes. And the only reason I bring that up here is to say it had never occurred to me that what’s happening is this evolutionary process, perhaps of its more energy for less effort. That’s what every organism has done. Right. So we’re just now seeing maybe the extreme forms of the unhealthy forms of that. But how do you see that? How do you think about it?
Michael Moss [00:23:01] So there was a moment when I almost gave up the book project, and it was when a scientist named Dana Small, who loves evolutionary biology so much, she named her child Darwin. She’s a neuroscientist. She was the first person to figure out a way to look at the brain on food because normally you slide somebody into a brain scan or an MRI. Well, all the time you have to remain perfectly still. You can’t be like chewing your favorite potato chips. That will blur the imagery. But Dina, being a self-described chocoholic, realized she could put squares of chocolate on people’s mouths and they could sit there and very there, very still. And that chocolate would melt and go to their branch and you could sort of watch and see what happens. But what she did was not just feed squares of chocolate to her subjects and look at the go part of the brain. She kept feeding them squares and feeding them squares and asking how they felt. And they went from, you know, loving it to basically raising their hands and say, you know, you feed me another square and i’m gonna like, I’ll throw up all over your machine nice machine here. And I’m going like, wait, wait a minute. Are you telling me the same addictive food can be incredibly alluring and revolting without any change to that? I mean, I’ve spent my last ten years, you know, tormenting the processed food industry. And now you’re telling me addiction is really on us in our brain, which was so. Well, you know, as an investigative journalist, I’m going like, oops. But but what it did was open up this entire world to me that, yes, you know, some of this is on us. And the real brilliance of the industry is that they’re using our own basic instincts that draw us to food against us. And it was it was Dana Small who also said as quoted in the book, which is that it’s not it’s not so much that we’re addicted to food. It’s that we’re drawn to food by by our nature. And the food companies have changed the nature of food and.
Brilliant Miller [00:25:35] That is remarkable and does do you think it boils down? Is it as simple as profit? And is that why there are 60 forms of sugar in foods? Now, that didn’t used to be sweet.
Michael Moss [00:25:43] Yeah. I mean, you know, I still don’t even even after these two books, 10 years now crawling through the underbelly of this industry, I still I still don’t want to see them as this evil empire that intentionally set out to to to make us ill or overly dependent on their products. These are companies doing what all companies want to do, which is to make as much money as possible by selling as much product as possible. Well, I say all companies, but obviously it’s not all by making that product as attractive as possible. And I remember the head of Coca-Cola who became a terrific source of mine for for, Salt Sugar Fat the first book explained to me that, you know, when you’re when you’re in the throes of the battle with the competitor for space on the grocery store shelf or space in our stomachs, you’re not thinking about life and these big questions and anything but beating that competitor. And so even the people inside the industry became really good sources of mine because when they stepped away, then they could sort of reflect back on their life’s work. And many of them have come to have misgivings about their their life work. So not only do I not see the industry as a whole, is this outwardly evil thing, but the people making these products and selling themselves, some of them are terrific people. And they’re just not they’re not it’s not sort of paying attention to this or they try and fail within within within the company that, you know. And I think that’s an important thing to think of going forward, because now the question becomes, you know, to what extent, if any, can these companies what can they play any meaningful role going forward in helping us to change what we value in food and regain control of our eating habits? And and and I think the thing to remember is that these are not philanthropy’s. These are companies. And I don’t think we can be expecting them to do anything that’s going to affect their their bottom line.
Brilliant Miller [00:27:56] Yeah, that’s capitalism right there for sure. Well, I know your book is more of an exploration than it is much more of an exploration than any kind of prescriptive thing. It’s not a lifestyle guide. It’s not a diet book, you know, or anything like that. But I am curious, what what can we do? As individuals, how in the face of this one point five trillion dollar industry, how do we live?
Michael Moss [00:28:22] Yeah, I mean, you know, I think it depends on your circumstances and kind of where you are on that spectrum of dealing with food. I mean, I I met people who had incredible success, losing lots of weight, but then the nightmare began and their entire body was rebelling and trying to put their way back on. And they just have it. I mean, they are like drug addicts. They cannot go near the foods that trigger those responses. And this one gentleman, six or seven years later, and he’s still, you know, he’s got his menu written out on the refrigerator shopping list. He has a picture of himself when he was three hundred sixty pounds to remind him every hour of every day, he still has to work on and control. I mean, that’s kind of the extreme end. And then on the other end, it’s maybe somebody who just gets tripped up by food at three p.m. in the afternoon when they get a craving for what was the brand cookies you like to Larry and Lenny’s. And I think one of the lessons from looking at drug addiction is that for those. Maybe less problematic kind of cravings that come on episodically at one point in the day. One of the things I’ve learned from from the drug recovering addicts and the experts in it is that. It’s not just knowledge that you need, not just knowing that those things are tripping up, you need more than that and you need to plan ahead. You if it’s a 3:00 p.m. craving at 2:55, you probably need to be doing whatever alternate, you know, whatever system you have in place to sort of deal with that, whether it’s to get up and stretch or call a friend or help, help another kind of food, like a handful of nuts to because if you wait for the craving to come on again, the thinking part of your brain is in no way involved. But I think the bigger thing to do that maybe will be more interesting for you, for your listeners is that I think it’s going to require us to change what we value in food so that when we go into a Starbucks or we used to go to Starbucks and you see the pastry cabinet, you know, we’re looking at that from how that’s going to taste right now versus how is that going to work for me next summer when I put on a bathing suit or ten years down the road, when I get an echocardiogram on my heart and see how my health is, that’s all about sort of changing how we value food and what we think about when we eat and and and trying to find ways for us to make those decisions and not rely on the food companies to tell us what we value.
Brilliant Miller [00:31:19] Yeah, absolutely. And part of that sounds to me like that centuries old millennia now dictum know thyself right now, like you said, if that 3:00 p.m. craving comes on or you have a tendency in a certain place to do a certain thing, just set yourself up to win some of that easy. But it’s a it’s a process. I know pretty much all of life is a process. OK, because there’s so much more that I want to ask and explore with you, but let me ask you, what haven’t we talked about? It’s in this book that either surprise you or is something you think is most important for people to know or you just enjoy talking about. What haven’t we discussed yet?
Michael Moss [00:32:01] We haven’t talked about body fat, so this was a real eye opener to me, it gets to the question of free will and it gets to my own kind of instinctual bias. Before I started this research was to look at somebody who is really happy and I couldn’t help myself. But to think, where’s your executive function? Where’s willpower? Where’s personal responsibility in that? But here’s what happens when you gain weight. I had no idea that. And again, remember, we’re designed to put on weight body fat for most of our existence was a really great thing. It enabled our brains to grow and enabled us to get through hard times, famines, droughts that enabled us to have more babies, which of course, is what natural selection is all about. And it’s only in the last 50 years that body fat has become the public health problem that it is. I mean, we’re forty two percent obesity now for adults in this clinical obesity in this country and close to that and others. So it turns out that body fat is a living thinking organ that communicates with other parts of the body, sends signals back and forth, and its sole mission in life is to defend itself from any effort on your part to shrink it. So if you go into diet mode and try to eat less food, reduce the calorie intake, your body fat will send a signal to the brain that you are hungry where before wouldn’t have done. And not only that, but it will send signals to the rest of your body to slow down your metabolism so you’re burning less energy. So you’re going to have to eat half as much as food as you were before in order to sort of even stay at the same level. Right. But here’s the other thing that happens, is that a fabulous researcher out in Oregon named Eric Stice was the first person to discover that body fat can also make us more sensitive to the cues to the advertising from the food industry. He followed people as they grew older, putting them into brain scan machines and watched their reaction to looking at pictures of their favorite food and then getting a taste of, say, you know, a luscious chocolate milkshake on their tongues, much like the chocolate melting. That Dana Small did. And he saw that as those people in the group that was eating gained weight, they became much more sensitive to just seeing the food, tasting the food than they were before they gained weight. So the body fat was actually making them more vulnerable to food. Who knew? And so when you go back to the question of free will and our and our own kind of personal responsibility, I don’t have free will to control what my body fat is like screaming at my brain to do that was, for me, a turning point in my understanding about how incredibly difficult it is to to try to lose weight once you’ve gained too much to do with the change your habits after a lifetime of of of of habits that you don’t want to have anymore, you know, for your whole body is engaged and that not just our conscious brain.
Brilliant Miller [00:35:44] That part really surprised me to the whole exploration of fat. And about that, you included a sentence in there or so maybe a little more about the participants on The Biggest Loser, for example, who lost weight and then didn’t eat any more, but gained it back. And I’d always thought that fat was that simple equation of calories in, calories out. And I and your book changed my thinking on it’s not that simple. And I had no idea, like you’re saying, that fat itself was an organ that was basically in its own self-preservation mode.
Michael Moss [00:36:21] And that’s one of the things that drives me crazy about this whole area, too. And even more broadly about sort of science, there are so many questions we still don’t know about food and about process. I mean, I mentioned the researcher that well, did I mention so it was just two years ago a researcher at the NIH did this clinical study where he was able to show that a diet of ultra processed food in a randomized trial with two groups of people caused them to gain weight. Obesity started climbing in nineteen eighty. This is almost 50 years later when somebody finally has the wherewithal to look at that. Can we really say to processed food causes weight gain, but there are many other questions about processes that we don’t know the answer to liquids. There is some sense that we by nature, by evolution or not very well equipped to detect calories and deal metabolically with liquids. So look at the big surge in soda drinking that we had also sort of parallel to the track of obesity. But nobody’s done the studies in part because the companies to some extent the largest and control the science and control the regulators that might be funding. That’s the biggest frustration for me as a journalist, is like, where’s the science? Where’s the truth here? And who’s actually trying to get at these questions that are important to us, not the questions that are important to the companies.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:53] Yeah, some of those studies you you included in the book about some of the ridiculous findings that companies have found.
Michael Moss [00:38:03] You know, it’s laughable when they do studies, they’re looking for like a little thing to put on the front of the package. You know, like our cereal is going to make your kids smarter and get A’s on their test kind of thing.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:14] Yeah, that is remarkable. OK, so with your permission, I want to go ahead and transition us to the lightning lightning round. You ready? I am. OK, again, this is a series of brief questions on a variety of topics. OK, you’re welcome to answer as long as you want. My aim for the most part is to ask question and stand aside. OK, ok. Question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a…
Michael Moss [00:38:46] A rose unfolding in the summer time and that smell and the beauty and the promise of the future.
Brilliant Miller [00:38:59] Question number three, this one might be a stretch, but please go with me here. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say to everything?
Michael Moss [00:39:16] I don’t wear slogans on shirts, but what would the one slogan be? Be Thy Self. That’s such a cliche. But it’s the first thing that comes to mind, so I’ll go with that.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:29] OK, question number four, what book, other than one of your own have you gifted or recommended most often?
Michael Moss [00:39:37] Are. So I tend to focus on books related to my research. So this is going to have to be this is going to have to be in the field of evolution and food. And the book I’ve been talking to people the most about. Let me get the title for you and I’ll even hold it up. It’s the story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard. He’s a paleoanthropologist. He was the first person who impressed upon me that we by nature are fact creatures. And so much of what the companies are doing is tapping into that nature. So I love it. You know, and I love these paleoanthropologists, too, because they don’t have a lot to go on. They’re looking at bones and teeth because they’re bones. But there’s nothing else left when they’re looking at, you know, our forebears who died two million years ago. And they’re they’re having to sort of draw from that stories. And to some extent, they do have kind of a license to tell stories, of course, based on based on the facts that they know that. But but I love that world of trying to figure out who we were and where we came from and how we changed over the over the eons.
Brilliant Miller [00:41:09] Yeah. You know that it is remarkable to me to think that there have been you know, we have ancestors that have been eating for at least four million years and how that has changed. And by the way, just to blow up my own lightning round for a moment, to go back to the conversation about obesity is one of the eye opening. Things I took away from your book was about how historically when we ate, we would feel this feeling of fullness if we were able to achieve it because of that, the water or the fiber. Right. And we would get the sense like, hey, your bellies full, quit eating. But today, when we’re eating a high like a high concentration of processed foods, by the time we feel that same full feeling, it’s like we’ve way overdone it.
Michael Moss [00:41:51] Like there used to be a rule of thumb of like 20 minutes. It sort of takes you, takes your stomach 20 minutes to sort of catch up to your eating. Which becomes problematic when you’re talking about these calorically dense products that have tons of calories in a sort of small amount where the stomach may never, never catch up.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:10] Yeah, and you mentioned somewhere in the book about like in the nineteen thirties, there was concern in the United States about we’re not getting enough nutrients, we’re just not getting enough, we’re not eating enough food, we’re not doing enough food with the nutrients and now we’re eating too much food. We’re still not getting the nutrients. But it’s not because we’re not getting enough is just because we’re eating the wrong ones.
Michael Moss [00:42:29] Right. People call it sort of undernutrition. You can overeat and still and still under nutrify yourself, if you will, which is a huge problem. And people don’t have enough money to sort of go shopping for real food. They’re getting calories, but they’re not getting everything else that their body needs to thrive.
Brilliant Miller [00:42:51] Yeah, these things. Again, I think while and what you point to, it’s so important to recognize the economic realities that some of us face. It’s not just a Whole Foods and go to these aisles and so forth. It’s not always that easy for people. But at the same time, when we don’t even have the awareness of it right, we’re not likely to be able to eat healthily or intelligently or whatever. And that’s part of what I appreciate about your work, is the awareness that it’s opened up for me.
Michael Moss [00:43:17] And even when we are aware, look, there are there are mothers who take their family to McDonald’s to eat dinner because it’s the only place they can afford and get their family together to sit down at the table. They know it’s not good for their health, but they know it’s incredibly good for their other parts of their lives and their family cohesion and the and the power you get from from from dining as a family. So just imagine that situation of being feeling, you know, forced to eat there for the for the benefits of dining with you, with your with your kids or your spouse. Now.
Brilliant Miller [00:44:03] All right, so thanks for that diversion here. Come back to the lightning round, the question number five. This is the good old days when we traveled. But I recognize in your life you’ve traveled a lot. What’s one? Travel hack, meaning something you do or something you take with you and you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable.
Michael Moss [00:44:25] When I’m on a plane. I always turn to the person next to me. I haven’t flown during the pandemic yet, but. This is before and and ask them if they’re from the place I’m going and I’ll ask them for two eating recommendations or something like what’s the what’s the fanciest place to eat in the town or country you’re from? And also like, what’s like the cheapest great food that I should look for as well. And I would you know, I would certainly go for the cheap food, but when I could afford it myself and I would also sort of seek out the fancy place was I would also always ask advice about food, because you can tell so much about people in the country and from from what they eat and how they and how they look at food.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:14] How for sure. That’s fine. Thanks for that.
Brilliant Miller [00:45:17] Just question number six. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Michael Moss [00:45:23] To do so, I’m training to climb mountains. Believe it or not, I just turned 65. It’s not like a traditional bucket list because I used to do that when I was older. So it’s more like reverting back to my my younger days. But and I don’t even want to go into my training regimen because it’ll seem totally crazy, but. But I’m noticing I mean, I’m actually more fit now than I have been in a long time, and I’m I’m noticing that exercise, even if it’s just walking or doing a couple of pushups, is so good for you as you age, your balance, your view of the of life, your your eating habits. Look, hopefully we’ve all learned now that you can’t jog off junk food. It just doesn’t work that way. But it can change your mind. And the value that you put into the foods know so me right now, especially in the pandemic, because it’s been one thing I could focus on is exercise and sort of training my body to to get back into the shape I was years and years ago has been has been really fun and terrific.
Brilliant Miller [00:46:52] That is so awesome. What what mountains are you trying to climb?
Michael Moss [00:46:56] Oh, my gosh. So believe it or not, when I was in my 20s, I was on Mount Everest when it was still cool to climb Mt. Everest. I was a journalist. I didn’t get to the top, but I did get to Camp three, which is about a little shy of twenty four thousand feet. And I stopped climbing for a while and I did some other kind of adventurous sports. But but recently I did a little rock climbing with my 16 year old and then my oldest, who’s in college now. We went to Kilimanjaro, which is sort of more of a hike, but that was so much fun. So summer, I got the idea of climbing what’s considered to be one of the coldest mountains in the world. It’s Denali in Alaska. It’s only twenty thousand feet or so. But but we’re trying to do I think I should know better. No, it’s in two months. But the latitude is, is it so far north of the equator that you know, where people have climbed it in the winter and have seen wind chills of one hundred and forty degrees below zero. So it’s kind of crazy cold. And you also the reason I’m training is that there are no Sherpas on Denali and you don’t get help from porters carrying your stuff. You have to carry all your stuff up and down the mountain many times as you try to progress to the top so that and I also want to go back to the Himalayas and see some places I didn’t see before, it’s awesome.
Brilliant Miller [00:48:35] The sounds amazing. You can see the northern lights from there, right?
Michael Moss [00:48:38] So. Oh, yeah. Where you can see those from ground level too. You don’t have to go climbing to see those. But yeah, I mean, Alaska is kind of in my family. My sister, older sister was born in Fairbanks, you know, under the Northern Lights. So so it’s been a place that I go back to for wilderness and for, you know, just just that incredible feeling of being out there.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:05] And I really admire and acknowledge you for that. I know before we started the recording and even in my invitation letter for this podcast, I shared with you that my dad died at sixty four years old, which when I was 18, I thought 30 was old.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:19] And now that I’m past 40, I don’t think 60 sounds old at all. And I love that you’re now older than my dad was when he passed and you’re active and healthy.
Michael Moss [00:49:32] I’m so sorry for the loss. And and the thing is, I mean, I’m not doing it to live longer. I’m just doing it to enjoy, you know, how many years I have left better. So. Right.
Brilliant Miller [00:49:48] OK, question number seven, what’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Michael Moss [00:49:56] So I’m going to stick to food. Oh, gosh, such a cliche, you know, because it’s all I’ve been writing about. I wish they knew that they do have the power to change what they value. It may not be easy. There’s going to be huge. I wish they knew that they they should have the right to be able to change what they value because so many of us can’t because of our life circumstances. But but I wish that they knew that, yes, the playing field for them should be level as it is for for others. And that that should be a God given right. Is the is the is the chance to sort of make your own decisions and make your own way through to the world. So it makes sense.
Brilliant Miller [00:50:53] Yeah, that makes sense. Thank you for that. OK, question number eight, coming down the stretch is the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Michael Moss [00:51:03] Oh, boy. You know, it’s it’s being there for people when they need to do something I always haven’t always been good at. But I think that that fundamentally is where you really take a relationship with people. And it’s almost like pain and suffering has. That’s one good aspect of it, because it has the has the offers the opportunity to sort of deepen a relationship with somebody else. And I and when I do manage to be there for somebody else, even when it’s difficult for me to do that, I’m doing something else and I have to break away and spend time with them. It’s so rewarding. And and it just it just changes the dynamics of that relationship. So so it’s like you almost want to be looking for those opportunities where where you can step in and just offer a hand.
Brilliant Miller [00:52:06] Beautiful. OK, and the last question here is about money, aside from compound interest, what’s most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about money or what something you always do with it or you never do with it?
Michael Moss [00:52:18] Well, I think the only good financial decision I ever made was to buy a house 20 years ago, which just has naturally appreciated. I mean, literally, I’m like the worst. I never balanced my checkbook. You know, I was fortunate in being able to live within my means and not have debt, which is a huge burden on so many people. So I feel incredibly lucky in that in that regard. But but but but you from just a stupid practical thing, it was like owning a little real estate just happened to be like where I am in Brooklyn, New York, just sort of happened to be. That said, I have no intention of selling this house. And so it’s a little bit of a you know, it’s a little bit of this obscure thing as much, you know, it doesn’t really matter what the house is worth because I’m not going anywhere either. So but it sort of gave me that security and I could totally get it to draw toward sort of home ownership that we have.
Brilliant Miller [00:53:24] Is an American dream right there. Likely part of it anyway. That’s great. OK. And if people want to learn more from you. So after this, by the way, I do have a few questions about writing and creativity. But before we get to that and make sure I ask this, if people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, assuming you’re OK with them doing so, what would you have them do?
Michael Moss [00:53:47] I would have them. Not call, but send an electronic note, email. I mean, I’m on social media, I have a website where they can communicate it. That’s kind of the best way, because the thing about email is I can look at it when of the time is right. You know, it’s like a phone call is great and it can lead to a phone conversation or an in-person conversation. But but email is really kind of, I think, the easiest for everybody.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:22] And people can find that on mossbooks.us is your website, email address there. And then you said you’re on Twitter, you’re on LinkedIn.
Michael Moss [00:54:31] I would love to hear from your audience.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:34] Awesome. OK, thank you. OK, and as an expression of as an expression of gratitude to you, Michael, for making time to share your experience and your wisdom with me and everyone listening, I’ve gone on Kiva.org, the micro lending site, and I’ve made one hundred dollar microloan to a group of women entrepreneurs who are in Senegal. It’s a group of eight women who grow rice and they will use this money to lease a field, buy fertilizer and then pay for other related expenses. So thank you for giving me a reason to do that.
Michael Moss [00:55:05] Fantastc, I went on Kiva not long after they were formed. It’s been a few years and donated to a woman who is making peanut butter, I think was peanut butter, something like that as far as her business. And I thought that’s just like the most fantastic thing. And it’s a it’s a food. It’s healthy for you if you don’t have allergies. And I loved I love that organization and their their ability to get money to places where it’s been used effectively and come hundred dollars can change a life in these places.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:42] I know. I often think about.
Michael Moss [00:55:43] Thank you so much.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:44] Right now it’s my as my pleasure. And I know for the price of a tank of gas or a meal eating out, you know that this makes a significant difference for others. And I love that it’s not charity, meaning there’s no strings, there’s no some. But nobody’s coming in saying, here’s what you’ve got to do. It’s trusting their own wisdom and in ability and make it happen. Yeah. Awesome. OK, so the last few questions I have for you, as I said, deal with writing creative process. I want to start with this question. When did you first know yourself as a writer? When did you first know you were a writer?
Michael Moss [00:56:23] Kind of when I figured out it would be hard to do anything else, I went to a competitive high school in San Francisco. I’m not quite sure how I got in, but. I did have a class in English journalism, and she was going to be teaching us like what reporters do and we had to go out and a little notepad and pen and take some notes and come back and kind of write that up into a news story, which I didn’t really know it was. But she came over to me, this teacher, and said to me simply, Hey, Michael, I think you have a knack for this. And that was kind of one of the kindest things in my you know, my chemistry teacher shouldn’t say that to say that to me. So by pure chance, you know, of of having that positive feedback in that area, I kind of go, OK, you have to look at this. And then and then I realized people would pay your money to wander around the world meeting people and asking questions, and you would have to pay the price by the sweat and blood when it actually came to writing that, you know, that knowledge down. But that’s when I really got hooked on being a journalist, was realizing, wow, that’s a great job.
Brilliant Miller [00:57:47] Wow. So it sounds like this teacher had a huge impact on your development as a as a as a writer. Who else has been influential and and how what have you learned from others?
Michael Moss [00:57:58] Every newspaper I worked at there would be like an editor who would who would teach me other writers. When I worked at a small newspaper, I used to I used to look at the big newspapers and try to diagram the stories that they wrote to kind of figure out, like the reporting method and how they did it. And when I really got crazy, I would take my own stories after they were published in the small paper and try to make them better, edit them kind of myself. So. So the editing process of writing is, is you, whether you’re your own editor or you’re finding people better than you can, you could edit your work. And boy, that was certainly true with the last book I read. I had not one I had three editors at Random House helping me with Hooked in their own sort of way. Yes. So that’s been that’s been the ongoing huge part of of my ability to write.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:00] I just want to point out, maybe for those who don’t have as much experience with writing, this is nothing to say about Michael’s ability as a writer. But instead, I think it’s a very high compliment that his publisher would devote three editors to.
Michael Moss [00:59:13] Well, part of it is I took so long. You mentioned five years ago I took one of my editors in the time or I was trying to still figure out the narrative arc and where I’m putting the knife into these companies she conceived, had and partly raised a kid. So so she left to do that, then another editor and then a second editor for kind of his big picture. But they would say they would say everything from Michael, find another word here or, you know, this metaphor is really not working. And dig deeper to these two chapters. I think we can pretty much through these two chapters. Are you kidding me? Yeah. So they are they’re the best. And going into writing books, I actually didn’t you know, a lot of writers, it’s difficult because publishing houses, being profitable companies don’t always have the resources to help writers with with with good editing. And so so I’ve been really lucky in that sense and fortunate to have good editors, brilliant editors and also also the attention from from them.
Brilliant Miller [01:00:29] What a blessing. What have you learned about knowing when to trust yourself versus when to rely on an editor’s input when they say, hey, these two chapters are this word or anything else, how do you know when to hold firm and when to give in, so to speak?
Michael Moss [01:00:46] I almost always give in and defer. I have picked very few fights with editors over the years and I just think that they know what they’re doing. I mean, that’s, you know, they’re they’re professionals. They have lots of experience. And that’s just kind of my nature to think that people with more experience than me are looking at it from another perspective. That’s the thing about editing is that they’re looking at this from another perspective that I’ve probably lost touch with. And one of my greatest challenges in writing a book like this that has a gazillion facts and heavy science is that I’ll get lost in the weeds and I’ll forget that people don’t know what a calorie is. And so editors are brilliant at being able to know when to drill and explain or when to focus in on a on a moment to tell the narrative. And we’re going to sort of pull back into the big picture thing. And, you know, it’s not that they’re smarter than me, but it’s it’s they’re looking at this with a fresh set of eyes. And that’s invaluable. And I almost always defer to their judgment.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:03] How did you how did you think about including your own voice? Because I loved hearing the little little insertions about what you ate as a kid, whether it was Pop Tarts and Kool-Aid or whether your mom told you to take 20 minutes and let your stomach, you know, catch up with your brain or whatever. But obviously, it’s not written in a first person like travelog or anything like that. But you could have easily left yourself out. In fact, some teachers say I is the worst word you can use in writing, so forth. But how did you navigate or how did you think about including yourself in the book?
Michael Moss [01:02:42] I also am trained not to put myself in stories and the I word that’s changing in journalism now and places like The New York Times, especially The New York Times Magazine, it’s all I first person. I think they think it’s a way of connecting to the reader. And maybe part of that is connecting. I think I just found that those and I don’t think there are many of the kind of those few situations. I understood that moment so deeply that my own experience was kind of just the best way of telling them when I when I went into that Kellogg’s factory in Battle Creek, Michigan, and they were experimenting with a new pop tart recipe that failed and they were dumping the pop tart dough into the bin. And that aroma wafted across the factory floor and went into my brain and immediately took me back 50 years when I was a latchkey kid coming home from elementary school and having Pop Tarts. You know, I could probably get that same kind of story from interviewing one hundred people, but I felt that myself and so frankly was a lot easier to sort of tell through my own sense. But I think also also richer, maybe just a little bit of a way of connecting to to the reader to and sort of saying, hey, we’re all in this together.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:08] Yeah, I enjoyed that and appreciate it. And I love hearing you talk about it. Now, just saying, look, I thought it would basically I thought it would serve the reader best not to do it this way. And ultimately, you know, in a big way, that’s what this is about. Right. So you mentioned going into that factory and this one of the delights for me of reading your work is that you do have access that many of us will never have. And I’m curious to know, like earlier in this conversation, you mentioned that attorney at Philip Morris or your source, I think you called him a Coca-Cola head of Coca-Cola at one time and so forth. How have you established, nurtured, maintained this quality kind of relationship with people that allows you to write about the things you write about with such authority?
Michael Moss [01:05:02] So I think that’s actually a fundamental aspect of journalism is sort of investigative journalism, is that it’s it’s incumbent upon us to do everything we can to sort of understand where the person we’re writing about is coming from to step in their shoes. My parents used to tell me that, look, if you’re being critical of somebody stuck in their shoes for a second and look at the world as they’re looking at it. And so I would go into these interviews with these people who were inventing and marketing these products, of course, with a boatload of internal documents. That showed me a lot about what they were doing and that probably in large part convinced them to talk to me, but also but also with an attitude of not being there to torture them and to judge them, but to really kind of understand where they’re coming from. And I think they could tell that. I think they could sense and and and it’s incredibly fair and it’s a great way of going, but it’s also very effective there. Someone’s much more apt to open up and tell you secrets if they think you’re sincere in wanting to spend the time to sort of understand the context of that. And these people, you know, the context was for many of them, they had invented these products in a more innocent era, you know, the 60s, 70s, when we we consider things like Lunchables to be an occasional treat and not an everyday thing. And and this could sort of defend themselves in that regard to the system. Got out of control when you know. But but, yeah, I think it’s just having that natural empathy that I do as a person, but also as a as a journalist and just wanting to understand rather than immediately judge somebody.
Brilliant Miller [01:07:10] That’s powerful.
Brilliant Miller [01:07:12] What what habits and routines do you have when it comes to writing? Is there anything for you that is like a non-negotiable? You start writing at a certain time, have a certain word count in any session where a certain set of slippers or anything? Like what? What habits and routines do you follow?
Michael Moss [01:07:28] Well, I have a whiteboard. The next book is up there, so I can’t go focus in on it, but it’s it’s I’m starting to think about the next book and I’m starting to write words and I make lists and I go, like, what are the big themes? What are the basement’s notes in this this book that I want to pursue? And why why would people be interested in reading it? So so I keep a white book or notepads where I just like write lists of things and ideas as the as as as I gather them. I’m a morning person, so I always get up and write in the morning when I’m still when my brain is still really fresh. And for both of these books, typically what I would do is I would write in the morning and then report in the afternoon, gather more facts for the next day’s writing and then in the evening organize the day’s work. So I’m ready just to kind of sit down and let the creative juices run. And my other favorite thing to do is when I can run it and when I can run in the morning instead of writing. It’s so great because whatever problem I was working on the evening before, the day before, just that that act of getting oxygen to the brain and sort of clearing my head, I find that the problem was sort of solve itself. I’ll think of that word that was missing or the phrasing. And in fact, I often I started carrying like a phone with notes in it so I could write it down so I would forget that before the end of the run. So so that act of stepping up and walking away, clearing your head and then coming back where you’re going running or exercise or just whatever I think is is really is really important. And lastly, not to belabor the point, but one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from writers give students. People new to writing is the writer’s block, we often when we’re starting out a project, that first sentence can be so intimidating, right. Because, you know, you know, brilliant authors write. You know, we look at those first sentences that go, oh, wow, how did they do that? I know I’m going to do that. So this advice came from a former colleague of mine at The New York Times and she said she was a real writer. I mean, I’m more of a reporter than I am a writer. But she she goes, you know, you just have to let that first sentence be ugly. Don’t try to make it perfect. Just put it down on paper. You know, relax, take a big breath, write the next sentence. You’ll come back and make it beautiful and powerful and as good as you can. But just get it down and don’t worry, it will be ugly. It’s ugly for all of us. So, yeah, be comfortable with that ugliness of the first sentence. And I was things like really great, really great advice.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:41] Yeah, I think so. And the coach in me thinks there’s like a metaphor there for life as well, just about acceptance and self compassion and all of that, all work in progress and all that.
Michael Moss [01:10:52] So that’s great. I have trouble with that self compassion. You know, I’m also learning to play the cello better for two years now. If I knew how hard it was going into it, there was no way I would have started is the hardest. It’s harder than journalism, harder than raising a family. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done because you’ve got this part of it’s the bow and there’s the fingers on the on the on the strings. There’s no like guidance for that. You have to you’re building you’re building memory tracks to try to remember this and the flow. And professional cellists who have been at it all their lives are still learning. There’s like no end to it. And it’s really hard to pick yourself up and go, oh, my gosh, two years now. And I’m still like, I’m getting so many bad notes in. And I’m learning from my fellow cello players that self compassion is really, really important. So I’m learning I’m trying to learn how to be a little more compassionate with my own my own self.
Brilliant Miller [01:11:58] What prompted you to pick up a cello?
Michael Moss [01:12:01] My youngest son, Will, who is 16, has been playing the violin since he was in first grade. And I thought what would a cool thing it would be to play some stuff together? No cello, violin. And of course, he was a little younger when I started, and now he’s like a full blown teenager. And there’s like no way he’s going to play with his father. But down the road, you know, I’m sure he’ll get older and, you know, we’ll have that moment.
Brilliant Miller [01:12:32] Are there any tools or technology that you have come to rely on, whether something like Evernote, you know, Scrivner, anything, Trello, any apps or software or good old fashioned analog tools that you that you rely on as a writer?
Michael Moss [01:12:50] Because tools if the saurus I moved from like a hard copy fossas to the online version. But, you know, I work on a simple word program, mostly on my laptop, know worrying about body posture more than kind of anything in terms of. In fact, that can have on your on your on your fingers and your wrists, but yeah, I knew well, the biggest tool, of course, as a reporter is or search engines. I mean, it’s unbelievable what you can find, you know, in search engines, the soldiers that opens with this meeting of the heads of the largest food companies in the world, getting together almost like mafia dons to privately discuss their culpability and obesity and diabetes. And this is a way back in nineteen ninety nine, I first saw some notes on that meeting through a Google search, just popped up out of nowhere, which took me into this public but totally unknown archive of inside documents within the companies. It’s just kind of staggering too much to me. How much as a journalist, how much is sort of out there, if you know what you’re looking for. And that’s one of the things and started a new book. What I’m doing is I’m I’m looking for the language of the subject that I’m writing about. I’m looking for those technical words because the problem with a Google search is like, what do you search for? But knowing the language that, say, food executives use and talking to one another privately will help you sort of narrow down that search and get into the world and find those luscious documents that are out there. So, yeah, search engines would be my biggest tool.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:45] You probably know all kinds of filters and special techniques to just extract the most from those search engines. I’ll bet that’s good.
Michael Moss [01:14:53] You know.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:54] OK, so the last last questions here, when it comes to writing or creativity, have we not talked about and I I understand, by the way, that you are or have been a professor of journalism writing at least an adjunct to.
Michael Moss [01:15:10] So so I mentioned I consider myself more as a as a reporter than a writer. What does that mean? I mean, I. I think there is absolutely no way I could sit down and write a novel because, well, unless it was a fully reported novel, I mean, for for pleasure, I read crime novels and and those authors sometimes will spend huge amounts of time reporting out the facts, but then they’ll creatively turn it into the fiction. I mean, I see them as like real writers as writers. I mean, I have to accumulate a mass of powerful, surprising facts in order to be able to write. And then the writing just kind of takes care of itself. I’m just telling a story with these facts, and the narrative arc kind of takes care of itself, too. So I don’t think of myself as a writer. So, yes, for 10 years, I was an adjunct at at the journalism school at Columbia, teaching reporters, students how to become reporters. So it was basic stuff. Here’s a notepad. Here’s a pen. Go out and find me a story kind of thing.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:25] That’s pretty cool. What advice or encouragement do you give those who are either currently in the process of writing a book or it’s a dream they’ve been harboring and haven’t yet really taken the steps to do it? What do you what advice or encouragement do you give those who have want to write their own book?
Michael Moss [01:16:44] So so with the students, my thought was always that when the most powerful things you can bring to journalism is curiosity, and if you have curiosity about something, you’re halfway home to to being a really good journalist. And and maybe that’s sort of true with writers, too. But but if you’re at the point where you have an idea, you’ve already passed that threshold. You’ve been curious about something enough to allow it to sort of affect you and kind of in kind of a deep in a deep way. I’m a very practical person. I think about journalism in terms of reaching a fairly large number of people. And so I will always ask, like, what’s the story I want to tell here? What’s the publishers talk about the elevator pitch? If you’re in an elevator with the person or Random House who has the big bag of money to pay authors to write, what are you going to say to them in the time it takes you to sort of go up and down the elevator and a floor, you know? What’s that what’s what would you say to your mother if you called her up the phone about this book you want to write? What’s the what’s the real essence of that? And I think that would be that would be my first advice is think hard about what that would be and sort of get that fixed in your in your head as a starting point. And, you know, ask yourself is, is that an idea that that people would want to read? And you may be a writer who doesn’t care about having a big audience and writing a book for five people is incredibly honorable. A great thing to do if you can. And so, so so don’t get be wrong. You don’t have to adopt my sort of method. But for me, I’m looking for ideas that mean a lot to a lot of people and could potentially level the playing field in their in their lives. But it’s it’s focusing in on what what do I want to say with this, what I want to say with this book, what I want, what I want people to take away more than anything.
Brilliant Miller [01:19:01] All right. Well, thank you for that. OK, well, is there anything related to writing or creativity? I know we didn’t we didn’t explore really into marketing and promotion or publishing persay movies or anything else. Just I know you’ve learned so much in your years on all these topics there. Anything final, things that we didn’t talk about that you think might be a contribution to our listeners?
Michael Moss [01:19:24] Everybody I mean, this is this is just a cliche. But, you know, as a journalist, what you do when you first started, you read everything. I mean, you have to know, especially an investigative reporter, you have to know what’s been written in part to just because you can’t repeat that, but also to find really good sources who maybe I’ve talked to are willing to sort of talk to talk to journalists. And I know that’s got to be true for somebody who’s writing fiction or nonfiction. Right. It’s just you have to be a reader. And and I know my own kids. We were all about encouraging our kids. I read to both of my boys and they were still in the room on the notion that, you know, they would pop out, you know, be curious about books and indeed, as kids that, you know, as they grew up, I mean, I would like, you know, they’d be going to bed and I’d lie down next to them and we’d be reading, you know, Lord of the Rings or something. And I would fall asleep before they would, of course. But just that connection of of reading and getting them excited. And that’s what you want to do with yourself to, of course, keep that excitement going by reading, by reading other people’s work.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:41] That’s awesome. I wish my dad had done that with me or climbed Denali with me and met with me. But I’m I really acknowledge you for that as well. What a gift.
Brilliant Miller [01:20:52] OK, well, we are at the end of our time and again, I’ve enjoyed it so much. I love books. I learned so much from it. There’s things that I’m telling all my friends about it. I’ve concluded it and can quickly email. I’ll leave my Google Review. It’s my Amazon review today. I’m going to be this and I think so. I’ve stars, but thank you my much.
Michael Moss [01:21:13] Thank you. Really. I really enjoyed this. I love what you’re doing. Yeah. I mean, you’re making a difference in people’s lives, which is just fabulous. I’m so glad we got to meet and talk.
Brilliant Miller [01:21:29] Yeah, me too. And thanks for being a part of that. I’m really grateful for that.
Michael Moss [01:21:33] You know that.
Brilliant Miller [01:21:40] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for Good Living podcast. Before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety of loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better. Consider signing up for the School for Good Livings Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve got married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be, do, have and give more visit good living dotcom to learn more or to sign up today.
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