A Comment on The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food
Junk food addiction -let me sum it up before I even get started. Know what you are putting in your mouth and don’t trust strangers whose motivation is maximizing their profits by getting you to eat as much of their products as you could possibly stuff into your mouth.
The article The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss which is currently published in the New York Times online edition is a well researched and written piece. It is also long, which means few of the people who really need to know what it says will read it. No problem: I read it for you.
Building a Junk Food Addiction
The story discusses processed food industry insiders who have worked to create foods that would be so good that people would not just like them, but would love and crave more and more of them. Most of the people interviewed for the story came forward because they saw what these foods were doing to the public in terms of obesity in both adults and children along with all of the associated health problems.
The author starts off by describing a meeting in 1999 between “11 men who controlled America’s largest food companies.” A handful of executives and food scientists from these companies wanted to discuss their dismay about the growing obesity epidemic and their companies’ contributions to this problem. The result could easily be predicted, responsibility lost to profit. But people will eat what they want to eat, you might say, but is it what they want if it is a junk food addiction? Do the people know what they are eating and are they counting on the goodness of the companies’ scientists and executives to keep them safe? Maybe the Food and Drug administration will protect them?
The FDA will make sure that peanuts contaminated with salmonella during processing get recalled after several people die and enough get sick to make the connection. Are you going to count on them to run tests on food to see if it has long term affects on you? One of the concerns that these company food scientists had was “…the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still.” I’m hungry and I want a snack to hold me over until my next meal, little did I know that the snack is designed to make me want to eat more. It’s designed to create and feed a junk food addiction. Isn’t that the opposite of what I was looking for?
The author found “a conscious effort – taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles – to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.” So what is wrong with cheap and convenient food? Nothing by itself, but in order to make the food tasty they add three main things: Sugar, Salt and Fat. Yes, we have been eating those three things through all eternity. It is the amounts of those three ingredients that make you crave more. We already know that too much salt causes hypertension and too much sugar causes diabetes and that obesity (you know – too much fat!) can cause those same problems and more.
It’s a question of perception. Everyone knows if you eat a ton of ice cream, that you will get fat. That’s probably why our office doesn’t have a Ben & Jerry’s vending machine. I need a little something to get me through until lunch, how about a pint of Rocky Road. Maybe if I am really depressed I would, but no, it’s not normal. Chips, cookies, ‘power’ bars and sugary drinks. That’s what’s in the vending machine and being pushed on you. Snacks are very normal which is why it is so easy to develop that junk food addiction.
A friend of mine took a snack out of his desk the other day. I took it and started reading the ingredients and just from the look on my face, he knew. “I don’t read labels,” he said. But why? If someone walked up to you and handed you something and said eat this, would you? No! You would ask what it was, what is in it? If you trusted the person then you might eat it. So a company like Pillsbury or Nabisco (basically a group of strangers) makes a product: a cookie, a cracker, popcorn covered with something they called cheese. They package it and sell it to you in the grocery store and you will eat it without even looking at what it’s made of. Here eat this, it’s good! Don’t worry about it! Okay, you’re probably not going to eat it and keel over, but after 20 years of eating stuff like it odds are your going to gain 50-100 pounds and develop diabetes or heart disease and at that point when you die, did the food kill you? Is it the food company’s fault? Did you commit suicide by partially hydrogenated vegetable oil? Will those executives care about you twenty years from now? No, they just care about feeding your junk food addiction now.
You can’t always know who is making what you’re eating and if they care about your long term health. But that’s really your job anyway. What do you know about nutrition? Why are you grabbing a snack before lunch? Are you really hungry, or bored, or is your body telling you that it isn’t getting enough vital nutrients from the crap that you are feeding it? Is your junk food addiction satisfying your hunger or is it starving and slowly destroying your body?
You have the right to eat anything you want. Nobody can stop you from eating, any more than they can stop you from smoking. The tobacco companies have been putting warning labels on their cigarette packs since I was a kid, yet I still see plenty of people lighting up. Maybe what the labels should say is “It is highly likely that our product will slowly (but sometimes not so slowly) kill you from the inside out and once you start using it, it is designed to keep you coming back for more.” Hey kid smoking is really cool! Have one, it’s great, but before you smoke the first one, read the warning label we put on it so that we can avoid any liability when it kills you. I don’t read labels, do you have a light? And pass the Twinkies!