WOW. Did you guys read this article from the New York Times Magazine? It’s maybe a bit lengthy – although if you read my blog, you obviously don’t mind wordiness, haha – but so interesting. I really want to encourage you to read it yourself, so I’m not going to summarize it so much as pull out a few things I found particularly interesting. I’d love you to share your thoughts as well. So go on. Go read it. I’ll wait.
Some staggering quotes:
“On the evening of April 8, 1999, a long line of Town Cars and taxis pulled up to the Minneapolis headquarters of Pillsbury and discharged 11 men who controlled America’s largest food companies. Nestlé was in attendance, as were Kraft and Nabisco, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Mars. Rivals any other day, the C.E.O.’s and company presidents had come together for a rare, private meeting.”
I’m throwing in this quote just for the reminder that our entire nation’s food supply is controlled by a very small handful of companies. Throw in Tyson’s and Monsanto and that could have been a real party…
“Under his [Stephan Sanger's] leadership, General Mills had overtaken not just the cereal aisle but other sections of the grocery store. The company’s Yoplait brand had transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert. It now had twice as much sugar per serving as General Mills’ marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms. And yet, because of yogurt’s well-tended image as a wholesome snack, sales of Yoplait were soaring [emphasis mine], with annual revenue topping $500 million… [T]he company’s development wing pushed even harder, inventing a Yoplait variation that came in a squeezable tube — perfect for kids. They called it Go-Gurt and rolled it out nationally in the weeks before the C.E.O. meeting. (By year’s end, it would hit $100 million in sales.)”
One of many foods that people blindly assume is healthy, just because part of the name sounds like something that once used to be a nourishing, traditional food…
“Today, one in three adults is considered clinically obese, along with one in five kids, and 24 million Americans are afflicted by type 2 diabetes, often caused by poor diet, with another 79 million people having pre-diabetes. Even gout, a painful form of arthritis once known as ‘the rich man’s disease’ for its associations with gluttony, now afflicts eight million Americans.”
Not to mention ADHD, allergies of all kinds, increased mental illness, decreased dental health, cancer rates skyrocketing…
“What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was 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.”
“[Howard] Moskowitz who studied mathematics and holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Harvard, runs a consulting firm in White Plains, where for more than three decades he has ‘optimized’ a variety of products for Campbell Soup, General Foods, Kraft and PepsiCo. ‘I’ve optimized soups,’ Moskowitz told me. ‘I’ve optimized pizzas. I’ve optimized salad dressings and pickles. In this field, I’m a game changer.’ “
Nothing like feeling like a huge pawn in this guy’s game…
“One thing Gladwell didn’t mention is that the food industry already knew some things about making people happy — and it started with sugar. Many of the Prego sauces — whether cheesy, chunky or light — have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. A mere half-cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as two-plus Oreo cookies.”
Wow. More than two Oreos’ worth of sugar for a HALF CUP of sauce.
“… [H]e [Moskowitz] had no qualms about his own pioneering work on discovering what industry insiders now regularly refer to as ‘the bliss point’ or any of the other systems that helped food companies create the greatest amount of crave [empasis mine]. ‘There’s no moral issue for me,’ he said. ‘I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature…’ “
We’re really in trouble when it’s OK to say you don’t have the luxury of being a moral creature…
“…This contradiction is known as ‘sensory-specific satiety.’ In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.”
This was eye-opening to me about how teenagers’ palates (or that of younger kids that have already been exposed to a ton of junk food) react to real food. Makes sense, right?
“Using cheese was the next obvious move, given its increased presence in processed foods. But what kind of cheese would work? Natural Cheddar… crumbled and didn’t slice very well, so they moved on to processed varieties, which could bend and be sliced and would last forever, or they could knock another two cents off per unit by using an even lesser product called ‘cheese food…’ “
Stupid real cheese, not being able to bend and “last forever.”
“With production costs trimmed and profits coming in, the next question was how to expand the franchise, which they did by turning to one of the cardinal rules in processed food: When in doubt, add sugar.”
“A year later, the dessert Lunchable morphed into the Fun Pack, which would come with a Snickers bar, a package of M&M’s or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, as well as a sugary drink. The Lunchables team started by using Kool-Aid and cola and then Capri Sun after Philip Morris [parent company] added that drink to its stable of brands. Eventually, a line of the trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had… 13 teaspoons of sugar.”
For lunch. Thirteen.
“When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. ‘One article said something like, “If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.” ‘
Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. ‘You bet,’ he said. ‘Plus cookies.’ “
Doesn’t he seem pleased with himself? (Note: Of course I’m not against consuming fat, and children in particular need it for all manner of things from brain development to hormone production. I am against pushing rancid, denatured, health-robbing factory fat on our kids.)
“Back at the start, Drane [then a VP at Oscar Mayer] experimented with fresh carrots but quickly gave up on that, since fresh components didn’t work within the constraints of the processed-food system, which typically required weeks or months of transport and storage before the food arrived at the grocery store [emphasis mine].”
“Across the Lunchables line… new versions, featuring mandarin-orange and pineapple slices, were in development. These would be promoted as more healthful versions, with “fresh fruit,” but their list of ingredients — containing upward of 70 items, with sucrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and fruit concentrate all in the same tray — have been met with intense criticism from outside the industry.”
The entire Lunchables section was amazing. Hard to pick just a few quotes.
“The baby boomers were not eating fewer salty snacks as they aged. ‘In fact, as those people aged, their consumption of all those segments — the cookies, the crackers, the candy, the chips — was going up,’ Riskey [an expert on cravings and fellow at the Monell Chemical Senses Center] said. ‘They were not only eating what they ate when they were younger, they were eating more of it.’ In fact, everyone in the country, on average, was eating more salty snacks than they used to. The rate of consumption was edging up about one-third of a pound every year, with the average intake of snacks like chips and cheese crackers pushing past 12 pounds a year. Riskey had a theory about what caused this surge: Eating real meals had become a thing of the past.”
This is terrifying. It looks like that theory that kids will grow out of eating junk food may not fly. And eating meals is not only a thing of the past, but seems to be downright archaic.
“Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.”
” ‘This [Cheetos],’ Witherly [author of Why Humans Like Junk Food] said, ‘is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.’ He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. ‘It’s called vanishing caloric density,’ Witherly said. ‘If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.’ “
No wonder real food can’t compete to a teenage palate!
“The Frito-Lay executives also spoke of the company’s ongoing pursuit of a ‘designer sodium,’ which they hoped, in the near future, would take their sodium loads down by 40 percent. No need to worry about lost sales there, the company’s C.E.O., Al Carey, assured their investors. The boomers would see less salt as the green light to snack like never before… ‘The big thing that will happen here is removing the barriers for boomers and giving them permission to snack,’ Carey said. The prospects for lower-salt snacks were so amazing, he added, that the company had set its sights on using the designer salt to conquer the toughest market of all for snacks: schools… ‘Imagine this,’ Carey said. ‘A potato chip that tastes great and qualifies for the Clinton-A.H.A. alliance for schools . . . . We think we have ways to do all of this on a potato chip, and imagine getting that product into schools, where children can have this product and grow up with it and feel good about eating it.’ “
I apologize for chopping up that quote so much, but I want to keep this to snippets. It really sounds like propaganda and brain-washing. Oh, ’cause it kinda is.
“…[T]he largest weight-inducing food was the potato chip… the sugar that exists not as an additive but in the starch of the potato itself — all of this combines to make it the perfect addictive food. ‘The starch is readily absorbed,’ Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, told me. ‘More quickly even than a similar amount of sugar [emphasis mine]. The starch, in turn, causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike’ — which can result in a craving for more.”
No kidding! Maybe all of us running around talking about starches and leaning toward Paleo/ Primal diets aren’t cray-cray…
“In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day.”
I was stunned by that Coke intake by anyone (I’m naive), especially people who don’t have disposable income, and also the specific targeting of poorer areas… Again, naive, naive…
“…Dunn [then a president and COO for Coca Cola] was making frequent trips to Brazil, where the company had recently begun a push to increase consumption of Coke among the many Brazilians living in favelas [shanty towns]. The company’s strategy was to repackage Coke into smaller, more affordable 6.7-ounce bottles, just 20 cents each. Coke was not alone in seeing Brazil as a potential boon; Nestlé began deploying battalions of women to travel poor neighborhoods, hawking American-style processed foods door to door.”
Is a comment needed here? This is shameful.
I’m rushing to get this out to you while the article is current. Plus I’m all worked up about it. So once again, please excuse the stream-of-consciousness writing. Incidentally, this article is excepted from the book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, which will be available soon.
Please, share your thoughts below. What struck you about this article?
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