How Big Food is F’ing With You
You reach for the pack of Oreos in the pantry, deciding to give yourself one cookie as a treat after a hard day of dealing with pointless emails, annoying phone calls, and mind numbing meetings. You really do have the best intentions to stop after just one cookie, but once the last bit of creamy filling leaves your tongue, you find your hand sneaking into the bag to grab just one more. Okay, two cookies is no big deal, right? It’s like a serving size. Two, and then you’ll put the bag away and maybe even take a little walk around the neighborhood. In a flash, the second cookie is gone. What the hell? Was that one smaller than the first? One more, and you will stop at three. Three is a lucky number anyways, and you’re pretty sure that rule applies to cookies as well as other aspects of the Universe. Before you know it, two rows of the package are gone and you are sitting on your couch covered in chocolate crumb debris with a ring of guilt crusted to the edges of your mouth. I’m here to tell you that mere willpower wasn’t the only thing keeping you from eating four too many cookies. Scientists in laboratories engineered it that way.
Sounds pretty sci-fi and vaguely conspiracy theory-eque, but it’s the truth. Obviously, it makes sense that food companies want to sell products that the consumer wants to eat. However, the lab involvement combined with brain chemistry manipulation and deceptive marketing tactics are what leave me with a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended).
When I refer to “Big Food”, I am talking about the giants- Kraft, General Mills, Campbell’s, ConAgra, Coca Cola, Pepsi Co., etc. The crackers, cereals, snacks, soda guys. We, as humans, are wired to respond to sugar, salt, and fat, once a survival mechanism back in the day, but now a detriment to our health in a world where we are assaulted by these ingredients in every grocery store aisle.
Journalist Michael Moss investigated the food industry and it’s link to the rising obesity epidemic in his book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us”. Great read, by the way if you want to expand your knowledge on the subject. Moss dove head first into the inner workings of some of the biggest companies of the industry and discovered some secrets on how they get the consumer hooked on their products. In an interview with CNN, Moss says, “One of the things that really surprised me was how concerted and targeted the effort is by food companies to hit the magical formulation. Take sugar for example. The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the “bliss point.” Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon, and send products flying off the shelves. It is the process they’ve engineered that struck me as really stunning.” If you would like to read the full interview here, I highly recommend it, as he gives more insight from his book.
They’ve got our taste buds figured out in a lab, people. Pair that with the discovery that sugar lights up the same neurological centers in the brain as narcotic drugs, and we are screwed! So, what can us lab rats do to defend ourselves against an arsenal of taste tests, scientific experiments, and the preferences of our own traitorous taste buds?
The first tip is so freaking obvious, you might even be annoyed I’m writing it. Stop buying packaged foods. I know, I know, not the one you wanted to hear. Even if your willpower can withstand the onslaught of salty, sugary, fatty perfection, guess what? 90% of packaged foods are absolute junk garbage that you probably shouldn’t even feed to your dog, unless you wanted your dog to get fat and diabetic, too. I know it’s unrealistic to never buy anything in a box again, so here is where you have to use your sleuthing skills and read ingredients labels. You should be able to pronounce everything you read and have a general idea of what it is. Another good rule of thumb, according to author and expert food researcher, Michael Pollan, you should avoid packaged foods with more than five ingredients on the label.
Tip two is to re-train your taste buds with real food. What is real food? Well, that is food that is found on the perimeter of the grocery store. You can control the seasonings you put on your food, and you will discover flavors unmasked by the touch of a factory. Fruit actually is sweet enough to have as a dessert, I promise.
Tip three is to make it homemade. If you want cookies, throw on an apron and bust those babies out 50’s style. This is advantageous in two ways- you will know that the ingredients in your cookies are whole, real food ingredients, and you will probably be too lazy to actually bake the cookies because it’s kind of a lot of work and an apple is way easier. Win, win.