New York Times nutritional conspiracy: a look behind the scenes at the trickery employed the get you to eat Cheetos

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 10.44.08 PM

A recent article published on the homepage of the New York Times webpage is getting a lot of traffic, even though the entire spread is 14 pages long and takes a significant amount of time to read through. Andrew forwarded this link to me one evening and I read it after dinner – enthralled, enraged, and all the more curious about the business of junk food and the national food policies that fuel its consumption.

“The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” by Pulitzer prize-winning writer Michael Moss is an excerpt from his book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, set to release later this month, and even in the 14 pages published online and in the NYT Magazine, conspiracy abounds. Not just crazy Bigfoot/unicorn conspiracy, but cold and calculated planning, based on marketing models and business tactics used in companies more reputable than those trying to get you to buy the latest flavor of Snapple. Psychology is involved. Millions in research and focus groups is involved. Real scientists are involved.

All over a chip or a snack pack aimed at kids during lunchtime. So what’s the big deal?

A few notable selections from Moss’s text:

Regarding the head of General Mills, Stephen Sanger, under whose jurisdiction the company has spread and flourished — “Under his 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, with annual revenue topping $500 million.”

A little more about sugar, specifically in popular tomato sauces — “…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.”

Another astonishing fact is this: Americans like to snack, now more than ever, and the numbers are increasing by a third of a pound each year. At the time of writing, “the average intake of snacks like chips and cheese crackers pushing past 12 pounds a year.”

In regard to the many scientists and focus groups used to find the best combinations of flavors and the most marketable products, they know just what we’re looking for. Case in point: the author interviewed Steven Witherly, food scientist and author of “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” to identify the most desirable product from the consumer’s standpoint.

“I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. ‘This,’ Witherly 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.'”

As one reader comment mentioned on the website, this article doesn’t even address high fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed corn/wheat/soy, lobbyists, MSG, or GMO products, yet it’s still enough to make a person swear off Doritos forever.

Unfortunately, our food system is unhealthy, sick, in need of repair. The damage done is immense and will require an equally immense amount of work to revise policies and procedures. One of the features of the article highlighted a conference of snack food superpowers – General Mills, Kraft, Nabisco, Nestle – meeting to find compromises on solutions for the national obesity epidemic. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but is it all just too little too late?

Have you checked out the article yet? It’s long, but it’s certainly worth the time and effort to read. Check it out and get back to me on what you think — let me know, I’m always curious!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “New York Times nutritional conspiracy: a look behind the scenes at the trickery employed the get you to eat Cheetos

  1. “One of the features of the article highlighted a conference of snack food superpowers – General Mills, Kraft, Nabisco, Nestle – meeting to find compromises on solutions for the national obesity epidemic. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but is it all just too little too late?” Bahaha! That’s a good one! Did it sound something like this….”How can we get more people to eat snacks that we know make them even more fat, unhealthy, and addicted while convincing them it’s healthier and good for them? Oh wait, we already did that. ummmkay….guess we’re done here.”

  2. Your point on Yoplait is so true – take any ‘healthy’ product that gets a good marketing schedule and in no time the same product will have the choc-chip and the (sugary) yogurt dipped version. I daresay this is all part of the game plan. The fact is the food industry is a chemical industry – it operates by a production system and a marketing process based right through on selling chemicals.
    Even now margarine can be marketed as being superior to butter which, as a whole food eaten in moderation, is clearly better for us. Now milk is being advertised as being free from ‘permeate’ – when the hell did the food industry decide to just add stuff to milk?
    Most depressing is the fact that these food giants don’t care about their existing markets as they are now gearing up big time to move offshore. Countries with an expanding middle class are seeing mass substitution of staples for westernised equivalents – eg polished white rice vs diverse rice varieties and root crops etc not to mention the snack food avalanche that is heading their way. While the west has seen a slow increase since WWII in obesity these nations are seeing a massive single generational change in diet. As culpable as the tobacco industry is, there is no doubt that the food industrialists will have to be curbed by labelling legislation and maximum sugar, salt and fat levels. Going on ability of any policy reform on food – that is at best about 20 years off.

  3. This is a very interesting article and more than a little depressing when you think about the lengths to which companies go to market products that are so obviously bad for the consumer. You’d think their goal would be to keep their customers alive and eating as long as possible! Not send them to an early grave. I did find it encouraging that “people could beat their salt habits simply by refraining from salty foods long enough for their taste buds to return to a normal level of sensitivity.” The same goes for sugar. If we’d all give our bodies the detox they desperately crave, it would be a lot easier to kick the junk food habit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s