An amazing article by Michael Moss in the New York Times – which was adapted from his book – recently showed in full, unflinching detail exactly how well the snack food industry knows its sins.
In summary – The food industry has been doing amazing science, for decades, to make terrible food more addicting, and to market it so it penetrates every potential meal you eat. It worked.
It’s a little longer than the reads I usually publish here so if you’d rather, there’s a nicely-summarised version at Buzzfeed, which turns the article into 23 points. I’d encourage you to read the full version.
The book and its article go to great lengths to avoid painting the industry as evil, but rather just dispassionate – responding to the demands of the market. Moss writes:
The public and the food companies have known for decades now that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiralling out of control?
It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. 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.
This is one way to look at it. But Moss already spoke about how the industry is aware of the damage it is doing.
[Michael Mudd, a vice president of Kraft,] drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes.
“If anyone in the food industry ever doubted there was a slippery slope out there,” Mudd said, “I imagine they are beginning to experience a distinct sliding sensation right about now.”
Viewing snack manufacturers as corrupt drug pushers, like tobacco vendors can now be seen by many is an easy and possibly glib caricature. But more and more evidence is coming out regarding the real, systematic damage these food can do and the lack of understanding among consumers. There may be a time in the future where Big Sugar stands alongside Big Tobacco as one of society’s problem children.