The last post introduced Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, who in 2010 expressed some very pessimistic and prophetic thoughts about the trend toward purposefully making food more addictive. A couple of years later, The New York Times published a piece by Michael Moss, titled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The reporter, Michael Moss, had obtained quite a bit of detailed information about a private meeting of 11 bonus-level executives from Nestlé, Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Mars — the usual suspects. Moss wrote,
Their stature was defined by their skill in fighting one another for what they called “stomach share” — the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition.
But on this occasion the big guys laid down their differences and put their heads together to hash out what was becoming a high-stakes pain in the posterior for them all. It was a single-item agenda — how to deal with the emerging obesity epidemic.
They were catching heat from all directions. Everybody was on their case — university researchers, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, segments of the public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even, to their dismay, the agriculture secretary, who had previously been a standup guy.
Jumping the track
There were rumors of a sugar tax and other notions that were anathema to Big Food. To even discuss possible alleviations would involve the bigwigs in talks about technical aspects of production about which they knew little and cared less. Still, the room did contain an outlier or two. A Kraft vice president showed over a hundred slides detailing current obesity statistics. Moss was blown away, remarking, “The meeting was remarkable, first, for the insider admissions of guilt.”
More surprises came from James Behnke, a high-ranking officer at Pillsbury. Lately, he had been hanging out with food-science experts who had nothing good to say, and who painted…
[…] an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still.
He was creeped out by pictures of children with obesity-related diseases that they really should not know anything about at their tender age. Behnke and a few others high up in the chain of command had the uneasy feeling that maybe the products they created and sold might be just a bit much.
Some of the execs felt the industry should admit that things could be better, and advocated using the talents of their own and other scientists to “gain a deeper understanding of what was driving Americans to overeat.” It sounded good, and starting a plethora of research projects would at least buy them some time. Also, it was decided that to improve the optics of the situation, the advertising wing of the industry should gin up some kind of formalized recognition of the importance of nutritional information.
But other captains of industry put very little credence in the consumers’ alleged desire for better nutrition information, or even better ingredients. They professed to believe that customers only want stuff that tastes good, and besides, the dummies don’t care what’s in it. In the area of improving public image and information, things kind of fell apart.
(To be continued…)
Source: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” NYTimes.com, 02/20/13
Image by Boston Public Library/CC BY 2.0