Sugar Fat Salt is full of interesting points of science, economics, and history, but there is also a clear moral question: are the food companies at fault for the increasing levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke in America?
#1 son and I were discussing this. He pointed out that as a person who works in marketing I will naturally be biased. True. I’m actually reading about the marketing efforts and considering what lessons we could learn on behalf of our clients — up to but not beyond the downright deceptive.
As a mom who bought her kids Capri Sun thinking it was fruit juice, I’m shocked to learn that it is actually sugar water with half a teaspoon of fruit juice in it. I know, therefore, that people are deceived by sneaky advertising. I think I’m fairly well informed and of sound mind, so if I can be fooled, then there are probably others who also get fooled.
I know, too, that people are affected more by marketing than they think they are… We, that is, even people who are savvy about ads, are still affected more than we think we are.
We’re also hard-wired to like things that taste good. Sugar and fat make the pleasure centers in our brains light up, and we are naturally more enthusiastic about luscious desserts and savory cheeses than we are about steamed broccoli.
But the food companies didn’t just make their products as yummy as possible. They didn’t just advertise them in the cleverest way possible. They actually engineered them intentionally so that people would like them, but not feel satisfied by them. They carefully created products that would not trigger the sense of fullness and satisfaction, but which would instead cause people to keep eating.
They used sugar, salt, and fat in ways that kept the price down, the shelf life up, and the nutritional value low. It wasn’t that they wanted to keep the nutritional value low in order to make people unhealthy — it’s just that using real food costs more than relying on sugar, salt, and fat (with engineering) to make things taste a lot like food.
So is it the fault of those companies? I don’t drink soda. I don’t buy it. I’m clearly not the hapless victim of marketing. I also find it very hard to stick to the Ignite way of eating. Exhibit A above shows fish, quinoa, salad, salad, fish, rice, eggs, fruit, fish, eggs, salad… But if we look at the dates, we can see that this is not the full store. Many meals are missing. Meals that included a cheeseburger, quiche, waffles, chocolate, pastry… I remember eating those things. I don’t remember deciding not to record them. And yet there are all those wholesome pictures, and all the spaces in between the meals when I didn’t count things.
I suppose on some level I was avoiding accountability for those foods. That means that I knew, on some level, that I should not have been eating them. I did anyway. And I’ve lost no further weight this month.
My point is that I think that, speaking just for myself, I am personally responsible for my own eating habits. Grocery stores are full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. No one forces us to buy potato chips and Twinkies instead.
Are the Pepsi Co and Kraft empires doing good? No. Would I work for them? No. Are they at fault and we consumers blameless? No.
Of course, I haven’t finished reading the book yet.