The War on Your Stomach: Why You Eat Twinkies & Coke. ~ Sean Williams

Via on Mar 6, 2013
Source: via Posey Girl on Pinterest
Source: via Posey Girl on Pinterest

 

No matter how strict our diets or strong our wills, all of us have at some time known the gluttonous animal pleasures of a favorite processed, mass-marketed food product, guaranteed to trigger the perfect level of stimulation to the taste buds, the carefully calibrated feel on the teeth and tongue, the ideal signals of satisfaction to the stomach and brain—instantaneous bliss, and the momentary desire for more.

We may not know that every aspect of this experience has been precisely and lavishly engineered down to the most minute detail, from the associations conjured by the name of the product to the emotions aroused by the colors of the packaging, the level of indulgence suggested by the size and density of the contents, their exact smell, taste, feel and effect on your nervous system.

Michael Moss exposes the elaborate methods that large food corporations use to addict us to their products and maximize the amounts that we eat in his new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked UsMoss wrote a recent article for the New York Times Magazine, adapted from his book, that tells the story of a fierce battle being waged by international corporations for what is colloquially termed stomach share. 

That’s right: our mouths and guts have become the territory where a peculiar sort of war is being waged.

A war? Surely, I exaggerate. I mean we’re talking about Twinkies and Dr. Pepper here—let’s keep our feet on the ground. Why not just use the flaccid but accurate phrase vying for market share and let it be?

I defy anyone to read the New York Times article with an engaged imagination and not feel caught in a strange sort of battle: one impelling a high-tech arms race that includes such foreboding machines as a $40,000 simulated mouth which has enabled Frito Lay’s army of 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians, employed at a cost of nearly $30 million a year, to determine that consumers most prefer a chip that snaps with four pounds of pressure per square inch.

CEO’s are the Generals and the PhDs the Lieutenants in this bizarre conflict which seems like something that could only have been cooked up by a science-fiction mastermind like Margaret Atwood or Phillip K. Dick.

Products are engineered with the help of cutting-edge computer models that maximize data points such as salt, sugar, fat, crunch and mouth feel seeking to optimize their bliss point and sensory-specific satiety, as well as determine the ideal taste variation, package, and message for each target demographic.

And such operations are only the command centers, orchestrating the actions of thousands of foot soldiers in the forms of tasters, marketers, sellers, managers, shippers, lobbyists, farmers and factory floor workers.

All of them laboring to make our unhealthful, addictive foods more enticing, to use every insight and contrivance of modern science to maximize the number of addicts and maximize each addict’s consumption.

We’re all aware of the full-frontal marketing assaults for these products aimed at hooking the world’s children, spending eight billion a year in the United States alone. But, we might not know that tactics in this war include such extremes as people sent door-to-door in poor Brazilian ghettos called favelas hocking half-sized Coke cans, which are all that the residents there can afford, offering the poor a chance for an equal share of our rich man’s diseases.

The collateral damage of this conflict at home is 103 million Americans with type-II or pre-diabetes, 70 million with heart disease, 69% of adults and 33% of children overweight, 36% of adults and 16% of children clinically obese, over 600,000 dying each year from heart disease—and on and on.

Not to mention the massive expenses and efforts of the medical system—the frontline medics in the junk-food war and the millions of lives being degraded or sidetracked in lesser ways.

No matter whether your internal moral compass is inclined to label the behavior of this industry as evil and disgusting or simply amoral and self-serving, one must marvel at the sheer insanity and frivolous waste of it all—thousands of able minds, educated at great cultural expense, bent to the task of maximizing the health-defeating junk in the stomachs of the world’s population.

How did such a mockery come to be made of the basic human act of working to feed one’s community?

The most remarkable part of Moss’s article are the astonishing words of the CEOs and others who work within the system when discussing its overall value. Former Coke executive Jeffrey Dunn who at the age of 44, while visiting one of the Brazilian favelas where his minions were trolling for new addicts, came to a sudden realization so powerful, he claims, that it almost made him throw up.

“These people need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.”

We must applaud Mr. Dunn’s willingness to have this story told and his subsequent efforts to reform the industry. However, the sheer moral backwardness of this realization causes the mind to boggle and hope to wilt.

That some of the poorest people on the planet need something other than the opportunity to purchase a half-can of Coke is not a moral insight proper to a mature and educated man. It’s the moral equivalent of the child on the playground realizing that when a friend falls and skins their knee, the proper thing to do is to stop and help rather than laugh or continue to ride the merry-go-round.

Another telling quote comes from a brilliant PhD researcher who spent much of his career making junk foods more addictive. He describes his moral deliberations and responsibilities by saying: “There’s no moral issue for me. I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature.”

With the growing crises in our environment and public health, the threat of worldwide economic depression, the endless cycles of war and exploitation, we must ask, do we any longer have the luxury of treating moral action as a luxury?

Do we any longer have the luxury of allowing our leaders to reserve the deepest exercise of their conscience for private matters alone?

As we marvel at the achievements of our technocratic age, we must also marvel at the moral bankruptcy it routinely engenders in its leaders and systems; the junk-food industry is a shining example of this.

We’ve never before had such ability to manipulate our environment, known so surely the conditions of physical health, or had such power over the threats of famine and want. And we’ve never before, with such intention and foreknowledge and precision, undermined our own health and thriving on such a scale.

The colossal stupidity of this effort is awesome in the truest sense of the word.

Previously, kings may have wantonly wasted the public stores; aristocrats may have kept too much of the bounty for themselves. Free populations may have poorly managed land and been unprepared for drought and catastrophe.

However, only the contemporary technocratic corporation could have the power and genius to intentionally engineer a worldwide health crisis out of overwhelming abundance through the calculated perversion of the animal desire for nourishment.

This is the logic of the market, of selfishness misconstrued and glorified as the prime virtue, run amok and overleaping all other human goods and values—the fight against this is a moral one.

Change will involve not only the willpower of scapegoat consumers at the bottom of the system, but also the moral will of the producers at the top. We must insist that our leaders lead rather than only follow the basest instincts of the crowd, that they not fritter away our best collective energies and staple resources on ends, which are evil, amoral, counter-productive and frivolous.

We need not become utopians, we need only insist on progress toward our best intentions.

We have only begun to recover and invent a vocabulary for discussing such things, and so our utterance shifts and stumbles.

Conscious consumerism, ethical markets, fair trade, and sustainability—such terms denote an introduction of needed moral guidance into our technocratic systems, a steering of the language of the market toward the language of conscience whereby we may choose good means of living and working rather than merely efficient ones.

This is a revolution. It’s ongoing and progress may be slow, but despair not. Consider the fate of the Twinkie.

Perhaps we can hope one day soon to look back at the passing away of the Twinkie from our store shelves in November of 2012 as the moment when the junk food tide hit its high water mark and began to recede.

The Twinkie, once so popular, recognizable and void of nutritional value, is the ideal symbol for the junk food industry. The Twinkie was, in its way, an amazingly successful achievement of imagination and marketing and desire and design.

With its gleaming yellow sheen and instantly familiar form it may also be considered a masterwork of pop art, a cultural crystal-ball wherein we may gaze and contemplate the machinations of an entire industry—a massive global effort, millions of hours of coordinated work by capable people, an astronomical waste of resources, creativity and intelligence.

We may dream that one day such energies might be redeployed to useful ends.

What could we not thereby accomplish?

Think of the supermarket aisles of glimmering junk food whenever someone tells you the fight is impossible or the goal too high; remind them of the once great Twinkie.

Have them gaze past its spongy, saccharine exterior and into the vast engineered nothingness of its nutrient content.

There, in beholding that such a marvelous, stupefying nothing is possible, they will come to know that possibility has no limit.

 

References:

 

1. Food Giants’ Endless Appetite for Profit by Matthew Wheeland/AlterNet, January 2007.

2. Our Food Is Being Hijacked by Monopolizing Corporations by Mark Karlin/Truthout, February 2013.

3. Pandora’s Lunchbox: Pulling Back the Curtain on How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner/Democracy Now, March 2013.

4. Moral Bankruptcy by Joseph E. Stiglitz/Mother Jones, January/February 2010.

5. Obesity and Overweight Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

6. Heart Disease Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

 

Sean WilliamsSean is a writer. He lives in Nebraska. He’s learning to use social media. You can now connect with him here

 

 

 

 

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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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One Response to “The War on Your Stomach: Why You Eat Twinkies & Coke. ~ Sean Williams”

  1. Uncle Steve says:

    YES!

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