I am a bit of a nerd. You may think that I say this in jest (yes, I just wrote 'jest'), but my hand is laid out on the table. And why I raise the issue is because this post has roots in the rather nerdy book club some friends and I put together. Longing for intellectually invigorating conversation (and personally missing a few west coasters), we decided to tackle the topic of consumption and over-consumption through a bi-weekly Google hangout. No biggie.
The book we just completed is called The End of Overeating. Now, I wasn't planning on writing about it, but I can't seem to stop thinking about the principles in the book. And then I stumbled across an article on NPR about the same general topic. It must be a sign, so here I am. In the book, David Kessler tackles the question of why, in the past few decades, has the weight of America ballooned. What is it about the food we consume that drives us to over-indulge? According to Kessler, it is a combination of three elements and the title of a new book by Michael Moss - Salt, Sugar, Fat.
If we take a step back and think about what foods the general populous eats in excessive quantities, it is not the carrots or the celery, the leafy greens or even fruits. The candy bars, baked goods, fast foods - essentially fat, sugar, and salt - are what fly off the shelf and contribute to the growing obesity crisis. Both Kessler and Moss discuss how an optimal mix of salt, fat, and sugar stimulates desire to eat certain foods, tapping into our most primal instincts to stock up for lean times. Even more fascinating, and disturbing, is that over time consumption patterns can condition a body to want certain foods after particular cues, and requires more and more to make us have a positive reaction (chocolate chip cookies, the new drug?). The food industry has hooking consumers down to an art, and yet we don't seem to pay as much attention to this underlying failure of our food system to nourish our population.
I'm just going to conclude with a couple of thoughts. First of all, despite these large food businesses claiming they are trying to address health and weight concerns in the country, who actually believe this will achieve improvements in obesity and associate ailments? Second, in order to mitigate the allure of the food industry's empire of tempting yet dangerous goodies, we really need to make the price better reflect the cost to society. Junk food is cheap, and yet it takes a huge toil on our health and happiness. Mark Bittman called for a tax on junk food, and cities like Seattle have attempted (and unfortunately failed) to pass such a policy. Perhaps such a move will help us go back to consuming real food with whole ingredients, and limit these luxurious foods that have until
I highly recommend the book, and it will change how you think about food, why you want to eat specific things, and why some people crave that bar of chocolate after lunch...mmm...