Facebook has a recently-added question area. Normally, I avoid answering the questions because many seem–well–they seem sketchy. Complete strangers asking each other about God’s existence and whether or not women who dress provocatively deserve harassment seems designed to just get on people’s nerves. But the pedagogue in me sometimes can’t resist. (And the feminist in me couldn’t resist answering the latter question with: Fuck men who think they can ever harass women.)
One question popped up which lead me to this little rant. I figure my long-suffering readers shouldn’t miss out on yet more of my brilliance, just because they’re not going to read my scintillating answers on Facebook. So, I’m republishing my answer here.
The question was: Why are unhealthy foods so tasty?
My answer follows: Because big companies spend lots of money on research to make it that way.
Which big companies? Well, your McDonalds and Kraft Foods, sure, but also companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto–companies that are supposed to be in the agriculture business, but instead spend tremendous amounts of money making sure that their main products (corn and soybeans) can be used to replace any other foodstuff.
Let’s face it. Most of the foods we eat don’t resemble anything that came from an animal or grew in the ground. To do that in an efficient, mass-production way, we need cheap, readily available ingredients. So maybe corn isn’t what you expect in ice cream, or maybe you thought you had to order a soy-burger to actually get soy in your burger. Well, it’s in the beef one, too.
They’ve taken corn and soy and seaweed and sometimes just plain chemicals and combined them, reduced them, steamed them, whatever, to approximate what is missing from mass-produced foods.
In doing so, they’ve distilled the flavors to the point where (and this is true) McDonalds adds a French-fry flavor to it’s French fries. McDonalds will say it is for consistency, but a side-benefit is that it makes food we all like to eat taste MORE like the foods we like to eat. Therefore, there is no incentive for food production companies to add better ingredients, just more flavorings of the food we like to cheaper and cheaper ingredients.
So here’s something for all of us. We can totally train our taste buds. We can eat things with less sugar and less salt and actually enjoy it. I’m not telling anyone to eat organic or stop using butter–if you saw me in person, you’d know I’m a person who enjoys more than my share of butter. What I am saying is that we can eat healthier as soon as we stop to taste things. Fat isn’t a problem; sugar isn’t a problem; salt isn’t a problem–in moderation. But companies selling us prepared foods don’t have time to hit us with subtleties. They fire fat-sugar-salt! all at once and hit all our pleasure centers.