Food and tobacco

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A friend of mine, Joan Ifland, draws strong parallels between how the tobacco industry conducted its business for decades, and how the food industry is conducting itself today.

As I've been reading David Kessler's book, "The End of Overeating," which I've mentioned before and expect to refer to again, Joan's analysis has come to mind repeatedly. 

A fair synopsis of tobacco's history is that early on, smoking was almost the norm. It was portrayed in the moves as quite glamorous, and it was patriotic for manufacturers to send free cartons to the boys "over there." (It wasn't apparent till much later that both — the movie portrayals and the freebies — served to bolster tobacco sales.)

Even after it began to be apparent that tobacco was a clear cause of ill health, even for people who only hung out with other smokers, the industry fought any effort to curb its sales or sales strategies. Their delaying tactics succeeded, in part, because freedom-loving people supported an industry's right to sell people what they wanted.

Eventually, though, it came out that the industry had known for decades that an addition stoked its profits, and that it manipulated its products to be as addictive as possible. Their ad slogans talked about refreshing, relaxing, enjoyment because if they had touted their laser-focus on grabbing you by the short hairs so that you'd be their bitch until you died, they probably wouldn't have sold as much.

Finally, after several decades, the companies were exposed as scheming pushers instead of mere innocent entrepreneurs, and the commonweal regained the upper hand.

For most people, it is all but heretical to lump the tobacco and food industries together, but I have no problem seeing them through the same lens.

I also have no problem predicting that, one day, food manufacturers will be restricted in the name of the public good, after an extended period during which the food companies will claim they're merely selling what people want and will fight tooth and claw against any curtailment.

I also have no doubt that freedom-loving citizens will support the industry against government interference, right up until the evidence of manipulation and harm become to overwhelming to ignore.

Next: What Kessler says about food design.

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