Let's start with this basic fact: The US population is estimated to grow at .975 percent this year. If everyone keeps eating at the same rate, doesn't that mean that food companies are looking at a growth rate of less than 1 percent this year? How's that going to play on Wall Street?
Seems obvious: Food corporations have a vested interest in getting us to eat more. With the explosion of obesity in America, the common good (quality of life, stunted mortality, excessive medical costs shared by all, etc.) has a vested interest in getting us to eat less. Can it get any less elemental?
So what do food companies do to get us to eat more? What don't they do? They strategize to get us to eat not only more, but more indulgently. For example, David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner who wrote "The End of Overeating," cites a report that needs little explanation beyond its title: "Premium Indulgence: Capitalizing on the Growing Trend for Premium Treating."
These people talk about not only "share of wallet" but "share of stomach," and bandy such terms as "eatertainment" and "mouth feel," "the first chew" and "the swallow." There's a word, it turns out, for the small rounded mass in your mouth just before swallowing; it's the bolus. "A quick melt" is considered a plus.
"Food designers," Kessler reports, center their thinking around three key components that have special value at the evolutionary level: fat, sugar, and salt. But, "knowing that it's not enough to simply hand customers a packet of sugar or a pat of butter, the restaurant industry has spent a great deal of time learning the most effective ways to incorporate the core ingredients" into titillating new combinations.
Repeatedly, Kessler breaks down processed concoctions into their true constituents, so that, for example, the International House of Pancakes' stuffed French toast combo ("cinnamon raisin French toast ... stuffed with sweet cream cheese, smothered with powdered sugar, fruit topping, and whipped topping, and served with two eggs, hash brown potatoes, and a choice of two strips of bacon or two sausage links") is really "a load of fat on fat on fat and sugar that's then layered with fat on sugar on sugar and served with fat, salt, and fat."
Gotta say, it sounds pretty good. No wonder people order it. There was a time when I would have ordered it, too. Stuff like that is how I got to be 365 pounds.
Why are they making things like this? "One venture capitalist did not mince words when he talked about its intent. 'The goal is to get you hooked.'" Not surprisingly, he didn't want to be on the record with that one.
That was the goal of the corner dealer who offered the first few toots for free, the likes of which eventually hollowed out many inner cities and sparked a war on drugs when the trend reached the suburbs. That was the goal of the tobacco companies, until whistle-blowers and legal discovery exposed them.
It is no less pernicious just because these folks are using more familiar ingredients.