By Jay Hiller, August 30, 2022
Last week at work, I was slinking past a friend of mine with a bag of pretzels from the vending machine in my hand. They were the third best choice in the machine. The second best choice was an overpriced bag of peanuts, which I didn’t get because one of our students has peanut allergies. The best choice would have been to leave my credit card in the glove box of my car that morning and not have bought any of their junk. I wasn’t really hungry and was using the snack as a stall for a series of Cinderella paperwork tasks I was unexcited about. My friend noticed my snack and said, “Oh you got pretzels, you’re so healthy.” I didn’t feel that I was making a fabulous choice on any level. In the spirit of being pleasant and because she had a bag of Cheetos, I said, “Cheetos are tastier.” “It’s true,” she said and put a Cheeto in her mouth.
And that’s the problem. Cheetos are tastier. They’re tastier than apples. They’re tastier than peanuts. They’re tastier than a lot of foods that are better for you and it’s not an accident. Hyperpalatability, the manipulation of the way food tastes and feels in our mouths to make us want more is a deliberate strategy used by the food industry to make money. In his book, The Proof is in the Plants (2021, Penguin Life), nutritionist Simon Hill says,
Mr. Hill is Australian and the quote above refers to his home country, but he provides similar statistics about North America, Europe and non-Western countries that are beginning to adopt a Western style diet. This is a global problem. Big Food uses a multi-pronged approach similar to that used by the tobacco and liquor industries to make the food system the way it is. These include lobbying, blame shifting (consumers are responsible for themselves and should have more self-control) and influencing scientific literature and dietary guidelines in their favor.
What do we do once we recognize this?
Knowing that you’re being manipulated is an important first step. After all, a tactic perceived is no longer a tactic. For myself, tomorrow when I arrive at work, I’ll have a real food snack in my bag and my credit card will be locked away.
Simon Hill also has an excellent podcast, The Proof
I’ve learned so much about good nutrition and health from listening to Simon and his guest’s discussions. I referred to the podcast in an earlier post which also has a link to one of my favorite episodes: