Are We Addicted to Food?

There was a New York Times magazine article last week that gave a fascinating behind the scenes look into the junk/ processed food industry. The amount of money spent on perfecting food that is horrible for us is astronomical. On the research and development end, there is so much thought (and money) that goes into every ingredient, every hint of flavor, how everything feels in your mouth, and every ounce of force required to bite a chip. Just imagine if all that money was put to a culinary cause that could benefit us rather than harm us. Even financially that could make sense- if your customers live longer they buy your product for longer, but in reality, it is in the best interest of these large corporations to steer customers as far from moderation as possible. In that article it even mentioned that CocaCola doesn’t target people who may have a coke on occasion, its primary audience is the “heavy user” who drinks three cokes a day!

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This article also likened marketing junk food to kids (like this Lunchables commercial) to marketing tobacco to kids: they are both unhealthy substances that young brains are not developed enough to make their own decisions about. That Lunchables commercial is especially disturbing because it encourages kids to use food as a way to escape from their parents’ rules and expectations- it uses junk food as a method of rebellion and independence. Personally, I think it is dangerous to use food as a method for anything other than fueling your body.

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As I am very interested in marketing, all of this really piqued my interest. Is there no limit to how much junk food these “heavy users” (heavy being the key word here) will buy? As more research comes in, apparently not. There is more and more evidence surfacing about the addictive qualities of junk food. The amount of salt and sugar overwhelm our senses and cause us to crave more, much like a drug. Also much like a drug, we continue to buy it and eat it when we know it is bad for us. This article from Prevention gives great research, testimonials, and even advice for breaking a food addiction. I had never really heard of the concept of food addiction before, but that article makes good sense. It explains how our brains are not equipped to handle the incredible amounts of sugar and salt that food industries have poured into our food in the past few decades. The internal response is very similar to that of a drug: it is soothing and pleasurable. Perhaps the most telling evidence is that if one were to ask drug users and food addicts similar questions about their habits such as “do you know it is bad for you and consume it anyway?” the answers are strikingly similar.

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Just like so many other issues in our society I just keep thinking this has to be a bubble like the housing/ mortgage bubble. It just has to burst at some point. How can we keep eating this junk to excess? How can we keep letting this food control us: control our brains? When will enough be enough? Sadly, I think the answer is when all this junk food stops bringing in such a profit.

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