The above title is from Michael Moss’s book ‘Hooked’ (p71).
Moss’s book explains how our bodies have evolved since ancestral hominids roamed the Ethiopian landscape. He then brings us up to date with the chemistry of modern processed foods. People in white coats work in labs to synthetically create ‘foods’ which are designed to appeal to our senses.
On p.104, he tells us how the technologists devise synthetic pumpkin spice. They combine at least eighty elements. ‘These include cyclotenes, a group of chemicals that deliver a toasted, maple-like smell; lactones, such as delta-Dodecalactone, which render a creaminess and buttery-like rich milk aroma, with a touch of light fruitiness; sulfurol with its custardy, eggy, creamy, and caramel-like notes; pyrazines with their brown, nutty, caramel-tinged flavor; and vanillin, or 4-hydroxy, 3 methoxybenzaldehyde, the aldehyde family version of real vanilla, creamy and sweet.’
The flavourists will work to provide so many varieties of flavour for industry, and these in turn can be deployed to seduce and trick the senses of consumers with their myriad of consequently addictive products. A product can be devised which has harmful ingredients, leading to a myriad of diseases, but they can taste and smell wonderful, thanks to the brilliance of the concoctions devised by the flavorists. These flavours might not trick an experienced chef or a person who took pride in their cooking from natural ingredients, but some would say the flavours are an improvement on what grows in our natural environment.
Even the undesirable scents of processed foods is masked by special scents devised to conceal the bad smells. The secretive nature of procuring the designed products are a matter of intellectual property and highly protected. Food regulators will not demand the chemical makeup be displayed on the box the consumer picks up. They may instead categorise all the compounds as ‘natural and artificial flavours’. Vanillin is the most seductive to date, being added to more than 18 thousand products, especially vanilla ice cream.
Those food manufacturers who know they are harming our health, target the ‘most vulnerable part of our psyche, where we act on instinct and rote rather than rationalization.’ The processed food industry is worth $1.5 trillion and they will do whatever it takes to snare us and finally hook us into addiction.
Gourmets will know where to source the best vanilla pods and when they add the essence to their chosen dish, they will appreciate the care they have taken will impress their clientele. Read here for details of the most sought after Madagascan vanilla pods. Of course, if you have the right conditions at home you can grow your own, and if you succeed the taste will be good, but unlikely to compete with the best. But you have the satisfaction of knowing you have a real, home grown taste, and not a fake flavour made from chemicals, often based on petrochemicals. Even the anal glands of a beaver can be squeezed to produce what is needed to make vanillin. However, the sap of a certain tree is mostly used to procure the vanillin compound.
If the argument was simply about improving on nature and creating a range of tastes and smells in large quantities to meet demand, then we might say, as resources in farming diminish, this is a good ecological alternative. BUT, it is the creation of fake foods which are not healthy which have had these addictive tastes and smells added to make us eat the products compulsively, that is the main issue here.
None of us wants to know that we have been fooled into buying fake food, but since the 1980s the acceleration of fast foods (fake foods) in our supermarkets has increased from (US figures) six thousand to double that in the 1990s until today approximately thirty-three thousand items with a huge and varied range of chemically created tastes and smells to induce us into addictive eating.
The more that scientists could explain the responses the tandem process of brain and stomach to smell and tastes on the tongue and the olfactory bulb in the nasal cavity, the more information the food industry had to heighten the urge to purchase and endlessly consume their product offerings. The industry has also worked to imitate expensive foods and offer what seems a similar but much cheaper product, appealing to the consumer on both taste and price. Buying more for your money is another gratifying pleasure for most people.
The research arm of the food industry is the International Life Sciences Institute. Their website tells us:
Scientific Partnerships for a Healthier World
ILSI is a nonprofit, global organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health, well-being and safeguards the environment. For more than 40 years, ILSI has specialized in convening scientists from academia, as well as the public and private sectors, to collaborate in a neutral forum on scientific topics of mutual interest.
At an annual meeting of the ILSI in 2014, Michael Moss writes, (on p.117 of his book ‘Hooked’) of a researcher who showed the industry how to exploit us in another way and offered ‘some insight into how they can overcome our free will to control our eating habits. Low price, convenience, and variety get a boost when another aspect of our biology gets exploited: our memory.’
She explained that if, whilst distracted when eating by, for example watching TV, that distraction will make us forget the meal we should have focused on and we will continue to eat now that our brain has not registered the food intake. By 2017 new research then found those who were distracted regularly became obese.
Moss states: ‘We eat what we remember, but as the food companies know, we eat more when we can be made to forget.’
We can read here a UK 2020 piece of research which explains the dangers from ‘Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review’. Here is an extract:
Of 43 studies reviewed, 37 found dietary UPF exposure associated with at least one adverse health outcome. Among adults, these included overweight, obesity and cardio-metabolic risks; cancer, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases; irritable bowel syndrome, depression and frailty conditions; and all-cause mortality. Among children and adolescents, these included cardio-metabolic risks and asthma. No study reported an association between UPF and beneficial health outcomes.
Ultra processed foods make us ill, so ill we are more likely to die prematurely. Our health systems cannot keep up. Our pharmaceutical industries constantly supply us with drugs to combat or manage these diseases. If we have less money to spend on food we will buy the cheaper ultra processed foods. As we get progressively ill, we will not be able to afford medical bills if we live in a country where ‘free at the point of need’ does not exist. If we do live in the UK, we can access the NHS for assistance but the NHS is underfunded and understaffed and overwhelmed, especially now due to Covid.
This graphic from https://forwardeating.org/ultra-processed-foods/ explains the differences:
The spread of processed foods has become global with major corporations opening up outlets in parts of the world who had pride in their slow and beautifully crafted, carefully sourced foods. Diabetes 2 has become an illness where it was unknown until the western diet penetrated their cultures. This illness makes people far more vulnerable to Covid, as we have seen in India this year.
When I was at school, because I was female, I was taught Domestic Science to prepare me for marriage and raising a family. Although it was an insult to women to think that was all we were good for, I do think that all children should be taught how to choose organic foods where possible and how to avoid ultra processed foods. Learning to create tasty meals carefully sourced yet on a tight budget, is a practical and healthy approach to self care when one leaves home.
Covid should have given us a ‘wake-up’ call to change the way forward and work out how to extinguish toxins from our environment which make us fall victims to so much illness unnecessarily.
So look for advice if you are unsure how to avoid Ultra Processed Food, for example here, and below an extract
Here are five easy ways to reduce your intake.
● Read ingredient lists carefully. The shorter, the better. Avoid anything that contains hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or strange-sounding substances you don’t recognize that the manufacturer says are put there to maintain freshness. “All the ingredients should look like something you could make in your own kitchen,” Katz says. This is true even if it’s a seemingly healthy staple such as an energy bar, a protein shake or even a plant-based milk drink. These have all gotten a health halo though they can be ultra-processed foods, says Julie Stefanski, a nutritionist in Morrisville, N.C., and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
● Make it yourself. It can be easier than you think to whip up your own staple items. “It takes less than a minute to stir together with a salad dressing with ingredients you have on hand, such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and herbs and spices,” Stefanski says. Instead of spending money on a premade protein shake, create your own with low-fat milk, frozen fruit and a tablespoon of natural nut butter. Instead of a sugary fruit-flavored yogurt, opt for the plain variety and sweeten it with fruit.
●Shop smartly. When you hit the supermarket, focus on the perimeter. That’s where most of the unprocessed fare — think to produce, legumes, nuts, dairy, meat, and fish — are located. Don’t shy away from canned or frozen fruits, veggies, broth or meats, either. Although these are considered “processed” foods, they weren’t associated with an increased risk of death or disease, Lawrence says.
●Skip creams and sweeteners in coffee or tea. Most powdered and flavored liquid creams are simply dried high-fructose corn syrup, Stefanski says. Lighten your drink with a splash of milk instead.
●Plan snacks in advance. Most of the time, we reach for processed foods because it’s convenient. Carry snacks such as homemade trail mix or fruit with nut butter with you, so you can nosh when hunger hits instead of attacking the vending machine.
Source: Consumer Reports Inc.