The Amazing Story of Addictive Junk Food

Dorito Addiction Formula

Image: Grant Cornett for The New York Times

The New York Times Magazine has published an excellent, albeit long, feature on The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. It’s quite a long read, but really impresses upon the reader what amazing efforts the food industry has taken (and is still taking) to create the ultimate food, one that cannot be resisted by mere mortals. An business school undergrad could read this story and learn a lot about how to identify a consumer need, research and develop the right product, then brilliantly market it while reaping billions in profits.

But read as a parent, as an overweight teen, or as someone newly diagnosed with diabetes, one can get overwhelmed with feelings of rage and angst. How could we have been so maliciously duped into poisoning our bodies? Now that we as a nation are addicted, how do we get off this runaway train that is leading to our early demise.

Read the entire piece to learn how Lunchables came to be a billion dollar business for Kraft, discover what the bliss point is, and to understand how Vanishing Caloric Density gets you to eat endlessly.

If you don’t have the time to read it all, here are a few choices paragraphs:

The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control?

It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.

From an Industry CEO, regarding consumers choices:

“Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Why our snacking culture is killing us:

If Americans snacked only occasionally, and in small amounts, this would not present the enormous problem that it does. But because so much money and effort has been invested over decades in engineering and then relentlessly selling these products, the effects are seemingly impossible to unwind.

On Coca Cola’s world domination plans:

Coca Cola’s goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?

On vanishing caloric density:

“If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

Bottom line: Reading this feature may feel like you’ve just taken the red pill. The question is, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?

  • Michelle

    Wow…I’m just sickened by this. By the lengths that the food industry will go to willingly and purposefully destroy our health. This was a truly eye-opening read. Thank you for sharing, Fooducate! This kind of harsh, brutal truth needs to be read by everyone!

  • The Candid RD

    I’m going to continue EDUCATING the public, and allowing them to taste unique and HEALTHY foods, and realize that healthy can actually be tasty as well :) So fun!

  • Kathy Perry

    the bad thing is the more junk food you eat the less good food you eat.and vice versa.. the more healthy food you eat , the more you crave for healthy food. I stopped eating fast food and junk food..including chips ,cola and candy, and I actually crave for foods that are good for Me now….

  • Carolee1945

    I was immediately drawn to this article in the Sunday Times, but balked at its length. Thanks for the synopsis here. .

  • Jensen_G

    Fantastic article, well worth reading the whole thing to get a glimpse into the processed food industry and the science and marketing behind it.

  • Eric

    Our bodies are full from calories but on a cellular level starving for nutrients! Eat more good food!