By Beth Byrd
I licked the greasy, metallic-orange grit off my fingers once the package was empty, as if I were a cat grooming myself after devouring my prey.
“Did I really just eat the whole bag?” I wondered.
I remembered grabbing the Cheetos package for a few handfuls of the crunchy, salty puffs.
But before I knew it, I had eaten about 10 times the recommended serving size, yet my cravings persisted.
On more than one occasion, I have joked that food companies must be adding drugs to their products, because I can eat more than any male I know.
Little did I know that my lighthearted rants are close to reality.
Have no fear: Frito-Lay is not adding illegal substances to its potato chips. But corporations that sell junk food have invested millions of dollars into food science, all of which is intended to increase consumption through practically addicting people to their products.
In a “New York Times” article posted online Feb. 20, investigative writer Michael Moss compiled a lengthy, detailed account of the food industry’s scientific findings, which are used to hook consumers on its products.
Moss also discovered companies’ responses (or lack thereof) toward America’s growing obesity epidemic, among other devastating illnesses.
My jaw did not drop when I read that CEOs of big-time companies such as Coca-Cola and Nabisco refused in 1999 to lessen the salt, sugar and fat contents of their products, despite evidence of the harmful effects of these ingredients in large amounts.
It is the way corporations make money, Moss said, with General Mills leader Stephen Sanger having reportedly said that consumers only buy what tastes good, not what is good for them.
Sanger has a point, but after reading Moss’ article, I am not so sure the fault lies squarely with consumers.
First, the odds are not in our favor when it comes to choosing healthful products. We all know the triple-chocolate brownie recipe found on Pinterest.com can keep people from sticking to their Weight Watchers points goals for the day – which means limiting oneself to a recommended number of calories.
But items people do not typically consider to be junk food are sneaking their way into Americans’ refrigerators — and our hearts.
Take yogurt, for instance. Moss said a container of Yoplait has twice the amount of sugar as a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Moss also discovered sugar has made its grand entrance into supper staples such as spaghetti sauce, with some brands adding more sugar in a half cup of sauce than what is found in two Oreo cookies.
Second, these companies are spending countless hours and dollars to make sure their products seduce from the first bite.
From compiling 135-page reports to $30 million studies on consumer preferences, Moss said food companies create items that provide consumers with a “bliss point:” a level of flavor that does not overwhelm the senses but which does encourages people to continue to eat – and then eat some more.
“The biggest hits – be they Coca-Cola or Doritos – owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating,” Moss said.
These companies do not cut corners in making sure Americans already suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure continue to feed their junk food addictions.
For example, Moss said Frito-Lay hired hundreds of professionals to discover how crunchy people like their potato chips to be and how people like for chips to feel inside their mouths.
The company even paid thousands of dollars for a mouth-like machine to test chips in order to ensure they were just the way people like them – with “about four pounds of pressure per square inch.”
Creepy? I think so. But did it work? You bet.
Companies such as the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group are raking in excesses of $11 billion in profits even as one in three adults and one in five children suffer from obesity and grow sicker by the mouthful, Moss said.
A little restraint shown by consumers would solve many health problems.
Perhaps people should not volunteer to be food corporation guinea pigs for studies that trick people into eating literal slop.
But the only real way to see some change is to put your money where your mouth is and stop buying their food.
Beth Byrd is a senior journalism major.