New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss's huge cover story, "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food is a super-sized 9,400 words long, eclisped perhaps only by Matt Bai's slanted magazine cover story on the debt fight in last April. A. Barton Hinkle saved everyone some time with a succinct sarcastic summary column.
A recent cover story in The New York Times Magazine offers a shocking exposé of Big Food. In granular detail it relates the food conglomerates' "hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for 'stomach share.'” If you don't have the time to slog through the nearly 10,000 words, though, here's the big news in this shocking, horrifying, and incredibly alarming story.
You might want to sit down for this.
Here it is: Food companies work very, very hard to find out what will give you, the consumer, the most pleasure for your money – and then the diabolical fiends actually give it to you!
Seriously, you are supposed to be absolutely horrified by this. You can tell by the ominous language the author, Michael Moss, employs to describe how "food engineers alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of" – brace yourself – “finding the most perfect version" of a product. The most perfect version, of course, is the one that will "be most attractive to consumers." (The horror.) The piece even quotes one food-company executive who describes the strategy: "Discover what consumers want to buy and give it to them with both barrels."
Moss's actual article certainly has a paranoid tone.
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. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
Moss told the magazine's blog that government regulation was the only way to solve the problem.
Q: Do you see the only way forward as promoting regulations, or is an agreement among food giants possible?
A: It’s hard to disagree with the growing number of people who see government regulation as the way to deal with this. And adjusting regulations to give other products, like fruits and vegetables, a more even playing field with products, like corn, that are used in processed foods could be another step.