I’ll get this out there immediately, I’m not talking about how smoking makes you eat weird things. This actually has to do with the Tobacco industry rather than the product itself. A year before my birth Phillip Morris got involved in General Foods. By involved I mean they bought the company. Three years later they purchased Kraft Foods. This put one of the world’s largest Tobacco companies in control of one of the world’s largest food companies, twice over.
What I find most interesting about this was the shift that they had on the industry. Tobacco companies are amazing machines of consumerism. They have learned over a few centuries [albeit Tobacco has existed much longer…obviously] the intricate tasks necessary to get people to smoke. The last hundred or so years has seen an almost haunting marriage between Tobacco and the rise of technology. With the Printing Press, Radio, and then Television, Tobacco adapted quickly and with an efficiency that would make the world’s greatest predators envious.
So when they moved into the food industry they brought an aptitude for manipulation and applied it to a place that previously, though not exclusively, worked on a model of supply and demand. It was no longer a matter of finding markets and filling them. It was about creating markets. No longer were you feeding the nation but instead you were trying to figure out how to feed the nation more.
More and more and more. Faster and faster. Everything needed to be more efficient, cheaper, and brighter. The shift from food to product came quickly and it only gets worse with time. I find it fascinating how incredible their impact on food has been. I need to really get around to finishing it but I’m currently reading Salt, Sugar, Fat. I’ll be writing about the book in more detail later but for now it just stuns me.
The concept of the bliss point, that perfect saturation of sweet that maximizes sales and consumption without jeopardizing return buyers. You need to make your food as energy rich as humanly possible without making it really taste like much of anything. Too strong a flavor and people will get tired of it. But just bland enough and they’ll never stop. This, as the book notes, is the magical secret of Coke (not that they’d like to brag about it).
But fat doesn’t suffer from the bliss point. You can just smash as much of it into food as you want. Both of these (and more obviously salt) act like preservatives. So they save the food makers money. Naturally they aren’t good for you in high quantities but…well…fuck you I guess? Any attempt to curb the abuse of these through legal action has been met with lots of money and basically no progress.
This is one of those industries that I don’t think should be a consumerist property. But that’s where we are. There is something of an arm’s race going on to put the most fat into food, to cap out on sugar, and so forth. If you want to play a fun game check your low-fat foods. See just how much sugar is in them. If they are low-fat, then see how much fat is in them. It’s a desperate balancing act to keep sales at their absolute maximum.
I’m interested to see what will happen in the future. If we discover something akin to an inverse dietary aid, will businesses use it? If you could make seemingly endless money by stimulating hunger and curbing fullness would you? The more you eat the hungrier you get.
Wait…that’s Chinese food isn’t it? The end is nigh!