The Western Epidemic Essay

“As a culture, we've become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco” (qtd. In Moss 659). The article “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” goes behind the scenes of junk food production, hidden away from public view. It should come as no surprise that the food industry uses numerous tactics to maximize their profit. This event may range from undergoing test-taking to chemically altering the compounds in a product. The goal of Micheal Moss in the reading is to inform the audience of the science behind creating addictive junk food by providing multiple sources that expose the food industry’s practices.

Extensive research is mandatory to introduce new and successful products in the market. When it comes to perfecting the snack, no one beats Frito-Lay. To place into context the effort that goes into their products, Moss informs the audience of Frito-Lay’s formidable research complex near Dallas. Nearly 500 chemists, psychologists, and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year. The science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel, and aroma for each of these items. Their tools include a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect breaking point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch. To focus on a specific product, Steven Witherly, a food scientist, on Cheetos states, “This is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure”(qtd. In Moss 672). Witherly then focused on one attribute that makes the brain desire more. This attribute is Cheeto’s ability to melt in your mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there are no calories in it. . . you can just keep eating it forever” (qtd. In Moss 672). Moss continues to reaffirm his credibility through numerous interviews with experts. Diverting from the Cheeto, Frito-Lay wants to add the use of designer sodium, which would lower salt content down by 40 percent. With the potato chip, the starch causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike-which can result in a craving for more. The trick here, however, is that because there is less sodium, people would see less salt as the green light to snack like never before, particularly boomer’s as they were more likely to skip meals consequently replacing them with snacks. Dwight Riskey, an expert on cravings who had been a fellow at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia has called them a “category that has huge growth potential.” Growth potential for business profits that is. Riskey said, “They were not only eating what they ate when they were younger, they were eating more of it.” Everyone in the country, on average, was eating more salty snacks than they’re used to. If everyone is eating more salty snacks and they were to learn that Frito-Lay products will soon feature 40 percent less salt due to the use of designer sodium, they will consume more and not feel so guilty about it. This is turn will make production higher and profits rise. A psychologist named Ernest Dichter stated “While people like and enjoy potato chips, they feel guilty about liking them. . . . Unconsciously, people expect to be punished for ‘letting themselves go’ and enjoying them. To combat this, Dichter advises that Frito-Lay avoid utilizing the word “fried” in referring to its chips to adopt instead the more healthful-sounding term “toasted.” To counteract the “fear of letting oneself go,” he suggested repacking the chips into smaller bags. “The more-anxious consumers, the ones who have the deepest fears about their capacity to control their appetite, will tend to sense the function of the new pack and select it” (qtd. In Moss 674).

Through the use of substantial knowledge and methodological testing, the food industry strives to discover the ideal product. Regarding product optimization, Howard Moskowitz, a “game-changer”, who studied mathematics and holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Harvard, was hired to facilitate soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. It was stated that Moskowitz “started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring… They liked flavorful foods like turkey Tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough” (qtd. In Moss 665). This contradiction is recognized as “sensory-specific satiety”. This is the tendency for distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to consume more. Big products like Coca-Cola or Doritos implement these 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 quit eating. With drinks, particularly Dr. Pepper, Moskowitz helped to optimize the product with a new vanilla flavor on top of the regular Dr. Pepper taste. To complete this task, it has been stated that “finding the bliss point required the preparation of 61 subtly distinct formulas — 31 for the regular version and 30 for diet. The formulas were subjected to 3,904 tastings organized in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The Dr. Pepper tasters began working through their samples, resting five minutes between each sip to restore their taste buds. After each sample, they gave numerically ranked answers to a set of questions: How much did they like it overall? How strong is the taste? How do they feel about the taste? How would they describe the quality of this product? How likely would they be to purchase this product?”. Test subjects would respond differently to the vanilla taste, various aspects of aroma and the powerful sensory force that food scientists call “mouth feel.” Not only was its taste that the team had tested, but it was also the other senses. “When we increased the level of the Dr. Pepper flavoring, it gets darker and liking goes off,” Reisner, Moskawitz’s vice president for research, said. All this for discovering a bliss point, and what's great about a bliss point is that instead of a specific number of ingredients needed, it is a specific range, so just barely using enough ingredient to hit this range can be immensely profitable. In place of utilizing 2 milliliters of the flavoring, they could employ 1.69 milliliters and accomplish the same effect. The potential savings are merely a few percentage points, and it won’t mean much to individual consumers who are counting calories or grams of sugar. But for Dr. Pepper, it adds up to colossal savings. “That looks like nothing,” Reisner said. “But it’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Millions.” Imagine where all these millions can lead to. Perhaps more studies and with that sprouts more opportunities to produce stronger company profit.

Michael Moss conveys his message about the demanding and fascinating process that goes into the creation of junk food all through sharing his experience interviewing and discussing with various types of scientists, representatives of big brand companies and so forth. Moss is well-informed and implements heavy usage of evidence that urges the reader the desire to learn more about what he has to share. This reading was quite eye-opening for me and in retrospect, I have come to discover new information that I did not know before. I, like many others, question if all of this is ethical too, question what are the regulations and so forth.