"When in Doubt, Add Bacon and Cheese": How the Food Industry Hijacked Our Brains and Made Us Fat
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AK: And how can we pressure the food industry? Do you support government regulation of fast food, of restaurant foods? One of the people you interviewed, one of the fast-food executives, said that everything that has made us successful seems to be the problem.
DK:You know, the joke in the food industry: when in doubt, add bacon and cheese to it. No doubt, the food industry has to change. Once you recognize, once we as a nation understand the consequences of this ever-increasing weight and the fact that our behavior is becoming conditioned and driven and we're laying down that neural circuitry, I mean, in not only us, but our children, does that have implications for school lunch programs? Absolutely. About what we subsidize with our tax dollars? Absolutely. How we disclose the information in restaurants? Very much so.
So, again, once we have the science, that we understand this isn't just a question of will power, it's not a question of just discipline, it's a question of the brains of millions of Americans being activated, it has very important implications for public policy.
Goodman:Well, what about regulating food like tobacco is regulated?
DK:There are similarities and differences. Let me see if I can explain. Nicotine is a moderately reinforcing chemical. Add to that nicotine the smoke, the throat scratch, the color of the pack, the crinkling of the cellophane wrapper, the images that were created 30 years ago of the cowboy, that it was sexy, cool. It was -- smoking was something people wanted to do 30, 40 years ago.
What did we do? We took a reinforcing chemical, and we made it, by adding these other layers of stimuli, into a significantly addictive and deadly product.
I give you a package of sugar, and I say, "Go have a good time." You'll look at me and say, "What are you talking about?" Now add to that sugar fat, add texture, add temperature, add color, add mouth feel, add the emotional gloss of advertising, say you're going to do it with your friends, make it into entertainment. And what do we end up with?
We end up with one of the most profound public-health epidemics. So there are similarities, but there's also differences.
AK:And what do you think of the proposal to impose a soda tax, to tax junk food. A new report from the Urban Institute suggests taxing junk food to help pay for health care costs.
DK:There are a lot of different tools along the way, but how did we succeed to the extent of the success so far with tobacco? What's the real success? Has it been legislation and regulation? President Obama just recently signed the bill giving FDA the authority to regulate cigarettes. So it's not been a question of legislation and regulation.
What the major change is, you know, was the fact that 30, 40, 50 years ago, we looked at a cigarette and said that was something we wanted, that it was cool to smoke. And what did we do? We changed how we, as a country, perceive the product.
Scientists call it changing the valence of the product. Cigarettes used to be positively valenced. How? What did we do? We changed the cigarette from something we wanted into something we don't want.
Today we see it as a deadly, addictive product. It is negatively valenced. What's the difference? If something is positively valenced, you approach it; if something is negatively valenced, you're going to avoid it.