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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Don't look back

Wherever you go

Artwork courtesy Heron Dance

Black-headed Grosbeak - spring pass through

The black-headed Grosbeaks were munching at the feeder. Either the ones that pass through here in the spring are always females, or the desert version of this bird is a bit duller in color. There are regional variations so I'll have to find out which it is.

Black-headed grosbeak

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sugar Salt Fat - There's NO conspiracy!

As my stylist, Andi, snipped my hair, we got caught up on the usual small talk that stylists are famous for. I gave her an office update, told her about the latest home improvement projects, and lamented that I hadn't been rollerblading.  She reported the flyaway grey hairs she'd spotted on Jennifer Aniston (only a stylist would notice that...) and described her latest read Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss.

Andi is just a couple of years older than I am. She owns the salon, works out at a Cross-fit gym, rollerblades, and tries to eat healthfully, more or less following a paleo diet--one of the latest food fads to creep into mainstream America. Although our conversations are confined to the shampoo bowl and the styling chair, she's always struck me as a bright woman. So it surprised me a bit to see how caught up she was in the whole "conspiracy theory" of this book. (Full disclosure: I have only read excerpts.)

The gist of this New York Times bestseller is that food companies, especially companies like Kraft, that Moss dubs Big Food, have conducted market research and then conspiratorially worked with scientists to manipulate the chemical formulation of foods to get us addicted to their unhealthy products. Chapter by chapter the tale unfolds how we are hapless victims of sophisticated food engineering.

I listened. After all, she had scissors in her hand. But it took almost my entire day's quota of self-discipline not to roll my eyes.

Sure, food companies spend scads of money on market research. The cola wars conducted by Pepsi and Coke equal the GDP of a small developing nation. And it's no secret that science has helped formulate "food," (I use that term loosely) in such a way that it's perceived as tastier.

So what.

If Big Food is conspiring to addict us to their products and thus make us fat, then so is cable TV. After all, the television producers also conduct extensive market research to determine what type of riveting programs we want to watch so they can produce entertainment that keeps us planted on the sofa for hours. Perhaps Big Food is in cahoots with the cable companies since people tend to consume unhealthy food while watching TV.

And while we're at it, we might as well assume that Big Food also manipulates car manufacturers since they build into their vehicles the cup holders that hold those gargantuan sweet drinks and lattes.  I predict a sequel!

It might surprise the readers of books like Sugar, Salt, Fat, Fast Food Nation and other bestsellers in this food conspiracy genre that pleas to cut back on processed food aren't new. I read William Duffy's Sugar Blues in 1975 at the tender age of 12 

If there's a conspiracy to reveal, it's the one to absolve everyone but the so-called Big Evil Corporation of any wrong doing.  Lots of people bypass the junk at the grocery store and steer clear of restaurant food just about every day. (I being one of them.)

Companies only give us what we are willing to pay for. If it was as easy as using science to sell food, there would be no need for additional market research and every product put in the store would be a success. The fact that there are food flops like Heinz's EZ Squirt green ketchup and Coca-Cola's New Coke prove that success isn't concocted in a lab.

Everyone has a choice. It's convenient to say and perhaps even a bit exciting to think that an elite few have figured out "the game" but that most people are still being manipulated and duped. That's the stuff of bestsellers and far more interesting than saying that people make poor health and life decisions. But as with food, the convenient choice isn't always right one.

Copyright © Deborah A. Ayers - All rights reserved.