Is Food Addiction Real or Invented to Sell Books?

No breakfast burritosTwo books cashing in on obesity hype are being released this week. Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat claims, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, that we’re just junk food junkies at the mercy of food processing companies who shouldn’t be able to create good-tasting foods.  The other, Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner, sits in the tradition of Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” that hyperbolically proclaim anything with more than five ingredients is poison, or something.

Both books share a fatal flaw: They lay the blame for assorted maladies at the feet of “food processing,” and call people back to the supposed foods of the ancestors. For their intended audience of Upper West Side posh elites, Berkeley university students with their parents’ money in hand, and Boulder hippies working on their “novels,” this is right up the alley. For the rest of us, a lot of our paychecks are at stake.

Consider the humble loaf of bread. Regular sandwich bread costs a couple of dollars and lasts roughly a week, making it a staple of family lunches. The “artisan,” handmade breads of the Learjet and Prius crowd cost double that and don’t last as long. And while Moss, Pollan, Warner and their legions can afford to waste food and spend extra money to satisfy their “food rules,” the majority of Americans can’t, especially with the current poor economy.

But is food processing really the evil these authors make it out to be? We might start listening to them if they ever give up the “Holy Trinity” of “foodie” goodness: fine wine, fancy sausages, and stinky cheese. All three (despite Warner’s desperate protestation to the contrary in cheese’s case) are processed. There are no wine lakes, cheese trees, or animals made of charcuterie. All are manipulated by humans, have added ingredients, and have been so forever. Before people, they did not exist.

And — quelle horreur — all three have been refined to taste very good! Just ask noted vintner Leslie Rudd, benefactor of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies as well as the “food addiction” think tank, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Eons of trial and error, science, and plant engineering  have left Mr. Rudd with a vintage that rates 99 out of 100 possible wine-tasting points. And like they have with wines, the French most famously perfected the tastes of cheese and charcuterie meats (although other cultures made similar efforts).

Additionally, all three have as a benefit a property that Warner uses to bash modern food processing: preservation. Wine keeps longer than grapes. Cheese keeps longer than milk. And almost every meat-eating culture has used sausages as a method to keep meats edible.

These benefits now have been made available to everybody, and only now do our elites think it’s a problem. (Old-time doctors didn’t worry incessantly about a ruling-class “gout epidemic.”) But America is still democratic in character, and recent polling shows that most of us don’t share the jet set’s desire to take away our choices.

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