by April M. Short
June 18, 2013
April M. Short is a Bay Area
journalist focusing on social justice reporting.
The junk food industry
is getting sneakier in its
to entice people into consuming
With the exposure of troubling obesity rates, outrage over
undisclosed genetically engineered wheat (and other) crops, the
successful worldwide March Against Monsanto effort in May and
statewide bans of GE crops that followed, the US citizenry is
expanding its awareness and concern about food health.
The junk food industry is responding by
getting sneakier in its tactics to entice, exploit and beguile
people into consuming its concoctions.
Here are a few of the most disturbing deceptions the industry is
using to keep Americans hooked on its junk.
Processed Foods to Look "Natural"
Those grill marks on your burger? Not real.
They were put there by the factory, just
like a pre-torn blue jean purchased at a name-brand store. Junk food
companies are branding their foods to have a more natural, homemade
appearance - and the painful, Orwellian doublespeak-style irony is
that to do so actually requires more processing than ever.
Rather than switch to ingredients that are actually healthier and
less processed, food engineers at companies with notoriously
processed products, namely,
,,,among others - are responding to
concerns surrounding overly processed foods with an unhealthy and
deceiving facade of healthy looking foods.
Kraft Foods engineers spent two years manufacturing a Carving Board
line process that would create uneven turkey slabs, and Wendy’s
intentionally created curvier "natural squares" out of perfectly
square beef chunks so the squares would appear less processed.
In an article titled "Food
Engineers Now Making Your Burger Look Cool, Casual, Real"
Similarly, the Egg White Delight
McMuffin at McDonald's is going for a squiggly circle rather
than the disturbingly perfect, round animal product disc that is
characteristic of the Egg McMuffin.
Domino's pizza churners are
instructed to tweak the perfect rectangles on their "Artisan
Pizzas" to achieve a natural crudeness of homemade pies.
Additionally, Gawker reports that
Hillshire Brands Company - deceptively known as Hillshire Farms - is
working to achieve the "wholesome" look.
After customers requested a "grainer
appearance" of the company’s poultry wafers, their factory processes
began to dye the edges of the meat slices with caramel food
According to Gawker, Hillshire’s vice
president of marketing, Reggie Moore, said,
"it's crucial to always be adapting
their food chunks to fit changing standards of appearance, as
the definition of 'natural' changes from customer to customer."
to Children Under Guise of Charity
Anna Lappé is a mother and food health educator, known for
her work as an expert on food systems and as a sustainable food
She spoke in March at TedX Manhattan on
behalf of her group, Food Mythbusters, about ways to combat
the fast food industry’s marketing to kids.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
childhood obesity - proven to cause diabetes and other serious
health conditions - has more than doubled in the last 30 years.
More than a third of children and
adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010, and the numbers are
"What children are enticed to
consume today has truly life-and-death consequences," Lappé told
While the fast food industry reported
spending less on marketing to kids to the FCC, a discerning look at
the numbers in the report will show otherwise.
Rather than advertise less, the industry
is using sneakier, less traditional channels to market to young
audiences, like social media, branded "advergaming" websites and "philanthro
Lappé says following her TedX Mahattan talk she received an email
from a concerned parent. Her third-grader’s class had taken a
lunchtime field trip to McDonalds to hear from Ronald the clown
about Ronald House Charities.
"The trip was under guise of
charitable giving, but what it meant in effect was two
third-grade classes, during the school day, going to McDonalds
to eat lunch with their teachers," Lappé says.
Lappé says that kind of under-the-radar
"philanthro marketing" is a common tactic for fast food companies to
reach young audiences, and points out that while it exposes kids to
fast food brands, it is not reported as "marketing" to the FCC and
other regulating organizations.
Food companies are also using the Internet and social media to keep
in touch with youth, including some websites, like McDonalds’
Ronald.com, that are marketed to kids as young as preschool-aged.
"They're called advergames, but
they're videogames embedded in websites," says Lappé.
She adds that, while marketing to kids
is inherently unethical, social media marketing is worse because it
is under the radar and all but unregulated.
"Children are unable to distinguish
between what is entertainment, educational material, and
advertising," she says.
"My particular issue with social
media marketing to kids is that the technology around social
media is advancing at such a fast pace - much faster than
advocates can monitor it, much faster than regulators can keep
up with it - so that you have this space of marketing to kids
that’s increasingly unregulated."
It is no coincidence that so many people are obese, and despite
widespread knowledge that it’s bad for you, many people continue to
crave junk food.
Junk food companies have got it down to
a science. They are creating "feel-good food" that is manufactured
to include just the right combination of the sugar, fat and salt our
limbic brains love.
In his article, "The
Jargon of Junk Food," Paul McFedries breaks down
the language of the junk food industry to show just how scientific
and calculated the industry’s methods are for keeping people
increasingly turn to their legions of scientists to produce
foods that we can’t resist," he writes.
McFedries notes that he is "indebted" to
New York Times reporter Michael Moss, particularly for his
fascinating new book Salt Sugar Fat, for many of the
Pillar Ingredients - Salt,
sugar, and fat are the Pillar Ingredients, and the industry
strategically combines the three to keep you hooked.
Bliss Point - If we crave pillar
ingredients so much, why not just crank them up as much as
possible? It turns out there is an optimum amount of salt,
sugar, or fat the human brain likes best, and it is called
the bliss point.
Mouthfeel - This is literally
the way food feels inside a person’s mouth; junk food
industry scientists also adjust factors like crunchiness to
produce a mouthfeel that consumer most crave.
Flavor Burst - Technologists
alter the size and shape of salt crystals, so that they
induce a flavor burst that "can basically assault the taste
buds into submission."
Vanishing Caloric Density -
Underlying all junk-food science is vanishing caloric
density, which is the process by which the food melts in
your mouth so quickly that the brain is fooled into thinking
it is consuming fewer calories than it actually is. The
packaged-food scientists want to avoid triggering
sensory-specific satiety, the brain mechanism that tells a
person to stop eating when it is overwhelmed by flavors. The
goals are either passive overeating, which is the excessive
eating of foods that are high in fat because the human body
is slow to recognize the caloric content of rich foods, or
auto-eating: that is, eating without thinking or without
even being hungry.
Michael Moss interviewed
Jeffrey Dunn, who in 2001 directed more than half of Coca-Cola’s
$20 billion in annual sales as president and chief operating
In the New York Times article, "The
Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food," Moss
"[Dunn] drew from the bag of tricks
that he mastered in his 20 years at Coca-Cola, where he learned
one of the most critical rules in processed food: The selling of
food matters as much as the food itself."