Can food taste too good? Yes, if you're New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope. Her Tuesday "Well" column for the Times is currently the #1 most emailed article on nytimes.com, and is an interview with former Food and Drug Administration head (and over-zealous banner of orange juice and silicon-gel breast implants) David Kessler on his new book, with the typically scolding title, "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite."
A Times headline writer took the same hectoring cue, eschewing personal responsibility for what people eat and blaming it all on food industry mind control: "How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains." Parker-Pope, via Kessler, actually comes out against food manufacturers for making their products tastes good.
As head of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. David A. Kessler served two presidents and battled Congress and Big Tobacco. But the Harvard-educated pediatrician discovered he was helpless against the forces of a chocolate chip cookie.
In an experiment of one, Dr. Kessler tested his willpower by buying two gooey chocolate chip cookies that he didn't plan to eat. At home, he found himself staring at the cookies, and even distracted by memories of the chocolate chunks and doughy peaks as he left the room. He left the house, and the cookies remained uneaten. Feeling triumphant, he stopped for coffee, saw cookies on the counter and gobbled one down.
So Kessler parlayed his lack of self-control into a book making it the food industry's problem. Kessler's controversial nanny-statist tenure at the FDA included telling Proctor & Gamble to get the word "fresh" off its frozen orange juice, "Fresh Choice." When the company ignored him, Kessler seized the juice.
None of that background made it into Parker-Pope's column, which offered nothing but praise for the Kessler regime at the FDA:
The result of Dr. Kessler's quest is a fascinating new book, "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite" (Rodale).
During his time at the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Kessler maintained a high profile, streamlining the agency, pushing for faster approval of drugs and overseeing the creation of the standardized nutrition label on food packaging. But Dr. Kessler is perhaps best known for his efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers intentionally manipulated nicotine content to make their products more addictive.
She is critical of the food industry for providing consumers tasty food that's a pleasure to eat:
Dr. Kessler isn't convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named "bliss point." Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt.
In other words, restaurants try to make their food taste good. Scandalous!
Foods rich in sugar and fat are relatively recent arrivals on the food landscape, Dr. Kessler noted. But today, foods are more than just a combination of ingredients. They are highly complex creations, loaded up with layer upon layer of stimulating tastes that result in a multisensory experience for the brain. Food companies "design food for irresistibility," Dr. Kessler noted. "It's been part of their business plans."
So food companies "design food for irresistibility," as opposed to making food you want to spit out. And this is a problem how?