A current fast food debate revolves around convenience versus health consequences. This debate centers around personal choice and preference of the consumer depending on the amount of time they have and are willing to take up to make healthy lifestyle choices and the convenience and accessibility of fast food. The Pro fast food camp focuses on the time it saves in this our current fast paced environment and the possible cost benefit for our wallets. The Con camp focuses on the health implications of fast food. Fast food is loaded with chemicals, large quantities of sugar, salt and fat, and frying foods tends to destroy most of the nutrients that were originally available in these foods. In combination with our sedentary lifestyle, fast food consumption has led to a spike in related health problems such as heart attacks and diabetes. Yet this debate leaves out many other aspects to this fast food issue, in other words, it does not address the “gray area”.
As investigative reporter Michael Moss found out, there has been a conscious effort on the part of food companies – “taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles – to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.” To begin, food engineers optimize their products to be exactly what consumers want. Yet what our bodies want is sugar, salt and fat due to our history of needing to obtain these substances to survive. Yet nature’s products have a very small amount of these three ingredients compared to the amounts added to processed foods today. And foods are now created to make your brain want to keep consuming them. For example, Cheetos have what is called “vanishing caloric density“, where your brain thinks there are no calories in it because it melts down quickly.
Along with the science of junk food comes the marketing strategies of large food industries. As I mentioned in my blog post about Coca-Cola in favelas, companies such as Coca-Cola follow aggressive marketing strategies in the developing world. They strive to sell junk food to these “untapped” markets. But, advertising is just as aggressive in developed countries, especially in the United States. While there has been push back for healthier products, aggressive marketing targets poor and underprivileged populations. The logic behind this marketing strategy is that “heavy users” of products such as Coca-Cola can be pushed into drinking more, which is more efficient than trying to get “new users”. Poor areas in the U.S. tend to drink up to 3 times more Coke than more affluent areas.
These two examples of food optimization and marketing strategies are just two examples of the nuances of the junk food debate. The issue is not as clear cut between convenience and health effects as it is made to seem, essentially boiling down to personal choice. There are many outside factors that need to be looked at in the process.