Beautiful, Healthy Food

A Future of Super Healthy and Delicious Food

Are we ready for a future of abundant, super healthy, and delicious food? None of that nasty ultra-processed stuff that’s full of added sugar, salt, and fat? Be careful what you wish for. The power of many trillions of dollars flowing through the global food industry can grant your wish. But things might not turn out exactly as you expect.

Adapting to Abundance

Back at the beginning of the great depression, John Maynard Keynes warned that abundance might produce some challenges to human nature. Solving the “struggle for subsistence” might introduce new problems, he said:

I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.

We may be on the eve of improvements in the efficiency of food production as great as those which have already taken place in mining, manufacture, and transport.

Indeed, we are producing food as he predicted, with a fraction of the effort previously required. It’s now cheap, abundant, and appealing.

Marketing Food That Appeals

For the moment, popular opinion holds that the sugar, salt, and fat in processed foods are the source of our dietary woes. Though highly processed food still sells, if you want a hot new concept it needs a clean label. For a restaurant, a healthy image of fresh, whole foods with no GMOs, additives, or preservatives will do the trick. “Food as it should be” would make a good tagline for that. Chipotle tried something similar, but a little E coli got in the way.

Regardless of bumps along the way, marketers are nothing if not resilient. They will keep figuring out what we want and giving it to us – in abundance. Unfortunately, that might not solve the real problem with our food supply and obesity.

In his recent Obesity perspective paper, Kevin Hall described the food supply’s “supernormal appetitive properties driving increased consumption.” Easy access to plenty of food everywhere has changed the norms of eating behaviors, he says.

In short, what we have is a broken model of food marketing. It’s consumerism run amok. Ever more food, ever more appealing, and ever more convenient. Have all you want. Simply reformulating the product and calling it healthy will not fix the broken system.

We need a new model for food marketing that puts a premium on quality and not quantity of units sold.

For further perspective on the role of food marketers in both creating and solving these problems, click here.

Beautiful, Healthy Food, photograph © Med Coolman / flickr

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February 4, 2018

4 Responses to “A Future of Super Healthy and Delicious Food”

  1. February 04, 2018 at 9:19 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    This is an excellent and thought-provoking post, Ted–but your conclusion leaves me hungry (sorry….).

    My simplistic take is that like in other areas of our lives (stressors, in particular), our biology is maladapted to our current environment. Short of CRISPR being something more applicable than how we like our fried chicken (let alone dealing with all of the moral/ethical questions), we won’t be altering our biology soon.

    So that leaves the environment. So how do we shape incentives so that the environment can change?

    Clearly the SSB tax folks have adopted part of the logic behind Austan Goolsbee’s wisdom from this article in Slate (http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2005/09/the_grip_of_gas.html):

    “One of the oldest lessons economists have for thinking about what changes consumer demand is that moral exhortation doesn’t change people’s behavior. Prices do.”

    But I would argue even Austan got it a bit wrong (rare, to be fair): values (also a jeu de mots) change behavior.

    So who is having the discussion about incentives and values necessary to put us on a path to better health?

    Joe

  2. February 04, 2018 at 11:32 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Oh, then I remembered: let’s just add 10,000% tariffs on any dischware that exceeds a “serving-size footprint” (to avoid diameter/depth shenanigans) of 400 cm2.

    Problem-solved, right?

    Joe

  3. February 04, 2018 at 12:04 pm, Ted said:

    Many good questions in your comments, Joe. And lots of people are working on answers, but the work is far from complete. Many complex systems are interacting to produce the excess of obesity affecting so many people.

    Some policy advocates are pushing to regulate food marketing because it’s clearly part of the problem. I have my doubts about regulation alone being enough. The article by Katie Deighton (linked here and above) provides a glimpse of the potential for food marketers to participate in solving this problem. It will take all of us.

  4. February 04, 2018 at 1:54 pm, Joe Gitchell said:

    Amen, Cool.

    Yet another chance for me to use one of my OTHER new favorite hashtags: #UsNotThem

    Joe