Manufacturing Fast Food Addiction
Flavour is the key to the attractiveness of fast food. It is not just the blend of salt, sugar and fat, but the combination of taste and smell which is now micro-engineered by the big food corporations’ chemists.
Nearly 90 per-cent of what we think of as taste is actually smell.
The 10,000 taste-buds on our tongues and in our mouths can pick up the 5 basic tastes: salt, sour, sweet, bitter and “umami”. But we humans have subtle olfactory nerves that can distinguish about 20,000 odours in the tiniest amounts.
Smell is a powerful sensation that helps to shape our psychology, and is strongly linked to memory.
From earliest infancy, humans swiftly learn what is in their food, what is pleasant and what may be poisonous. The flavours of childhood food seem to mark us indelibly, and adults often return to these primary sensations as “comfort food” without knowing quite why.
Fast food companies happily capitalise on this.
Fast food is industrially processed before it is served. It requires colour additives to make it look good, and chemical flavour compounds to make it taste right.
Technically it is perfectly legal to call these flavours that are manufactured in plants "natural".
Food scientists also study “mouthfeel” – and can adjust crunchiness and chewiness, density and dryness, by using a range of fats, gums, starches, emulsifiers, and stabilisers.
This subtle and sophisticated art is also required for snacks, drinks, confectionary, medicines, perfumes and cleaning products as well.
The scientists have been almost too successful, and their chemistry for some has become addictive.
Americans spend $110 billion a year on fatty, sugary fast food, more than they do on films, videos, books, magazines, newspapers and music combined.
Nearly two thirds of Americans are now overweight, and the US Surgeon General says 300,000 Americans die each year of obesity.
As fast food chains spread through Europe and Asia on a rising tide of affluence, people got fatter in those countries. It is called “globesity” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In 1995, the WHO estimates there were 200 million adults and another 18 million under-five children classified as overweight. By 2000 the number of obese adults had risen to 300 million.
This is not just a problem in industrialised societies. In developing countries, says the WHO, over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.
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