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The Second Battle of the Bulge: Food Addiction Fast Foods Edition

Posted in Food Policy,Food Safety on September 3, 2018

I believe that with few exceptions, most of us would look at the picture above and exclaim “Oh that looks soooooo good”! It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction due to years of conditioned responses delivered by countless and relentless media messages. It’s almost abnormal not to covet anything to do with food laden with salt, sugar, fat, and additives that we cannot even pronounce. This article is part one of a three part series on fast food and processed food. Today, we are discussing food addiction fast foods edition.

I am as guilty as all-get-out when it comes to my love of fast food, but it wasn’t always that way. I grew up in the 60’s and wore out my adolescence in the 70’s, but I cannot recall going to a McDonald’s until I was almost ten years old. I bit into my first cheeseburger and was immediately hooked. It happens just like that. But before that, my Irish grandmother would cook up magnificent homemade meals. Not a single processed addition: just the traditional, well-rounded meat, potato, and vegetable. I don’t remember snacking on that many chips, and more often than not I ate apples for snacks.

It Didn’t Start With McDonald’s

The first “fast food” meal was probably served in ancient Rome, where many people lived in apartment buildings that were multi-storied, much as they are today. Cooking areas were scarce, so street vendors and restaurants fed lots and lots of people.

Even in colonial America, the colonists loved to sit and chat while dining, but as soon as they were done, they left to return to work. This is a reflection of the well-established Protestant work ethic that defined the American people, as in valuing time too well to waste it at the table!

A Brief Timeline of Fast Food

1921 – The first fast food hamburger chain, White Castle, was founded in Wichita, Kansas.

1955 – McDonald’s was founded by Ray Kroc in Des Plaines, Illinois. By 1958, Ray Kroc sold his 100 millionth hamburger. McDonald’s is one of the most influential and successful fast food franchises in history.

1967 – The Food and Drug Administration introduced high fructose corn syrup, initially intended to replace processed sugar. We now know that the body metabolizes it just as it does sugar, and it is equally as unhealthy for you. High fructose corn syrup was used in fast foods and to sweeten drinks.

1969 – President Nixon organized a conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health to address issues of American malnutrition. The goal was to draw up a national nutrition policy and devise steps to implement it.

1973 – The FDA created nutrition labeling regulations on food. These were intended to provide nutrition facts to consumers.

1989 – Wendy’s introduced their 99 cent Super Value menu. It included popular items at a reduced price.

2004 – A documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock debuted. It was controversial in its scope because it featured Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days and explored the fast food industry with its unhealthy food options. Because of the film, McDonald’s took its super-size options off their menu.

Get in the Car Now, or How About a Cheeseburger Before Practice?

Yet the history of the rise of American fast food is inextricably linked to the Industrial Revolution, then to the increase of women with children in the work force. If you think about it, we as a society were far healthier because of the physical activity that we had to perform: think daily chores, farming, taking care of children, lots of physical labor daily. With the Industrial Revolution, the swing to automation began to take shape and form in less and less physical activity. Nowadays we have the gym as a substitute for what once came naturally, and many of us are not so vigilant about even that. To make matters worse, we are so crunched with time restraints that on the way to the gym we’ll sometimes grab fast food and justify it by saying that we’ll “work it off”. To complicate matters further, the advent of the “working mom” put an additional strain on time availability to cook meals. It became far easier to just grab some fast food from a nearby drive-through.

Not only is it a matter of convenience, but fast food is relatively inexpensive. When family budgets are tight, fast food is a cheap alternative. Many fast food chains offer “dollar” menus or bundled deals that make it easy to purchase many foods.

The Science Behind Fast Food: So Our Brains are to Blame?

We are all well aware of the precepts that we should follow when it comes to what we consume: less fats, sugars, salt. Nutritionists, physicians, even our families, tell us to exercise more self -control, and everything in moderation. The theory makes complete sense, but is it valid?

Science has offered conclusive evidence that industrially produced processed food that are laden with sugar, fat, and salt are actually biologically addictive. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, food that is made in a plant rather than grown on a plant, is more addictive. For example, I know of no one that, given a choice between a bowl of broccoli and or a bag of potato chips, a plate of cookies, or a pint of ice cream would choose the former. To offer another analogy, ask a cocaine addict to “just say no” after that first snort. Ask an alcoholic to do the same after a drink. It’s not a choice but a biological directive that promotes addictive behavior.

What’s Coming

In a subsequent article to be published here, I will provide information on the Big Food companies and their link to fast food and obesity. Also look for more information regarding a more complete understanding of just what makes us crave what we shouldn’t be craving and how powerless we are, biologically, to stop it.

The obesity crisis and its resultant medical conditions deserve just as much attention as the recalls and outbreaks that we publish here at Make Food Safe. Both are at opposite ends of the spectrum of food safety, however, being proactive characterizes both schools of thought when it comes to dealing with eating foods that are unhealthy for us and utilizing the best in food safety practices.

By: Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)