“What we eat has changed more in the past forty years than in previous forty thousand”. Eric Schosser, Fast Food Nation
In the beginning of the 19th century, the vast majority of Americans were farmers. In the beginning of the 20th century, most worked in factories. In the beginning of the 21st century, the fastest growing segment of the economy was service jobs, especially in the food service industry. About fifty cents of every dollar Americans spent on food was spent in a restaurant, predominantly fast food. Food preparation changed dramatically from home cooking to processed food, in other words, we relied on others more and more to cook our food for us.
We evolved our sense of taste to help us survive – edible plants generally taste sweet – deadly ones bitter. With the rise of processed and fast food, a new industry was born, the flavor industry. Without it, the processed and fast food industry could not exist. The flavor industry is a highly secretive industry – they do not divulge formulas or identify clients. How do “natural” or artificial flavors compare?
The definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” Any other added flavor is artificial.
From “Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser:
A typical artificial strawberry flavor, like the kind found in a Burger King strawberry milk shake, contains the following ingredients: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl acetate, ethyl amylketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), α-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, γ-undecalactone, vanillin, and solvent.
Some people think that the only way to curb the obesity epidemic is to change the typical fast food items loaded with fat, sugar, and salt to more healthy choices but will the typical consumer accept these newer versions. McDonalds had a problem in 1991 with public acceptance of the now defunct McLean Deluxe (10 g. fat) , a lower fat version of the Big Mac (26 grams of fat). It also contained carrageenan, a seaweed extract, which some consumers were less than happy about. Additionally, if people think something is good for them, they tend to not like it.
The new approach to offering more healthy fast foods may lie in the flavor and texture industries. The goal is to fool taste buds and texture “mouth feel” as well as the brain into thinking the food is loaded with fat and sugar (which the consumers prefer) while it actually contains additives that mimic these preferred tastes. Flavor companies partner with major food companies including Unilever, Kraft Foods Inc., ConAgra, and Nestlé to create new and unique flavor experiences for their products. Consumers remember the tastes of their favorite fast foods, and food companies want to continue to supply that experience. The supply and demand has led the flavor industry to become a multi-billion dollar industry.
The argument for this approach is that lower income groups of our society cannot afford the healthier alternatives offered by whole or real (often organic) foods from the farmers markets or trendy restaurants or pay attention to the advice of the “elitist” foodies. It would be better to change the food environment of the fast food customers by offering healthier choices through fast foods and processed foods, they say. Would the creation of more processed foods engineered with less fat and sugar help to end the obesity epidemic? It’s an interesting thought but would the public accept it?