Why this book by Michael Moss is probably the next book on my reading list.
Have you ever wondered what that orange crap is that’s left on your fingers after you eat some Cheetos or Doritos? Well, after reading this NYT piece about the science of addictive junk food, I have a hunch that it’s the chemical that’s also responsible for “vanishing caloric density”, which – as food scientist Steven Witherly explains – refers to the fact that “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.” That’s just one of the fascinating terms you’ll learn from the article, which is adapted from Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, which will be released on the 25th of this month. You’ll also gain an insight into a phenomena that seems to be a common likely flaw with highly optimized business processes, i.e., the fact that figuring out exactly what the customer wants and giving it to them probably will have unhealthy results. This is true with web marketing; if you want a busy website, find out what people are searching for. Then create websites about it, and before you know it, search results are full of SEO and social media tips, Lindsay Lohan, and Twilight. This was called content farming for a while, now it’s just the way things work. Or tailor results the way Google and Facebook have been, and you get what Eli Pariser calls the Filter Bubble (see his TED about the idea here). People want big impressive cushy cars? Sell ‘em an Escalade. Before you know it, the world’s out of oil, and the sky is black. They want cheaper electronics? Ship jobs overseas, and get the dual result of fewer jobs in America, as well as pollution and abusive working conditions abroad. The same principle seems to be at work with food; it’s simple proposition. If you can zero in precisely on what the customer wants and give it to them with precision, you’ll have a successful company, and once you’ve built this business model, it’s pretty hard to turn back. And at some point you’ll contemptuously claim that it’s entirely the public’s fault if what they want is sugar, salt, and fat. I’m looking forward to reading the book; if it’s as well-researched as the NYT article, it should be a fascinating window into the process that got the American food industry where it is today. And peering inside that process offers insight into almost every other kind of product marketing; the food industry has always employed the best of the best in the fields of chemistry, psychology, marketing, and business. Maybe reading it will help me understand my information addiction.
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