Sunday Food: Food Marketing and Salt
(Picture courtesy of Wikipedia commons from Ralf Roletschek.)
Admittedly, the object I started with was a post on salt. With healthy diet the endangered species it has become, the subject of salt in our food has been something discussed a lot among friends here.
There are wonderful salts with herbs that we’ve begun to use in addition to the longtime standard table salt. As shown in the picture above, there’s a real allure to fine salts, and in food markets whole stalls devoted to it have recently begun to appear.
Looking for discussion of salt, I’ve found that the debate at high levels of government about our obesity epidemic have brought out dubious practices on the part of food interests. What gives them the most profit is their major emphasis, and salt is a major appetite inducement.
A conference last year found conflict between marketing and the maintenance of public health.
A few days ago, two big names in food policy squared off for a formal debate on the following proposition: There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the food and beverage industry’s interests and public health policy interests on obesity.
Kelly Brownell,who leads the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, led the anti-industry charge. He was opposed by Derek Yach, a soft-spoken South African who provoked much head-scratching in 2007 when he left the World Health Organization to take a senior executive job at PepsiCo. (Yach recently left PepsiCo to join The Vitality Group, an arm of a South African insurance company that promotes wellness.)
The proposition they debated contained some hidden historical spice. At the close of the debate, moderator Thomas Bollyky revealed that it was lifted from a landmark international treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), adopted in 2003. The words “tobacco industry” were simply replaced by “food and beverage industry,” and “on obesity” added. (Interestingly, Yach was one of the architects of this treaty while at the WHO.)
So is PepsiCo really today’s Phillip Morris?
Brownell certainly thinks so. At the debate, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and held in its posh midtown Manhattan building, Brownell argued that food companies are fundamentally untrustworthy. He pointed to cases in which the industry set up front groups to fight a soda tax in California and fought national guidelines that would restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
The debate, by this time, had turned to the question of whether food industry representatives should be barred from policy-making discussions related to food, similar to a ban that governments have placed on scientists sponsored by the tobacco industry.
Yach argued that the food industry is already changing, and there’s more change in store, if the conversation continues.
Where health is the public interest, profit again has shown itself to be the destruction of best practices.
That salt is a major component of our unhealthy foods doesn’t of course stop people from craving it. One researcher reported on what became of the taste we want when salt is simply removed.
“They made for me special versions of some of their most iconic products … without any salt in it to show me why they were having trouble cutting back. And, I have to say, it was a god-awful experience. … starting with Cheez-Its, which normally I could eat all day long. The Cheez-Its without salt stuck to the roof of my mouth and I could barely swallow. Then we moved onto frozen waffles, which tasted like straw. The real moment came in tasting a cereal — I think it was Corn Flakes — which tasted hugely, awfully metallic. It was almost like a filling had come out of my mouth and it was sloshing around.”
The balance of our own taste for salt and related spices has to be an individual choice.