04
Jan
12

A quick thought experiment

One of the standard arguments that whizzes past the flapping lips of anti-corporate food critics like Marks Morford and Bittmann is that evil food companies — usually running the gamut from ConAgra to McDonalds — are making us fat, creaky, and diabetic by engineering food in their big scary laboratories and then using mass hypnosis — er, that is, advertising — to convince us to eat it.  We can charitably think of this as a gross exaggeration of the hyperpalatability hypothesis.

Suppose that this is true.  That is, suppose that food can be engineered to taste really good by godless demon science, and suppose that relentless advertising can forcibly change eaters’ preferences towards whatever’s being pimped by the KFC marketing department this week.

Why hasn’t the fast-food industry used these tools to change all of their products over to use the very lowest-priced inputs?  That is, why can I walk into a McDonalds franchise and buy something made with meat rather than with heavily-subsidized corn and wheat?  Sure, it’s a lot cheaper to turn that subsidized corn into animal feed and pipe it into a bunch of caged-up heifers than to graze a herd of cattle on actual grass, but surely it’d be cheaper still to skip the intermediate step and pipe that subsidized corn directly into customers.

You might reasonably object that you like eating meat, but recall from hypothesis that McDonalds (or whoever) can get around this in two ways: they can engineer that cattle feed to make it taste really good, and they can advertise it to you to the extent that you’ll want engineered cattle feed.

The fact that the observed world looks nothing like this thought experiment suggests that the ability of food companies to engineer and sell us evil nasty shit is overstated.

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4 Responses to “A quick thought experiment”


  1. January 5, 2012 at 09:17

    Take a look at vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes, and tell me with a straight face that food science and marketing can’t persuade people to pay more for cattle feed modified for passable palatability.

    • January 5, 2012 at 09:27

      That’s not food-science-and-marketing, that’s Hanson’s Razor in the hands of the vegans. TVP is a modern-day mortification of the flesh.

      (Agedashi tofu can be pretty tasty, though.)

    • January 7, 2012 at 13:13

      I wondered today if it might be true that many read ‘low-fat’ as literally anti-fat, food that annihilates fat on contact. It would perfectly explain why nasty half-food brands out-sell real food brands.


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