Reconciliation requires companies either to sell less (impossible from a business standpoint) or make up the difference with sales of healthier products. Unfortunately, the so-called healthier products—and whether they really are is debatable–rarely sell as well. In practice, companies touch all bases at once: they put most marketing efforts into their core products, they proliferate new “better-for-you” products, and they seek new customers for their products among the vast populations of the developing world—where, no surprise, the prevalence of obesity is increasing, along with its related diseases.
Do you think we have an obligation to choose our foods more wisely, given the astronomical costs of diet-related diseases in the U.S.?
We would certainly be better off if we ate more healthfully. I’m not sure about “obligation.” Food choices are enormously influenced by what’s advertised, most handy, eaten by peers, and cheap, and by how big the portions are. Right now, that food environment promotes eating too much of the wrong kinds of things. That’s why people concerned about public health policy want to change the food environment to make healthy choices the easy choices.
In Eat Drink Vote, you note that “it ought to be possible to enjoy the pleasures of food and eat healthfully at the same time.” Why does that ideal meal elude so many of us?
Because our food choices are so strongly influenced by the food environment. Given a large plate of food, for example, practically everyone will eat more from it than from a smaller portion.
And then there’s the cooking problem. For decades, Americans have been told that cooking is too much trouble and takes too much time. As a result, many people would rather order in and wait for it to arrive and get heated up again than to start from scratch. And healthy foods cost more than highly processed junk foods, and not only on the basis of calories. The government supports the production of corn and soybeans, for example, but not that of broccoli or carrots.
I should also mention that food companies get to deduct the cost of marketing, even marketing to children, from their taxes as legitimate business expenses.
On the subject of food and pleasure, you enjoy the occasional slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream, just as Michelle Obama loves her french fries. Do you subscribe to the “all things in moderation” philosophy, or are there some things you simply won’t eat, ever?
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