I, too, was struck by the explanations of how food is engineered to be consumed with minimum effort, and I started thinking about the foods that I often eat. I consider myself a fairly healthy snacker – every time I come back from a break I bring lots of nuts, raisins, and other coöp fare along with me for emergency energy, etc., etc. – but I was thinking particularly about those cube-shaped chocolate wafer cookies… you know, Loacker Quadratini. I was interviewed the other day for a summer programme I applied to, and I’d brought some along for my interrogators, cunningly aspiring to put them in a better mood and cast a chocolaty sort of glow over their impression of me. One of them said of these cookies “Oh, once you start eating those, you can’t stop.” After the last few readings we’ve had, I started thinking about that. This is the way the foods we’ve been discussing have been designed. These are some of the only packaged cookies I really adore, but they are, admittedly, the ultimate dissolving food – they make those Chips Ahoy feel like brick houses. I had always thought of that as part of their appeal, and still do, but now I’m a little more suspicious of the motives behind this characteristic, and wary of what’s making me reach into this bag again for more.
We’ve talked a lot about what happens once we start eating food – I now want to know more about the marketing process that comes first. From what I’ve seen, the people trying to sell food and most other things have supersimplified human emotions and needs, and put them into boxes that work remarkably well. It reminds me a lot of Season 7 of The West Wing (one of my only televisual vices, so I think you can afford to forgive me for bringing it up – and this series basically predicted Obama five years ahead of events), during the presidential campaign. Even the people working in politics and sincerely believing in their candidate knew what would get through to the masses – and in the weeks before election day, that wasn’t his platform or the subtleties and specifics of his policy or voting record. It was a muscular guy in uniform, displaying himself and his family as happy and uncomplicated and beautiful. There’s a scene in which somebody explains to the presidential candidate “When Americans want a Daddy, they vote republican. Someone to be tough on foreign policy and make sturdy speeches. When they want a Mummy, someone to work on domestic issues and give them jobs, they vote democratic.” As though it were as simple as that (though, in fairness, it worked on the show). From what little I know, food advertising works similarly, and isn’t really about the qualities of the product so much as the image projected. But I’m sure there’s more to it than that. We’ve talked about what makes us keep eating. So what makes us begin?