Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Eureka!--The Obvious

When I read this article in the NYT I could not stop snickering in my head.

Not laughing, mind you, but snickering.

It's the classic example of academics being so caught up in their own little world that they don't realize they've spent their entire lives studying what everyone already KNOWS to be COMMON SENSE. It's the ultimate DUH.

I mean, seriously, academics are sometimes so proud of discovering the obvious. I don't need "experts" to tell me men prefer to marry younger, hotter women and that women prefer rich guys. Whatever evolutionary psychologists--that's not even a real science!

But I digress.

In this instance, what may seem obvious to you and me was apparently quite eye-opening to David Kessler, Harvard-educated pediatrician and head of the FDA under two presidents.

As the article explains, "In an experiment of one, Dr. Kessler tested his willpower by buying two gooey chocolate chip cookies that he didn’t plan to eat. At home, he found himself staring at the cookies, and even distracted by memories of the chocolate chunks and doughy peaks as he left the room. He left the house, and the cookies remained uneaten. Feeling triumphant, he stopped for coffee, saw cookies on the counter and gobbled one down.

'Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me?' Dr. Kessler asked in an interview. 'Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.'"

So, let me get this straight buddy. You spent 7 years wondering why a cookie is delicious?! Because it's full of sugar and butter, Idiot!

Kessler has jotted down his oh-so-obvious thoughts and musings in a book called The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

The article gives us a hint into why Kessler is not aware that his oh-so-obvious thoughts are oh-so-obvious. Kessler was deeply involved in fighting big tobacco and saw all the sneaky, tricky, deceptive things big tobacco did to make their products addictive and delicious. So then he decided to turn that eagle-eye of his to another great American public health enemy: FOOD!

As the article explains "In The End of Overeating Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more."

Uh, you mean how the food industry tries to make food delicious? Okay, whatever. That's not exactly earth-shattering news. If Kessler had uncovered that the food industry laced its products with crack, that would be exciting. But unfortunately his thoughts are much more banal. To wit:

"When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full."

Uh, food makers are doing what?! You don't say! They are combining fats, sugar and salt?!!! Sacred bleu! Stop the presses! And they're doing it in a way that makes us want more? You mean they're making the food yummy? Oh. My. Gosh! But it gets better:

"Dr. Kessler isn’t convinced that food makers fully understand the neuroscience of the forces they have unleashed, but food companies certainly understand human behavior, taste preferences and desire. In fact, he offers descriptions of how restaurants and food makers manipulate ingredients to reach the aptly named 'bliss point.' Foods that contain too little or too much sugar, fat or salt are either bland or overwhelming. But food scientists work hard to reach the precise point at which we derive the greatest pleasure from fat, sugar and salt."

Yes, let's give your stupid research a fancy-pants, legit-sounding term like "bliss point"! Did you spend a long time thinking up that word Kessler? Did you go through a list, like Yummy Point? (No...too unsophisticated sounding) Delicious Point? (No, doesn't make my research sound legit) Wow-Can-I-Have-Another-One Point? (No, too Oliver Twist).

"The result is that chain restaurants like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” he notes. And Dr. Kessler reports that the Snickers bar, for instance, is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time."

Gasp! The food industry is so big and powerful--it's all a huge conspiracy. Bad chain restaurants! They're no better than big tobacco! How dare they try to make our food "hyper-palatable"! We demand moderately palatable food. That's what I want when I go out on the town.

And on and on the article goes about how fascinating Kessler's discoveries are.

What. Ever.

Look, I'm sure Kessler's book and research has something interesting to contribute to society. But this article sure ain't highlighting it. If I wasn't sure I was reading NYT, I'd a thought I was reading The Onion.

RESEARCHER DISCOVERS RESTAURANTS TRY TO MAKE FOOD DELICIOUS (by combining salt, sugar and fat in just the right amounts)!

And in other news of the hour, DOG BITES MAN!

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