I don't know quite what to call it. "Food addiction" is a little off, because we are compelled to eat several times a day and the obsessive component of most addictions is often absent. Dr. David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner, borrows from the language of behavioral science. We aren't addicted, he says. We're conditioned. We respond to the most salient stimuli. And food industry, from the growers of corn to the chemists who invented molecular gastronomy, to the food stylists who know how to enhance the physical attractiveness of a hamburger, is the one doing the conditioning. Kessler accuses the food industry of figuring out how to make bad, cheap food addictive.
I was thinking about Kessler's book, which is currently the talk of the weight-loss crowd, on the morning that Centers for Disease Control hosts its first ever Weight of the Nation Conference on obesity. I'll be blogging from that conference over of the next few days as I gather final string for a magazine article about the politics of weight and obesity.
Kessler isn't speaking -- I think he's in Aspen, speaking to intellectuals gathered there for another food conference -- and I'll be interested to see if his ideas are well represented. Kessler represents the wing of the anti-obesity movement that favors confrontation and believes that only if the public gets angry about this manipulation of their diet can they -- we -- possibly begin to combat the obesity plague. Many obesity researchers I've spoken with over the past several months are afraid of confrontation, even though the physical and social science evidence is pretty compelling: we aren't what we eat; we are what the food companies want us to be.