Food and Drink: what’s really going wrong with our food and drink industry?

What’s really going wrong with our food and drink industry?

So why are manufacturers really putting so much sugar, salt and artificial flavourings into what we eat and drink?

To answer that question, we’re going to take you on a journey through a fictional food company with laboratories and explain what one particular group of our bespectacled white-coated specialists are getting up to behind closed doors these days. Naturally you are each sworn to secrecy and have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before we can begin our tour as many food preparation processes contain closely-guarded industrial secrets. Any unauthorised disclosure may result in you becoming unable to find employment in the industry afterwards!

Let’s begin our tour with a visit to the tasting laboratory..

This is run on a strictly departmental basis by psychologists rather than cooks. In here, conditions are carefully controlled and “double-blind experiments” are performed on “subjects” to prevent “contamination” of results by “environmental variables” including heat, light, colour, smell, noise and even the experimenter. As you can imagine, the lab appears as a series of identical white cubicles with chairs, tables ad hatches through which food and drink samples can be placed in identical hygienic white paper cups and tasted anonymously. Our subjects, who may comprise students and other volunteers, sometimes “chosen at random from the user population” (members of the public) are unaware of  what happens behind the hatches.

The food tasting laboratory is kept separate from the factory production lines so the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. These white coated lab guys are sometimes seen walking around the factory with clip boards and nowadays tablets mysteriously. Their word is however god. What ever they say must be obeyed to the letter. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir!

Now we’ll take a look at what goes on behind those secret hatches.

Each subject has rated the taste of those food and drink items placed those white paper cups. Cup ‘A’ is preferred to cup ‘B’ for texture; cup ‘C’ is preferred to cup ‘D’ for being more sweet and less bitter, etc. Dozens of individual blind tastings have typically been carried out and may ingredients, recipes and flavouring additives evaluated. Tables and graphs of the results are drawn up. Statistical analysis is performed. By the time the answer comes out, all are convinced that recipe ‘F’ is superior to ‘G’. People will prefer food and drink product ‘F’! All is perfect in their uncontaminated world. The numbers add-up correctly. Instructions are passed and recommended by management and passed to the factory. People will buy more of product F. It is deemed superior and product G will be progressively removed from the shelves of the supermarket to be replaced by product F. Survival of the fittest rules, according to the commercial world. We’re all right Jack. You may not be in good shape physically, but by golly we are financially! No spots on us. Profits are up and we operate strictly by the numbers!

All appears fit and well in the commercial world at least; but there are murmurings of disquiet from the Health Service: tooth decay and obesity in the children that consume the food and drink product are on the increase. Conflicting sets of numbers research begin to emerge.

You might engage with one of the older workers in casual conversation, which is incidentally generally discouraged by company policy, who may predictably come across as ‘cautiously guarded’: “In the old days when the factory was run by Uncle Joe, a cook who invented our original pies, we used to have informal suggestions and safeguards to prevent problems from developing. Now the factory is owned by the shareholders and run strictly on a departmental basis by specialists – and by the numbers. Our raw food is sourced by price rather than location and producer. Everybody is micro-managed and has to do exactly as they are told – or they’re out”.

Addicted to love (sugar)

As a criticism of the of the above experimental procedure (experimental design), you could argue that ‘subjects’ who exhibit a preference for food and drink with more sugar, salt and mono for example are expressing a preference for more sensation – more taste. You could also argue that bland-tasting food is becoming boring and that our pallets are changing over time, requiring ever-greater ‘sugar hits’, and that to counter the increasing sweetness, more and more salt and other bitter additives are required to provide a counter-balance. Sugar and salt are valuable and essential parts of a healthy diet, however balance and moderation are required in our increasingly sedentry world.

To conclude: are we becoming increasingly addicted to glucose?

As any chef can advise, there is more to flavour than sugar, salt and mono!

The need to deconstruct our food into its underlying flavour components as a requirement held by by taste and psychology researchers in the belief that somehow unaltered natural food is a naive and simplistic notion is just plain wrong! We may be naive consumers but I’m sorry; an orange really is an orange, a cut of meat really is a cut of meat! An apple really is green! Get real! *

You’d be surprised just how much backgroud reading * it took to have the confidence to say that and not to be fearful of immediate rejection by the scientific community.. 

Stop using science as a excuse to cut corners with our food!

We need to be able to trust our science – as well as our food!

Stop press:

Heinz are now reducing the sugar levels in more of their iconic products. **

Further reading

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201101/accounting-taste

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4613-1221-5_1

* http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/

** http://www.foodingredientsfirst.com/news/Heinz-Latest-Ketchup-Variant-Offers-50-Less-Sugar.html

 

Nick

 

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