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Krupp: Addicted to Addiction

I met Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame while attending the University of Kentucky in 1962. The Colonel sat down with my parents and me at one of his restaurants in Lexington, Kentucky. He wore his famous white suit and string tie and looked exactly as he did in his pictures.

Back then, of course, they were still called Kentucky Fried Chicken - but in today's health conscious world, "Fried" is no longer politically correct so now they're known simply as "KFC."

Otherwise, not much else has changed, in spite of a strong push today towards eating less salt, sugar and fat - since more than half of all Americans are overweight and nearly 40 million people - or one quarter of the population are obese with high rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Nutritionists consider the big three - sugar, salt and fat to be addictive substances and the main cause of these afflictions. Processed foods and snacks make us hungrier. Starchy and sugary foods cause glucose levels in blood to spike, making us want to eat and drink more. One 20 oz. container of Mountain Dew contains 19.25 teaspoons of sugar. Anyone who drinks one of these every day for a year will gain roughly 30 pounds. Many consider the processed food industry to be a public health menace - even worse than cigarettes. But as long as the goal is to get people hooked on foods that are addictive, convenient and inexpensive, industry behavior isn't likely to change.

Back in April of 1999, according to the New York Times, a long line of town cars and taxis pulled up to the Minneapolis headquarters of Pillsbury. Eleven men exited the vehicles - CEO's of America's largest food corporations including Nestle, Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble. These global corporations compete with one another for what's called "stomach share" and the single item on the agenda was how to deal with the emerging obesity epidemic. Stephen Sanger, the CEO of General Mills told the audience that people buy what they like and what tastes good and that was basically the end of the meeting.

Ordinary consumers are paid by the fast food industry to spend hours in rooms where they evaluate color and touch, feel, sip, smell and taste different products. Its not just a matter of comparing Color 23 with Color 24. Color 23 must be combined with - say - Syrup 11 and Packaging 6. Products like Coca-Cola and Doritos have complex formulas that tell the brain to not stop eating. It's called the "bliss point."

But if people have the will, change can happen. Finland's national policy to cut out one third of the salt in people's diets achieved a 75 percent decline in the number of deaths from strokes and heart diseases. The Vermont legislature has seriously considered taxing sugar-sweetened beverages. No results so far, but hey, while we're waiting, please don't pass the chips.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay. His most recent book is titled: Lifting The Yoke - Local Solutions To America's Farm And Food Crisis.
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