One of the aspects of the obesity epidemic that always confounds me is the lack of outrage over the nearly impossible caloric density of our food supply.
Yoni Freedhoff notes in a Weighty Matters post that the Burger King Bacon Sundae has fewer calories, and less fat and sugar, than many desserts already on the market. At the top of his list is carrot cake at The Keg, which has 2,173 calories per slice (2,344 when served a la mode). That’s more than most people need in a day, and more than anyone needs in a meal, much less a dessert.
What really bugs me about this is that if you wanted to make a slice of cake with 2,100 calories, you couldn’t do it. Doubling or tripling the butter, sugar and salt in a standard carrot cake recipe might get you close, but the resulting cake would come out all grease and treacle. Unless you compensated for the extra fat and sugar by adding various emulsifiers and stabilizers, it would be totally unpalatable. In other words, The Keg has to try to make a slice of cake this bad for you.
This is where the question of intent comes in. In the 1990s, the American public reacted with outrage when it discovered that tobacco companies were ‘spiking’ the nicotine in their cigarettes to keep smokers addicted. Why aren’t we angry at food companies for spiking fat and sugar to levels that are impossible to recreate without a phd in chemistry?
I remember one of the interviews in Weight of the Nation documentary where a woman who lost weight by counting calories says how shocked she was that a slice of pizza has 340 calories. ‘I used to be the kind of person who could eat a large pizza by myself,’ she says.
There was never a time when eating a large pizza by yourself would have been a good idea, but I can’t help but feel like a pizza in 1952 would have been significantly less calorie-dense than a pizza in 2012 (and that’s leaving out the issue of portion size, which also surely would have increased).
Similarly, ordering carrot cake and ice cream after a steak may never have been a particularly healthy decision, but now it’s a mistake that costs you more than a day’s worth of extra calories. This up-ratcheting of caloric density is the result of specific, deliberate action by food companies. Rather than using food science to make food more flavorful with fewer calories, they’ve used it to manufacture food that is so calorific it practically has a gravitational pull.
They have done this without our knowledge or our consent. So why aren’t we pissed off?