I have made progress, but not enough, changing my diet. Reducing meat consumption by more than half was challenging, but with more vegetarian restaurants and more vegetarian recipes being shared, tasty meatless is easier. I have succeeded more at eliminating processed foods than I have in becoming vegetarian, with maybe 80% processed foods eliminated. But on occasion I have slipped, put something crunchy in my mouth, and end up feeling like an addict on a binge. Barbara J. King, last seen in our pages nearly seven years ago, graces National Public Radio (USA) with another review, There Are So Many Flavors Of Potato Chips; ‘Hooked’ Looks At Why, that helps me understand the challenge I am up against:
Around the corner from where I live in small-town Virginia is a Kroger’s grocery store. According to its website, the store sells 20 flavors of Lay’s potato chips: classic, wavy, wavy ranch, baked, barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, cheddar and sour cream, limon-flavored, honey barbecue, sweet southern heat, dill pickle, flamin’ hot, flamin’ hot and dill pickle, cheddar jalapeno, jalapeno ranch, lime and jalapeno, kettle-cooked, and kettle-cooked mesquite barbecue.
In Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, investigative reporter Michael Moss explains why a major food corporation — Lay’s is owned by PepsiCo — would produce such an over-the-top number of versions of potato chips. We are prone to what food scientists called sensory-specific satiety, feeling full when we take in a lot of the same taste, smell, or flavor. Changing a food item even just a little, from barbecue to honey barbecue, let’s say, makes for novelty that lights up our brain.
Eons ago in prehistory, our ancestors survived more readily when they selected varied foods, with varied nutrients, as they gathered or hunted. That evolved tendency “makes it difficult for us to say no when we’re presented with food that’s even just slightly different from what we just ate,” as Moss writes.