Some years ago, I found myself at a corporate meeting of Kraft. I don’t recall exactly how or why I wound up on that guest list, but I recall that the meeting was rather surreal.
Kraft had sent their senior executives and their nutrition director to Manhattan to gather with nutrition authorities and get insights into consumer trends for the upcoming 5 years. The corporate ambition for the meeting was to get their R&D ahead of such trends. We, the nutrition experts, were there to read our tealeaves.
The meeting began with personal introductions around the perimeter of a very large conference table. Everyone said hello, who they were, and generally something complimentary about Kraft.
When my turn came, I said hello- and that I must be on the wrong bus. I certainly had nothing complimentary to say about Kraft, a signature participant in the invention of “junk food.” I said as politely as I could that if I remained at the meeting, I would tell them the truth as I perceived it, and that they might not like hearing it. I fully expected a burly, Velveeta-fueled bouncer to throw me out. For reasons I understand no better now than then, they smiled, nodded, and kept me.
And so we did talk about consumer trends. I grew ever more incredulous as the Kraft team feigned passive responsiveness to such trends. My view was different, based on some rather damning and high-profile intel: Kraft, along with the rest of Big Food, was crafting consumer trends. They were adulterating the prevailing American palate by careful design- and then feeding it accordingly.
I knew less about all that then than we all know now, thanks in particular to Michael Mossand his incisive writing on the topic. But still, I knew enough to challenge them. I suggested that by creating dubious concoctions of refined wheat, sugar, salt, and the worst varieties of fat, they were creating a demand for ever more of the same- since familiarity is among the more potent determinants of taste preference. I quoted one of my favorite sayings to them: “the best way to predict the future, is to create it.”
How about, I suggested, they helped shape favorable consumer trends by formulating better products? As things stood, they were creating the demand to which their supply was the answer, and profiting at the expense of public health.
I vaguely recall an answer from one of the Kraft executives involving a beatific smile, outstretched arms, and this rejoinder: “yes, it’s true- we do sell people what they want to buy!” I don’t recall any progress past that point. The meeting came to its natural conclusion, and in the years since, Kraft has never called me again, nor have I expected much of them.
Reflecting back on that meeting these years later, as someone who writes truth about food to power almost every week, I can’t help but wonder if what is true of our still adulterated food supply is also true of our mainstream food for thought on the same topic. Specifically, we receive the information about diet we allegedly want- but maybe the information we receive conditions our cognitive palate.