November 23, 2015

Don't Blame Food Companies for Your High-Calorie Thanksgiving

Sherzod Abdukadirov

Former Research Fellow
Summary

As Thanksgiving draws near, once again everyone's attention turns to festive holiday treats and the explosive number of calories contained therein. The usual incriminations of Big Food and its role in ballooning waistlines typically follow. Health advocates blame food companies for putting profits above consumers' well-being and for selling consumers cheap junk food loaded with fat and sugar but containing few nutrients. Consequently, they call for food regulations and taxes on junk food to counter the food industry's harmful effects. Yet health advocates are unlikely to achieve the outcomes they seek because they mistake the nature of the problem.

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As Thanksgiving draws near, once again everyone's attention turns to festive holiday treats and the explosive number of calories contained therein. The usual incriminations of Big Food and its role in ballooning waistlines typically follow. Health advocates blame food companies for putting profits above consumers' well-being and for selling consumers cheap junk food loaded with fat and sugar but containing few nutrients. Consequently, they call for food regulations and taxes on junk food to counter the food industry's harmful effects. Yet health advocates are unlikely to achieve the outcomes they seek because they mistake the nature of the problem.

To understand just how unusual the criticism of food companies is, it may be helpful to examine how food companies are judged compared to virtually any other industry. Imagine that you are buying an economy class airline ticket and at the end of the transaction, the airline asks you if you'd like to upgrade to business class for just a tiny fraction of your ticket's price. Now imagine that the airline offered this option to every single customer, not just a lucky few. Having been packed like a sardine into ever-fuller planes with ever-tighter seats, I'd guess this airline would be quite popular with its customers. If anyone criticized airline companies for giving their passengers more legroom, people would dismiss it as absurd.

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