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Why the Atlantic's Defense of Junk Food Fails

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According to the CDC, 69 percent of US adults are overweight or obese. How did this happen? In a long article in the current Atlantic, David H. Freedman offers a mechanistic explanation: people are ingesting too many calories, particularly "energy-intense" fat, sugar, and "other problem carbs." The simple diagnoses leads to an easy solution: the food industry should apply its flavor-engineering wizardry to churn out lower-cal product that people will still scarf up, preserving its own bottom line while solving the obesity crisis. Indeed, he writes, this remedy is already playing out under our noses:

"Popular food producers, fast-food chains among them, are already applying various tricks and technologies to create less caloric and more satiating versions of their junky fare that nonetheless retain much of the appeal of the originals, and could be induced to go much further."

Among the examples Freedman cites are McDonald's Egg White Delight McMuffin, a "lower-calorie, less fatty version of the Egg McMuffin'; a "new line of quarter-pound burgers, to be served on buns containing whole grains," and Carl's Jr's "Charbroiled Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich."

And what of food-industry critics like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, who who urge people to eat "real food" and reject highly processed fare, even in low-cal versions? They—we I guess I should say we—are part of the problem.

How? First of all, the "real food" we push includes—gasp—fat. "Many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement," Freedman frets, "are as caloric and obesogenic as anything served in a Burger King." He reports watching aghast as Bittman, appearing on the Today Show, whipped up a "lovely dish of corn sautéed in bacon fat and topped with bacon." He adds: "Anyone who thinks that such a thing is much healthier than a Whopper just hasn't been paying attention to obesity science for the past few decades."


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