Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida recently contributed to a study investigating the alleged addictive effects of foods high in energy from sugar and fat. Three experimental groups of rats were set up and examined over a period of 40 days: the first group was fed regular rat food, the second group was fed fattening and sugar-filled high-energy foods for one hour a day, and the third group was fed the same high-energy foods for twenty-three hours a day. The third group of rats quickly became obese and their mental triggers and consumption patterns became comparable to those of a drug addict using heroin or cocaine.
This particular scenario is recent but the idea of junk food's genuinely addictive nature is not an entirely new concept. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine hinted at the addictive qualities of fast food in the documentary "Super Size Me", released in 2004: "...It's not taste and mouth feel, it's a drug effect of the food within the brain that keeps us coming back again and again." Towards the end of the film, Spurlock asks, "Why not do away with your super-size options? Who needs 42 ounces of Coke? Who needs a half-pound of fries?" Well, when you consider the vicious cycle associated with drug addiction and the newly validated connection between junk food and addiction, the answer is simple. Addicts experience a high from their drug of choice and they eventually develop a tolerance which must be overcome by consuming ever-increasing amounts of the drug. Super-size options (on top of the outrageous amounts of inherently addictive sugar, fat, and caffeine within the food) do more than just rake in profit for fast food companies, they also encourage existing and potential addicts.
One detail of the CNN article alarmingly broadens the spectrum of foods in question. According to Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, cocaine and contemporary industrial foods are very similar in that they are 'purified', altered, or, in general, highly processed. Klein implies that consuming products such as white bread or foods containing corn syrup would be the rough food equivalent of injecting or smoking cocaine. Recent class discussions have dealt with the corn crop and the immeasurable influence it has had on modern food production. Many of the foods found in abundance at supermarkets contain ingredients resulting from the highly processed chemical decomposition of corn. Is a comparison to the decomposition of coca leaves to produce the cocaine narcotic too much of a stretch or does it at least reveal something about industrialized foods?
One idea drives home these uncomfortable thoughts and that is environment. "I believe we live in a toxic food and physical inactivity environment; that is, we live in an environment that almost guarantees we become sick," said Kelly Brownell, a professor at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. Dr. Gene-Jack Wang reinforces this notion in the CNN article: "environmental factors...are involved in...[addictive] behaviors." Given these notions and the fact that our environment is laden with processed foods, a [metaphorical] war on food might be necessary to reclaim genuinely healthy and wholesome foods and integrity in their production, nutrition, and consumption.
CNNHealth > Health.com > "Do Fatty Foods Act Like Cocaine In The Brain?" By Sarah Klein, March 28, 2010
"Super Size Me" (Film), 2004