Patricia’s Story: Brainwashing or Advertising: Confessions of a Disaffected Former Food Scientist

I was a food scientist working for a major candy manufacturer. We attended mandatory in-house training to be taught how to reply when people expressed concern about the consequences of eating our products. Specifically, we were schooled to foil questions about how eating candy causes cavities in teeth and contributes to obesity. We were told to say, “Chocolate isn’t sticky and doesn’t stay on the teeth. Sugary candies and soda are more of a problem.” We were instructed to promote the social virtues of the candy: “Chocolate is a treat that brings people together” and “If you eat it in moderation, chocolate can be part of a healthy diet.” And, as you can imagine, the scripted response never acknowledged corporate responsibility but rather focused on individual choices.

At the time, I was focused on being a good employee. I went into food science as a career because I was interested in science and nutrition and I wanted to major in a field where I was likely to find employment. I was also interested in making a good living. My Aunt Janet — a dietician — had told me years before to become a food scientist instead of a dietician because there was more money in it.

That was then; this now. Now I have type 2 diabetes and I see the world through a different lens.

The candy manufacturers were targeted, brilliant, and highly motivated to make disciples out of their food scientists. They convinced us it was OK to eat our products, that we were bringing joy into the lives of the people who ate it. I loved the message “chocolate can be part of a healthy diet.” Of course I did! It fed into my desire to eat sweets. As a budding-but-not-yet-diagnosed type 2 diabetic, my biochemistry craved their chocolate-is-healthy messaging.

Is that brainwashing? Or is that advertising? Whatever the case, it sure is self-serving and lucrative for the candy industry to fix the message in our minds that candy is safe and brings joy. Of course it brings joy. It’s a delightful, legal, drug-like food that shifts us quickly into the brain chemistry of pleasure (temporarily), particularly people who use sweets to self-medicate for discomfort while developing diabetes. My sorrow now is that I can’t comfortably eat the healthy carbohydrates. The fruits and whole grains that probably never would have made me diabetic to begin with are too high in sugars for me now that my blood sugar mechanisms have been disabled by processed foods like candy.

This is my experience with the food industry. There is no joy in eating chocolate. Forget candy bars; I have to count the carbs in half a banana and a third cup of rice. I wish I’d followed in Aunt Janet’s footsteps instead of following her advice. I’m a disaffected former food scientist. As a Suppers facilitator I can now share what I’ve learned, hopefully before others succumb to the brainwashing that’s disguised as advertising.

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