Swanson inverted that tried-and-true thinking. They dropped product quality—and by extension, health—from the equation and found large-scale results. It paved the way for a whole new means of gauging consumer satisfaction when it came to eating habits. If the consumer demands bigger portions, you don't raise the price; you use lower-grade ingredients and adjust the taste to a manageable level. If the consumer demands a lower price, you don't sacrifice the product's gimmick; you rejigger the recipe to compensate for shifts in palate. If you manage to make it taste good in the process, great. If not, leave it to the marketing department. It's their job to come up with a way to make it sell.
At the time I joined the food industry and for almost twenty years after, no one in the business, myself included, anticipated how detrimental this strategy would be to our nation's well-being. Obesity wasn't even on the radar screen. We simply didn't think about the future health consequences of our actions, and the few who did worry about them certainly didn't worry too much. As a result, from the 1970s to the early 2000s, America's caloric intake increased by 10 percent and American food production per capita went up by 20 percent. But none of that really mattered to most of us who worked in food. Ours became a party that would never end. All we had to do was keep our ingredient expenses down and our marketing innovation up. Invest in tasty new product design, not in healthful, quality ingredients that cost more—unless we could charge more for them.
Ultimately, these tactics worked well, far too well as it turned out. They worked so well that the food industry got addicted to the results, and sadly, America had little choice but to go along for the ride. We are now paying the price for that addiction. Our culture of excess consumption, poor-quality ingredients, unhealthy products, supersize burgers, party packs of potato chips, and 64-ounce Double Gulp soft drinks have catapulted us into the middle of a health and nutrition crisis. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and the nation's enormous collective girth is getting larger and younger every day. Dr. Jeffrey M. Friedman, a Rockefeller University researcher, estimates that the nation has 4 billion pounds of excess baggage, a major factor leading to high levels of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other lifethreatening illnesses. We've been feeding at the food industry's all-you-can-eat buffet for over fifty years, and there is virtually no disagreement among health officials, doctors, nutritionists, and scientists that it's been killing us slowly ever since we started.