I’ve been thinking about Industrial Food a fair bit of late, trying to determine just what causes their, at best, mediocre output. I’ve been playing with the ideas of variables and algorithms, and have decided upon the following equation”
Frugality + desire for a wide consumer base + Lack of innovation * Complacency = mediocrity
Frugality: I’m defining frugality as the pursuit to produce the food for as little money or investment as possible. This manifests itself in many ways, from adding cheap filler ingredients to the food (see HFCS) to automating the production line in order to remove the human element. This sometimes leads to even removing quality control from the lines, as we have seen in the recent peanut butter recall or reducing the USDA’s influence on beef production. Out of all of the variables, this seems to have the largest influence on the quality of food.
Desire for a Wide Consumer Base: Another way to define this is the desire to please everybody, something that franchised restaurants indulge in quite frequently. For when you try to please everybody, you desire to offend no body. This means making sure that foods aren’t too spicy, too exotic, or too small (because for a consumer, it’s better to have too much than not enough).
The result of this is food that ends up bland and uninspiring.
Lack of innovation: Out there in this great big world of ours, there are companies out there that believe the road to riches is surely based off of a bold new energy drink, frozen Pizza, or Chocolate bar, missing out on the fact that these markets are saturated.
The late Julie Phillips, author of the book You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again once wrote that if you’re going to take on a project, you should look to do one of two things: Do it first, or do it best. If you can do neither, than what are you trying to accomplish?
Complacency: Why hasn’t Budweiser changed their recipe for Bud Light? Why does McDonald’s hamburgers taste the same they did several years ago? Because being the industry leaders, they feel that they don’t need to change.
I’m sure that there are other variable out there that affect the taste of processed food, but these seem to me to be the top four.