FROM THE PODCAST:
DUBNER: Angela, last week we talked about sloth, And we should say, the seven deadly sins are a sort of canonical list created within the architecture of the Catholic church. But we’re not talking about them really. We’re talking about the modern versions of them. So last week we started with sloth, which was, I thought, a crackling good time. I don’t know if you agree.
DUCKWORTH: I do.
DUBNER: And we may be picking the juicy ones to start with, but —
DUCKWORTH: They’re all juicy! Seven deadly sins!
DUBNER: Yeah, I guess they are. It’s a full juice bar. I don’t know. I feel like pride is less juicy than lust.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, we’ll see how exciting pride can be.
DUBNER: But today! We’re not doing pride, we’re not doing lust, we’ve already done sloth. Today we are doing gluttony. And I love gluttony.
DUCKWORTH: Are you gluttonous?
DUBNER: I hate to disappoint you here — I am less gluttonous than I was slothful. I did take your survey, which we’re going to talk about, but here’s a question I wanted to ask you about gluttony today. We did an episode sometime back in which we discussed whether your constant consumption of Diet Coke is actually an addiction. And we talked about what addiction is or is not, and it’s complicated! But, I recall you also once saying something — and I may be totally misremembering, so if I am, let me know — but I think you once said something like: “junk food is as addictive as cocaine.” If you actually said that or something like that, I want to know: what makes you say that? I want to know: how good is the evidence? And how we should all think about gluttony in the modern world.
DUCKWORTH: I want to walk it back, but not much. I can’t say that cocaine and Doritos are just about the same level of problem —.
DUBNER: They both do leave you with a powdery dust, though.
DUCKWORTH: There is that. I feel like I’ve figured out from reading the research on ultra-processed food in particular that it is addictive. I mean, I read this Annual Review — this is probably what was going through my head at the time — you know, Annual Reviews invite the world experts on timely topics to summarize everything that is known, past and present, on what the science says. And this Annual Review was called, “Is Food Addictive? A Review of the Science.” I think I stumbled upon it in part because you had asked me if I was addicted to Diet Coke. And I don’t Google things, I Google Scholar them. So, I read that Annual Review front to back, beginning to end, twice. And I found this argument that food can be addictive, in the same way that smoking or drinking or drugs can be, to be really compelling.
DUBNER: It’s not unintentional! In some countries and cultures, including the U.S., the share of calories consumed that are made up of ultra-processed foods is very high, I’ve read 60 percent. The fact is, the companies that make and distribute those foods are really, really, really good at providing us with incredibly delicious things I think that’s an incredibly worthwhile thing to discuss today because if you know even a tiny bit about the history of humankind and civilization and nutrition and food, we didn’t get here by eating xantham gum and sodium glutamate, all these things that make our foods bind and taste good and keep us coming back for more. So, whether we want to call it addictive or not, I think it’s a good way to get into gluttony. Because gluttony is something that you, as a researcher, feel was worth exploring in the modern world as a sort of opposite of self-control, correct?
DUCKWORTH: That is correct. And so let’s talk about food as one kind of gluttony that I think most people have some familiarity with firsthand. I mean, I don’t know many people who can say that they’ve never eaten to excess, you know, never, like, finished off a pint of ice cream or a bag of potato chips and then, almost at the moment that they’re doing it, regretting it. So I’m not just talking about people who have really chronic or severe issues with eating. All of us know what it’s like to live in modern times with foods that didn’t exist before. By extension, some of these other things that you could be gluttonous about — in terms of impulse shopping or drugs and alcohol — that’s also relevant. But the fact that it happens with breakfast, lunch, and dinner I think it says something about the way we’ve created our civilization. We have strayed from our evolutionary roots to create things that are so powerful that we can’t resist them.
DUBNER: The irony is that if you go back even just a hundred years, but especially 200, and very much 500 years, one of the biggest problems for humans on earth was not enough food. And now that problem visits many, many, many fewer people. In fact, we have quite the opposite problem.