La dolce vita

How sweet something tastes is clearly a matter of acclimation.

When you cut sugar from your diet, your sense of sweetness gets “downregulated” in a few weeks. Afterwards, sweet things often taste too sweet.

So I have a plan to solve, or at least make a substantial dent in, the obesity crisis.

If all food companies use less sugar, it will soon taste the same to everyone, and everyone will be healthier. Total win.

So why hasn’t this been done, and why is there so much sugar in everything? Why did the sugar content settle at such a high level, when using half the sugar would subjectively taste the same?

There’s an incentive/coordination problem.

If you’re a food company, and you use more sugar than your competitors, you get more sales, because your stuff is relatively sweeter, which people’s limbic systems interpret as a good thing. The programming is simple and stupid: “sugar = good, more sugar = more good”. That’s how we got high fructose corn syrup in everything – it’s an arms race of food companies hacking your inner monkey.

The result is like the famous example where one person at a concert stands on their tiptoes to get a better view, so the next guy does it to see over him, and soon everyone is standing on tiptoes just to see exactly as they saw before, but now everyone’s feet hurt – a no-win, shitty equilibrium. Except the downside of the sugar arms race is an obesity epidemic and soaring healthcare costs, not just sore toes (except when they’re about to fall off due of diabetes).

It’s a good target for regulation. Not with idiotic sugar taxes, but sugar content limits.

Again, it soon all tastes the same to everyone, food companies are exactly where they were, and as for the sugar producers, the excess sugar can be made into rum and we all win once again.

Of course, food companies will inevitably try to cheat, so it’s important to phrase the regulation carefully to, for example, cover all different kinds of sugar. It’s also important to avoid “consulting” “stakeholders”, such as sugar producers and candy companies and their “legitimate interests”, as expressed through thick brown envelopes and thicker browner underage prostitutes for regulators and lawmakers. Which is how regulation is often made.

But assuming we do it right, it’s a pure win for all, and one of the most important wins we can score now.

Sugar is sweet, love is sweeter.