Drugs & Rock & Roll?

This blogpost gives background info behind our latest video Drugs & Rock & Roll?  about drug foods, what they are and a bit about their history.

The term ‘drug foods’ was first coined by anthropologist Sidney Mintz in his seminal book Sweetness & power: The place of sugar in modern history. He used it to describe the addictive ‘foods’ brought back from the tropics by European explorers to the Americas, namely (cane) sugar, caffeine, cocoa and tobacco. (1)

Today the world’s food system is dominated by a small number of global corporations that make and promote drug foods in myriad forms. Their use, too, of sugar-substitute non-sugar sweeteners (2), (3), and their design of products such as savoury snacks are specifically formulated to be “more-ish”, to stimulate pleasure responses above and beyond the natural pleasure derived from eating. (4),(5),(6),(7).

Notice the image in the video of a child drinking pop. It’s not just the sugar or the sugar substitute in such drinks that harms us. It’s also its fizziness.(8)

For many drinks, it’s the caffeine too. It’s intriguing that tea and coffee are considered adult beverages, unsuitable for children because of caffeine. Yet the amount of caffeine in many a cuppa is less than that in, say, a Pepsi, Coca Cola or Red Bull. (9) As the chart in the note below says Caffeine is the only drug present naturally or added to widely consumed foods before continuing It is mildly addictive, one possible reason why makers of soft drinks add it to their products. The chart also shows that many diet drinks have higher caffeine than their sugared versions, possibly to compensate for the addictive quality of the withdrawn sugar.

The health consequences of over-consumption of these drug foods are obvious to us all and come at a huge financial and social cost, and the financial and environmental costs of recycling or disposal of drug food packaging. Add in too, the substantial use of our increasingly stretched natural resources in their production. (10)


(1) It may seem weird nowadays to consider tobacco as any kind of food. Yet the Forbes List of the biggest global food and drink companies still includes the Phillip Morris Internationals of this world, companies omitted from the Forbes List unfurled near the end of the video.

(2) Yang, Qing Gaining weight by “going diet”? Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings. Journal of Biology and Medicine 2010; 83:101-108.

(3) Cabral, TM, Pereira, MGB, Falchione, AEZ, de Sá, DAR, Correa, L, da Maia Fernandes D, de Sá, LBP and Arbex, A K Artificial Sweeteners as a Cause of Obesity: Weight Gain Mechanisms and Current Evidence. 2018; Health, 10, 700-717

(4) DiFeliceantonio AG, Coppin, Rigoux L, Thanarajah SE, Dagher A, Tittgemeyer M, Small DM (2018) Supra-Addictive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward. Cell Metabolism, Vol 28 Issue 1 pp33-44. E3

(5) Hoch T, Kreitz S, Gaffling S, Pischetsrieder M, Hess A, Manganese-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Mapping of Whole Brain Activity Patterns Associated with the Intake of Snack Food in Ad Libitum Fed Rats. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(2): e55354. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0055354

(6) Institute of Physics Report (2016) The Health of Physics in UK Food Manufacturing (www.iop.org/publications/iop/2016/page_68332.html, retrieved 21 May 2019)

(7) Bows John (2016) Where’s the physics in making the humble potato crisp that we all know and love? (www.iopblog.org/physics-in-food-and-drink-manufacturing-case-study-crisps/, retrieved 21 May 2019

(8) Our 2015 report: Coca Cola and its effects on us and the city (bottom LHS of page 4 and associated endnote 8)

(9) See this Caffeine Chart from the US Center for Science in the Public Interest website.

(10) Blogpost: What does this food sector balance sheet tell us?

see also our Briefing Note: The food sector deficit


Revisions: The link to the Briefing Note: The Food Sector Deficit made on 18th August.

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