Food — it’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s tangy, it’s salty — it’s addictive, and intentionally so. Today, 26.2 percent of Americans are considered obese and 30 percent have high blood pressure. Today, the medical cost of obesity is over $147 billion. Today, 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese. How? Why? Is America becoming lazier, becoming more captivated by the incessant stream of social media and less inclined to brave the great outdoors?

Perhaps, but the real source of the obesity epidemic falls not in the gym nor on the track, but in the kitchen. Or, more likely, the grocery store.

We are programmed for ease, trained to seek efficiency above all else. Often, we sacrifice quality for quantity and choose the most time-effective route rather than the most wholesome. But is it really our fault? If we didn’t have pre-packaged, pre-sliced, pre-salted processed foods available, it would be much more difficult to overindulge.

The food giants — corporations such as General Mills, Coca-Cola, Pillsbury, and Frito-Lay — are all aware of this reality, and are guilty of milking it until it’s dry. They want Americans to become addicted, because addiction means indulgence and indulgence means money.

Much like the tobacco giants of the last century, today’s food corporations have a formulaic intent to drive gluttony.

The same sleazy, disingenuous strategies that tobacco executives once used to confuse the public about the dangers of smoking are being recycled to deceive us about the perils of processed foods.

However, society isn’t blind. An increase in outside criticism over the past two decades has driven the often competitive food giants to unite in the fight for their lives.

In his recently released book “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked us,” Michael Moss recalls the spring of 1999, when the heads of the world’s largest processed food companies — from Kraft to General Mills — gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a secret meeting. The sole issue on the agenda: the emerging epidemic of obesity, and how to address its impact.

Since then obesity rates have only climbed, with one in three adults currently considered clinically obese.

Every year, the average American consumes 33 pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and 70 pounds of sugar (22 teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt, double the recommended amount, with the majority coming from processed food.

Food-industry legends such as Howard Moskowitz, who studied mathematics and holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Harvard, have dedicated their lives to the art of “optimization.”

From Campbell Soup toPepsiCo, pizzas to dressings to pickles, food has been optimized, or altered to the peak of perfection.

The process is extremely scientific — a group of food engineers work together to alter a litany of variables, ultimately intending to locate the food’s “bliss point,” or optimum pleasure range.

They experiment with varying amounts of sugar, salt, and fat, which in combination can be deadly.

Corporations depend on professionals such as Moskowitz to fuel their distorted goal to promote unhealthy cravings.

Moss describes the grocery store as, “a battlefield dotted with landmines itching to go off,” concluding that junk food is as addictive as cocaine. Salt, sugar, and fat are governing our lives, and until we take a stand against the food giants, their manipulative grasp on the meticulous nature of human desire will only become stronger.

The industry depends on addiction. We are pawns in their game, a game that produces over a trillion dollars in revenue every year. Just like the tobacco giants of yesteryear, today’s food corporations have us in the palm of their hand.

Arianna Maysonave graduated from Sonoma Valley High and is now a freshman at UC Berkeley. Republished from Sonoma Valley’s Dragon’s Tale student newspaper.