July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
It occurred to me recently, while working my stint at OrganicRestaurants.com,that 90% of the food-buying process is perception. For the last few months, I have been actively absorbing information about which companies are truly working towards health-oriented goals, and which ones are more interested in selling you some pink slime.As we all know, McDonalds, Burger King,and Subway- all toted as obvious offenders to the unwritten codes of marketing morality, are behemouths searching to poison us for a dollar. Processed food is evil, the scum of the Earth, right?
Well, not exactly. I’ll be the first to defend some brands, especially in food, that really don’t deserve their bad rep. Frozen food, that cancer-inducing scum: Non-GMO Amy’s has set a standard to be envied. Burgers? Try a Tasty Burger- their meat is all locally sourced and sustainably raised.
And then, there are those companies that fall somewhere in the middle, the grey-zone of what I will label as “food morality”. These are the companies which I will be addressing- companies which have seemingly unlimited resources to play spin-doctor to their own reputations. They do good things- sometimes even great things- to improve quality of life. Or so it would seem. However, looking behind the money waterfall of their public relations and marketing, comes a grim reminder of their core message: they couldn’t care less about your health.
3. Kraft Foods
Calling all mothers- if you haven’t fed your child a cup of radiation-yellow noodles known as “Mac and Cheese” in the last week, you are either a terrible parent, or simply haven’t heard the siren call of Cheeseasaurus Rex. After all, if you’re a mom, Kraft knows your pain points: kids are finicky, your time is limited, and you’re more or less one hissy-fit away from blowing your top at your Little Princess (or Prince). That’s why Kraft has spent millions on building a family-friendly food-based empire, which aside from erring on the side of conservatism (if you can find an image of a dad cooking with his children or a non-nuclear family on their site, please call me out), very easily fills the need of many busy parents. How wholesome of them- catering to the nutritional needs of children while simplifying the hassle of dinner! Peace at last.
Well, that is until you realize that Kraft is a fond supporter of Genetic Modification, and could already contain trace amounts of GMO wheat in every package. So what? Independent lab tests have already shown a correlation between a diet of GMO foods and a number of ailments. Oh you know, nothing big- just some tumors and severe stomach irritation and inflammation. Not exactly something you’d like to hear about those wholesome, cheesy noodles you’ve had around the house since you were a child. Only, this may not have been the case since your childhood. GMOs have only been in the food source since the early 1990’s. Bonus- they have not been tested on humans, either. Means it isn’t toxic to humans, right? Actually, all it means is that your children are Kraft’s little guinea pigs. Wholesome? Not really.
What a classic! Who wouldn’t want a nice, refreshing Coca-Cola on a hot summer’s day? If you took things at face-value, it might be easy to think that Coca-Cola has transcended the soda category and become a notable of business ethics. With a tag-line like “Open Happiness”, it seems that all this company wants to do is introduce you to some of the finer pleasures in life. They are the sponsors of so many childhood locations- places like Six Flags and other amusement and water parks nationally. Coca-Cola has even created a vending machine that with a press of a button allows anybody to send a soda and a smile to somebody as close as the next town over or as fara away as Japan. Now that’s impressive. Imagine how much money it much have cost to just develop and install these machines, let alone keep them maintained. They care so much about our having a wholesome, well-balanced life, that they are even helping to sponsor nutritionist events- whoa, hold up. If that sounded wrong to you, it is. Coca-cola is notorious for actively working their way into nutrition events, and have even allegedly thrown enough dollars into the pot that their sponsored speakers are encouraged to remove the stigma around soft-drinks in their talks and chalk them up as being “healthy in moderation”. Healthy isn’t exactly the right word to use here, especially since soda, even in “suggested” doses can cause long-term problems like lower bone density mineral decomposition over time. “But diet soda is better!” you might protest. In reality, diet soda is so terrible, I wouldn’t even feed it to the most heinous of prison-hardened criminals. The reality of diet soda is quite literally horrifying: perhaps they’ll help you cut out extra calories in your family’s diet with the same great taste (like advertised), but it’ll make a severe dent in your health. Still not shaking in your boots? Proven weight gain linked to artificial sweeteners is the least of your problems; try brain-swelling and the slow death of neurons due to one of it’s chemical components released in the blood-brain barrier, formaldehyde. To put it kindly, Coca-Cola is the new snake-oil.
And finally, we come to the bottom of the basket, and to the one company which, even as a relatively compassionate and forgiving person, I hope falls flat on its face. It’s Tyson. Why would I go after some humble, little (well, big) chicken company. After all, poultry prices would be through the roof without them! And they slice up their chicken into such fridge-friendly portions! Dinner is such a cinch!
I’ll give you that without industrial farming, meat would cost a bit more. But is the less expensive meat really worth it? Factory farms, like those used by Tyson (one of the 4 major meat monopolies in the U.S.) are the ultimate achilles heel of animal rights and environmental activists- and is even becoming an issue of human rights. Subsidized corn being fed to the animals is putting small farmers out of business- the price of corn drops so low that in order to pay the bills, farmers must grow more and more corn in a faster time slot. “Too bad, they should just just adopt a new model. Adapt or die!” critics exclaim. Only problem is, both adapting and dying results in the same outcome- being bought- up by the bigger company. But it doesn’t stop there. This corn is fed to the animals, like chickens and cows, whose digestive systems aren’t built to digest corn, causing many of them to live in pain. This feed is also enhanced to cause many of the birds and other animals to gain weight at a rapid pace, at which point some of them develop musculo-skeletal problems which leaves them immobile. That’s just the price of cheap meat, right?
Oh, but there’s more. Perhaps animal welfare, or the job security of family farms isn’t of interest to you. After all- you’re able to buy food for your family at a reasonable price, so who are you to complain? And Tyson’s marketing seems to think the same. In fact, they think you’re ignorant and that a nice little polish on their PR and advertising will be enough to wash away your worries and whisk you away to your super market’s meat aisle. Like Kraft, they have whole meal plans dedicated to making sure your family isn’t protein-deficient (by packing their meat into every plate you serve). And don’t worry, they won’t be. They’ll also be full of plenty of antibiotics and potentially animals which may or may not have eaten parts of their dead comrades ground into feed. Not that they think you need to know.
Eh, not that big of an issue? How about this: no matter what they do, Tyson will always be serving you this food with the nice little pasture logo and barn. Maybe you know what’s actually going on behind closed doors, but a surprising majority don’t know. A red barn and field on a logo no longer means what it used to. Many of these farms look- and act- more like sewage plants. Those with little nutritional information, or looking to put dinner on the table on a budget simply won’t stand a chance.
These companies are living proof that no matter how good your advertising may be, bad practices are still bad practices. Wrap it all up in a pretty bow on top, but when you learn more about where your food comes from, the ugly truth will begin to show.
So what do we do? It’s not specifically anyone’s job to clean these deceptive messes up- so it’s our job to do whatever we can. In the words of one of my favorite professors, “vote with your wallet”