By now, even if we don’t know how to expertly read a food label, must of us know that eating healthy is a good idea. Chefs like Jamie Oliver, filmmakers like Morgan Spurlock and politicians like Michelle Obama have all launched campaigns to make people more aware of the benefits of healthy eating. A Google news search for “healthy eating” yields pages of articles by everyone from NPR to Popsugar.
People wanting to spend their money on healthier things has led to a boom in the health food market, and health food marketing. Even that bastion of greasy burgers McDonald’s has added healthier options, calorie counts and daily value percentages to their menu, realizing their status as the poster child for obesity will lose the business of increasingly health-conscious customers. Though, to be real, people who eat at McDonald’s regularly probably never cared about their health in the first place.
As advertisers have tried to gear their product towards the growing horde of discerning, quinoa-eating, carb-hating consumers, we’ve noticed that some trends have popped up in the way these products are marketed. Like…
Putting the words “simply” and “natural” in goddamn everything.
We fully understand your bread is made using only “ancient grains” and clover honey from Himalayan Jesus-bees. We can read that on the label, underneath the nutrition facts. Where it says ingredients. This advertising trend implies that the food or beverage you’re consuming isn’t filled with preservatives, chemicals you can’t pronounce or unnecessary added sugar/salt/gluten/deadly nightshade. Its meant to put you at ease about what you’re putting in your foodhole. “Trust the orange juice,” it says.
The nutrition label on a bottle of Simply Orange will tell you that, though the only ingredient is in fact orange juice, it still has 22 grams of sugar per eight ounce serving. Most of us drink 2–3 servings of that size in an average sized glass filled to the top with OJ, which comes out to between 44 and 66 grams of sugar from one drink. An entire orange has around 14 grams of sugar total, and more than your entire daily dose of vitamin C. Simple? Yes. Healthy? Not necessarily, but its still probably better than sucking down a Coke.
Copious amounts of grain imagery.
There is always someone doing this in ads for any food made with grain. Always.
This has just as much to do with where the food comes from as whats in it. Health food ads are full of fields of grain, hay bales, livestock and smiling farmers that will soon kill said livestock. That imagery is linked with certain emotions in a lot of our heads. To those people, it subconsciously sends a message that the “good old days” never really went anywhere. There’s still a place where good, down-home folk make good, down-home food with no ill intent. Its just a family of five filling milk bottles somewhere in “real America” and shipping them off to the grocer for your kitchen. All they wanna do is feed you and your family awesome, farm-fresh stuff.
A lot of the go-to symbolism chosen to distill that message incorporates grain. Oroweat bread has wheat stalks in their label design. There’s also a picture of one stamped into every Belvita snack biscuit. Kashi commercials always have a dude sifting through giant buckets of grain seed like some kind of grain savant, searching for the uber-grains worthy of the Kashi name. Products with names like Country Farms (bread), Top O’ The Morn’ Farms (milk) and Archer Farms (Target house brand) bank on the down-home ideal as it exists in our heads to bolster the reputation of their product.
And while we’re on the subject of names…
Incredibly Hip/Incredibly Overdone Naming.
We still buy it.
Health food marketing is so powerful that we will buy something with a terrible name if we think its good for us. Painfully overdone ones like Coffee-mate’s Natural Bliss coffee creamer make it hard to look the cashier in the eye. Or they would, if we had a sense of shame. We’ll look them dead in the face and drink from the container; that sh*t is delicious.
Lots of companies, realizing the avalanche of insults they open themselves to by taking the route of heavy-schmaltz product naming, have opted instead to make their food stick out to the consumer with hip names like Food Should Taste Good, Way Better Snacks (which has “simply sprouted” on the label; when we said ‘goddamn everywhere’, we meant it) and Alternative Bagels.
Naming like this is misleading if you’re not careful. You should still check to see if whole grain oats are used in that box of Wholesome Fiber-Os you’re about to buy. You should also check the sugar and salt content on the label, especially with grain foods. Some breads with healthy packaging and names have as much as ten grams of sugar per slice, so take a few extra seconds and make sure you aren’t about to make a turkey club with organic cake.
Studies conducted by Harvard and Cambridge in 2013 and 2014, respectively, have shown that there is in fact a gap between the prices of healthier food and unhealthy ones. Here in the U.S. it comes out to around 550 dollars per person, per year, while overseas (according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper):
While less healthy foods had a slightly greater price rise in percentage terms, the absolute increase was significantly more for more healthy foods — a total average increase of £1.84 per 1,000 kcal for more healthy food across the decade, compared 73 pence for less healthy food.
Part of the damaging “healthy food as yuppie feed” perception most people have probably stems from this point. It almost always seems to cost more. Or at least it does in the places people are led to look. We see six-dollar loaves of bread with names like Eureka! and think only an asshole with too much money would bother with them. This is sort of true. However, you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to get good food; you just have to know how to read a nutrition label.
Even in mainstream major grocery chains, people are directed to buy the more expensive option-via naming and packaging-when it may not be good for you at all. Fruit juices say “100% Juice!” on the label, but neglect to mention they’re still basically sugar-water. Breads tout their whole-graininess using that to deflect attention from high amounts of salt and sugar that may still be in the recipe. “Organic” produce costs more by sheer virtue of its organosity. The overwhelming majority of the time, the label and ingredients list are all a person needs to find out if something is healthy. Look there first and see if they match the packaging.
Of course another misconception is that there’s one way every person should be eating, which is a crock. Your age, height, level of activity, genetics and the way your body reacts to certain foods all play a part in what you should eat, and they’re different for every person. Talk to your doctor and/or a dietician before you go on the Hunter-Gatherer Diet you heard about from your friend at work and start building pigeon traps. We can exist for weeks at a time on a drop of dew and the energy of the universe. But you have to work up to that.
We’re basically the Avatar.
Originally published at xtruthinadvertisingx.tumblr.com, where I occasionally pick apart advertisements and consumer culture. Feel free to check out other entries if you enjoyed this one.