Monday, February 16, 2009

January 15th- St.Catharines Standard Editorial; The Devil is in the Details of What we Eat

The Devil is in the Details of What we Eat

If it is true that the truth will set you free, there are a great many people talking to the media and advertising such untruths these days that they may as well be holed up in a dark dungeon somewhere with the key tossed to the wind. I mean I’m not na├»ve. I know that my new wrinkle cream really won’t take the years off my face as the advertising suggests. Its’ just that perhaps I’m vulnerable to the thought that it could, and that very suggestion sells the stuff. No real harm done. I’m out 20 bucks and when I forget it didn’t really work, I’ll try it again.
And that restaurant that says they serve local produce? When pressed, they can’t really say where it comes from. And truth be, its’ not really THAT local. They are just riding the wave of the local food buzz. It brings in business for them, and most people won’t question it because we are taught to believe what we hear and read.
Why even our very own Prime Minister, whose role in and of itself signifies a great deal of integrity, telling the Canadian public with a straight face that an opposition coalition is undemocratic. Come on, those are the rules….you can do that!
Most of us have the ability to figure out that the truth is being stretched somewhat in these cases to sell something or to win people over.
When you know very little about something, that is when you are truly vulnerable to the selling of the untruths. When it comes to food and drink, most of us are very vulnerable. We know very little about what we eat. Not only where it came from, but truly what it is, in the case of processed and fast foods. We are very vulnerable to the advertising gods, who tell us its’ value to us, their goal being to fatten their wallets and the wallets of the food processors they work for. And who are we not to believe, we can’t confirm it isn’t so.
Years ago putting food on the table for mere survival was a huge deal. In one of the few diaries ever written by an 18th century American woman, Martha Ballard makes it clear that her daily purpose and life’s work was feeding herself and her family. Her intimate knowledge of all her food was a necessity. The chores were hard on her body, making bread, growing a garden, raising and killing her livestock, canning and preserving. She would no doubt be amazed by the fact that very few of us now make our own food, nor expend any energy at all in the creation of it. Or in many cases even know what it is.
We work elsewhere and choose our food in boxes, and bags from shelves with its worth being loudly proclaimed on the outside. We buy images, promises and hope. We buy nutritious and fast to fit our busy lifestyle…rushing off to the gym after we pack away the leaf blower and the riding lawn mower that make our life easier. We buy low fat and get fatter, whole grain and get constipated, perfect looking fruit and are poisoned. Health care costs rise, as do all the rates of disease associated with a poor diet and obesity, the food processor gets richer, the farmer gets poorer.
In much of the advertising, taste isn’t even a consideration. A particularly annoying commercial is for a frozen lump of something that you put in a slow cooker and presto, its’ ready when you get home. Aren’t you absolutely amazing …a slow cooked meal, ready just like that! I’m sure we all feel good about this and that the compliments will pour in. But what are some of these things in it? Artificial flavor - what does that mean? And what do they do to soy when they hydrolyze it.? Ditto autolyzed yeast extract. Label readers are annoying, aren’t they? Better to swill the stuff down and praise the food gods who allowed you to get this on the table fast, damn the consequences.
How can companies get away with this? How can they be allowed to sell something by way of deceit? We now see whole grain white bread. Of course white bread is, by definition, NOT whole grain. Frito Lay chips with a “heart healthy” designation? How have we allowed these marketers and the companies they represent to infiltrate our lives with their semi-(if any) truths? Making a buck with pseudo-foods while preying on people’s’ vulnerabilities about health isn’t a good mix. We need to eye such advertising with the same cynicism we now reserve for our politicians, accepting a bit more Martha-like responsibility for our food and health. Wouldn’t old Martha be shocked if she went shopping in a grocery store today – once past the vegetable and fruit section she’d think she was in an alien world – so full of product promises masking a mind boggling assortment of chemical concoctions…..

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