Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food Marketing Mayhem

Produced the way God intended.

That was the first thing that popped into my head when Eden was trying to come up with a slogan to put on a carton to sell her eggs. For the chickens are free to go wherever and can eat anything they want.

Or maybe we can say, “all natural” when we sell our eggs; they are of this earth, at least to my knowledge. Free-range, raised with integrity, from a small family-farm, home-grown, gluten-free, sugar free, no high-fructose corn syrup, raised with no added hormones, no steroids, no antibiotics, local, and proceeds from all sales will go to a college fund. Who wouldn’t want to buy Eden’s eggs?

But this is exactly the kind of marketing mayhem that is making my head spin. Food companies are playing on our emotions and lack of knowledge to sell their products.

The tactic I like the least is saying a food is free of some ingredient or additive, when it never had it to begin with. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, when the newest diet crazes required eating less fat, everything became “fat free.” Remember seeing sugar candies labeled “fat free?” Oh, yea. I can eat all I want!

Fast forward 25 years, fat is no longer the enemy; it’s sugar. Even worse in some minds is high-fructose corn syrup, which is silly. But I admit that I have hopped aboard the “sugar is bad” train. I caught myself looking at several yogurts at the store wanting to find the one that had the least sugar, but without aspartame… because that’s really bad? Oh, trans-fats are still bad. Yes? I haven’t seen a label that says no trans-fats in a while, so do we care anymore? It seems that you now need to know the difference between Omega-3s and Omega-6s. Both are naturally-occurring. Which one am I looking for, again?

The chicken companies have started to add “no added hormones” and “no steroids” to their labels. But just in case you didn’t know, chicken producers have not been allowed to use hormones and steroids since 1954. But would you buy the chicken labeled as such above a brand that is not labeled that way? I also think it is funny that they place “cage free” on packages of chicken cuts. Most all chickens produced for meat are raised cage free. Chickens from cages that have exceeded their maximum egg producing years may end up in a can of chicken noodle soup, but who would eat that anyway? Have you seen the sodium content? Wait, the soup now has “a 1/3 less sodium which is ‘heart healthy’?”

While I have not seen it as much lately, “hormone free” really gets me going. If it has ever been alive, plant or animal, there are hormones. Unless you are eating synthetic food, get used to consuming them.

My next least favorite tactic is food companies trying to make less than healthy foods seem more healthful. Jars of spaghetti sauce and canned pastas contain “two full servings of vegetables.” Wait a minute. I thought tomatoes were technically fruits. We may next be seeing that veggie slogan on a bag of potato chips. If you eat the whole bag, you may be getting several day’s worth of veggies. Yes! And while I do appreciate the breakfast cereal companies using more “whole grains” which many of them have done for years, that does not change the fact that they are still full of sugar. Hmm? Some say that cows fed corn are less healthy than cows only fed grass and hay. Will corn--which is a whole grain--make me unhealthy and fat, too? Suzanne Somers says so. What’s next? “Contains no corn” or “no grains?” Actually, I have seen that on bags of dog and cat food. Those bags also read, “Real meat.”

Since Paleolithic man did not eat grains, they must not be an ideal food choice. However, I just saw a magazine cover that says Dr. Oz swears by eating for your blood type. Since my blood is A-, I am supposedly a perfect candidate to go vegetarian, and I digest grains very well. I expect that very soon we will see frozen meals that will list blood types: “Type A approved!”

Lastly, I have been seeing foods marked, “farm-grown.” Are there so many synthetic food ingredients out there that people honestly think their food was created in a laboratory?

Or better yet, I recently saw bins full of vegetables marked “Home Grown.” I stood there with my mouth open for a few seconds. I really had a hard time believing that this mound of produce came from a local person’s back yard. The logistics alone did not make since for a large grocery chain to buy from small, very local producers.

Then I saw another store chain advertise the same in their weekly flyer and an explanation followed. The produce came from X Farms: they are family-owned, grow produce on 2,500 acres and are located in Ohio. Nothing against Ohio, but that is not close to my home, 2,500 acres is a very large operation requiring lots of labor, and most all the farms I know of are family-owned. Why isn’t the corn bread mix in the next aisle labeled “home grown” then, or the steaks in the meat aisle. I know for a fact that those came from family farmers in Kentucky, even though they are sold at a regional store chain. Maybe I need to put a bug in their marketers’ ears.

The list of food marketing tactics goes on and on. While some can claim it is a better understanding of food and nutrition that makes food companies want to cater to our desires and aim to eat better, I also believe it plays into a lot of people’s lack of understanding and fear. I am also inclined to think that these marketing buzz words give food companies justifiable reason to up the price on our food. Are you willing to pay more for the same food that is perceived as being better? I am not.

We have more information about the food we eat than ever. But while I cannot make claims on the overall health of our population, I know for a fact that we are definitely a heftier nation than we were before we knew the simplest calorie, fat and sugar content of our food. So, what is really making us fat: the food or our tendencies to embrace fancy words and slick packaging? I am still a believer that food with the least amount of frill, plastic, cardboard and ink is still best. Wash the dirt off and enjoy.

You may also enjoy - Hormones, Steroids, and Antibiotics. Oh, My! or Silly Chefs, High Fructose Corn Syrup is not the Enemy.


  1. I share a similar pet peeve when it comes to food label claims, especially those on manufactured goods. The one thing that catches my attention, though, is your comment that you know the steaks in the meat case are from Kentucky farms. I've yet to find a mainstream retailer who can say from which cow/calf operations their beef was sourced. They sometimes know the state in which the feedlot or processing plant is. Is Kentucky ahead of the pack and offering transparency down to the mother farm? Thanks.

  2. Carrie, Unfortunately, I don't know for sure that a particular steak came from a Kentucky farm, but statistically there is a good chance due to the number of cattle produced here. Same goes for the grains. There are a number of mills and bakeries located here that produce products for the bigger chains. My biggest issue is not necessarily with origin, but that most of our food is produced by family farmers, not food corporations. Thanks for reading and asking.


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