Pick Your Passion! by Dana Carpender

This article is nine years old, so the advertising references are dated. But I think the message is important enough to repeat. Hope you agree!

That was the headline I recently saw on a display of Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers. No doubt the folks at Pepperidge Farm were hoping that my passion was either Goldfish Crackers or Sausalitos, and there was a time when they would have been in luck. Now, however, I can list a whole lot of passions, ranging from my adorable husband, to my equally adorable (in a different way, of course!) niece and nephew, to detective novels, public speaking, walking – and, of course, my passion for feeling great, a passion I find to be completely incompatible with a passion for Pepperidge Farm’s baked goods.

Once you start paying attention to food advertising, you start to realize how much our attitudes about food have been shaped by it – and generally not for the better.

For instance, ads for really junky food are usually “feel good” ads of one kind or another. What else do they have to sell? Think about it – Coke Adds Life! (Yeah, right. Coke is going to help you get a life. Pull the other one, it plays Jingle Bells.) Or “Snapple: Made From The Best Stuff On Earth!” Yeah, if the best stuff on earth is corn syrup. Yet ads like these have many people convinced that drinking water is unthinkable; every beverage must have flavor.

There was a series of ads for Mountain Dew showing hip Gen-X guys who were bored, bored, bored by extreme sports – bungee jumping, snow boarding, just left them yawning – but Mountain Dew was a thrill! I found myself wondering if the excitement came from Mountain Dew’s remarkable caffeine content, or from that flirting-with-death sensation one gets from chugging down something that looks like Mr. Clean?

Then there was the ad a while back for a brand of candy called “Nips”. A cartoon woman was woman having a horrible, stressful day – phones ringing, people screaming – and just as she was to the point of pulling out her hair, she popped one of these hard candies in her mouth, and a wonderful Valium-like tranquility settled over her. The tag line was “Had enough? Have a Nips.” That’s right. Sugar will solve all your problems. Uh-huh. Clearest illustration I’ve ever seen that the sugar-mongers know that they’re marketing drugs.

Those of you who have read How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds may remember my reaction to the Welch’s Juice Blends ad where the cute kid said, “Y’know what happens when you drink the same thing all the time? Your tongue gets kinda bored.” I wanted to smack the spoiled brat! But just today I started thinking about it again. Do people’s tongues get “kinda bored”? Or do they eat and drink the same things over and over and over? How many people drink Coke all day, every day? How many people have a fast food burger for lunch every day? How many of you got bored of chocolate before you started low carbing? Heck, I used to eat a pound of chocolate a day when I was a teenager. I never got bored of it. I was addicted to it!

The “Your tongue gets kinda bored” line is just one of a whole lot of ads that want you to equate food with entertainment! How about “Make some Jello, make some fun!” Kinda short on fun around here, aren’t we, if adding water to boxed powder is big-time entertainment. Maybe we could play Scrabble instead, huh?

Then there’s the “If you really love your family, you’ll buy our processed food” pitch, like the insidious little jingle “Moms like you choose Jif – choose Jif!” I especially like the second “choose Jif!” – a direct order to be like all the other moms. Oooo, peer pressure to buy the right hydrogenated oil-and-sugar-laced peanut butter! Better run right out to the store. After all, I won’t be like the other moms if I buy additive-free peanut butter. They might make fun of me behind my back! They might kick me out of the PTA! (Oh, wait… I don’t have any children. Gosh, I feel better now.)

Closely related is “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven, and Pillsbury says it best!” – translated, “If you really love your family, you’ll feed them. But heaven forbid you should actually take the time to cook something! You don’t love them that much. Just whack this tube on the counter and feed them highly processed white flour, sugar, hydrogenated shortening, and chemicals. They’ll never know the difference.” Personally, I think loving your family includes wanting the best for them, and garbage-y processed food ain’t it.

The attempts on the part of the food industry and their advertisers to convince us that processed food equals love, fun, and happiness are never ending. Just today I saw an ad for bite-sized Nestle’s chocolate candies advertised with the slogan, “From you – to you!” I can think of better gifts to give myself, like health and energy, or a hot bath, or a walk in the sunshine, or a call to my sister, and if I really want something sweet, baking some sugar-free cookie or simply scarfing down a few strawberries. At this point, if I gave me a Nestle’s chocolate candy, I’d wonder what I had against me.

Another one that struck me today was “Meet me at DQ – where the feeling never ends!” If I have to turn to a fast food joint/erzatz ice cream stand for feeling in my life, I’m in deeper trouble than I ever imagined. That’s what I have a family, friends, my pets, and my work for, thank you.

I’m not suggesting that the food industry is alone in their attempts to manipulate us through stupid advertising claims. Advertising, in general, tends to, shall we say, hyperbole, and unsubstantive argument. (How’s that for a nice way to put it?) Claims for everything from cosmetics to cars attempt to convince us that we’ll be happy and fulfilled and loved if we just buy. But for some reason, we tend to be particularly prone to buying into the lies about food, to the point where a whole lot of today’s youth – and even some of the grown ups – think of fast food and packaged junk as “the good stuff” and homemade, real food as “boring.” If we buy into the belief that dandruff shampoo will help us win more friends, we may be deluded, but at least we’ll have clean hair. If we fall for the line that a cream will make us look ten years younger, we may still be aging, but at least we probably won’t have uncomfortably dry skin anymore. If we buy into the lie that processed, nutritionally empty junk food will make us happy, loved, excited, rewarded, and give meaning to our lives, we’ll make ourselves physically and mentally ill, and die younger than we need to.

These ads work, which is why they’re pervasive. They can trigger cravings, set you off feeling sorry for yourself that you’re not eating that stuff anymore. (Heck, I once saw a Red Lobster ad that was so well made, it had me wanting to run out and eat lobster – and I don’t even like lobster!) This is a sorry state of affairs.

Do I want you to start ignoring food ads? No way. Start paying attention to them, instead. Listen to what they’re really trying to say to you. Analyze them with a detached, dispassionate eye. Pick apart their claims. (“Made with “elfin magic”!” Which appears to be Keebler’s trade name for hydrogenated vegetable oil and artificial flavoring.)

I’m betting that pretty soon, instead of making you hungry, this stuff will just make you shake your head and laugh.

© Copyright 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the mesmerized-by-the-tv author.

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