Essay on Disingenuous Advertising in the American Food Industry

May 30, 2010
Western consumers are amongst the most ignorant and not to mention, rash consumers on the planet. Sadly, American consumers are the poster children for such blind purchasing. How often do you see a quite rotund individual in line at a fast food restaurant, ordering up a triple-stacker bacon cheeseburger, a large fry, and a Diet Coke? Such a meal is no less a contributor to said individual’s slow culinary suicide, than the same order of food with a non-diet variety of soda. The problem is that we love to subliminally associate positive words with positive choices. Doing so causes us to feel better about the decisions we make, especially in the respect of food. This poses quite a serious problem; because the use of positive-word-association in food advertising, many Americans have succeeded in lulling themselves into a false sense of security without even knowing it. Just like the vast predominance of voters go to the polls and vote ignorantly, American consumers of food do the same in the products and brands that they decide to patronize.
Despite all this, two conclusions must not be rashly drawn. One: the epidemic of obesity and consumer ignorance, while is largely to blame on the carelessness of consumers, is also partially due to food producers’ mega-capitalistic approach in marketing that has driven them to do literally anything within legal limits to promote their product(s) and ensure that the abovementioned goods are by and large able to deceive the majority of the American consumer base. Two: while one might be tempted to label the widespread deception in marketing as “false” advertising, this is almost never the case. Food companies (well, all companies, really) are bound by law to not make false claims about the product(s) they sell. So, to remove this barrier, culinary-consumerism based companies tell the one positive thing about their product in giant bold print on the front of their merchandise, while leaving the more undesirable facts printed on the back (or even better, the bottom) of their goods in miniscule print. The old saying, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.” is of no greater truth than in this arena (except, of course, for labyrinthine legal documents, which I have found, generally consist exclusively of small print). Bags of potato chips, boxes of doughnuts, and packets of gum and breath mints, all proudly display claims such as: “NO TRANS FAT!” or “ONLY 120 calories per serving!” or “SUGAR FREE!” What these companies fail to mention up front is that while that box of Krispy Kremes® is trans fat free, each Original Glazed® doughnut inside packs in a hip widening and artery clogging 200 calories and 12 grams of fat. That bag of chips that claims to have only 120 calories per serving, doesn’t have a single calorie more; the catch is that a serving size is four chips, so by the time you’ve had your snack of say 25 chips or so, you’ve enjoyed 720 satisfying calories and enough sodium to last for 2 days. Oh, and what about that innocent pack of gum, you ask? Well, as you might have guessed by now, it is, in fact, completely sugar free, but veiled in the superfluity of multisyllabic words that comprise the ingredient list, is an ingredient that is above the suspicion of the average consumer: gum base. Well, thanks to woefully lax standards of identity (set, interestingly enough, by the USDA), the words “gum base” are allowed to mask the fact that the aforementioned component consists of multiple ingredients in and of itself. To list just a few: petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, and latex (a possible allergen). Within this list we find even more confounding words, hidden in which are things such as crushed insects, animal fat-derived gelatin, and powder from marble and horse hooves to coat the gum and prevent if from sticking to its wrapper. This poses a serious problem for vegan consumers who could very easily unknowingly purchase products such as the latter and inadvertently be supporting the slaughter and use of animals. Regardless of dietary lifestyle, I feel that most individuals, if they knew what some of the foods they ate contained, would have a serious “ew factor” to deal with in any future consumption of such. What does all this say? Two things: One, American consumers are abysmally uneducated and apathetic about the ingredients/nutritional value of the majority of the foods they consume on a regular basis. Secondly, the government of this nation (and others as well), specifically the USDA needs to set higher standards for how food products can be advertised. Deceptive advertising is just as wrong as false advertising and should be put to a stop nationwide. ALL ingredients and the source of origin should be required on ALL food packaging made in the United States, of made internationally for consumption here. The USDA should necessitate listing of ALL SPECIFIC food allergens on food packaging as well as information regarding if the product in question is vegan, kosher, etc.
This great nation has often found itself last in many arenas throughout history. Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807, while it took us decades before we were able to. We are still the only nation in the Western civilized world without universal healthcare. We are sole country in the west that still uses the death penalty and, aside from Mexico, are still the only ones without full and equal rights for LGBTQA individuals. We need to embrace progressive change instead of succumbing to it. If we lead the way in the regulation of misleading advertisement in the food industry, other nations would follow in the domino effect that we have seen quite often throughout recent history.





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