For those of you who missed it, several weeks ago Campbell's gave up and killed off their line of lower-salt soups.
Why? Because consumers hated them.
Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few food bloggers and public health pundits who are spinning this into yet another tale of corporate greed. Hey, Campbell's--just like every other food company--will do anything to increase their profits. Including killing off their own customers by adding salt back to their soup.
Maybe it's just me, but you'd think it would be understandable that a food company might stop trying to sell food that their customers clearly don't want to buy.
Here's the problem: when you use a paranoid lens like that to consider a situation like this, you also adopt a fundamentally disempowering view that corporations are too powerful for us. You adopt a view that these companies, with their enormous advertising and marketing budgets, can tell us what to buy. And it assumes that we consumers are powerless to resist all those billions of dollars in ads.
Of course there's a hilariously huge hole in the logic of that lens. If Campbell's (or any other food company's) marketing was really that powerful, they could easily convince us to buy low-sodium soup. And they could make us like it too! Such a powerful, greedy corporation would quickly persuade us mindless zombies that their low-salt soups were delicious. Right?
Hmmm. But yet they couldn't. People still hated them--and didn't buy 'em.
Which proves a somewhat inconvient truth: that we consumers actually decided that these soups would be unsuccessful--by not purchasing them. As with every other decision about what corporations sell us, we choose everything on our store shelves by making the final decision to buy or not buy.
There's one more appalling logic error that comes flying out of the mouths of public health pundits whenever a major food company makes a seemingly anti-consumer decision like this. The flawed logic goes something like this: Yes, our culture has an obesity problem, a hypertension problem, and we are getting fatter and fatter as a nation as we effectively eat ourselves to death. And every public health pundit has an obligation to at least appear to care about these important and serious problems.
Well, there's no better way to appear to care about these issues than to appear on TV (or write in your blog or book) pointing out new examples of food companies greedily putting profits before the health of their customers. In other words, a pundit can easily say that Campbell's should sell soup with less salt, but they won't--because they only care about making money. Somehow, this message seems vaguely logical, and it gives the pundit's audience a tasty and easy-to-swallow message that goes down very easily.
Except that any company that insists on selling things its customers don't want to buy is gonna fail faster than Lehman Brothers. The bottom line, however, is that this anti-corporate, easy-to-swallow message is so easy to articulate, and it resonates so well with the average consumer, who wouldn't say it? Especially if doing so will burnish your reputation as the next Eliot Spitzer of food.
Uh, whoops. Wait. I meant the next Eliot Ness of food.
But here's the problem: that public health pundit is actually saying "Campbell's: stop selling foods that people like, and start selling what I think people should like. After all, I'm a food expert."
If this seems vaguely arrogant and condescending to you, good. Because it is.
To me, selling a hyperpalatable message like this--a message that encourages consumers to give away their power, and a message that appeals to consumers' emotions at the expense of their intelligence--is way more greedy and unethical than selling a can of salty soup.
Okay. There's another, better, solution--and CK readers already know it.
Let's face it, it's just as easy and far cheaper to make your own soup at home. Sure, with Campbell's you can easily get 1-2 servings of soup on the table in just 10-12 minutes. But take a look at any of the amazing soups available here at CK's recipe index. With a few incremental minutes of work, you can get three, four or even five times as many servings of a delicious, healthy, homemade soup or stew on your table, and enjoy leftovers for days afterward. You'll have healthier, better tasting food on the table for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.
And then you can control the sodium level in your food yourself, rather than letting some company control it for you.
Campbell Adds Salt To Spur Soup Sales. Reuters
Campbell Soup Fights the Salt Wars. Food Politics
There are no good studies linking salt to hypertension. Scientific American
But wait! There's no doubt about the dangers of salt. NewScientist
Who's to Blame For Obesity? Marc Gunther
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