Is Big Food Just As Bad As Big Tobacco?

I want to ask readers to share their thoughts on a meme I'm seeing more and more out there in world of food politics: that Big Food is just as bad as Big Tobacco.

Academics are beginning to draw parallels between both industries' marketing and lobbying tactics. Some of the more shrill food politics blogs I follow compare the food and tobacco industries to jack up outrage against Big Food. Heck, even the lawyers are in on the game: some of the biggest and richest tort lawyers from the "sue tobacco era" are now targeting the world's largest food companies, smelling a glorious payday in a series of class-action lawsuits.

Readers, what do you think about all this? Is there a legitimate parallel here between an industry that makes cigarettes and an industry that makes food? Is this a fair comparison, or an unfair one? Finally, do you believe this comparison helps empower consumers?

I want to hear all sides of this conversation, and I especially want to hear opinions differing from my own. Readers, share your thoughts!

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Zombies, Processed Foods and the Advertising-Consumption Cycle
Do You Let Yourself Be Manipulated To Buy?

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Anonymous said...

While I completely disagree with all of the advertising, lobbying, &/or suing which ever purveyor of fast food you support with more than ample/regular purchases.)

I cannot draw the conclusion that they are essentially the same. Big Tobacco knew that they were selling an addictive (& made it more so) cancer causing product.

Homo Sapiens are hard wired to want fat & carbs & purveyors of french fries while exploiting this are not at the same time selling an addictive cancer causing product. (There is ample debate on sugar/fat addiction - potatoes themselves are not addictive) If they were then the lowly potato would have to be classed differently than as a food product.

chacha1 said...

Hmmm, interesting. The marketing parallels etc re tobacco and Big Food certainly are there. The motivation is ... not comparable.

Food is food. Even food that is non-food is still food. (Doritos, Red Bull, Oreos.) People need food to live.

Whereas tobacco is and always has been a non-nutritive, poisonous, addictive luxury item.

So I think there is a big moral difference between the marketing that has been done (from its inception) by the tobacco industry, and the marketing being done by food manufacturers.

On the other hand, though, the very notion of "manufactured food" gives one pause. I grew up eating factory food. I try not to eat factory food now. But we are now - because of population pressures - in a (world) situation requiring factory food.

The world of humans, in other words, cannot sustain itself using backyard gardens because only about 10% of people have access to enough land to grow the food they would need.

This is, amazingly, coincident with the factory-farm phenomenon.

So as a rabble-rouser I would say, forget about the marketing and advertising, and let's start rioting about 40 acres and a mule. :-) (or, you know, two acres and a Roto-tiller.)

Little Old Les said...

I say marketing is marketing.

Catch 'em while they're young and make 'em think use of the product will make them sexy, popular, successful. Design laterally to appeal to alternate target categories. Price according to what people will pay vs. value. In this regard, Food, Tobacco, Autos, Clothing, Whatever - they are the same. Capitalism requires the creation of markets.

But the consumer still gets to either choose to purchase or decide it's crap.

And, finally - let 'em sue. More work for lawyers! :)