How to Whine About "Big Food"

Big Food is an easy target. Too easy.

No one can deny that Big Food deploys armies of scientists who design irresistible snacks engineered for maximum deliciousness. And doesn't the industry spend billions of dollars on pernicious advertising that compels us to buy and eat their fattening snacks and treats? And what about all those toxic fruits and vegetables they greedily soak in pesticides,
splash with e. coli for good measure, and then truck thousands of miles across the country (burning fossil fuels all the way) to unsuspecting people like you and me? Consumers are totally helpless against such a powerful enemy.

Seriously, if Big Food really cared, they'd fill grocery store shelves with healthy foods rather than processed, salted, sweetened and fat-laden foods. Wouldn't they? Of course those wouldn't exactly be "snacks" and nobody would buy them, and, well, that might put a dent in the industry's grand scheme to make us all too fat to move, but if you think about it, it's all just more proof that they sell us all those unhealthy, irresistible snacks out of pure venality.

Conspiracy theories are fun, aren't they? Once you've preemptively decided someone or something is greedy and bad, you can explain away almost anything. And the arguments always sound compelling because few people recognize, and fewer people challenge, circular logic based on a flawed premise.

And complaining about a greedy industry (or government, or our education system, or capitalism, or socialism, or the Dutch, or anyone and anything but ourselves) enables us to pass off a big chunk of our personal responsibility. It enables us to hold the limiting belief that the challenges of managing our diet and our health are out of our hands and beyond our control.

Just accept that you're totally powerless against that bag of chips or that box of cookies. Admit your impotence and cede your will, and it won't be your fault you ate them--it's those greedy bastards at Big Food.

With such powerful forces arrayed against us, how do consumers stand a chance?

Readers, what do you think?

Related Posts:
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Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating
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Applying the 80/20 Rule to Diet, Food and Cooking

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Charmian @Christie's Corner said...

I'm still laughing over "The Dutch".

Great post. As long as we consumers buy the snacks, the Big Food companies will make them. They're out to make money by selling us products they believe we want. They spend a lot of money finding out what to make for us so when their polls indicate we want a convenient meal that cooks in 20 seconds and has a shelf life that will see it into the next millennium, that's what they make.

Of course, they also spend a lot of money developing such food, so they don't want to drop product lines willy-nilly.

If we stop buying crap and demand additive-free, natural food? They'll listen. Kraft -- the makers of Cheez Whiz -- has launched a line of "natural" snacks in response to the Boomer demand for such. I never in my life thought I'd write that sentence, but things change... thanks to a shift in consumer attitude.

Anonymous said...

We need to vote with our dollars.

Find fresh fruits and veggies at the coop or farmers' market, join a CSA and grow anything you can--even if it's just basil and chives on a windowsill.

As Charmain says, even Kraft will make changes if there is a demand.

BTW, I heard on Min Public Radio that obesity is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, after smoking.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the input Charmian and Fiona. I'll add that just yesterday General Mills said that they would reduce the sugar content in their cereals because of consumer demand. Food companies have no choice but to offer us "what we want"--all the power is our hands as consumers!


J.N. Urbanski said...

Hi again Daniel,
I've been exploring the theme of consumer power for some time now. When I snack, I snack on high quality chocolate like Green and Blacks'. I never eat crap and I'm not even tempted. I don't know why. I think it's related to boredom. The more interesting you make your life, the more you forget about filling your face with chips at 4pm. Over the ages, people have abdicated responsibility for their lives and health to doctors and pastors (it's god's will, but the doctor will fix it).
Anyway, back to consumer power, which almost caused the advertising industry to crash and burn this year when people stopped spending for a month or two. Companies are now doing a "frugal" ad campaigns and ad agencies have been scrambling to redesign their whole business model (in my latest post I discuss a conversation I had with an ad man yesterday who's looking for the next best ad theme): it's these kinds of campaigns that we will see more of in the future. I wonder how many consumers realise what they have done this year by saving more and regulating their spending!
Now they just need to eat less crap and eradicate diabetes! Baby steps!

Daniel said...

JNU: great points, all of them. In my view, most people have no idea how much power they hold as consumers, both individually and collectively. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Amy said...

One concern: how can the poor vote with their dollars? Fresh fruits and vegetables can be prohibitively expensive for those who are trying to the the greatest amount of calories for their buck. This makes McDonalds' value menu pretty enticing.

J.N. Urbanski said...

AJ - You can get a decent number of calories with one baked jacket potato with cheese or beans: high in calories and protein. When I was young and incredibly poor, this is what I lived on. It's boring, but cost me pennies a day, will keep you alive and I've never had a cholesterol problem ever, nor diabetes or high blood pressure. Plus a baked potato travels well - you can wrap it in tin foil. I also lived for years on spaghetti and cheese and soaked and sprouted beans very cheaply. Plus I had enough energy for ten men. Fast food is not your only option when you're poor. Beans and legumes travel very well in a ziploc bag.

Marcia said...

Another great post Dan.

I often vent about people wasting their money on crap and complaining that they cannot afford to eat healthy (family members who drink 6 alcoholic drinks a day included, not to mention soda and gatorade).

While it is true...
there are some areas in big cities where there are no nearby grocery chains

and in the available stores, fruits and veggies are expensive

and the poor folks who live their don't have cars

so their access to fruits and veggies are limited

and some people don't have kitchens

(also true in some rural areas)

the vast majority of people who eat poorly do not fall into that category.

As far as Bang for your Buck on the dollar menu - for $3 you can buy a bag of potatoes (5 lb). That's 2000 calories.

Daniel said...

Marcia, couldn't agree more on potatoes. Thanks for the feedback and for your input.


Lo said...

Some thoughts on this debate:

#1: I agree in the power of consumer spending, and I'm more inclined to complain about the people who whine AND THEN buy the crap they're whining about than I am about "Big Food"... but that's across the board.

#2: We can't blame the poor for poor choices unless we are committed to educating others about the great substitutions at their disposal. The potato trick only works if you see the potato as a feasible, affordable, nutritious option.

#3: Change doesn't happen in a day, and people are impatient. I think this is a BIG reason why people stop trying to vote with their food dollars. Sheer laziness.

Daniel said...

Lo, thanks for your thought-provoking insights. To me, laziness and an unwillingness to take action--mixed with complaining and whining--is simply a toxic combination. I'm doing all I can here to shake people out of it.


Retro-kitchen said...

Great post, going to bookmark this one :)