Monday, April 25, 2011

Food Marketing - They are Damn Good At It.

I was out Friday night with some friends. What started with friend (B) relaying a shameful early morning outburst at an airport turned into a rather serious conversation about the state of certain people in the country. Namely the chronically overweight individuals we see every day. There were some really good points made by friend (B) “everyone has their story and reason why they have gotten to the point they are at.” Friend (A) stated “the majority of the people had no chance to begin with, childhood teachings become adult habits and by the time you realize what has happened you are probably too depressed to care.” Boyfriend added “a lot of the people in our country that are struggling with this are immigrants who don’t always understand proper nutrition.” While I listened to them, I thought bravo friends, glad to hear that I am not the only one aware of the terrifying situation our country is getting into. But I think the underlying problem in all of this was missed. It’s not just the people with the tragic stories, or kids who started out fat and ended up obese, and it’s certainly not just immigrants who can blame nutritional confusion on language barriers. Its everyday Americans who walk into the grocery store and think “oh yum a cereal bar that has all the nutrients I need with none of hassle”. On one hand it is the fault of the individual for not taking the time to understand their own health and nutritional needs. But the truly scary part is exactly how good the corporate food machine is at convincing people to buy their products.

Corporate food companies are just that, food companies that file taxes on for profit and often publicly traded scale. What this means is, they have a board of directors to report earnings to, people making sales and putting together the most profitable marketing campaigns get big bonuses. As you can imagine there is a lot money invested in research and development to learn what the public wants and how best to convince them the new product is something they cannot live without. Are these companies evil? No not really, they are corporate organizations, they are doing exactly what they were designed to do,  make a profit and they are damn good at it. You can be the best eater in the world and still be tempted by all the brightly colored boxes promising antioxidants, calcium, or vitamin C with a new bolder taste. It’s like Christmas every time you walk down the prepared foods isle. And I bet the food type products don’t even taste all that bad, not great, but they are redesigned and tested on individuals until they meet that sweet spot of okay tasting, easy to prepare and mildly addicting due to the ease of sugar and sodium delivery. Consumer pleasure magic!

To place the blame on these companies is a tad erroneous.  They are simply giving the people what they want. Now that’s not to say I agree with what these companies are doing, believe me I have my own personal feelings about the business practices of such corporations. I think the finer point here is once again people need to realize their health and welfare is no one’s responsibility but their own. What really needs to happen is proper education on nutrition and health. I recall my precollege health and home economics classes and nowhere in any of them was mention of food and its tie to a person’s health. In fact I remember being forced to make a tuna casserole and being told how easy it was since all it took was a can of tuna, pasta and a can of cream of mushroom soup. That is the antithesis of educating students about how to feed themselves nutritonally. A  good public education of nutrition and the larger impacts of personal and environmental health would help but it also needs to be done is a way that reaches the people whose family habits, language barriers and personal excuses have gotten in the way of good sense. There is certainly not an easy answer or a quick fix. But their never is, the nice thing about food and environmental issues is that they almost always tie. What is good for us, happens luckily to also be good for the environment. I don’t write this to criticize anyone’s personal choices, I just want people to be aware of the issues. Understanding the risks and outcome of choices is the key to changing behavior, my only hope is that some of you will make some changes, and spread the word.

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