Friday, August 6, 2010

food and advertising

We have looked at why, genetically, we might crave high calorie, high fat food. We talked about our tendency to replace wholesome food with processed food in the name of time-saving. Is that the whole story? Not likely. There is more to this. Discipline and thoughtfulness help, making intelligent, informed choices helps, but neither are the whole story. One of the other big pieces is environment.

I am not talking about the global warming type environment, I am talking about the world around us. The world in which we work, play and live our lives everyday. Our modern environment is rich in stimulus. Rich in input. Rich in media.

Michael Mink did a study on advertising that showed that seventeen percent of ads on television are about food and that those were dominated by fast food restaurants and pop manufacturers. This probably doesn't surprise anyone, but what might is that even the grocery store ads were dominated by processed, unhealthy foods. What a challenge this provides for our brains. Constant bombardment of imagery and sound pushing us to food that, if we were to eat it full-time, offers twenty-five times the daily recommended sugar, twenty times the recommended fat and only half the recommended dairy, fruit and vegetables.

I do not even have cable and I am still exposed to a lot of food ads. Recently McDonald's is running a series of ads that all end by panning down the front of a woman's body to a tray full of McDonald's food. What does imagery of a slender woman's body have to do with McDonald's food? She is in one of their uniforms, but the long slow pan is just slightly sexual, and I find nothing about McDonald's food sexy. The ad doesn't make me want their food, but I am thinking about them, which is not the norm for me, so the campaign has achieved something. A more realistic ad would feature some slumpy overweight person with that food on their plate.

How do we combat this permeation of the airwaves too much food, and not enough nutrition? I have no answer. Awareness helps. Knowing they are, rather more literally than I am comfortable with, trying to seduce you into eating their fare, helps.

I just wish their was some way to have restaurants charge for food what is costs us to eat it. Perhaps contributions to those programs aimed at dealing with health problems related to overeating and being overweight. Programs that address diabetes, heart disease, weight reduction and eating disorders. Paying for scooters and oversize lifts that hospitals must invest in to move patients over three hundred pounds. If you are not Shaquille O'Neal, measuring in at 7 foot one inch, why do you weigh over three hundred pounds?

More simply still, and certainly less costly for everyone, why are they not spending more time and effort promoting healthy food? Is the mark-up on a cheeseburger that much better than on a salad in a plastic clam shell? If these restaurants have seen the need to have healthier choices on their menus, why do I rarely see them advertised? Why do grocery stores advertise the salty greasy chips that I love, but not the great deal they have on cucumbers, which I also love? Why, when we are being told to shop the perimeter of these stores as much a possible (where the least processed food resides) is the advertising derived from those central aisles?

When I think of that McDonald's commercial, I remind myself it is a clever campaign. I remind myself that, regardless of any gut promptings, I do not want the burger sitting on the tray at the end of the pan shot. I think they have a good advertising firm and a great advertising budget. I wish they would spend it on something else though.
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