Monday, January 29, 2007

A handy list of who to blame

I always thought it was children's advertising that made us fat -- I mean, everyone says so -- but according to Micheal Pollan, there's a whole slew of possible culprits, including researchers, journalists, ranchers, government in general and George McGovern in particular. There's not a single mention of the advertising copywriter anywhere. Whew!

Then again, maybe I'm so strung out on Twizzlers that I've focused on the wrong thing here. Because this essay helpfully explains how language, when it comes to food at least, has become so very distorted:

"[G]overnment dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington. This was precisely the tack taken by the National Academy of Sciences when it issued its landmark report on diet and cancer in 1982. Organized nutrient by nutrient in a way guaranteed to offend no food group, it codified the official new dietary language. Industry and media followed suit, and terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, polyphenols, amino acids and carotenes soon colonized much of the cultural space previously occupied by the tangible substance formerly known as food. The Age of Nutritionism had arrived. The first thing to understand about is not a scientific subject but an ideology."

And as we all know, government guidelines are nothing if not potential copy points waiting to be tweaked. The "food industry set about re-engineering thousands of popular food products to contain more of the nutrients that science and government had deemed the good ones and less of the bad....The Year of Eating Oat Bran — also known as 1988 — served as a kind of coming-out party....Oat bran’s moment on the dietary stage didn’t last long, but the pattern had been established, and every few years since then a new oat bran has taken its turn under the marketing lights. (Here comes omega-3!)"

What's not mentioned, of course, is personal preference. Even if claims were reliable and guidelines were trustworthy, the truth is -- deep-down -- yeah we want Cheesy Poofs.


James-H said...

And I've been considering Twizzlers a fruit for -- um -- 34 years???
No wonder I'm fat and my attention span is for shit.

Irene Done said...

Don't feel bad. It's not your fault.

Make the logo bigger said...

For your consideration:

Academy members will note the brilliant use of the double-entendre ‘colonized’ when discussing diet and fiber.

Irene Done said...

Didn't even catch that. The essay does go on and on (see "Twizzlers, shitty attention span thanks to" above) but it's lively and well-written. And actually, you CAN stop reading after the third sentence.