If you are reading this blog, you most likely have done some research into the issues that currently plague the American food system. A person who starts with a concern over the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that our foods are grown with, might then learn of the hormones and antibiotics given to the animals we breed, after which they hear word of the genetic modification of organisms (GMOs), and finally end up panic stricken by the understanding of the harmful chemicals in the packaging that seep into our food. With this knowledge, how can we eat anything at all? Starting this last January, I began my own quest to eat right, or what some food advocates describe as “real food”, and found that while it can be trying, it’s more about finding the good in our food system than simply making a complicated diet with a list of foods you can’t eat.
Until recently, I have placed all of the blame on individuals for being overweight or obese. “Why don’t they just stop stuffing their faces with junk food!?” or, “Why don’t they just go for a run or something?” I have since come to realize that many of our decisions are not entirely our own, but are shaped by many different social, political and economic factors. Here is just one example:
Next time you’re in your local grocery store, try to count how many different areas of the store you have the opportunity to toss a Coke product into your basket. The soda isle is just the tip of the iceberg; there are also the mini-refrigerators at the end of every check-out line, the stands an the end of the isle, displays next to your favorite chips, vending machines at the entrance and there might even be a giant Coke pyramid offering a case of 20 cans at a price so low you’ll be worried that Coca-Cola might be going out of business! Now compare this to the number of places you can pick up some delicious carrots. Rice? Beans? Juice?
If this strikes you as odd, it shouldn’t. The grocery business is not a friendly one, especially of you’re competing with Wal-Mart. Shelf-space is a finite commodity and consumers are much more likely to purchase Coke than broccoli. Your grocer knows that having more Coke displays will ultimately increase his bottom line, but this is just the beginning of your ‘decision’ to go ahead and purchase that case of glorified sugar-wat…er… High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup-Water.
Seeing that familiar white, cursive writing against that deep-red background conjures up wonderful memories from your childhood. This is not an accident. The advertising industry calls this a ‘love-mark’ meaning that the vast majority of the public identifies with the image of Coca-Cola on a personal level. Advertising agencies spend millions upon millions of dollars to ensure their product’s symbol becomes a love-mark.
You’re also more likely to buy that box of ‘childhood memories’ because your taste buds have already been purchased and perverted by Coke. If you’re like me, you had your first taste of Coke shortly after you could walk. Being exposed to such an unnaturally sweet beverage at an early age increases your tolerance for such drinks and decreases your sensitivity to subtler, more natural flavors; when was the last time you thought of carrots as sweet? The caffeine content of soft drinks is also dangerously addictive for children. Soft drink giants have given millions of dollars to public schools for the right to place vending machines in hallways, ensuring that America’s youth will stay hooked.
Fall 2010, I challenged myself to go the entire semester without consuming a single thing from Wendy’s. Why Wendy’s? Well, they seem to have a geographical monopoly on my campus, with three locations all within a short walking distance. The amazing part is that all the stores have great customer traffic, but they serve different clientele.
Triad of Wendy’s at the University of Texas at Austin
After completing the No Wendy’s Challenge last semester, I thought I would go out to eat to celebrate. So… I went to Wendy’s! I wanted understand why the fast food experience can be dangerous from a non-nutritional/environmental stand point. I want to bring your focus to the misleading language used to promote gluttonous consumption (of not just food), and how the convenience leads us to eat mindlessly. Continue reading