Sunday, February 3, 2008

Good Food, Bad Food, Red Food, Blue Food

Day 33

These signs were scattered throughout the produce department when I went shopping the other day. You'll be happy to learn that my life is saved ten times over, because I needed lots of produce as usual, so I will be blogging for a long time!

I have no problem with some quack writing a book about "superfoods" and claiming that grape juice is a miracle substance. Those who have a good sense of skepticism will be able to ignore it, and the gullible can maybe get a placebo effect out of it. I do have a problem with putting these little signs all over the grocery store.

First, as some of my friends have mentioned, all food "saves" your life by providing the energy and nutrients needed to continue living. You need to eat in order to live, even if you are fat. If I'm starving, a chocolate bar will save my life by giving me much-needed calories. If a person's blood sugar is low, a piece of bread can keep them from passing out and crashing their car by raising their blood sugar. Do you think I saw those signs on the chocolate bars and bread, though? Of course not, because the book being promoted by these signs subscribes to the idea of "good foods" and "bad foods". The author actually goes into people's houses as a "nutrition consultant", digs through their cupboards, and puts stickers on items, labeling them as good foods and bad foods.

Second, I think it is misleading to simply put up a sign saying that a food will save your life. If you don't have the book, or cannot afford the book, then you have no context in which to put the labeled foods. So, let's say, for example, that you see the sign above the tomatoes and apples. You start eating nothing but tomatoes and apples because you really like them, and these signs are saying that they're so good for you, that they will save your life. Plus, tomatoes and apples are low-calorie and fat-free, and everyone wants to lose weight, right? The thing is, even if these two items are "superfoods", you cannot survive on tomatoes and apples alone; trying to do so actually killed Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.

"But that's just stupid," you say, "People know better than to just eat apples and tomatoes." However, when you combine the constant bombardment of "healthy eating" messages, fatphobia messages, and veneration of perpetual dieting, the very act of eating becomes shameful. I think that people are overwhelmed by all of it, and when simple, clear messages appear, they latch onto them. "THIS FOOD WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE" is much easier to understand than the vacillating press releases proclaiming the goodness or badness of eggs, coffee, wine, or other foods. Our eating patterns become more and more disordered as our culture becomes increasingly food-obsessed--an obsession that has absolutely nothing to do with enjoyment of food, and in fact condemns pleasure gained from eating.

I did have one person mention that they thought it was good that the stores were pointing out healthy foods, because some people don't know any better--that they know people who survive on coffee and pretzels, and make themselves sick. I am going to have to express my disagreement, however--I honestly don't think very many people have escaped the ubiquitous good foods/bad foods messages currently pervading our culture, and I'm pretty sure that most people have at least a vague idea that fruits and vegetables are generally regarded as healthy foods. If someone is surviving on pretzels and coffee, it isn't because they don't know that they would be better off eating a balanced diet; it's because they, for whatever reason, do not want to put the effort or thought into eating a greater variety. Most fresh vegetables need to be prepared and cooked, which takes time, effort, and skill. Not everyone has all three of those, or is willing to sacrifice other activities.

These folks are not going to be changed by a bunch of signs in the produce department, especially if they don't even walk through it. I also dislike the content of the signs, because they don't just say, "Hey, look, this is healthy!" They proclaim life-saving benefits, with no context or explanation except a book advertisement. If someone can't be bothered to even walk through the produce section or eat anything besides pretzels and coffee, they sure as hell aren't going to put time, money, and effort into reading a book to find out what the specific benefits to those foods are.

I would also dare to say that the aforementioned coffee and pretzel diet is a clear sign of disordered eating, which is not going to be improved by grocery store signs. They need treatment and counseling, and their doctors should be dealing with the situation and making them an appointment with a nutrition counselor. If they're not disordered, then they would do well to get some good frozen meals that contain a variety of different things and take a multivitamin, because it would save them the time and effort that they don't have for freshly prepared meals. Again, I didn't see signs in the frozen food aisle, even though there are some great meals available (Amy's, for example), and frozen vegetables are easy to keep on hand without spoiling.

I really dislike the idea of treating food as medicine, and I find signs encouraging people to buy foods they may not want or like by promising lifesaving benefits to be misleading and patronizing. I don't think it serves any real purpose beyond selling the guy's book. I actually think it's a fairly underhanded tactic, using the fear of death to scare people into spending money on the book when their money might be better spent on providing more food for their families, and frightening people into buying expensive fresh produce when they might stretch their food budget a little better on cheaper frozen or canned items*.

* I will cover the topic of frozen and canned vegetables in a future post; simply put, they are not evil and deadly.

6 comments:

Thorny said...

Bravo!

I hate the whole "This food will save your life!" meme, as if somehow, should you begin choking on a dastardly Dorito, an apple is going to leap from its bowl and perform the Heimlich maneuver on you.

Though your point about all food being life-giving, is a better, less absurdist one than my EMT produce. grin.

kellycoxsemple said...

Another nail hit on the head. Your observation coincides nicely with the recent “Mike and Juliet Show” (http://www.bfdblog.com/?p=331) where the wrong-headed gynecologist they brought in as a nutrition expert (go figure!) suggested people simply stop eating "white foods” because they are empty calories devoid of nutrition.

Umm, what? Those EVIL white foods are staple foods that have sustained the human race for millennia. She conveniently forgot that carbohydrates (grains, fruits, vegetables) are the basis of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the energy human beings need to, ya’ know, LIVE! She must think the Japanese are wrong-headed to eat all that rice (a grain). And maybe she thinks that the Irish died off in droves BECAUSE they ate potatoes (a vegetable), not because there were no potatoes for them to eat at all.

To get right down to it, the only two food groups that DON’T contain any carbs are meat and fat. Even Dr. Atkins told people to eat some veggies with their bacon cheeseburgers without buns.* She also said to stop drinking calories, although she did backpedal a bit when one of the hosts implied that she meant alcohol.

Weight loss is largely about two things in our society: attractiveness and capitalism. PriceChopper’s campaign is a way for them to jump on the very popular OMG TEH FATZ! bandwagon and make some money from it. They slap the word “healthy” on it to make themselves feel better, or dive right into “life or death” territory because the extreme always makes an impression (if I may quote Christian Slater). I worked in this industry for a while. Trust me, PC isn’t the only one doing it.

At the risk of sounding like one of the silver-haired old fogeys spinning yarns about the good old days, my great-grandmother used to say, "All things in moderation." She ran a farm and raised a family with my great-grandfather, and lived as a healthy 300+ lb. woman well into her 90s. I follow happily in her footsteps (without the farm), and hope that her genes dripped generously into my pool.

Sorry for ranting in your comments again. Thus far, I have found that my views neatly align with yours (including as regards cats), and therefore I feel unjustifiably free to join in the chorus. You should feel free to tell me to pipe down! 

* This is in no way even a hint of endorsement for the Atkins diet. In fact, I think it’s one of the most misguided ideas for eating pretty much ever concocted.

JoGeek said...

I challenge anyone to actually find the mythical person who doesn't know that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables are good for you. In the case of the "pretzel and coffee" eater mentioned, or the "Mountain Dew, cheezy poofs and pizza" diet of some of the gamers I used to know (most of them skinny), it isn't that they don't know the difference between eating healthy and eating crap, it's that they don't care. People hate taking medicine, and they're not going to like it any better if it happens to taste like cauliflower. Oh wait, I mean broccoli. Cauliflower's a white food, so it's DEATH!!! :-)

Otter said...

Frozen/canned vegetables are key, especially in the middle of winter when "fresh" vegetables lack taste and are trucked in from far off warmer lands. I live on frozen collards, canned tomatoes, and citrus fruit in the winter. Now is about the time I start really itching for a fresh delicious tomato, though.

Mercurior said...

you should see what they say in the UK, they have this eat 5 portions of fruit a veg a day, ok fine..

http://www.5aday.nhs.uk/WhatCounts/WhatCounts.aspx

but thats not good enough now.. it has to be red fruits and blue fruits

http://www.allaboutweybridge.co.uk/aaw/5aday.htm

http://www.dole.com/Products/Prod_Ed_026-Colors.jsp

i know one person who doesnt eat meat they are healthy, one who eats nothing but meat they are healthy.. their dna their metabolism tells them they only need that.. and for THEM it works

RioIriri said...

Thorny,
Your EMT produce is funnier than live-giving food. :)

Kelly,
The whole "white foods are evil" movement would be funny if people didn't actually believe in it. Scuse me while I live on a diet of chocolate and Twizzlers... :) Come to think of it, most non-chocolate candy is brightly colored to exploit our natural attraction to brightly colored food (we primates love fruit!)

Jo,
How do these gamer boys stay so twiggy?! My friends, my husband, these guys eat five times what I do.

Otter,
One semester, I was taking hydroponics, so we had fresh tomatoes in the winter. It was SO nice! Tomatoes that tastes tomatoey! I refuse to get grocery store "fresh" tomatoes; I use canned instead.

Merc,
I think our heritage has a lot to do with it too. I can survive on a diet of cheese, because I'm Western European stock, but some people are genetically inclined to lactose intolerance. We're all a little different. :)