Sunday, February 3, 2008
Good Food, Bad Food, Red Food, Blue Food
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.