Truth Or Dare?

Carrie Steele has come up with a great new idea: honesty in advertising.

Wilcox-cartoon-for-junk-food-TV-advertising1MORE AND MORE these days I’m finding that leaving my reading glasses off is a wise move. Someone close to me who shall remain nameless might disagree with this notion, suggesting that I might not get quite so worked up trying to open sealed bottle caps, packets with near invisible dotted lines and other similarly infuriating forms of packaging, were I to wear them more often.

Yesterday, while unpacking my grocery bags, I stumbled upon a perfect example of the sort of stuff I’m (not) missing by staying a little blind. Having donned my specs to read a text message on my phone, I left them perched on my nose as I carried on putting away my grocery items. Imagine my surprise when I spotted this little gem, a poem no less, on one ‘essential’ weekly item: “Long as a summer day beside the sea. Strong as the love that binds both you and me. Soft as the wings of butterflies aloft, nothing feels the same as… cottonposh”.

In case you’re wondering, that little serenade relates to my four-pack of bog rolls. Next week when I shop I’m going to check out the competition. Not that there’s anything wrong with this ‘squeeze me, feel my softness, plush 3-ply’ I’ve been buying, but these days I’m more swayed by advertising that proclaims a ‘greener’ message. Something along the lines of ‘flushes easier, breaks down faster, not so many trees cut down to pat your butt with’ would be more appealing.

All afternoon I stewed over how ridiculous advertising can be, and of course, as always, I started to relate this back to food, and came up with what I think is quite a brilliant little piece of advice.

Aside from any exceptions I may be overlooking, generally I think a really easy way of deciding on healthy food choices would be to steer clear of anything advertised on television, or anywhere else for that matter. When you stop and think about it, it’s the processed foods that advertising focuses on. That’s where the push to sell products is. And does it work? Clearly yes, which is probably why NZ is fast becoming one of the fattest, unhealthiest nations.

I’d like to be able to say there aren’t any ‘packaged’ food items in my trolley each week, but of course this isn’t the case. Many whole foods come in packets: rolled oats, brown rice, lentils and beans, etc. Then there’s canned tomatoes, tahini, organic peanut butter, brown rice crackers, spices and seasonings like garlic and minced chilli – handy pantry items for when the fresh items aren’t at hand. I follow a little rule (a handy tip from Dr Dean Ornish) when purchasing any packaged items: if there are more than five ingredients listed on the product label, I don’t buy it. Ideally, there should be only one ingredient – e.g. a packet of dried chickpeas contains just that, dried chickpeas, and my choice of peanut butter contains only two ingredients, organic peanuts and organic sea salt. Most of the packaged goods I purchase have up to three ingredients (often with water being one of those), and with the main item being at least 95 percent of the total contents, which I think are achievable levels to aim for generally.

popeyeRealistically speaking, food advertising is just like any other advertising: it’s all about selling the manufacturer’s product, not about what’s good for us. It’s one thing to be swayed by advertising that leads us to believe for instance, that all women could look as gorgeous as Andy McDowell or Julia Roberts if we use a certain mascara, or hair product, but we buy those sorts of products tongue in cheek, not really expecting a metamorphosis to occur. Why is it then, that when it comes to food choices, many people are only too happy to take as gospel whatever ideas are presented? If the ad says it’s healthy then it must be, right? In my mind this is simply adopting a convenient viewpoint, thereby absolving oneself of any personal responsibility and avoiding having to think too much about what to shop for and how to prepare it.

Why bother, when according to the ad presenters (shall I say ‘actors’?) you can whip up a gourmet delight in a matter of minutes using a variety of cans and packets and of course go on to layer and smother most of these dishes with a gooey assortment of dairy products. Granted, some of these ads do make use of the fruit and vegetable aisle as a healthily attractive backdrop, but that’s as far as it goes when it comes to giving any sort of strong message about what the bulk of our diets should comprise of.

Perhaps the idea is that subliminally we will all realise that it’s the carrots and broccoli in the background we should be focusing on, rather than the recipes being demonstrated. The truth of the matter is, not since Popeye the Sailor Man has there been any strong proponent for increasing our intake of green leafy vegetables. According to Wikipedia, Popeye first appeared in cartoons in 1929, and while there has been some revival over the years of this brave and big muscled character, he has been largely forgotten, along with good old spinach.

queueingMany years ago I watched an amusing movie called Crazy People which I’ve never forgotten. It told the story of a bitter advertising executive who had reached his breaking point and ended up in a mental institution where his career actually began to thrive with the help of the other patients, when they all got together to write ad copy with the focus on honesty. For instance, ‘United, most of our passengers get there alive’; ‘Come to New York, it’s not as dirty as you think’; ‘Volvos, they’re boxy, but they’re good’.

Thinking along those lines, a plant based diet would be so easy to promote. Let’s try a few of my ideas. How about ‘Live to walk your daughter down the aisle’; or ‘Won’t clog up your arteries and shut off your ticker’, and ‘Eat plenty of fibre so you poop regularly and don’t get ass cancer’. And I think this one could be a real winner: ‘It’s worth saving for retirement – you’re likely to still be alive to enjoy yourself.’ CARRIE STEELE

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