Last weekend, I went to my neighborhood farmers’ market. Children outnumbered canvas tote bags and bearded men. I’d never really realized that there’s a whole generation of kids being raised on fruits and vegetables bought at a produce stand instead of the freezer aisle. A small portion of Americans may have been eating local since Alice opened her restaurant back in the ‘60s, but many more have jumped on the bandwagon today. A walk through your local supermarket, fast-food joint or chain restaurant might suggest that the healthy foods movement has reached the masses.
Case in point: Burger King’s new advertising campaign. Out with the creepy monarch and in with the guacamole burgers. A recent USA Today article on Burger King’s makeover quoted a consumer preferences executive, noting the trend towards “healthy choice and quality” over price. It’s an odd occurrence during a time of economic strain, but perhaps the focus on organic instead of oversized has longer-term goals in mind. By paying a bit more for good-for-you foods now, you could potentially save thousands on medical bills in the future. A bit extreme, but the concept isn’t totally ridiculous. Though manufacturers don’t market goods with such morbidity, there’s certainly an undercurrent of guilt — by just paying one dollar more for the Vitamin D-enhanced orange juice, you could keep your child’s bones strong! Springing for the 25-percent less sugar cereal at the 25-percent higher price will keep your spouse fit!
Today, McDonald’s offers both Coca-Cola and chocolate milk with Happy Meals. The Olive Garden denotes healthy menu choices with a subtle, curled leaf dancing in the margins. Is nothing sacred or salty anymore? Even Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles are available in a “whole wheat” variety, with a mere eight grams of whole grain mixed in for that nice, earthy color. But these waffles are made with enriched flour, which — unlike whole flour — has been stripped of natural vitamins and minerals in order to prolong shelf life. To compensate for this, vitamins such as impressive-looking B-12 are pumped back into the flour — and the nutritional facts — but many of the nutrients once inherent in the grain are lost.
Like Louis Vuitton bags and Rolex watches, there’s a reason why the real thing is more expensive. The kind of truly healthy ingredients in brands like Kashi and Naked Juice cost more than those in Kellogg’s and Pepsi. The great irony is that Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s. Naked is owned by Pepsi — which is owned by Halliburton. Kidding, I think.
It’s like there’s a caste system within the structure of food corporations. There’s one branch that caters to yuppies and octogenarians who can afford to pay more for fresher ingredients and another that gives watered down nutrients at higher prices to average Americans. Knockoff versions of more nutritional foods are more than just a faux pas, they’re a real problem. Working families who can’t sustain the cost of a weekly shopping trip to Whole Foods are the ones who lose in the end. It’s not fair to highlight a few key words like “Calcium,” “Fiber” and “Real Cheese” on the box of a minimally altered product and then charge more for it than the original.
Another example of the falseness of “healthy” food can be seen in reduced-sugar cereals like Frosted Flakes. When these cereals debuted in the breakfast aisle a few years ago, studies showed that in order to compensate for the blandness of less sugar, other carbs must be added back into the ingredients in order to give each flake that satisfying crunch.
This superficial health-consciousness is troublesome. I’m all for more having as many natural, nutritious foods lining the aisles at Shop-Rite as there are at Trader Joe’s, but the fact is many products benefit the companies that make them more than the consumers that buy them. What you see is not always what you get, even when you read the label. The healthy food movement deceives people into thinking they’re improving not just their lifestyles, as in the case of clothing and car companies, but also their lives. Appealing to a person’s health is different than their status. It’s more important, more serious and makes this issue not just deceitful but a little dangerous. Really, consumers are just paying more for a few choice adjectives.
Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Duly Noted appears every Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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