Monday, May 31, 2010

Stop Me If You’ve Seen This Movie Before

You know, I’ve about lost my patience with corporate America:
With salt under attack for its ill effects on the nation’s health, the food giant Cargill kicked off a campaign last November to spread its own message.

“Salt is a pretty amazing compound,” Alton Brown, a Food Network star, gushes in a Cargill video called Salt 101. “So make sure you have plenty of salt in your kitchen at all times.”

The campaign by Cargill, which both produces and uses salt, promotes salt as “life enhancing” and suggests sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

Oh fer crying out loud. Give me a fucking break. Its “briny kiss”? Are you people serious? Do you really believe anyone buys that bullshit? Alton Brown should be ashamed of himself.

Now, tell me if this scenario doesn't sound awfully familiar:

When health advocates first petitioned the federal government to regulate salt in 1978, food companies sponsored research aimed at casting doubt on the link between salt and hypertension. Two decades later, when federal officials tried to cut the salt in products labeled “healthy,” companies argued that foods already low in sugar and fat would not sell with less salt.

Now, the industry is blaming consumers for resisting efforts to reduce salt in all foods, pointing to, as Kellogg put it in a letter to a federal nutrition advisory committee, “the virtually intractable nature of the appetite for salt.”

Geez, you’ve gotta be kidding. First you resist food labeling laws, then you dance around mandatory nutritional labeling by manipulating portion size, and then you use a bunch of astroturf campaigns to sell us some bullshit line about consumer choice, and then you say we want to eat this crap? That’s really rich.

You’re handing consumers a shit sandwich and telling them it’s a delicious, nutritious meal. And when we say, “Hmm, sorta tastes and smells like a shit sandwich to me,” you say “SHUT UP AND EAT YOUR SHIT SANDWICH!”

I’ve about had it with you people. I really don’t understand why companies like Cargill keep playing the same games with consumers. Once upon a time your job was to provide what consumers wanted. Now you create products first and then go out and find suckers to foist them on. You guys are doing it wrong.

You know, not too long ago, tobacco companies spent oodles of money extolling the health benefits of cigarettes. Today the Corn Refiners Assn. has spent oodles of money trying to convince us that corn syrup “is fine in moderation.” Yeah, good luck with the “moderation” part. High-fructose corn syrup is so ubiquitous--in everything from ketchup, mayonnaise, soups, bread, soft drinks, and other beverages--that the average American supposedly eats 60 pounds of the stuff a year. And you can’t even avoid the stuff if you tried, because food companies love to exploit loopholes in the food labeling law.

Ditto salt. Of course salt is necessary for life, but Americans eat more than twice as much as they should. And the reason we eat so much salt and so much high-fructose corn syrup is because we eat so much packaged foods. Salt and sugars are a way companies like Cargill and ConAgra can load your microwaveable dinner with a bunch of garbage and call it Healthy Choice, and they don’t want anyone in Congress telling them they can’t. Instead of just making food that’s healthy and nutritious but maybe costs more, they’d rather spend bazillions of dollars on PR and lobbying.

Corporate America loves to spend money on propaganda instead of just doing the right thing. This is how I know there’s no such thing as Free Market Fairy Dust: because corporate America has never, ever done the right thing unless Congress has forced them to. And if you need any more examples of that, look no further than the Gulf of Mexico, where millions of barrels of oil are still despoiling a major ecosystem on which millions of jobs depend.

Of course, we’ve all heard for years how safe offshore oil drilling is. We’ve all heard how safe modern nuclear reactors are. We’ve all heard that global warming is a fake, that clean coal is real, that trans-fats aren’t bad for you. We’ve all heard that "there is 'no
 difference' in the milk from untreated and rbGH-injected cows”, that Bispenol-A and pthalates are perfectly fine. And then along comes reality--an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a Yale medical study, a flood of coal sludge, or radioactive fish to show us all that corporate America was lying the whole time. I'm kinda done being shocked at this point, y'know?

I think we’ve all become accustomed to the corporate hucksterism routine by now. I have to wonder why these folks even bother. Do they think we’re stupid? After all these years? Or are they just on autpilot, doing what they’ve always done because they’re completely out of ideas?

Now let me say: we eat very little processed food in our house. I cook, and when I say cook I do mean I cook from scratch, because I have the time and I enjoy it and so that's what we do in our house. But that doesn't mean I'm not eating Cargill's crap because Cargill doesn't make processed foods, they make the crap that goes into processed foods, and they make the crap that goes into flour and sugar and animal feed. And so even if I wanted to avoid it by buying, say, an organic brand, most of those are now owned by multinational food conglomerates, too. So unless I grow my own wheat and grind my own flour and butcher my own hogs, I have very little control over the crap that's in our food, even someone like myself who would go hungry rather than microwave her dinner.

And what's really interesting to me is that while you have corporations spending bazillions lobbying for "consumer choice," at the same time they're trying to undermine things like organic food standards. So "consumer choice" and groups like Rick Berman's sham Center For Consumer Freedom are not about consumer freedom at all, they are about EATING THAT SHIT SANDWICH, BY GOD, AND LIKING IT.

It’s very bizarre. I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots about how harmless salt can be “in moderation,” even though consumers are given little control over how much salt they consume.

I’m sure newspapers like The Tennessean will happily run another pro-Cargill op-ed from one of Rick Berman’s flunkies, just as they have in the past. I’m sure we'll get a round of lobbying as Cargill spends millions of dollars buying members of Congress ads for the next election, especially now that the Supreme Court has given them its blessing.

And Americans will be dying of hypertension and heart disease and kidney disease and cancer until folks finally wake up or we're all too damned sick to care anymore.