Fooling Around with Food

When developing a theme or a premise, a writer may reveal personal information which influences their opinion and affects their ability to be objective.  “For purposes of full disclosure” is a pleasant way to begin such a revelation.  When I discuss Hollywood celebrities and sports personalities, I remember to preface my discussion with the phrase “although I don’t have a Tee Vee, dot dot dot.”

When I read the New York Times article The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food by Michael Moss, I was amazed and horrified to learn how processed convenience food is created, manufactured, and marketed.  The psychology and manipulation used to sell a plastic tray of pseudo meat, sugar, and salt was upsetting; for a moment, I couldn’t believe that any mother would give her children Lunchables.  Who was buying these wildly popular proxies for a healthy lunch?

Then I remembered the importance of “full disclosure.”  I’m not a working mother.

Back in the 1980’s, Oscar Meyer had a lot of baloney and wieners that weren’t selling.  It was Bob Drane’s job to figure out how to market these products and like any corporate VP, he organized focus-group sessions with mothers.  Step one is to identify a need.  The women interviewed complained about time.  They wanted to give their children a healthy variety of foods, but putting it all together every day was complicated and they were short on time.

The Lunchable was born out of these sessions.

I’m a busy person, but on the weekend I have time to work in the garden, go to Farmers Markets, and talk to local merchants.  When I get home from work, it’s just me and my kale.  I’ve made decisions about the food I’m going to buy and where I’m going to buy it.  No one complains if there are no Lunchables in my reusable canvas bag.

If I want to experiment with a fun and attractive way to incorporate more cabbage and cottage cheese into my diet, I just do it and no one complains or says “gross.”

Everything in my “parfait” was grown and produced locally, but it required thought, calculation, and time to prepare.  This was the first week my farmer friends had spinach from their high tunnel and I figured the healthy green vegetable would give my parfait a pop of color.  Posting a picture here on my blog is a little focus group, but I’m not so naïve as to think working women with children are going to pack such creations in lunch boxes.  For all I know, lunch boxes may be forbidden in public schools.

It’s not a moral failure if a person’s green food looks more like this.

Something is wrong with the way food is produced and consumed in America.  People know it’s broken, but how can they slow down enough to chop cabbage, braise kale, and roast sweet potatoes?  For every hand that comes between them and the sources of their food, a layer of processing and manipulation is added but a layer of time is peeled away.  What is the mathematical formula for convenience food?  What is the constant which makes it easy and tasty, yet devoid of nutrition?

I’d like a full disclosure from Oscar Meyer and the other wieners.

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5 Responses to Fooling Around with Food

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    Is the first step really to fill a need, or to create one? Who had the greater “need:” Oscar Mayer to peddle their stuff, or mothers to have prepackaged feel-good (for themselves first and foremost, and through the magic of carbohydrates for their children)? The constants you speak of are sugar and salt, in proportions that vary, but are always there.

    Let’s be honest, though–it’s all part of the schooling industry, the single largest industry in America, bar none. Lunchables or school lunch, they’re both crap, and they’re both money transfers from parents and families to huge, faceless corporations. I fight a constant battle against a thousand teasing temptations that lead my children to chase sugar, sugar, sugar, and even the “good” school lunches are full of it. If children lived in communities with their families, school lunches would be out there with flying cars.

    I’ve been a single Dad, I know the amount of time it takes to cook, but it’s time I have with my children. I don’t cook for them, I cook with them. They learn by example, and by patient precept. I buy lunches for them now, but if they were bagging it they would be making their own lunches in the morning. Are these children whose poor time-stressed mommies are crippled?

    So I have no patience for any of them, the lazy “super” moms, or the bastards that tell them the lies that soothe their swollen egos, or the schools that leave them all too stupid and cognitively crippled to govern themselves. We wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of making good wage slaves or salarymen who buy our processed product, would we? No, that would not be American.

    • LP,
      I didn’t purposely leave out single fathers; forgive me for not including them. You raise valid points about processed food being part of the school lunch racket; I look forward to a day when homeschooling, unschooling and choosing less stuff for more non-stuff is the norm and not the outlier.

      A broken system it is; it’s hard, some mornings, to develop an idea completely. Thank you for raising the issue of “greater need.”

  2. Loosehead Prop says:

    Of course you didn’t purposely leave out single fathers, you were citing Oscar Mayer’s actions. Nothing to forgive. I was just citing my experience, and throwing a brick or two in the process.

  3. Loosehead Prop says:

    From the NYT article you mentioned:

    There’s a paradox at work here. On the one hand, reduction of sodium in snack foods is commendable. On the other, these changes may well result in consumers eating more. “The big thing that will happen here is removing the barriers for boomers and giving them permission to snack,” Carey said. The prospects for lower-salt snacks were so amazing, he added, that the company had set its sights on using the designer salt to conquer the toughest market of all for snacks: schools. He cited, for example, the school-food initiative championed by Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association, which is seeking to improve the nutrition of school food by limiting its load of salt, sugar and fat. “Imagine this,” Carey said. “A potato chip that tastes great and qualifies for the Clinton-A.H.A. alliance for schools . . . . We think we have ways to do all of this on a potato chip, and imagine getting that product into schools, where children can have this product and grow up with it and feel good about eating it.”

    • LP,
      My biggest issue with the theme of the article was how it was treated like a commodity. I’m not a scientist, but there’s something sacred and elemental about food. Seeing corporate masters of the universe viewing food as just another “product” to “sell” is deeply disturbing. Once a person decides to try and produce a little bit of their own food, even if it’s just a windowsill herb, they realize that we’re not talking about some cheap junk from the dollar store.

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