Friday, June 15, 2012

Are you being tricked into harming your children and yourself?

A recent conversation with my father produced one of those "ah-ha" moments like when your child finally understands calculating percentages. This had nothing to do with math or any other academic challenge. No, it was a concept much more important than anything that is taught in schools. Schools, in reality, are involved in the process of conditioning and grooming children into disbelieving or avoiding this concept. So here is the mighty and mysterious concept that my father laid upon me -- advertising and marketing is really . . . lying. Well, no duh!!!

To give you a better perspective on what made this moment so profound you need to know that my father's life since his teen years has been in advertising and marketing. He started as a sign painter but eventually went on to do the full spectrum of advertising including the newspaper advertisements or the inserts with billing statements for some high profile national companies.

The conversation continued with him explaining how he now understood that marketing is basically lying by leaving out the negative attributes of a product or service and highlighting or, in fact, exaggerating the positive attributes. I, while listening to this brief oratory, was fixed in a slumped position while holding the gaze of a deer in the headlights. Was I actually hearing what my mind perceived as the auditory input thrust upon me, YES!

As I pen these words I feel a sense of disbelief toward my recollection of that conversation. But it did happen and that epiphany regarding marketing did come from someone who had perpetuated that art of misconception as a lifelong career. Apparently the veil of deceit which marks the advertising industry had been impenetrable to even one who was a creator of it. Although I saw through it as a child I began to fully comprehend the force of marketing and advertising as a young adult. Thus, it comes to me as no surprise that most people are unable to decipher the truth from the glitz.

Instead of presenting a thesis on the industry I will instead offer a perspective as it relates to food and how you may be harming yourself and your young children. This is of paramount importance because of the significance of ingested material and overall well-being.

As the guardian of your child's well-being it is imparted upon you to make wise decisions about the food that your children consume. Your decisions will be guided by the information available to you which you must choose from wisely.

When I develop diet plans for my clients I start all with the four banned "foods": High fructose corn syrup [HFCS], hydrogenated oils, artificial colours and artificial flavours. Any of those may be consumed on rare occasion but should not be part of a regular dietary regiment.

Prior to establishing a new dietary routine based upon optimal well-being it is first imperative to understand and appreciate food. Foods nourish the body. Through their balance of calories, fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, minerals and other essential properties, foods provide the building blocks for cell reproduction, energy and maintenance of a healthful body structure. Distinguishing between a food and what I refer to as 'processed garbage designed to appear as food' is essential to the well-being of you and your children.

There are a few general guidelines that I suggest for my clients. The first being abandoning the four non-food groups: High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial colours and artificial flavours. Next I like for my clients to understand what is a food and to learn to appreciate food. I prefer the art of making Sushi but this can just as easily been done through salads, wraps, soups or platters. The essential part is the preparation of whole foods -- baking bread, making a sauce from fresh tomatoes and spices, preparing and arranging fresh fruits and vegetables or extracting oils from vegetables, nuts or grains.

A complaint that is most often expressed is that real food "does not taste as good". Although logic says that nutrition should exceed taste in the food decision process most of you may still reject that concept. It should be rejected though -- great tasting food is great for the body. This applies only to "food" though -- not the garbage disguised as food.

To understand why garbage appears to taste better than food we must go into a bit of a psychological and anthropological examinations. As a specie we possess certain self preservation traits. As man evolved, those who possessed traits consistent with survival -- fear of heights, abhorrence to the scent of deadly fungus, quick reflexes -- survived longer and had a greater likelihood of producing more offspring and passing on beneficial traits.

If we look at the hardship the is often thrust upon parents, especially those whose carnal acts led to an unplanned pregnancy, we may decide not to have children at all and let the specie wither into oblivion. Evolution jumped in here and ensured that reproduction flourished. People born with a sense of pleasure from arousal of the genitals engaged in -- guess what -- intercourse. And they did so more often. The drive was so compelling that any thoughts of future hardship were dismissed. So it was with food also.

Persons born with a desire for the taste of unhealthy foods were less likely to be healthy and strong. When viewed by the opposite gender as a prospective mate they were passed over for healthier prospects and thus those taste were eliminated from the gene pool. This is why it is rare to find someone who savours the flavour of dirt, moldy fruit or rotting flesh. The body will not thrive -- possibly not survive -- on a diet consisting of those offerings. Hence, we were genetically endowed with a desire to eat foods like peaches, tomatoes, broccoli, mango, green beans, carrots and all the other nutrient dense whole foods. So how did it come to pass that our culture has developed a sense of taste, rather a preference, for the garbage processed to appear as a food such as Twinkies and McNuggets. For this we have marketing and advertising as the catalyst which will require a psychological examination.

Marketing is much more than an exercise in coordinating promotional opportunities, venues, media and giving voice to concepts. At its core, marketing is an exercise in psychology to convince a person to exchange his or her labour for another's good or service -- often unnecessary ones.

The most effective marketers have undertaken extensive training in psychology as well as having ample resources about human nature and preferences. One of the activities for which I am compensated is consumer product research. I am shown or sent potential products for the consumer market and then asked a series of questions about the product. This includes flavours, packaging, descriptions, words that I do or do not like, pricing and timed tests to locate products on a virtual store shelf. Occasionally I am asked a battery of personality questions such as do I like to purchase the latest technology gadgets, am I comfortable in groups of people I have never met, is nutrition or price more important, who influences my health care decisions, do I tend to believe or doubt claims made on packages and all the demographic details. This is all done to get you to supplant your natural desire to fulfill your dietary needs with real food.

Now may be a good time to take a break fro reading this long post. I would like for you to try an experiment -- watch a television show and the commercials. Write down your feelings before watching, then note your feelings about characters and their traits. For the commercials note your feelings about the product and why. It would be best if you did this before reading further.

What I want for you to realize is the marketing influences. Did you like the characters who were clean shaven, sharply dressed, driving a luxury car and living in a high end apartment decorated with contemporary furnishings? In other words, the characters who spend money ad nausea. In regards to the products advertised through commercials did you feel good about the ones where the actors were happy, attractive and enjoying the ease or comfort that the product or service provides?

Now take a reality check. Think of people you know -- possibly yourself -- and examine whether they experience the same feelings as the commercial actors did. Does your friend with the convertible sportscar attract the attention of every member of the opposite sex while cruising through town, receiving seductive glances and climbing the corporate ladder because the boss is equally impressed? I have the answer for you -- NO!

Now think about your usage of soaps. Do you push the pump completely down on the hand soap, squeeze out a stream of dish washing liquid or use a full cap full in the laundry? These habits have all been demonstrated through television commercials. Soap companies even go so far as to pay movie producers to include the same type of behaviours in their programs. All of this is to get you to use the product at a rate about five times that which is necessary.

Now back to food and why our society has learned to dislike real food in favour of dressed up garbage. Food processors have used the best marketing agencies to promote an image that real food is messy, not convenient, not fun and most of all it just doesn't taste as good. This is done through a clever mix of images of people juxtaposed to the food while an overlay of sound and narration reinforce each other. Their main target is children because they know that habits are difficult to break and if a child develops a good eating habit they have lost a potential 70 year customer.

For example, a maker of prepackaged lunches that are high in fat, sodium, HFCS and low in nutrients will show a mom in a hurry grabbing the lunch, while smiling at the child, and tossing it in a bag. The mother and child are then shown in an affectionate embrace. The child at school pulls this lunch from his bag and then the other students start taking note. The sound is upbeat and builds to a crescendo as the plastic covering is peeled back and the colourful digitally produced waves of flavour are released into the air. The other students [pretending to smell something that isn't there] clamor for a sample and are so joyous and overwhelmed that the principal must take control of the situation. The comparable situation shows a mother rushing to try to put together a healthy lunch which is making a mess of the kitchen, the child appears disappointed and there is no embrace between them as the child rushes out the door to catch the school bus that is visible through the bay window passing his home. Finally, at school he is shown all alone eating his healthful lunch with a look of disgust on his face as he forces himself to take a bite.

Here is what the food producers have done. They have projected to the parent that a healthy meal is a huge inconvenience, too time consuming, abhorred by the child and, worst of all, that your child will be ostracized by his peers. The child sees that the processed garbage is going to make him popular, that he won't be rushing to get to the bus, that it taste great and, most important of all, that his mother will have time to give him attention and affection. He will also feel a relief from the sense of being a burden to his family and causing the house to be a mess. The child will actually request the product -- claiming it to be his favourite -- without having ever tried it. What the child is doing without knowing it is responding subconsciously to the emotions in the commercial -- the sense of being loved by a parent and popular among classmates. Thus, the flavours of fat, salt and sugar become associated with love and popularity. It is classic conditioning much like Pavlov made popular.

That is all before getting into the cartoon characters and use of bright colours intended to attract children. Then there are the outright lies popularized in slogans like "Milk - it does the body good" Really, is heart disease good? But the dairy industry spends millions of dollars per year on lobbyists to ensure that dairy products are represented on the USDA food pyramid and that this slogan is embedded in our minds. The slogan I use is "Milk - it makes the body moo!" That is exactly what it does -- turns a healthy small child into a fat blubbering cow.

One of the positive health benefits that the industry uses to promote this harmful "food" is calcium content. Here is the logic question for you; Where does the cow get the calcium? Answer; greens. So now contemplate this one -- is it better to get the calcium directly from the same source or with the added fat from the cow? If you argue for taste then you will likely go with the cow, especially if you are accustomed to eating processed garbage. Recall that you have been taught that the taste of fat is associated with positive emotions.

Taste is malleable. Your taste have changed over the years. Old favourites are no longer, having been replaced with those foods from the former throw-a-tantrum-to-avoid-eating list. The truth is that it takes about four months generally to change taste.

Associating the taste of real foods with positive emotions can be done just as easily as the food marketers have done with creating a positive emotional link to eating processed garbage. The easy way to start this is joining friends for a meal and having a good time. Make the event start in the kitchen with the fresh produce and other basic ingredients. Cook together while enjoying the love and companionship of your friends or family. Without knowing it you will begin to appreciate the taste of real food. If the time for meal preparation is not available then going out to eat can also accomplish this but must be done where real food is available. The restaurant business is a culprit in the processed garbage industry so great care must be taken in choosing one. The best I have been to is Formosa is Castleton. This buffet is huge and has superb sushi, a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables without any sauces on them and a fine selection of seafood.

Inclusive in my life coaching is also finance. Every aspect of life is integrated which is why I base my advice on the interaction between health, finance, relationships, employment, education, time management and more. Formosa is a fine compliment to a balanced lifestyle. I recently took a client there for lunch along with my son and my dearest friend. We all had some of the Salmon which everyone agreed was better than any of the other buffets where we have dined. Fruit was plentiful and ripe. The taste was complimented by all. I had a plate full of Sushi and California Rolls as well as one with only fresh vegetables then a plate of cooked vegetables. Your mid-day meal should be the largest and my five plates full of food ensured that it was. My client was impressed by the marble-top tables and elegant decor. We all ate well and enjoyed the two hours we spent together. My client was stunned when she paid the bill which was less than what she and one friend usually spend on a meal at other restaurants which is not as satisfying or filling. Lunch at Formosa is only $8.

The taste of this real food at Formosa, having been associated with the companionship of loved ones in a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere at low cost now attaches a positive emotional association. In the future we can individually eat those same healthy real foods and harken back to that positive emotional association. This is what can help carry you through the transition to appreciating the taste of real food. There are numerous other ways to make this transition more palatable which I develop for clients on an individual basis.

To take a step further towards an appreciation of real food you should try growing it yourself. I like for each of my clients to have some type of garden. For me it is about 1000 square feet but I tailor the size to the needs and resources of each client. Gardening can be a time for that minimum of 10 minutes each day that is needed for solitary relaxation and introspection. Thus, it need not be an additional obligation but is, instead, an opportunity for a more productive use of time that has already been set aside. Rather than sitting on a mat in the lotus position it can be sitting in the dirt extracting weeds from the soil surrounding the plants that your have nurtured from germinating seedlings.

I feel that gardening is the best way to introduce children to appreciating real food. A must grow plant is the sunflower. Children are impressed by the rapid growth and size as it soon extends its reach towards the Sun beyond theirs. Potatoes are another fun one to plant. As children develop their garden they achieve a sense of accomplishment, an understanding of what "food" is and a taste for real food without the harmful additives that the processors and marketers like to use to get us hooked on their garbage processed to appear as food.

I am not going to go into an in-depth examination of the harms caused by my four banned "foods" but instead will just provide brief conclusions from which you can research further if you wish.

High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS] is a popular sweetener in many of what I call the non-foods and has been the subject of wide debate at to its safety. The International Journal of Biological Sciences recently reported a study in which genetically modified corn has been found to cause organ damage in lab rats. HFCS, often made from GM corn, is used because it achieves a sweeter taste than real sugar on a per unit basis. Spread out over millions of products each day the fraction of a penny savings adds up quickly for the food processors. Potential harm from HFCS aside I conclude that the greatest harm from a diet containing HFCS is the low nutrient density of the so-called foods in which it is an ingredient. Take this quick test; separate foods in your home into two categories -- being ones with and without HFCS. Then examine the nutrition labels. You will quickly see that HFCS exist in foods that are high in calories and low in vitamins and minerals. Thus, they are quite expensive.

Onto hydrogenated fats. This one is no longer debated -- it leads to heart disease. Fat is good and needed by the body but fats containing an added hydrogen atom cannot be processed by the body in the same manner and are treated as an invading organism which stresses the immune system. Again look at your nutrition labels. Those with hydrogenated oils are low in nutrients.

The next two just call out WHY? Artificial colours and artificial flavours are hotly debated as to their harm. Some science suggests that there may be a link to autism, organ damage, memory function and other harms. Whether any of that is proven doesn't concern me one bit and shouldn't be a concern of yours. When it comes to food additives the primary concern should be what health benefit is achieved. I conclude that these artificial additives provide none. Real food has all the flavour it needs which when provided to the palate that has been unadulterated by the food manufacturing industry appreciates it more. As for the colours, do a taste test with a blind person. Artificial colours are added for 'curb appeal' -- to attract you to the perception of the "food" being the appropriate colour. Real food has real colour though. Again, look at the nutrition label. Those items with these ingredients are over-priced and low in nutrients.

The human body has evolved over a million years using the natural selection process from the available foods, which up until the past few generations was all natural. Synthetic "foods" may be safe but I believe their use should be studied for at least 15 generations to examine any potential reproductive or genetic mutations before being declared safe.

By providing those four banned "foods" to your children you are setting them on a course that can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and other potential life threatening ailments. If you are involved in a child custody battle then you are possibly subjecting yourself to a change in custody based upon this factor that a court must consider. Make sure you are on the positive side of the nutrition equation for your children.


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©2008, 2012 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

1 comment:

Lucy Brenton said...

Well said! I have avoided HFCS, MSG, GMO, hydrogenated oils, etc.... for years. It always amazes me in the grocery store when I see the correlation between body shape/size and the shopper's food choices. Big, fat unhealthy bodies are obtained by people who get their food in boxes. I buy ice cream (we'll leave the dairy debate and raw dairy for another day) that has at most four or five ingredients.

As an economist, it makes little sense to me to pay upwards of $7/lb for Doritos, yet claim organic apples and broccoli are too expensive. As Mr. Showalter so elegantly expressed, the higher priced foods have less nutrition. This is grossly inefficient.

Gardening is one of the best ROI for time, money and effort. A quick search of urban and container gardening yields endless possibilities and ideas for even those who live in apartments.

Thanks again for a wonderful read.