ColumnIs food marketing making us superficial when it comes to buying and eating food?
“You really realize how superficial people are.”
That quote was from a Senegalese chef who is trying to get more people eating fonio, a grain from West Africa. He’s profiled in a piece in the Guardian looking at his efforts to make fonio the new quinoa, aka the foodie darling grain. His quote is in reference to the branding and packaging that it will take in order to make fonio popular in the American market.
Essentially what he’s saying is that we can’t just eat things because they’re good for us, we need them to be cool first.
Look at kale. Look at quinoa. Buzz words in the foodie world. I love kale as much as the next person (ok, admittedly maybe a little more than the next person), but what about mustard greens and chard? And the quinoa? What about millet?
We like to accuse the industrial food world of using food marketing to keep people eating unhealthy, citing examples of sugar cereal that’s branded as part of a complete breakfast. But let’s not kid ourselves, the healthy food world does it too.
Take the example of superfoods. First of all, there is no exact definition of the word “superfood.” You can slap that name on any food that is power-packed with nutrients. Second of all, do you know where your superfoods are coming from? Sure, goji berries might be good for your health, but the majority of them are grown on industrial fields in China. We say we want to be locavores and then we go dousing our salads in berries and grains that are imported from across the world.
As The Observer’s restaurant critic Jay Rayner wrote in a recent column, “What really gets me is the smugness of the people who push this stuff. They claim to have stumbled upon some truth the rest of us have missed. Which is: nuts, berries and greens are good for us. Big bloody news. Put out the bunting.”
We are superficial.
We want an easy fix, and we want it to look good. Why do you think it took so many people to get on board the bulk shopping train? I’d argue that filling up your own bags with bulk grains isn’t really that sexy. Or at least not compared to a pretty box with a stylized and illustrated logo.
We skip over a good recipe because it has no photo, but we ogle over the one with a heavy dose of food porn where the recipe itself isn’t worth a damn. We buy $8 juice because it’s in a trendy looking bottle and secretly we want people to see us with it, but we’ve never attempted juicing anything at home. We tout the values of buying organic, and we pick up bunches of bananas, carted over in massive shipping containers from the other hemisphere.
Let’s get real. Greens, nuts and grains have been good for us for a long time. Since the start of time really. We know what’s good for us, and deep down, we know perfectly well what we should and shouldn’t be eating.
Let’s work on being less superficial and just eating instead.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: nerissa’s ring