Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turning Off Your Brain

Although we do not have a television at home, my entire family gets sucked in by TV when we're staying in hotels. In our travels over the last three weeks, we've fallen in love with the Food Channel.

The fact that it is such a draw and manages to eat up so much time is exactly why we don't have a TV at home!

I especially enjoyed the focus on local and sustainable cooking during the White House Iron Chef show. Did you hear about it?

But last night, as we watched the terrific television personality Alton Brown, I was stunned by the commercials for high fructose corn syrup. Despite all the medical concerns suggesting that its safety is not a given and the agricultural/environmental concerns about monocropping corn, the Corn Refiners Association has put out a set of advertisements designed to get us not to question their product.

Every ad I saw seemed to follow the same basic plot-line. One person would suggest that the other should not eat something because it contained HFCS. The other would dismissively say something like, "Why? Because it is natural, has no more calories than sugar, and is part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation?" And then person A would reach out his or her grateful hand and scarf down the product containing high fructose corn syrup. In each case, the person trying to avoid the product seems not to have any idea why her or she is avoiding it, and the person who supports us can persuade person A just by saying that it is fine to eat it. There is no real convincing, just Consumer A waiting for permission to eat some forbidden fruit and someone else telling him or her to just do it.

Honestly, even if you read a non-politicized article about the process used to make high fructose corn syrup, I have trouble believing that anyone thinks it is natural. Sweet? Yes, although many complain about the flavor compared to table sugar. Cheap? Yes, thanks to government subsidies. Useful in making processed foods last longer on the shelf, and therefore a boon for corporations? Supposedly yes, although this is totally freaky. But NATURAL?

I am especially amused that on the website the advertisement leads the viewer to, the refiners make the argument that HFCS is natural because it is made from corn--but then argue that it is very unlikely to be allergenic since any corn proteins left in the product are so altered.

The website also states that HFCS has no discernable corn DNA in the product (in the effort to say that using GMO corn to make HFCS is not a problem). If there is no corn DNA in it, doesn't that make it clear that it is not a natural corn product?

I'm not out to convince anybody to avoid HFCS. But I do strongly urge you to watch advertisements critically and realize when the ads are designed to shut down your critical brain.


Beverly said...

I did not have (or watch) television from 1992-2006. Only when I moved in with my husband did it come back into my life, mainly b/c he loves to watch sports. I do like to watch movies on it.

Lately, we've noticed that he completely tunes out during ads, and I watch them and wonder how they think they are going to sell a product/idea with such terrible logic...we decided that my long hiatus from tv/ads has made me pay closer attention to them than the average person (this theory based on the faulty logic that N. = the average person!).

This is all to get at my comment that I am with you about the ads you've discussed, as well as the need for viewers to be mindful of ads...even if we think they don't affect us, they do, they do!

Jennifer W. said...

Agree with you about the corn syrup folks ads -- it's true of most ads. I am pleased that Andrew is very aware of the biases shown in TV ads, he tunes them out all the time. I get amused by them -- and annoyed when they are repeated two million times.Of course, my idea of a perfect veg-out is to watch something interesting on TV while knitting something interesting . . . miss seeing you!

Adrienne said...

The thing with those ads is... even if I thought HFCS was perfectly fine, I would *not* be giving my kids (if I had any) a big glass of artificial flavor and color whether it's sweetened with a boatload of sugar *or* cornsyrup!

The Tell-tale Heart said...

I enjoyed watching you fume as Alton Brown made questionable statements during his show in between the commercials. (Teflon pans under the broiler? Pasturized eggs instead of pasture-raised eggs?) I think the ads and the show itsef offer a commentary on the dangers of our 'listen to the experts' culture. As much as I enjoyed moments of TV duing our vacation, I am so grateful we don't have a TV.


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