30 Aug

One of my earliest posts on the Tumblr feed commented on how the general comprehension of the word “nutritious” has declined in our time. This is still one of my favorite posts and is such a popular association that multiple people have independently submitted similar posts using the same gif over the last year.

It’s probably become a favorite of mine because I have many chances to mentally reference it on a daily basis. See, in the last couple years I have noticed a disturbing trend. Nutritious food has become a trending topic in the public consciousness, partially due to the efforts of people like Michael Pollan, but also possibly due to a bleed-over effect from ideas in the paleo and other real-food subcultures. Now, of course I am all for more people eating more nutritious food, whether or not they are paleo, but the problem is that even though people are more aware that they need to eat nutritious food, they unfortunately have no idea what that really means.

Advertisers know this, and have started to capitalize on it. “Nutritious” is a word with a lot of value in the customer’s mind, but—unlike words like “organic”—there is absolutely no regulation about what food does or does not get to be called “nutritious.” So marketers can slap it on pretty much whatever they want. Sound strange? Well they already use this exact strategy with other words we, as consumers, really like but don’t really have a conscious understanding of.

I came across yet another glaring example of this travesty just the other day, in the parking lot of my local medium-box grocery store. Ladies and gentlemen, consider the following:

What is this I don't even—

What is this I don’t even—

I almost minored in media studies but really it doesn’t take a marketing genius to deconstruct what they’ve done here. First, they show something that our instinct still tells us is nutritious: a pile of nuts, eggs, and colorful leafy greens. You feel healthier just looking at it. Then, with their composition and their copy, they indicate that their box of industrially-processed-and-fortified grain-shapes is just as nutritious as the real food next to it.

Actually, lol, technically this is a two-fer, since they claim the pasta is “tasty” as well. I also love their implication that nutrients and taste have to be “balanced,” like you can’t have one and the other at the same time. My lunch today of homemade chili, kale salad, and chocolate-coconut pudding begs to differ.

Now, I must confess, when I was in grad school—way before paleo—I actually ate a lot of this exact product. I was swayed by the marketing (which back then focused more on the extra fiber) and as pastas go it was just as edible as any other. But I also knew that a meal of just pasta was not a meal, so I always made an effort to toss in some simple sauteed veggies and slices of a pre-cooked sausage. As I looked at this ad I wondered if that was the trick they were getting at with this, the “Part Of A Balanced Breakfast” bait-and-switch. Maybe they’re trying to indicate that their pasta combined with the chard and the nuts and the eggs would make a nutritious meal.

Let’s take a closer look. Computer, enhance:



Yeaaaaaaah, nope. That is just a plate of pasta with a few pinches of (probably canned) Parmesan and some slices of wilted basil sprinkled over it. Props on the cherry tomato, I guess, but by weight, the plate probably has more vitamins and minerals in it.

I stared at the ad for a full minute or two, contemplating the future of man. Then I went inside the store and bought some chard.


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