Steadfast FinancesFood Culture Wars: Organic & Nutrient Dense vs. Cheap & Manufactured

Food Culture Wars: Organic & Nutrient Dense vs. Manufactured & Inexpensive

Filed in Advertising , Consumer Education , Economy , Infographics & Chartology , Politics 3 comments

I ran across a great Op-Ed article in the Washington post over the current food culture war: organically raised meats & veggies vs. industrially manufactured foods, the millions of dollars spent on lobbying Congress for continued food subsidies, as well as multimillion dollar marketing campaigns to retain as much of the current market share as possible.

Both [liberal and conservative] sides in this gustatory dust-up understand just how dangerous it is to tell people how to eat. The right’s cultural warriors see an opportunity to turn the complicated issue of food into a class-war weapon — and to make nice with the fast-food industry, which has donated generously to the GOP.

They are banking on the fact that over the past 60 years, the American way of eating has moved from small farms and home-cooked meals to industrial production and drive-throughs.

The Golden Arches long ago replaced Mom’s apple pie as a symbol of the all-American meal. Thus, “Don’t let them take away your Big Mac!” becomes a rallying cry.

For the good-food revolution to have a chance, people have to make finding and preparing fresh food a priority at a time when everything about our modern food system urges us not to bother. And that won’t happen if people think healthy food is an elitist plot to take away their McRib.

I differ with the authors only in one regard, where I think this issue should not be considered as a partisan, Liberal vs. Conservative, Democrat vs. Republican issue. I’m sure many organic food, anti – “food squeezed through a tube” crusaders would love to vilify one political party over another, but I’m self aware enough to recall Bill Clinton scarfing down Big Macs and Krispy Kreme donuts with cameras rolling during his political tenure. So instead of being divisive and saying it’s the big bad Republicans and the Tea Party conservatives that deserve most of the blame, let’s be fair and say both parties have enough manufactured food stains on their ties to go around.

Late Adopters Don’t Like Change

What most people seem to be missing is that much of this debate can be explained by a first semester social science, marketing or advertising class.

It’s well known that conservative personalities are usually the late adopters to a new marketing (aka – persuasion) campaign, technological advances, or any societal advancement.

In other words, when any type of change is thrust upon conservative personality types that might require re-learning or adaptation, guess who is going to elect (pun intended) to go kicking and screaming.

We see it everyday, experience it everyday, and it’s as ubiquitous as the oxygen we breathe, but for whatever reasons, we fail, or simply don’t want to acknowledge, that dragging our feet can have serious long term consequences if the can is kicked down the road for too long.

Clinging to the Status Quo

Most of us have a tendency to revert to what we know or the way it has always been, and as such, repetitive behavior will usually provide some semblance of comfort. This is where many conservative personalities reside and, as we age, we all get more conservative to some degree.

And there really isn’t anything wrong with maintaining a status quo comfort zone… until the status quo has proven to be harmful, inefficient, or disproved.

For example, no one in contemporary America would argue that we should bring back Pony Express as a suitable means of written communication — even though horse breeders and letter carriers of the time argued it would decimate their industry and hurt a small segment of the economy — now that scientific progress evolved to the point of communicating at or near the speed of light. Can anyone legitimately argue that sending a letter via horseback is better than Gmail? No, because the idea is so absurd it’s laughable.

Clinging to the status quo, whether that means keeping older technologies in place versus upgrading to more efficient alternatives (e.g. General Motors vs. Tesla) or eliminating faulty new technology/research that appears to be more harmful than beneficial (e.g. high fructose corn syrup vs. sugar), should not be standard operating protocol for the sole reason it’s still profitable, how deeply politically entrenched these industries might be, or even regarded as “Too Big To Fail”, simply because it’s in the financial interests of a select few.

If we clung to this faulty belief system that every single industry is too valuable to be killed off by a better invention, a better business model, or that everything we have today is “good enough” to get by for a few decades, I would seriously doubt that communicating via a world wide web of text based information would even exist. And neither would a lot of other important scientific discoveries that we rely upon every day without even knowing they exist — until the power goes out.

The New Normal of Business is Trench Warfare

I think the Op-Ed piece does an excellent job reminding us that the “American Way”, as it relates to modern day agriculture and food production, is no longer American. Much like the documentary Food Inc. showed in graphic detail, the American Way used to be farm grown this, grass fed that, or hand made down the road at old man Smith’s ranch.

This is far from the case today, and the Big Ag and Big Food industries are justifiably alarmed that public opinion might want to revert back to the old school meme.

This is where the game of spin is applied: catchy marketing slogans, illusory advertising campaigns and public relations spin have successfully created a facade that rarely typifies the current status quo. Americans, by in large, may not care where their food comes from, or have any idea of what’s in it or how it’s made, but I think it’s safe to assume that most of us no longer believe that our fresh veggies come from a quintessential farm from western Pennsylvania or central Kansas any longer.

To salvage the facade, the new normal of the American food business has arguably shifted away from a free market system, but more to a rigged game of who can buy the most votes in Washington DC via campaign contributions, and/or who can afford to pay the most bucks to sway public opinion via the great PR spin machine.

But don’t fool yourself. This isn’t a cut and dry debate of trench warfare where wins or losses are measured in yards, or a debate of American politics and a state of demosclerosis (government’s inability to adapt in the presence of a rising number of self-interest groups/lobbyists). There are millions, if not billions, of dollars at stake if just a few percentage points gained or lost, and any significant ground can be due to a myriad of factors: water shortages, the obesity epidemic or even a public becoming more aware of the quality of food their shoving into their pie hole just to name a few.

Not surprisingly, the well entrenched businesses whose market share and profit margins are hanging in the balance are not taking this lying down — even if the endgame might result in a healthier population, cutting government spending by ending food subsidies of questionable societal/economic value, and lower health care costs due to low nutrient/high calorie foods.

After all, where’s the wisdom letting all those billions of advertising dollars paid over the last half century persuading and influencing public opinion go to waste by having a public that actually thinks and does what is best for itself. Right?

Washington Post Op Ed
Brent Cunningham and Jane Black
The new front in the culture wars: food

Image Source
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Good Medicine
Health vs. Pork: Congress Debates the Farm Bill

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Posted by CJ   @   28 November 2010 3 comments
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Nov 30, 2010
7:26 pm

Fantastic post.

Gives me incentive to post the ads that my great grandmother saved in her cookbook (now in my possession). Big agri business was working to influence people to buy from corp food sources as early as the 20s…

Apr 7, 2011
3:47 pm
#2 Marie :

I don’t like the elitists in the organic food movement – they are totally out of touch with the working class, the working poor, and people living at the poverty level. You see these shallow-minded elitists at the disgustingly expensive Whole Foods Market, bragging about how organic they are, when the rest of us are struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis, shopping at WalMart and local thrift shops, because these are the only places we can afford.

Apr 9, 2011
9:47 am
#3 Matt SF :

I’m not a fan of smug behavior or elitism on any level, but I have to disagree with you on the “only places we can afford line” line.

Truth is, gardens were the savior of low-medium income families during the Great Depression, and many other low income families to this day. With a little time and effort, you can pay $10-$20 for seed and maybe $20 in supplies, and setup your own container garden or backyard garden to feed a family at a fraction of the cost.

It’s not easy, but if you’re struggling, the cost savings really add up. If you would like more info, just let me know.

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