Part One: Hello, Shakers. First, let me explain the inspiration for this new series which I have started today: I had the TV on while I was getting ready for work this morning, and one of those Campbell’s commercials came on, with the kids playing outside and then running in to slurp on chicken noodle soup while mom looks on approvingly. As the catchy jingle wormed its way into my head, I thought about the issue of vital importance not being addressed in the ad, the one which supersedes in importance the tastiness and ‘tradition’ of the soup-eating experience:
Campbell’s® Condensed Soups
Chicken Noodle Soup
Amount Per Serving (serving size) = 1/2 cup condensed
Total Fat 2g
Sat. Fat 0.5g
Trans Fat 0g
Total Carb. 8g
Dietary Fiber <1g
% Daily Values**
Vitamin A 4%
Vitamin C 0%
So, for one can of chicken noodle soup, you’re getting 1,780 mg of sodium; that’s more than half your USDA daily recommended intake. And that’s just one can of soup out of an entire day; add to that other canned/jar products, snack foods, and table salt, and we’re looking at 4,000-5,000 mg a day taken in by the average American. Consuming this much sodium is not natural for our bodies. We didn’t evolve with that, which is why it’s making us bloated and overweight, and contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease. Scientists and doctors have known for years about the connection between reduced sodium intake and reduced risk of obesity, high blood pressure (which leads to stroke) and heart disease. And I believe most Americans have at least a faint idea that this is true; fat, sodium, cholesterol, yeah yeah yeah, it’s all bad. But clearly, we don’t really care. Why is that?
Maybe we aren’t considering our options. Maybe we aren’t saying to ourselves (out loud if necessary!) that just because there’s a McDonalds on every block (or so it seems in Manhattan), a Coke in every grocery store refrigerator, and a smiling mommy on the soup commercial, we don’t actually have to buy that stuff.
Of course, some people do not have options. A discussion of the American diet would be unfair and incomplete if we didn’t consider the link between diet and income. High sodium foods are often cheap, and fresh, fiber-rich foods and low-sodium packaged products are, for many families, prohibitively expensive. I know I don’t have any business advising lower-income people how to grocery shop, and I won’t. But it is important to note that these are not the only people buying Campbells’ soup and Kraft Singles Processed Cheese Food Product. And they certainly aren’t the ones being advertised to by Campbell’s; the kids in the commerical I saw this morning ate from white ceramic bowls in an upper-middle-class kitchen. What I wish to address here is the fact that pervasive marketing campaigns
In the fifties you could put advertisements for cigarettes anywhere: TV, print, radio. Friggin’ cartoon characters smoked cigars. When we found out they were killing us, the government stepped in and put restrictions on the tobacco industry’s self-promotion, as a way of protecting Americans from the impression the industry would like to give us that smoking is an acceptable and attractive lifestyle choice. And such was a good idea, because as much as we would love to tout free will and rational decision-making as ideals which exist in a vacuum (because it’s so convenient), that’s just not how it is. Marketers are smart; they can get in our brains, create desires and cravings, manufacture demand. It is in our best interest as a country to restrict tobacco consumption, which costs us loads of money in health care and reduced productivity; if we are to grow as a nation, we can’t be dying at 60 and raising obese children, right? As Waveflux reports, the same efforts are currently being applied to the alcohol industry. And yet efforts to address the issue of the average American diet are sadly lacking. It shoudl be obvious that the government isn’t going to do anything, at least not until childhood obesity leads to decreased army recruitment, and surely the food industry’s lobbyists can tie the hands of many well-meaning members of congress. We’re seen it happen at elementary schools that tried unsuccessfully to ban soda machines; in the end, it’s all about the money.
Which is why it’s so important that we (those of us who can afford it financially) begin to think critically about the way we allow cultural dietary mores, as created and perpetuated by advertising campaigns, to influence the way we treat our bodies. A good start would be to begin to toy around with the concept that perhaps that stuff we’ve been eating since childhood, that tasty, salty, hot bowl of m’m m’m, is delicious to us because our diets are dangerously imbalanced. The cutesy, sing-songy commercials are not going to stop anytime soon, but we can begin to address the various causes of our steadily increasing rate of obesity. Or we could just eat some soup, whatever.