Ok–so I seriously have to rant here. These high fructose corn syrup commercials on TV are seriously driving me out of my mind and making me so angry. It is so sick that they are even allowed on the air. Recently, I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s brilliant book In Defense of Food
By total coincidence, I happened to see the latest in these commericial abominations right as I was finishing up this book about why processed foods are so bad for you. The latest commercial from the high fructose corn syrup people goes something like this:
Mom 1 is pouring some sort of neon red food colored corn syrup filled water concoction into cups that are clearly for her child’s birth day. mom 2 sees this.
Mom 2: Wow! You must not really love your kid.
Mom 1: Why?
Mom 2: Because you are serving that stuff and you know what they say about high fructose corn syrup.
Mom 1: What do they say?
Mom 2: (looks confused) Um…Um…Um…
Mom 1: That it is made from corn. It is all natural, just like sugar? That just like sugar it is fine in moderation?
Mom 2 then smiles, embarrassed, and picks up a cup of the corn syrup water and begins drinking it.
When I saw this the first time sitting alone in my hotel room at Caesars I actually yelled at the tv. I mean there are so many things wrong with this bullshit commercial but I will highlight a few here.
1) Somehow there is an assumption here that because Mom 2 can’t actually articulate what it is that is wrong with high fructose corn syrup that the HFCS is not bad for you. That her lack of knowledge about the metabolic problems with the stuff some how takes away any validity to her initial assertion that it is bad for you. First, that is like saying that because I don’t know exactly what it is that cyanide does to you other than that it is poison that somehow it can’t harm me. Second, and more importantly, this really speaks to advertisers ability to prey on people’s lack of critical thinking skills. They are counting on the fact that many people actually will believe the BS that because Mom 2 can’t explain the problem that the corn syrup is then fine to eat.
Her answer should have been something like, “I don’t know the exact metaqbolic processes that are involved here but I do know that since the introduction of HFCS America has gotten super fat and 1 in 3 people have Type II diabetes now which is directly related to the introduction of high fructose corn syrup in our diets. The fact that I don’t know why that is doesn’t mean that the relationship just goes away.”
2) I think that regardless of what you think about HFCS an appropriate response would have been, “Hey…you could have fed your child JUICE instead of this crap sugar water. Are you seriously trying to tell me that you think water dyed and filled with HFCS is the BEST choice for your child? Over JUICE? Really, lady?” Now, I know juice has its issues. I don’t let my kids drink juice almost at all. But that aside, juice..made from actual fruit, is surely better than fake sugar crap regardless of your take on corn syrup or whether you can express that it is bad for you. I mean…seriously…the lady is choosing empty sugar water over juice. Come on, people.
2) I am very angry at the misuse of the word “natural.” The ad people are manipulating that word equating natural with good for you. But hemlock is natural. poison mushrooms are natural. HEROIN is natural. Could you imagine a commercial where the mom 2 says,”I can’t believe you are giving your child heroin” and mom 1 says, “Why? Because it is natural? Because it comes from a plant, just like spinach?” That is basically what they are saying here. HFCS comes from corn which is natural and, they are implying, therefore good for you. But natural does not mean good for you. It just means occurring in nature. Like big, angry hippos that charge and kill you.
(BTW, there is a similar issue with the label “multigrain” on packages. We assume that means whole grain and, therefore, better for your health. But it actually just means more than on type of flour, all of which could be bleached and white and stripped of all nutritive value).
3) In saying that high fructose corn syrup is just corn there is an implication that the effect on the body HCFS has is the same as corn. But that is patently ridiculous because that asserts that the form in which a substance is delivered to the body does not change the effect it has. So that assumes that chewing coca leaves, for example, has the same effect on the body that smoking cocain has which has the same effect as shooting up cocaine. Cocaine…all natural because it comes from coca leaves. Retarded. Snorting heroin is not the same at shooting it. Eating an apple has a different effect on the body than drinking apple juice. Cheese and milk are not the same. The sugars in the corn delivered in absence of the corn itself (with all its fiber and other nutrients) have an effect on the pancreas that is quite different that eating corn whole. And according to Mark Bittman, there is at least one study that has found a compound in HFCS that directly causes diabetes. Not so for corn alone. If you are interest in Mark Bittman’s books check out
Now, I am not saying that corn itself doesn’t have problems. It does. You can read Bittman or Pollan to learn more about the problems with corn and soy and the subsidies and whatnot. But corn is certainly much better for you than high fructose corn syrup just like juice is certainly a better choice than some crazy neon red water filled with sugar.
Anyway..the issue I am having with the stupid commercials is that they just assume most Americans are stupid enough to throw all critical thinking skills out the window. They assume we are not smart enough to figure out that juice would surely be a better choice, that we are too dumb to know that an inability to articulate why a product is bad for us does not prove that it is not bad for us, that we don’t get that natural does not equal good for you and that we are so dumb we couldn’t possibly figure out that the solid form of a food (corn) might have a different effect on the body than the liquid form of its distilled sugars.
These commercials are, in a word, insulting.