The other night, Ed and I were watching some incarnation of Law & Order. (We are normal, middle-aged people, and that is how normal, middle-aged people spend their evenings. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, kiddos.) The half-hour struck, and one of those big clumps of ads came on and knocked me flat.
First came the "Get Up" commercial for Aunt Jemima Griddlecake Sandwiches. (I found it later on Adland, a splendid Web site with a huge archive of playable commercials, plus much snarky, informative discussions by self-hating advertising types. That's all of them, BTW.) In it, a mom shows how, by offering her sons this scrumptious microwaveable treat for breakfast, she is able to get the rascals out of bed in the morning. But of course: A Griddlecake Sandwich consists of sausage, egg and processed cheese, sandwiched between two pre-syruped pancakes.
They'd do anything for that.
This was followed immediately by an ad for Pizza Hut Dippin' Strips ($9.99, with marinara, garlic and, yum, ranch sauces included). The worst of contemporary American food culture was right there, just slam-bammed together on my TV.
And I had a terrible vision. I could see this kid whose parents want to be with him as little as possible getting up at the very last minute, and his mom shoving one of these grease-and-sugar bombs into his hands to choke down in the car or on the bus. That evening, after the kid finally gets home from soccer practice or chess club, Mom orders a Dippin' Strips pizza, and the poor kid dunks away in the same fat-laden, artificially flavored ranch dressing he's been encouraged to eat with every possible foodstuff since infancy. (Where the idea comes from that kids won't eat carrot sticks without dressing, I do not know. Ditto the belief that ranch goes with everything.)
So what's for lunch? I saw a Coke and a bag of Cheetos.
After the final "chunk-chunk" had sounded, I decided to be fair and objective and pay a visit to Aunt Jemima's official Web site. Naturally, it has a "Healthy Eating" section that advises parents that AJ pancake mixes are "a good source" of calcium and iron, and that "the Aunt Jemima tradition continues by helping you provide the highest level of nutrition for your family." Heartwarming, yes?
The next day, I snooped around Fry's frozen-foods section all reporter-like, notebook in hand. There I learned that while one Griddlecake Sandwich does provide growing bodies with 20 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of calcium and 8 percent of needed iron (big whoop), it also supplies 360 calories, 32 percent of the daily allowance of fat, 38 percent of recommended saturated fat, 48 percent of daily cholesterol and 39 percent of the recommended daily allowance of salt. Plus 3 percent of fiber and virtually no vitamins. What if a kid is extra-hungry and eats two? He nearly exhausts his daily allowance of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt at breakfast, while getting less than half the calcium he needs, and very little else.
But they only take 90 seconds to microwave! So convenient! Hello? That's about the same time it takes to fix a bowl of cereal, and certainly more than setting a bowl and spoon on the table. And cereal, milk and a glass of juice is a whole lot cheaper. So, other than allegedly tempting the sleepy-heads to get up, where's the advantage?
The above doesn't seem to compute. During my visit to the freezer, I discovered many other breakfast treats of the same sort: Eggo French Toaster Sticks with Chocolate Chips--"Perfect for Dipping!", Pillsbury Chocolate Fudge Toaster Strudel and, also from The Doughboy, Dunkable Waffle Sticks with Syrup Cups. Most of this stuff is marketed to children: Pizza Hut has the Muppets shilling for Dippin' Strips. (Oh, Kermit! Oh, Miss Piggy! Oh, Sesame Street!)
And we wonder why we've got 12-year-olds with heart disease and an epidemic of Type-II diabetes. The prophets of the Italian slow-food movement are absolutely right: Fast food corrupts everything. Nobody cooks; parents and children don't sit down together for meals; they eat gawdawful crap, become obese and develop chronic diseases that they'll have to live with their for their whole, significantly shortened lives--every day of which will enrich the medical and pharmaceutical industries.
Why is this happening? Simple: No one makes money off you being healthy, or your children being healthy, and there's not much profit in apples and squash, either. It's about maximizing profits, like everything else these days. Sad to say, Aunt Jemima and The Doughboy have sold out.