Last week I brought up my dislike of marketing and especially food marketing. Rage is probably the more appropriate term. But I was reminded of another example of food marketing gone awry while reading an article at The Atlantic: How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet.
And this reminded me of another article I had read at the Weston A Price Foundation, The Oiling of America
We’ve been dealing with anti-fat hysteria for several decades now in the United States. Everyone has heard “fat is bad” and done their part (if they care) to reduce the fat in our diets. Even food consumption statistics reflect this trend. We Americans are obeying the recommendations of cutting out fat.
But did you know that the anti-fat hysteria actually got a toe-hold in the very late 1890’s and early 1900’s? No joke! This is when the message of animal fat being bad for us started to circulate. You know, “arterycloggingsaturatedfat.” Animal fat bad. Oil good.
The message of animal fats being bad for our health started with the introduction of vegetable oils to the market, circa 1900-ish. And technically, it wasn’t a vegetable oil that entered the market, but cottonseed oil; essentially an agricultural waste product (which, when unrefined, apparently has a whole lot of bad things going for it, including being poisonous to animals and making men infertile… see the article in The Atlantic).
The Atlantic article covers some interesting ground about how Crisco came about, an effort by a young Proctor & Gamble to come up with a cheaper means of producing soap (because lard was the ingredient du jour for soap in those days and in high demand). Eventually they figured out that cottonseed oil worked well in soap-making, and created what we know as Ivory soap.
On a side not: Ivory was marketed as the first bar of soap to float. Now who knew soap didn’t float before this? Fascinating stuff!
Back to the main focus. Through some wizardry in a science lab P&G discovered you could also cook with cottonseed oil and soon they began marketing it as an alternative to cooking lard. They used all kinds of approaches to selling the white greasy goo and part of those efforts were to seize upon the idea that it was a healthier alternative to lard.
There wasn’t an authority existing to demand honesty in marketing practices so this statement went unchecked. Eat hydrogenated oils! It’s healthier than butter and lard! Of course, we now know hydrogenated oils are the worst thing you could be putting into your mouth. Trans saturated fats anyone?
Imagine with me, if you will, a world that rejected Crisco, a world that rejected the notion animal fat is bad for you. What would our nation’s health look like today? Would heart disease be the killer it is? Would we be as obese as we are?
Because a company, more than a century ago, hocked an agricultural waste product as a healthy food stuff, and began dismantling the long-standing tradition of animal fat as cooking medium, are we mired in a health crisis? Did P&G start a cascade of decisions and thought processes that rippled profoundly through our nation’s health, to our detriment?
This is why I despise food marketing. No matter how innocently it may (or may not) have started, something reckless was unleashed. It was a recklessness that made us doubt Mother Nature and her wholeness. It fostered a trust in manufacturing processes and an idea that you can improve on Mother Nature.
But it really hasn’t worked out so well for us or our health.