Word on the street is that the new CEO-led Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation wants to cut 1.5 trillion calories per year from the U.S. marketplace by 2015. What gives? Isn’t modern life supposed to be about having as many options as possible, not fewer?
The weird part about this is not that someone is trying to make the world a better place. (We’re cool with that one.) It’s that it seems like people aren’t being trusted to make their own decisions.
Will we soon enter a dystopian future where everyone is forced to eat exactly the same thing, with the fare simply disguised in such a way as to make us feel like we can still exercise some semblance of choice?
(I’m channeling the 1985 movie Brazil here in all of its satirical glory. Imagine the scene where the character Sam [actor Jonathan Pryce] is confronted with his lunchtime choices: eight piles of vibrantly colored slop. They might all be eye-catching, but they’re still just slop. Begrudgingly, Sam orders the number 3 -- the “steak.” It arrives as three ice cream scoops of pink mush. Maybe that’s a step up from the green piles that form his mother’s number 8?)
In any given five-year period or decade, there is a new taboo product that you’d better not even think about eating. Eggs, anyone? At one point, eggs had too much cholesterol. And then it was okay to eat egg whites, because the evil really lay in the yolk. Now, aside from the occasional salmonella scare, eggs are back in -- yolk and all.
Do consumers want to be saved? Maybe so, especially when it comes to keeping the paint on children’s toys lead-free -- but that’s a matter of protecting against threats that aren’t obvious to the naked eye. And the issue of how to best protect children is a nut that needs to be cracked somewhere else. I suppose the real question here is whether consumers want to be saved from themselves, which is exactly what limitations on unhealthy foods would ostensibly try to do.
What people desire are real options, not ten flavors of bland. With very few exceptions, we all have changing tastes, and we all want the ability to throw caution to the wind every now and then. Putting people in a dietary box is not the way to win hearts, minds, stomachs, or much else.
Last week’s Economist hit the nail on its proverbial head: “Kraft promises to reduce the sodium content of its North American products by an average of 10% by 2012. But will anyone eat them? It is individuals, not corporations, who hold the nation’s spoons.”
Just you try telling the millennial generation that you’re going to take enormous flat screen televisions off the market because they should spend their time doing something more constructive. Try restricting the signals on smart phones to only allow web access for a few hours per day, because people should interact more with other people, face to face.
Educating about healthy options is one thing, but prescribing lifestyle choices is an entirely different animal. Even the Cookie Monster has come out to say that cookies are a “sometimes food.” But the point is we can still have a cookie if we feel like it.
Go tell your customers that you know what’s best for them when it comes to food, technology, or anything else. And watch how fast the riots ensue.