"Smart Choices" at the Supermarket?

Photo: Trevor D.

So did you see the article in the New York Times about the new "Smart Choices" food labeling campaign?

Yes, the handy labels are showing up in grocery stores now, part of a corporate conspiracy educational campaign by the country’s major food manufacturers to let you know which are the best and healthiest food options for your family. If it's got the little "Smart Choice" label, you are supposed to be able to relax and buy it without guilt, because it's good for you!

Due to the strict standards the food industry has adopted, obviously not every product makes the list. Only nutritional power-houses, like Chocolate Teddy Grahams, Cocoa Krispies, and Fudgsicles get the coveted "Smart Choice" seal of approval.

Seriously--they are all "Smart Choices."

Oh, but of course you can't live on chocolate alone. Remember the advice to eat lots of different colored foods for optimal nutrition? Good thing Froot Loops are an approved Smart Choice too!

Just look at all that Nutrition!
Photo: dresdnhope

Now I have to admit that on first hearing about this, I had a screaming, cursing, spitting, hair-pulling fit brief moment of concern over the wisdom of this new labeling scheme.

A few minor quibbles and questions occurred to me, like:

  • Breakfast foods containing 41% sugar by weight are good for us? Really?

  • Adding vitamin supplements to nutritionally bankrupt processed junk foods makes them healthy "smart choices," even though research tells us supplements don't work as well as naturally occurring nutrients, and in some cases can even be dangerous?

  • Breads that contain no whole grains whatsoever can be "smart choices" if they add some calcium and vitamins?

But after swallowing a handful of valium some moments of calm reflection, I realized I was being unnecessarily pessimistic about this new labeling campaign. I simply had to adjust my mindset.

Here's how I learned to stop worrying and love the new Smart Choices!

1. They're a Time-Saver. These "smart choice" labels were designed with the busy consumer in mind. Why spend precious time reading ingredient lists to see what you're eating when you could just let the people selling it tell you it's good for you?

Now many of us know the reason you do have to read the ingredients: because descriptive claims like "smart" and "healthy" are often lies. Even numbers, like "0 grams of transfat!" aren't always true.

But every now and then, even careful consumers can get hornswoggled by nutritional claims on the front of the box. A product says "100% whole grain" and we carelessly assume that this is true, because why the hell else would they be allowed to say that?

Well, with the majority of food manufacturers getting together to adopt this new program, and products like Froot Loops proudly bearing the "Smart Choices" label, we can no longer delude ourselves that food manufacturers are anything other than big fat liars.

From now on, the message is clear: DO NOT TRUST ANYTHING THAT BIG FOOD COMPANIES SAY! This is depressing, but it's much simpler than trying to sort out individual health claims on all those bags and boxes.

So your options are: either try to eat whole foods; seek out niche companies that specialize in healthy (often expensive) convenience foods; or go straight to the ingredients list of any major brand and ignore anything they say on the front of the package.

2. The Coming Demographic Crisis: Solved! You know all those dire predictions about how there are so many baby boomers who will be hitting retirement soon, and so few people who are going to be paying into Social Security? Ever wonder how a dwindling number of young working people can support all those elderly retirees?

Well, here's the solution: let's just kill off those boomers a little earlier! How about we increase the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and other slow-but-sure killers by convincing the U.S. population that junky processed foods are really actually health foods? Eat up, America, the Social Security administration thanks you!

3. A whole new growth industry! In these challenging times, we desperately need new ideas that will get consumers spending money again so we can turn the economy around. And I think this "Smart Choices" labeling has promise!

Just as the processed food industry is fighting back against those pesky claims that they're "bad" for us by adding vitamins and calling them "smart choices," I think similar health campaigns could help a lot of industries. Just use your imagination:

  • Gun manufacturers can include anti-bacterial wipes and bandages with all semi-automatic weapons, clearing making these a "Smart Choice" for conflict resolution.

  • Cigarette makers can include fold-out sudoku and crossword puzzles inside to build brain power, making them a "Smart Choice" in the addictive-and-fatal-but-legal drug market.

  • Street corner prostitutes who market to johns in cars can distribute "wear your seatbelt" brochures to be the "Smart Choice" in the sexual entertainment market.

  • And neighborhood loan sharks can hand out gambler's anonymous literature right after beating clients to a pulp for overdue gambling debts, making them the "Smart Choice" in the short-term unsecured loan industry.

See, it's all in how you look at things!

So do you think I'm being too hard on our nation's processed food manufacturers (not to mention stupid, because they sometimes give us Free Stuff?) What do you think of the "Smart Choice" program?

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