I’m feeling a little lost, Apples. My readers know that for over 20 years now, I’ve enjoyed a massive veggie-packed salad for lunch. At this point, the daily Sisson salad is just part of my identity.
So imagine the sense of betrayal – nay, dear readers, bereavement – when I learned that it. has. all. been. for. naught.
The reason I am never eating another salad is because Flat Earth Baked Veggie Crisps are the healthiest thing to come along since, well, plants. These “veggie” and “berry” crisps are just like eating real vegetables!
The brand marketing concept is so extended, it feels like homework: people used to think the earth was flat, just like people used to think that chips couldn’t be healthy. Get it? To help the message hit home, Flat Earth’s logo is a flying pig. Because people used to think chips couldn’t be healthy, because pigs would have to fly first, and…my head hurts. Read the fine print: “Beliefs can change!” says Flat Earth. I find this particularly amusing. A belief certainly can change, if you throw enough money and marketing at it. But beliefs aren’t facts – yet again and again, we act as if they are. Marketers know this.
Pigs don’t fly. Almost the real thing is nothing much at all. My politically incorrect opinion is that there is nothing admirable at all about the desire to create a “healthy” chip. In fact, I think it’s a big, fat ethical cop-out.
I know what some will say: at least it’s better than a regular old potato chip. We all need a few healthy indulgences. Their hearts were in the right place (psst…no they weren’t. Flat Earth is owned by Frito-Lay). Baloney. This is marketing, not health.
I’m so disgusted with this trend of making bad foods kinda-sorta healthy, as if mediocrity is an admirable quality. Compromise might feel nice, but how’s that health philosophy workin’ for us? Uncle Sam says “just try to make half your grains whole”. Wow, thanks for the vote of confidence in humans’ capacity for excellence, guys.
Flat Earth’s Baked Veggie Crisps may not be as ridiculous as 7Up Plus (known formerly as corn syrup and chemicals) or vitamin-enriched children’s “milk ‘n cereal” bars (known formerly as candy and sugary goo). But Flat Earth is not a “one serving exchange” of “real!” fruits or vegetables. A chip is not a vegetable, period. You can add in all the dehydrated stale carrots and tomatoes and berries that you want, but until I see Veggie Crisps growing on trees, I’m afraid I have to agree with their slogan: “Impossibly good”. It is impossible – hey, at least they’re honest!
What’s this? I’ll tell you what this is: nothing short of a tremendous relief for the health-minded!
With the new and improved 7up Plus, I’m well on my way to glowing good health and longevity. Wow, thanks, 7up! That 5% pesticide-laced apple juice concentrate, “plus” all that wonderful calcium, and natural chemicals (as opposed to synthetic ones) is nothing short of a magnanimous boon to public health. Why do I even bother? I might as well quit now.
Except that I’m Mark Sisson, and Photoshop is way too much fun.
“The measures reflect a growing body of research about discrepancies between journal articles and the full results of the studies behind them. Journal editors are also responding to the escalating debate in Washington on ensuring drug side effects are properly disclosed. In the wake of the withdrawal of Merck & Co.’s painkiller Vioxx over cardiovascular side effects, some legislators are calling for tougher safety scrutiny of drugs on the market.
The JAMA study last year said articles often cherry-picked strong results to report, even if those results were in a different area than the study was designed to test. Typically scientists set up clinical trials to answer one or two primary questions — for example, whether a drug reduces the risk of a heart attack and stroke. These are called the primary outcomes. The JAMA study found that 62% of trials had at least one primary outcome that was changed, added or omitted.”
(Source: the Wall Street Journal)
UPDATE 3/25/07: We have removed our spoof image of JAMA’s cover because some of our readers have alerted us that, upon closer inspection, the thumbnail of the JAMA issue, which depicts a cartoon examination scene, contains nudity. This was a complete, unintentional oops on our part! No offense was intended. (Though we have to wonder…why on earth is JAMA putting these sorts of depictions in their cover art in the first place?)
It’s no surprise anymore that the major medical journals are plastered with pharmaceutical advertisements – after all, when was the last time you visited a doctor’s office that wasn’t drowning in pharmaceutical marketing widgets? Nor is it a surprise that the very studies in medical journals (not the advertisements) are deceptively skewed in Big Pharma’s favor about two-thirds of the time.
I would think physicians and researchers would be appalled by the replete corruption. But when your own federal government spends more time telling you that vitamins are deadly – because a handful of terminally ill patients weren’t able to stave off inevitable death with a dose of knowingly worthless synthetic E – than it does being concerned about 60,000+ deaths from one drug alone, is it any wonder? That’s a lot of people – that’s more than many entire cities!
For decent people, it’s just a natural inclination to trust authorities claiming to be both knowledgeable and ethical. After all, that’s what we’re paying them for. The problem is, the pharmaceutical companies are paying them more – to the tune of 19 billion dollars. I have no doubt that many people working in the pharmaceutical industry are there with the best of intentions. I am not against drugs necessary to improve and save lives, of which there are many successes.
But I do have a problem with an overly-lenient and largely voluntary drug approval process that is a mockery of ethical standards. Because we trust journals and doctors so implicitly, we forget that, like any business, pharmaceuticals are in it for the money. It’s just business. Sometimes, the business creates good; but increasingly, it doesn’t, and the guardians of public health – the FDA, peer-reviewed journals, physicians – are, at best, manipulated, and at worst, corrupt.
Can you imagine if 60,000 people died from, say, anything but a federally-approved pharmaceutical? Say, echinacea. Grape juice. Ketchup. Anything – imagine the outcry.
I wish this were a conspiracy theory. I wish this were a minor problem. I wish people could say, “There goes Sisson with his indignant ranting again.”
But the facts are clear:
- Pharmaceutical studies are deceptive at least 62% of the time,
- The FDA, through a combination of voluntary adherence protocols and a poorly-designed approval process that rushes drugs through and fails to adequately follow up, inherently supports unnecessary deaths,
- Major journals such as JAMA can’t claim to be independent – come on! – when their advertisers are, by and large, pharmaceutical companies,
- Result: hundreds of thousands of people are sickened or killed by drugs every year.
Can you imagine if these shenanigans went on in any other industry?
It’s like that humorous response Jack Welch gave to Bill Gates for claiming computers were more reliable than cars (an urban legend, by the way, but still entertaining).
Let’s call a spade a spade.
Is it really so “outrageous” to have a problem with drug advertisements in medical journals?
Is it that “paranoid” to demand a more rigorous FDA approval process?
Is it “off-the-wall” to be bothered by the fact that I have to wade through an avalanche of pens, post-it pads and coffee mugs from GlaxoSmithKline every time I go to the doctor? If that makes me “radical”…
We live in an advertising age – everything is brought to you by something else, and sports stadiums are named after office equipment. I can’t catch a game without being reminded to go stock up on ink cartridge refills. So it’s no surprise, I guess, that this extends to drugs. If pharmaceuticals are saving hundreds of thousands of lives annually, but at a cost of thousands of lives, let’s at least be honest about the costs in terms of human lives. Who is rational and who is emotional here? The folks questioning the disparity between the marketing and the facts, or the economically-motivated (read: fearful) folks deriding anyone who criticizes them as “radical”?
Those Chemicals Sure Are Sparkly!
Vegan Porn (just check out the site) led me to this news item in the New York Times. Faced with angry parents tired of the vending machine mafia, increasing attention to the dangers of sugar (like I always say, sugar is the new trans fat), and a national obesity epidemic, soda makers are trying to come up with better marketing tactics.
Instead of pop or soda, carbonated corn-syrup-fests will now be referred to as “sparkling beverages”. And that’s going to stick? Not as well as your heel does in a day-old pop puddle.
For the first time in America, soda sales are down as people turn to bottled water, iced tea and other healthier choices. This is just ridiculous, frets Coke’s CEO, E. Neville Isdell, because “Diet and light brands are actually health and wellness brands.”
7up started fortifying its soda and making claims about being “all natural” back in 2004, to much furor. In my opinion, adding vitamin C to a can of chemicals isn’t going to do anyone any health favors. But, Isdell and his ilk are convinced this is the right – and healthy – way to go.
Okay. If this is any sign of the times, I see healthy brand extension opportunities here, and not just for soda – er, “sparkling beverages”:
Hard Apple Cider: “Now with selenium. Really puts the little tykes to sleep!”
Krispy Kreme Donuts: “Our tasty rings build crucial motor skills in toddlers. Don’t forget to try out Hostess donut holes for proper grip development!”
Kool-aid: “Yellow No. 5 helps kids learn to count!”
Fortified breakfast pastries: “Just think where your healthy diet would be without 2% of your RDA of iron!”
The Sisson Spoof
Here’s what I want to know: why is it that alcohol and cigarettes must carry surgeon general’s health warnings, but obscenely deleterious foods don’t have to?
We’ve looked at the Cheesecake Factory’s one-pound slices of cake and Chili’s 2,700+ calorie onion. And it’s not just restaurants. Consider Pop Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What if, instead of being allowed to (respectively) slap “good source of calcium” and “No hormones” on these products, these sugar slingers had to tell the truth:
Warning: This product contains high levels of sugar, artificial ingredients and refined fat which are known contributors to obesity, diabetes and, oh yeah, death.
Ben & Jerry’s
Warning: The pint you are about to ingest contains two days’ worth of fat and your entire day’s caloric requirements, because, let’s face it, no one eats just one-fourth of this little carton. We might love our cows, but we don’t give a flying fig if you get diabetes, which you probably will if you eat enough of these bad boys.
Of course, I’m sure the Surgeon G. can come up with the appropriately-uninspiring medical terminology.
But seriously, I want to know: why do known contributors to obesity, diabetes and heart disease get to make health claims on their packaging? A bottle of wine would never have “Loaded with antioxidants!” plastered on its label (let’s hope). Cigarettes packs aren’t about to feature “Enhances mood and relieves tension” seals. These products do have benefits (why else do people enjoy them and often get addicted). But they also carry major, life-threatening risks.
How is a pint of ice cream different? How is a rectangular donut different? Just because they’re “food” doesn’t make it any less disingenuous to trumpet meaningless health claims. Humans can become addicted to food just as easily as beer and smokes. If you think the cumulative effect of years of eating junk is any different from the effects of excess alcohol or cigarettes, think again. Far more people die from food addiction than drinking and smoking.
But don’t worry – Pop Tarts provide 9 essential vitamins and minerals.
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