Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Tag: marketing

Dear Mark: Vitamin D for Babes, Ingredient Bait and Switch, and Kettlebellin’ for Strength or Cardio?

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, we’ve got a three-parter. First up is a controversial topic: vitamin D supplements for breastfeeding babies. Do they need it? Can they get enough through mother’s milk? Or is there another, better method for ensuring optimal vitamin D levels in breastfeeding infants? Next, what’s my take on the ol’ ingredient bait and switch employed by food manufacturers? And finally, say a person’s trying to program kettlebell training into their weekly routine. Should they consider it cardio, strength, or something else entirely?

Let’s go:

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The Power of Your Food Dollars

First off, let’s make no mistake. Americans are still binging on junk food. No one is declaring the end of fast food. Financial trends show as much, as does a casual look around. That said, there’s plenty to suggest that we find ourselves at an interesting junction these days when it comes to the food economy.

We’re seeing big packaged food giants, who lost four billion dollars of the market share last year, initiate “healthy” or sustainable changes they hope will drive consumers back to their product lines. Several fast food chains are doing the same. It’s all part of a “Big Food versus Granola Startup” movement, as described by a recent Fortune Magazine analysis of the food industry, a review that highlights the increasing role of health goals and smaller sourcing as well as questions the ability of large food companies to maintain their market share, particularly without heeding the alternative writing on the wall.

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Is All Yogurt Created Equal?

To answer the title, kind of. The same basic principle of yogurt-making applies to all yogurts: the inoculation of milk with specific strains of yogurt bacteria followed by incubation at a temperature warm enough to encourage growth and proliferation. Yogurt is milk transformed into a creamy, tangy, more nutritious product. All yogurt is initially created equal, but after that, all bets are off. For whatever reason, food producers have seen fit to ruin a perfectly good thing with misguided additions and subtractions.

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The Power of Words: How We Talk About Food

Last month, linguist Dan Jurafsky came out with a book called The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. In it, he explores everything from language choices that distinguish cheap restaurant menus from more expensive ones to the kinds of vowels marketers use in naming food products (e.g. short vowels for crispy Ritz or Cheez-Its, or longer vowels for rich Jamoca or Almond Fudge). In another linguistically focused mindbender (published last year), David Chen, a behavioral economist, found that people who spoke a language like English that was “futured” (a language that includes a distinct future tense through the use of helping verbs, for example, such as “I will —”) as a whole saved less money and practiced fewer lifestyle behaviors that supported future health than societies whose languages don’t have a future tense (generally collapsing it with the present tense as German does). (PDF) It’s the kind of seemingly irrelevant detail that ultimately stuns in its demonstration of how subtle cultural and linguistic patterns really do pervade our collective thinking and communication in ways we’re wholly unaware of. As Chen himself was quoted, “Why is it that we allow subtle nudges of our language to affect our decision making?”

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You Are What You (Think You) Eat

Last week’s post on marketing took me in an interesting turn this week. I stumbled on an article on NPR highlighting a past but very provocative study that I’ve been toying with for a couple of days now. Having spent years researching the placebo effect, Alia Crum, a clinical psychologist and researcher for Columbia Business School, was intrigued by the possibility that food could also be subject to certain physical placebo-generated outcomes. She wondered if our beliefs about a food or drink could influence the effects it physically elicited in us. After all, if what we believed about a sugar pill could make a measurable difference in our physiological functioning, why would a food product be any different? And on that note, weren’t we all being constantly fed (pardon the pun) elaborate messages about the food we bought? Did the variety of labels and claims somehow weave themselves in our mental fabric enough to not only impact our consumer behavior but maybe our body’s responses themselves?

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Yes, We’re All Susceptible to Food Advertising

We in the Primal community often consider ourselves somewhat countercultural. (Okay, some of us maybe more than somewhat…) We eat what conventional wisdom says will kill us. We avoid or minimize our intake of whole food groups (mostly one really). In fact, we generally decline much of what the rest of society eats for its three square meals every day. Speaking of food frequency, we do strange fasting practices with no apparent religious intent. We’re just strange like that. Some of us work out at odd hole in the wall gyms with empty spaces instead of steppers and Nautilus machines. We go barefoot. We sit or sleep on the ground. We climb trees. And then there’s the caveman thing…. It’s enough to make ordinary folk shake their heads in abject consternation. With all of our, em, idiosyncratic choices, over time we can believe we’ve extricated ourselves from the cultural forces that would have us live otherwise. After all, it takes legitimate discipline to resist the expectations, routines and provisions that surround us every day. In the interest of said discipline, I think many of us insulate ourselves (or our kids) from at least some traditional marketing sources. Maybe it’s the sheer annoyance factor that initially motivates us. (Who hasn’t wanted to strangle the Trix rabbit?) Maybe it’s the desire to focus our kids’ early exposure on naturally occurring food that needs no cartoon mascot. Either way, I think we do ourselves a service. While we may be highly conscious consumers, we’re still highly human (and thereby susceptible) observers of marketing’s cunning messages.

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This Gluten-Free Thing Is a Really Overblown Fad!

This is a comment I’m starting to see more and more often. Go to any news article about gluten and the comment section will be littered with angry outbursts and outright vitriol for people who go gluten-free. Skeptical blogs love to trot out posts lambasting and ridiculing the “gluten-free fad.” And from what I can tell, nothing inspires a contemptible eye-roll like a person asking a waiter in a restaurant if they have gluten-free options. By some stretch of the known laws of cause-and-effect, the removal of gluten from someone’s diet apparently causes irreparable harm to people with knowledge of the decision and deserves unequivocal reprobation. Otherwise, why else would they care so much?

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What You Should Know About Beef Production Claims

I’m grateful to have our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms back to pen today’s guest post. This is the last post in a three part series on the assertions that retailers make about the way their poultry, pork, and beef is raised. And don’t miss the free grass fed steak coupon code that he’s generously provided at the end of the post!

This is the third and final post in my series about animal production claims. In the previous two posts I’ve endeavored to expose some of the confusing and deceptive claims that marketers make about the way that their chickens, turkeys, and pigs are raised. Today my goal is to help you better understand the options you’re presented with when you want to purchase beef. In a previous post, Mark gave an overview of the differences between grass fed and grain fed beef where he touched on everything from taste to nutritional profiles and even pricing and availability.  This post has a much narrower goal of helping you figure out what exactly you’re being offered, whether it claims to be grass fed, grain fed, pasture raised, free range, all natural, or organic. Mark’s verdict in his post was that while you need to be eating lots of good beef, grass fed beef isn’t always going to be available or affordable for everyone. This post will help you understand the whole spectrum of beef options that you have to choose from whether or not grass fed is what you’re going for.

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What You Should Know About Pork Production Claims

I’m grateful once again to have our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms pen today’s guest post. This is the second post in a three part series on the assertions that retailers make about the way their poultry, pork, and beef is raised.

In last week’s post I shared some information about a few common and often misleading claims that poultry companies make about the way their chickens and turkeys are raised. We looked at the fact that while most companies don’t actually lie to their customers directly, they do rely on meticulously calculated marketing terminology that leads their customers to believe that their birds were raised in ways that they, in actual fact, were not. I labored to expose the unfortunate reality that many poultry companies respond to the public’s demand for alternatively raised birds with dishonest advertising rather than real changes in the lucrative CAFO poultry production system that their customers increasingly don’t want to support. In the pork industry today, we face many of the same realities of deceptive marketing, empty claims, and regulation loopholes – a few of which I will attempt to uncover in this post. I won’t bore you with an explanation of every pork claim used in this day and age but the examples below can serve as illustrations of the type of analytical discernment needed in the marketplace today.

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What You Should Know About Poultry Production Claims

I’m grateful to have our friend David Maren of Tendergrass Farms pen today’s guest post. This is the first post in a three part series on the assertions that retailers make about the way their poultry, pork, and beef is raised.

Every year in the United States the average person eats about 66 pounds of poultry, comprised of about 53 pounds of chicken and 13 pounds of turkey.1 Nearly every pound of poultry sold in the US is raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) but the poultry industry is very aware of the growing demand for naturally raised alternatives. Americans spend more than $50 Billion on chicken and turkey annually2 so the financial incentive for them to cater to this shifting demand is gigantic. A few independent farms have opted to actually change the way they raise their birds but improving poultry production practices, especially raising poultry outdoors on pasture, raises the labor costs of production dramatically. For this reason many companies have decided to turn to clever marketing techniques to meet the demand for alternatives instead of actually changing the highly profitable CAFO-style system in which their birds are raised. Today, poultry production claims that boast about the superiority of certain brands’ “organic,” “cage free,” “hormone free,” or “free range” poultry can be seen almost everywhere from poultry labels in grocery stores to restaurant menus and even online meat shops’ product descriptions. Tragically, these poultry production claims are often relatively meaningless. They’re designed to paint a picture of what the customer wants to buy without requiring significant changes in the old CAFO poultry production model.

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