I have been on holiday for a while, so I must aplogize for the lack of postings, to make amends I would like to offer you one of my Musings which was first published in Flavours magazine. This musing is also not in Chef’s Tales the book….hope you enjoy.
Junk food is the stuff of a marketing exec’s dreams and a true foodie’s nightmare. Junk food is one subject that fascinates me, and the amount of attention it receives is quite astounding. The term “junk food” is usually used to refer to food with little or no nutritional value – which may be a waste of time to eat from a nutritionist’s point of view, but my goodness, doesn’t (most) of it taste great!
Parenting groups lobby for junk food commercials to be banned from prime-time television, to be aired late at night, as if the subject matter is as scary as a restricted movie showing violence, drug use or worse. Then, the large fast food chains fight back by spending millions trying to prove that their food is actually great for consumption and that their meal sets are balanced meals!
And there is just so much money involved here. Would you believe, after all the negative media about canned Spam being the worst, possibly most unhealthy food on earth – the company just celebrated selling its sixth billionth can of the processed meat. There are potato chip companies today boasting of sales upwards of one billion bags of chips a year! Can you imagine how many people are crunching these salty deep-fried snacks every second of every day?
In the hotel business, we spend hours trying to come up with great marketing ideas, slogans, sales concepts and other ways to increase sales. Junk food companies have an easier time of it due to the fact that their products are cheap, tasty (everything that is bad for us tastes great, we all know that), quick to purchase and are loved by…well, basically everyone on the planet. Junk food usually has too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar – in some instances, all of the above. I have always wondered how we are persuaded to eat so much of it, so bear with me while I imagine the scenario in a junk food marketing meeting.
Imagine a brainstorming meeting where the MD is trying to get the creative juices going with his people.
“Come on everybody, we have thrown ideas around for days and we cannot come up with a single idea worth its weight in coarse sea salt on how to increase sales for our MSG! Somebody say something worth listening to!” says the MD. As he finishes his grand speech, the meeting room door creaks open, and in walks the semi-retired tea lady. “Madam, please offer these clowns some advice – how would you increase the sales of our MSG shaker? Our million-dollar-earners here all seem to be brain-dead today,” he says, rounding on her. Placing the cups and saucers down on the table with her old, shaking hands, she raises her head ever so slowly and whispers, “Why don’t you make the holes in the shaker slightly larger?” The whole office is swallowed by an unpleasant silence as the executives look down at the floor in shame and the MD looks astounded. “Brilliant! Shrieks the boss excitedly, “That’s it!” As the tea lady is leaving the room, the boss asks her, “What is your current salary, madam?” “Five dollars an hour, sir,” she replied with pride. As she whisks herself away to continue her daily tasks, the boss is less than amused, to say the least. “You lot had better wake up, let’s get cracking,” he says, “Our sales of Twinkies are slipping every day and people are saying they are not healthy, so what can we do?” “Let’s change the name to Grandma Mabel’s Homemade Twinkies instead,” is the first offering. The boss looks at the speaker with an open mouth and an expression of despair. “We are not changing the recipe, image or packaging, how the heck will that help sales, you twit?! The cakes are made from flour, eggs, sugar and a fake cream that lasts – unrefrigerated – for then years!” “Well,” begins the upstart, “This will give the impression that if it is good enough for grandma, it must be all right – I mean, good ol’ grandma would never hurt us by serving us food that was no good, right?” “Ok, brilliant!” announced the boss, “Now what about our burgers, what are we going to do about their floundering sales?” “Let’s announce that they are ‘All Natural’,” offers a different staff member. “No, that’s not a good idea,” sighs the boss, “I don’t want to lie and I think that is stretching it a bit too much.” “How about we offer dental floss to go with the burger – that way, even if the burger is made with a stale bun, goodness-knows-what meat, terrible sauce and processed cheese, we can at least look like we care about their teeth!” “Brilliant!” announces the boss again, “Now we are on a roll!” “How about starting a new line of deep-fried chips not derived from potatoes but made out of vegetables? We can call them “organically-grown veggie chips’,” says another voice. “Brilliant!” shouts the boss with glee. “Wait a minute,” announces the secretary taking notes, “they are still deep-fried in the same oil and full of cholesterol, salt and other stuff – in fact, they are exactly the same as potato chips!” “Yes, but when people hear the name ‘Veggie Chips’ they will believe that they are healthy,” says the boss. “This is great stuff,” announces another senior executive, “Here is another idea – how about ‘Cherry Chocolate Diet Soda’?” By this time, everyone in the whole office is on their feet, clapping and cheering as the meeting progresses to dizzying heights. “Guys, I can top all of your ideas – why don’t we make an ice cream float with the sweetest dollop of ice cream available plonked into a large glass of sugary, fizzy cream soda so that after drinking it, all the kids run around like nutcases all day, get addicted and then demand to have it every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” The boss looks at him, gobsmacked, and announces at the top of his voice, ‘This man is immediately promoted!”
The meeting then proceeds to come up with the concept of chocolate milk – where they turn even the healthiest drink into a fattening alternative – cocoa crunch, making the only possibility of getting children to eat a healthy breakfast nigh impossible, a chocolate-filled croissant, chocolates coated in hundreds of different colours (which all taste exactly the same regardless of the colours), caramel-coated sugar doughnuts, and the best idea of all, “diet ice cream”.
Of course, there is expensive, “exclusive” fast food that may make us feel proud about slowly killing ourselves by clogging our arteries; it my even raise our social status a bit, as not just anybody can afford such highly sought after delicacies as a double truffle burger which costs US$120 per burger just because it is topped with freshly-snorted-up, hard-to-find wild French truffles. Or an ice cream sundae that costs thousands because there is a four-carat diamond ring hidden among the cherries at the bottom to surprise and unsuspecting sweetheart – who hopefully does not swallow it by mistake and then has to wait a few days (after eating half a pound of prunes) to wear it.
Eating fast food a couple of times a week if all right I guess; I do it myself with my seven-year-old, but when you get sick of the long lines, the trouble finding a seat and less-than-glamorous surroundings, why don’t we all make a pledge to give our nearest good-quality hotel a call and make a reservation, thereby locking in a clean chair and enjoying some slow food for a nice change.