Friday, January 30, 2009

Shut up and swallow

The latest in television's never-ending assault on common sense (and frankly, reality), comes in the form of a series of commercials released early last fall. I've only begun to see them pop up on TV recently (probably because I don't have cable at my house, and therefore don't even bother flipping on the tube much), but my first viewing was quite enough to make my blood boil. Perhaps you already know the ones I'm talking about, sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association? The cute little commercials that tout the virtues of such a wonderful and natural sweetening substance as high-fructose corn syrup?

Now, I will be the first to admit that our health-crazy, all-or-nothing society has demonized high-fructose corn syrup to an unrealistic point. It is not as dangerous as trans fats or high cholesterol, nor nicotine, as one particularly vocal opponent has suggested (on YouTube, of course). But to suggest that HFCS is just a natural and balanced part of our daily diet is a truly appalling claim.  Truly "natural" sweeteners like cane and beet sugars are primarily composed of sucrose, a compound naturally regulated into the body by the enzyme sucrase. However, when digesting HFCS (a combination of fructose and glucose), sucrase is not processed, allowing the absorption of the sweeteners into the blood to go unfettered. But the commercials don't mention that, do they? They don't mention that Cadbury Schweppes, producers of 7-Up, agreed (under the pressure of the Center for Science in the Public Interest) to stop branding their classic "Uncola" as "100% Natural," due to its inclusion of the highly-processed and genetically-modified sweetener, do they?

No. Instead, when the commercial's token block-headed health nut (who is obviously just reading his hatred of HFCS from Dr. Phil's own cue cards) is given a chance to respond, he trips up, unable to name a single thing that might be wrong with HFCS. Because there is nothing wrong with it "in moderation!" Or so his girlfriend would have us believe. That might be true if there were such a thing as "moderation" for the consumption of HFCS, but sadly there is not. High-fructose corn syrup is in everything. From sodas and potato chips to tomato soup and bread. Yes, fucking bread. There is no way to "moderate" your intake of HFCS, because just about everything that passes over your tongue has it as a primary ingredient. Poke through your pantry if you don't believe me, and if you don't do all your shopping at Whole Foods, you should be all but pissing your pants at the sheer volume of HFCS you are consuming on a daily basis. Moderation.

Of course, like everything else in this country, it all comes back to money. When sugar became "too expensive" to import in the 1970s due to government protection tariffs (the same kind of wonderful import taxes that run the cost of foreign cars up so that our paleolithic-minded American automobile makers can just barely compete), companies turned to science to create a cheaper alternative. The trend caught on, increasing food production profit margins across the board, and has remained a staple into modern times. In America. What's that? Oh yeah, companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola still produce their soft drinks with real sugar in other places around the world because the demand dictates they do so. Other people have something to say about the substitute sweetener that has been proven to promote the onset of Type II Diabetes, but what about us? Are we content to just sit idly by as the Corn Refiners Association hopes we will, like the young man in their commercial who has not even taken the time to educate himself about his own health and well-being? You're damn right we are. When the French government tried to deregulate labor laws in 2006, the people revolted. I'm not saying it was a good idea for thousands of young people to take to the streets and torch cars, but at least they did something to show they would not be pushed around so easily. On this side of the Atlantic, however, we are far too comfortable in our lifestyles, and have all but completely lost the spirit of revolution that gave birth to this nation so long ago. We might complain a little, but we keep on blindly eating (literally in the case of HFCS) whatever slop we're being fed by our corporations and by our government.

And those in power know it. It couldn't be more obvious than in these commercials. If the Corn Refiners Association wanted to really make a hard-hitting commercial that truly would show that their product is no more harmful than sugar, they would give the opposing voice a chance to speak. Let the young man on the picnic blanket say what the rest of us already know (all you have to do is visit the Wikipedia article on HFCS to find a laundry list of health detriments that have been scientifically linked to the consumption of the sweetener), and then, with whatever conflicted science they can muster up, they could refute his claims and show us how good for us HFCS really is. But they don't even need to. We're lazy and prone to believe just about anything we see on TV (how else can you explain the ratings that FOX News receives?), so they didn't even bother. The mindless commercials they're airing are more than enough to convince us that we don't really need to change our diets. To just shut up and swallow. But most of all, to keep on buying. They call us "consumers" for a reason.

There is, however, a silver lining to this dreary grey cloud. The simple fact that the Corn Refiners Association has taken it upon themselves to make a commercial attempting to extol their product means that they've noticed a decrease in sales. Enough people have made a change in their lifestyles that it has effected profits, and the CRA is scared. I can only hope the trend continues. If it's un-American of me to want these profiteering farmers and their corporate associates to go out of business, then ship my ass out of here on a burning flag. But I believe in an America where quality can and should succeed. If you can't make a potato chip worth eating or a car worth driving, I should be able to look for a better alternative elsewhere. Why are so many American industries crumbling? Because they haven't bothered to advance and have fallen by the wayside as competing markets have continually progressed. Can you guess what brand is the most commonly-driven here in the States? Toyota. Haven't heard that name attached to the auto bail-out, have we? If this truly is a "free market economy," say fuck-all to the protection taxes and let me shop around! Yes, we need industry to power our economy, but we need an industry that works. We need to stand up for ourselves and make it known that our days of just swallowing the soma and soylent green are over.

There was probably even high-fructose corn syrup in them too.

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