By: Dalia Sebat and Lauren Chiang
In an age where health and fitness are top priorities for most Americans, where 70% of normal weighted women want to be thinner, a phenomenon called diet culture has quickly developed. Diet culture relies on our desire to be healthier and thinner to market foods in a way that makes them more appealing. Some of the most common catch phrases include “non-GMO,” “gluten-free,” and “hormone free.” These misleading advertisements contribute to the impression that foods must be “free” of everything to be healthy.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole milk, grains, and meat are often cheaper (and genuinely healthier) than their processed counterparts; therefore, it is more economically beneficial for consumers to purchase the more expensive option. Given that advertisers have no regard for the authenticity of their claims, as they often plaster their packages with buzzwords like the infamous “NO _____,” which is meant to imply that pre-processed, fresh food is somehow full of toxic chemicals that must be removed to make it suitably healthy.
Besides the fact that diet culture advertising is often misleading and overblown, it is also full of blatant lies. Take “non-GMO,” for example. GMO stands for a Genetically Modified Organism; however, most consumers fail to understand that nearly every food in existence was at some point genetically modified, either directly (ex: seedless watermelons and bananas) or indirectly (ex: breeding chickens that lay larger eggs or cows that produce more milk) by selecting for favorable traits. Genetic modifications are not inherently harmful: in fact, the genome is modified in every organism through mutations. However, the acronym GMO has been demonized by an industry that relies on consumer compulsion.
This kind of advertising works so well because it is a scare tactic. Instead of actually analyzing the meaning behind a claim on a package (“What is a hormone? Is it really harmful?”) consumers are trapped into the mindset of taking the advertiser’s tone as fact. Living in fear of eating abstract concepts, they purchase the products with the longest list of “NO” items on their packaging.
So, what is a solution for this pressing issue?
Do our own research! Find out what these names on the packages mean and look up anything that we don’t understand. Also, read nutrition facts as they tell us what is really inside the packaging. Pay attention to your own body, what it needs and what it desires. Just because the product is wrapped up nicely does not mean that it may be healthy for you. Many advertised diets are more geared towards the manufacturer’s benefit than the consumer’s; you understand your own body better than any manufacturer could.