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Catch of the Day: If It Comes from a Plant, It Must Be Okay!

September 29, 2011

You’ve probably seen one of those patronizing commercials for High Fructose Corn Syrup before, and maybe even SNL’s ultra industry-friendly parody that equates an anti-HFCS stance to being a philistine who’s “never heard of science.” This one is probably my personal favorite out of the serious ones because of how the guy reacts to being offered a popsicle containing HFCS as though it’s a confession of infidelity. There’s a few more of these commercials, but they all follow the same basic formula. Someone gets all pissy about HFCS, then, when pressed, is unable to provide a substantive reason why. They’re then reassured that it’s “natural” because it, guess what, “comes from corn.”

These commercials are interesting from a rhetorical perspective because of how they frame opposition to HFCS. By talking about HFCS solely in terms of it coming from plants and being metabolized similarly to cane sugar, they can easily make the claim that “it’s fine in moderation.” They can also cherry-pick quotes from people like Marion Nestle to back them up, as they do in the comments section to that video, even though these people are no friends of the food industry. But this conveniently sidesteps a huge part of the debate; it’s not about where HFCS comes from or how people metabolize it, but rather the fact that the government subsidizes the crap out of corn–most of which is a single seed variety grown in monocultures–and we then put it in absolutely everything. What do you guys think? Are commercials like this successful at all, or are people able to realize that there’s a more complex debate being overshadowed?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mdillon86 permalink
    September 30, 2011 11:40 am

    From an industry perspective I think they are wildly successful. Perhaps I’m too much the cynic, but I don’t believe that many people even realize that there is a “larger debate.” Ads like these aid big corn and the federal government that subsidizes them in hiding the ball from consumers.

    • Matt Zebrowski permalink*
      September 30, 2011 12:27 pm

      Michael my good man! Glad to see you’re still checking in on our little project here. I think you raise a good point–I may assume too much knowledge of food controversies on the part of the average consumer. If someone is only worried about HFCS because they have a vague sense from something they heard somewhere that it’s “bad for you,” then you’re right, these ads are actually really well done. The SNL parody almost seems to support that point; at the end, even with the fat daughter and the “check our website and no other websites” jab, it still keeps the entire thing situated in the whole “HFCS will make you fat if you drink too much of it” framework.

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