Health-Food Marketing: Guilt-Free?

The health and diet food market has a long history of selling us misinformative and fear-mongering slogans to get us to buy their products. It tells us what foods are “detoxifying” versus “poisonous,” what is a “guilty pleasure,” and what is “innocent.” Of course, all foods vary in nutritional value, and there are certainly foods that have more health benefits for us than others, but there is an inherent problem with the moralizing language surrounding health food marketing that runs rampant in our supermarkets.

Advertisers may use words like “clean,” “natural,” or “innocent” to draw consumers in with the promise that these foods will make them healthier, less susceptible to common health issues, or more fit or desirable. These foods may be labeled this way to reflect a lower calorie content per serving, less fat, less ingredients, more protein, or any other quality that may be appealing to health-conscious potential buyers at the time. But, advertisers are not concerned about consumers’ health goals. They are out for profit, and they know that fear and desire sell best. In a society with near impossible beauty standards (for any/all genders), it is not difficult to prey on people’s want for a quick-fix option to change their lifestyle, or to tell them that what they are currently buying and eating is harmful and will make them less healthy or less desirable. These messages can be especially harmful to those who are in a vulnerable headspace due to these standards, but unfortunately, this group is also hugely profitable because of this, and companies are aware of it. They want vulnerable consumers, because they are the easiest to keep hold of, the ones most likely to keep buying their products. Giving worried and self conscious people the reassurance they crave that the foods they are buying the right ones, will keep them coming back.

Our food choices should not be cause for moral dilemma (at least in the realm of nutrition). Though it is extremely important that we consume the nutrients necessary to keep us healthy and well fed, the labelling of foods as variations on “good” and “bad” simply feeds into a culture of restriction and fear, and perpetuates our already toxic standards of beauty and fitness. We should allow ourselves to enjoy food, without needing reassurance from a company that has not our best interests in mind, but rather, our wallets. As tempting as it may be to fall into the false security that “guiltless” foods may give us, we have to remember that this marketing strategy is simply another creative tactic to prey on our insecurities and fears.

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