op-ed

Facts, Facts®, and Piano Commercials

What if I told you that the secret to weight loss is as simple as a high fiber diet? Just eat 50 grams of fiber per day and watch the pounds fall away!

Assuming that you believed me the first thing you might do is calculate the amount of fiber you currently eat. If you’re an average American that number would land around 15 grams. How the heck are you going to get to 50? You start checking labels and find that most packaged foods contain little or no fiber. Meat and dairy? Forget it. If you’re going to hit 50 grams per day it’s off to the produce aisle, and that’s why you’ll probably lose weight on a high fiber diet: You’ll have to substitute fruits and vegetables for those fiber-empty meals you used to eat. Produce, its skin in particular, is where the fiber magic happens.

Imagine if I was savvy enough to market such a thing. I’d give it a catchy name like “The 50-Fi Diet®” and pay some nutritionist to endorse it. I’d write a book, visit the fake TV doctor chat shows, and talk about how fat and sickly I was before I discovered 50-Fi®. Now I feel great, like I’m 20 years younger! I can see my toes again (pause for applause)!

Now imagine that my little idea catches on and becomes the Next Big Weight Loss Thing, right up there with the low fat diet, the high protein diet, the low carb diet. What would happen next is easy to predict: Supermarket shelves and freezers would be jam-packed with high fiber convenience foods. Oreos with Fiber, Hot Fiber Pockets, Kraft Mac & Cheese & Fiber–junk food masquerading as a weight loss solution. Millions of people would gorge themselves daily on Big McFibers chased with Diet Cherry Coke Fibers and wonder why they aren’t shedding pounds on 50-Fi®.

That’s life in America, where every simple, common sense idea is inevitably marketed into a cartoon shell of itself, its original intention lost in pursuit of market share. Fad diets are just one example of the phenomenon. Consider the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting lockdown orders. The message was simple: Stay home, wash your hands. Not very marketable, and as a result for the first couple of weeks advertising life remained somewhat normal. Then the “piano commercials” started.

 

No company wanted to come off like they were trying to profit from the global pandemic, so the loud chaos of the average commercial was replaced by slow pans of tidy workers preparing meals for grateful customers while treacly piano music accompanied a soothing voice reassuring us that Burger King was there for us. Out of the goodness of their hearts, automobile manufacturers promised to deliver new cars directly to our homes.  New phrases were coined–“contact free delivery”–for example, and promises made that our food wouldn’t be touched once it left the oven, as if Randy at Pizza Hut had been jamming his thumb into our garlic knots prior to the outbreak.

And it’s not just companies selling us high fiber junk food. Politicians are masters of perverting a kernel of truth in exchange for sales, which in this case means votes or poll numbers: If you think “eating high fiber Oreos will make you thin again” is an alluring message, imagine how alluring “vote for me and I’ll make America great again” must sound to the disenchanted.

We live in a land where facts and Facts® look a lot alike but differ greatly, where “if you want to be healthy eat healthy” and “Lose Weight With the 50-Fi Diet®” appear to mean the same thing but are dramatically different. A potato and a Lay’s Potato Chip are hardly the same thing, and just like spuds the more a message is processed the less nutritious it is.

If there’s one absolute truth in American life it’s this: Anything that can be trademarked, packaged, and sold will be trademarked, packaged, and sold. Anything. Health, faith, sleep, hygiene, politics, climate, birth, death, wilderness, ethics, sex, justice, diet, patriotism, individuality, education, water. Water! There’s nothing we won’t slap a brand name on, even a global pandemic.

We’re living in weird times, and they’re just going to get weirder. The only path through it all is to stay focused on the facts vs. the Facts®. And don’t be a sucker: Watch out for those piano commercials.

Categories: op-ed

2 replies »

  1. It’s so good to hear a voice of reason rather than just another snake oil pitch. Remember the low fat/no fat fad? They took all the fat out of our favorite food products, but that left very little pleasant taste to the food. So they jacked up the sugar. We felt enlightened to be able to eliminate fat from our diet. The down side is that all the stuff they added to the no fat product added a load of calories. So eating “healthy” just made us fatter. We just can’t accept that the only way to lose weight is to eat healthful foods.

    Like

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