Green Wash, Part 1

Three different advertisements “crossed my desk” last week, all for different products, yet sharing an eerie similarity of purpose and theme. I’m sure it will become evident soon enough, so no spoilers-let’s introduce the first contestant, shall we?

That looks so tasty...

“Wow, it looks amazing! All that fresh fruit lying around on the weathered picnic table really makes me think of camping, weekends, and shopping for antiques in small towns. How about you?” Oh, wait…it’s from McDonald’s, isn’t it? So it probably doesn’t actually look like that, huh? Probably more like this:

There’s the plastic tray and spoon and the placemat advertisement-much more plausible. Kind of soupy-looking, too. That’s okay, though-I’m sure it’s super-healthy, right? Well, it’s maybe about so-so. The cost, though…suggested at $1.99, it’s roughly what I’d pay for two pounds of organic rolled oats  at the Co-Op. Of course, this is a classic trade of money for time and effort; the customer is not paying so much for the oatmeal and fruit, but for someone else to cook and serve it to them. It’s a microcosm of a larger trend, a shift in energy use from the home to the producers and manufacturers. It also marks another step in the shift from self-sufficiency to dependency. If we can’t even make oatmeal for ourselves in the morning, where are we? I shudder to think of what we’ll pay to have done for us next.

Naturally, there’s a subtext to this ad campaign:

Free stuff! Yay!

It’s a teaser to get people in the door (or drive-through line). And, when you’re there, maybe you’ll-I’m not sure how this works-get some fries and a Filet-O-Fish with your breakfast? Switch over to lunch and have a couple of burgers? I’ll have to contemplate this further.

The copy on this flier is troublesome as well. The front copy implies that oatmeal is inherently non-delicious; the back copy seems to assert that wholesome foods aren’t naturally tasty and vice-versa. Personally, I find both assertions ridiculous, but perhaps that’s because I still cook actual food from real ingredients. The claims are especially ironic considering how much time and effort food manufacturers have invested in trying to simulate the flavors of real food in their products. Having been reading Paul Roberts’ excellent account of the development of the “value-added” food industry, and having been rediscovering the excellent quality and flavor of honest, fresh food, I frankly take some offense at the implication.

UPDATE: Mark Bittman of The New York Times largely concurs with my assessment. Not that I’m feeling smug or anything.



About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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15 Responses to Green Wash, Part 1

  1. captiv8ed says:

    How long does it take to make oatmeal? I am guessing McDonald’s isn’t using steel cut oats, so the most time it is going to take is 5 minutes. 20 seconds to chop an apple, about 10 seconds to scoop in a handful of raisins. And how long does it take to drive to the McDonald’s and wait in line? One great thing about making it at home: you can use those five minutes to make the bed, brush the hair, throw on a shirt. In the McDonald’s line (drive thru or in store) you are stuck. A captive audience.

    One of the more disturbing things to me is in the intentionality of it. Usually when people are going to McDonald’s, they are looking for something greasy and salty and fast. If someone in the car is trying to eat healthy, sure there can be a choice of oatmeal or something. But this, leading with the healthy in this way is disturbing. Think about it. It’s freaking oatmeal! I am trying to imagine someone getting these coupons, saying, “Oh, good McDonald’s has oatmeal! With real bits of apple! I am going to save this coupon and treat myself to some next time I am out!” I typed boring oatmeal into the google search box and came up with 370,000 hits. Maybe McDonald’s should fire their ad director!

  2. captiv8ed says:

    If it was actually healthy, maybe they could get points for trying.

  3. captiv8ed says:

    Also, I LOVE the photo comparison. I was naive enough to believe the oatmeal would look like the ad.

  4. captiv8ed says:

    Not even in the play area?

  5. Patience says:

    I’m annoyed because I did buy that oatmeal once. We were traveling and it was either the oatmeal or a sausage biscuit, so I figured the oatmeal was healthier. I agree that it’s ridiculous to dumb down something like oatmeal. I did really believe I was getting a cup of real oatmeal and fruit and not “flavors.” McDonald’s sucks.

    • poorlocavore says:

      You probably did better with the oatmeal than the sausage biscuit, but it is rotten that there are so few good options out on the road. Many of the folks who cry “personal choice” in the healthy eating discussion don’t seem to realize that a lot of people don’t have the same array of options as we more fortunate folks do.

  6. Slowvelder says:

    Excellent post! I am sending my FB friends here to come read it.

    • poorlocavore says:

      Thanks! The more the merrier. By the way, the pictures on your blog of sunny, warm South Africa are a balm for a frigid Northwest winter. It is 6 degrees Farenheit this morning-planting season seems awfully far away.

  7. Sam Young says:

    An oatmeal gourmand since age 18 when my dear aunt served me a hearty dish of oatmeal every morning before departing for my daily shift at that sawmill in Maine; I have been served many dishes of “oatmeal” from watery half cooked to thickened and driedout versions with various sweetners from brown sugar to molasses and even honey. But I haven’t ever seen any like the pictures of McD’s offering. Guess I’ll just go fourth and explore it as a matter of pricipal.

  8. Sam Young says:

    As promised I Drove Thru for a McD’s oatmeal breakfast. Slightly watery, pre-sweetend, cup of cereal with packaged, Raisins n’ cranberrys, packaged diced fresh apples. (I guess that’s sos you can take em or leave em). I mixed mine all in for the full flavor choice and found the taste perfectly satisfactory. My judgement: were I to be on a road trip I would select it again.

    • poorlocavore says:

      Thanks for volunteering! It’s interesting that the oatmeal is pre-sweetened, but the fruit is an optional add-in. Plus, that extra bit of packaging…Good road food being so hard to find, I’m glad it worked out for you…this seems to be a better alternative to a grease-biscuit.

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