Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Flawed Definition of Value.



Duane Hanson's Shopping Lady Sculpture

Fat shoppers lean against their carts of cardboard and plastic packaging as they fall forward incredibly slowly, scanning the shelves and throwing in the items marked on sale, or those with the words Value or Only preceding the price.  Do they not price compare? No. Because Walmart has marketed its brand smartly. If the little bouncy smily face says something is good value, the shoppers believe and flock to get the deals while they last (as if they would ever stop the rrrrrrrrrollback days!). The transitory yellow sale stickers promote a sense of urgency. It’s better to buy three jugs of Sunny D now because it’s better value, the sign suggests. Big name shops know that their clientele are flocking to their store under the pretense of affordable food. The shop thrives because it earns huge profits by selling high quantities of low quality food, under the guise of value.


Unstable paychecks lead to erratic shopping, especially when it comes to food. Marketing teams exploit the flustered shoppers, encouraging them to stock up while they can. The non-perishables take the cake and are considered part of the budget. Soon, pantries are filled with sugar and salt-filled snacks and the fridge is barren of greenery. When there’s just a little money in the bank, the mentality becomes like that of a squirrel - get busy collecting food now that it’s on sale so that during harder times, one can start digging into the non-perishables.  Historically, cultures with little money also relied on non-perishables like whole grains, and canned and pickled vegetables. These are valuable, and proven to be affordable, nutritionally high foods that have since become lost stapes. Nowadays “value” carries little significance, yet the term has substantial gravity in every aisle other than the fruits and vegetable section. 

Something  of real value is unique (heritage food, for example), hand-crafted ( or nurtured a human, with love), and would be long-lasting in its use. In short, when we ascribe value to food, the definition should be : most nutrition for a low to reasonable price.  An organic apple these days may run you $1  but your body can use 100% of that apple, so you get a $1 return in nutrition (vitamins, fiber, energy).  Please appreciate that the cost also supports the farmers who are relentlessly laboring at less than minimum wage to keep healthy options affordable. Why aren’t there ever ‘value’ sales on whole foods? 2 for 1 apples; Buy one pear, get one free; Perfectly ripe yellow bananas, get them before they blot!, etc. There aren’t because there isn’t much profit for the business. It’s a whole different ballpark when the a box of cookies that took $1 to make is lowered in price from $2.99 to $2.50. Still, there are ways to make fruits and vegetables more attractive to shoppers looking to be told what to buy. Some grocery store flyers are now capturing the market for those who want easy access to healthful suggestions, but more needs to be done to slant the shopping and eating habits of North Americans.  



Instead of the nutrition panel on the side of the box, shoppers search out the “value” stickers to weigh their options. Those chicken strips, although 5 for $2 does seem like a deal are actually FAR more expensive than going to a butcher shop and buying 1 large chicken breast for $4. But Jennifer! you say, That’s double the price plus the work to prepare it!  To which I say, GOOD GRIEF! I feel like I’ve had this discussion a million times in the last 5 years. Using the nutritional percentage again quickly discerns that real chicken is better value. Your body can digest and absorb 100% of the nutrition it has to offer. On the other hand, one frozen chicken finger contains an orgy of meat, diluted with cheap wheat fillers and preservatives. Maybe you’re body will only absorb 40% of it because the rest is “junk” (my dad’s favourite word when relating to processed food). To calculate the value of chicken fingers, simply multiply 40% with $2. You paid 80 cents worth of long term nutrition and $1.20 on fleeting fullness, before flushing your money down the drain.

‘Fullness’, most often caused by bloating, high salt or sugar content is often equated with value, as in the case of parents justifying a kid’s meal at McDonalds. The meal may fill up a child for $3, but his body may only be able to use 20% of the meal. His growing brain suffers this neglect of nutritional value. The other 80% of the meal is so processed that once the child eats it, his body shoots it through to the other end, without absorbing much nutrients at all. Thus, the kid’s meal gets you only 60 cents worth of nutrition and the rest ($2.40) literally goes down the drain.  When you think about it in terms of nutrition, it’s hard not to scoff at the alleged “value” signs. If fruits, vegetables and other whole foods were marketed as valuable nutritional sources as eagerly as zealous competitors slap on claims to otherwise processed garbage, then we would all be wealthier in health. We will look back and think that these value signs are as preposterous as doctors recommending cigarettes. 




The further you get from the original ingredients, the less your body is able to recognize the food as food, and in turn the less nutrients (if any!) you absorb. “Value” has been marketed to those who seek instant, easy gratification. It attracts a personality type that went to Walmart because it’s a one stop shop, because it’s easier and admittedly, a time saver for those juggling two jobs and a gaggle of kids. It’s painful to see these kids, overweight, trailing behind their fat mothers, gathering boxes sugary snacks, packages of packages of Lunchables and frozen dinners - because their parents  send them out like troops to seek out those infamous stickers. Then, at school, depleted of nutrition, these children become hyperactive or comatose and are unable to learn. They grow up and out, and their education is barely absorbed due to a malnourished brain. This leads them into adulthood fat, unhappy and unhealthy. Now does that value sticker look different? 




My dad used to spew rhetoric about junk food to me and my sister long into our teens,  to which we rolled our eyes but did absorb in the end, if not hesitantly. It’s going to be work to convince shoppers that while they feel satisfaction from saving money, in the long term they are putting in money towards an early death. If you want your body to glow with health, vitality and stamina, don’t even go down those middle aisles of packaged food. You can and  will save money eliminating packaged foods. Reject the notion of value, or at least, what it has become. When someone mentions their valuable find, ask them to specify what they mean and correct them if they are following a marketing teams idea of value. When prescribing value to food, there could be a whole list of why the packaged cartons of this and that should not be included. There is a golden rule I follow: The more packaging, the less healthy.  When consumers start favoring whole foods, we will all be wealthier. 

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