Spin doctors a health hazard

St Francis Bay columnist Beth Cooper-Howell says spin doctors are as much of a health hazard as the products they are trying to get us to pay more money for

Keep the chain store spin doctors away from me

I grew up in an era where the closest we got to home-baked, traditional produce were the chocolate cakes and coconut ices of the local home industry – the tuisnywerheid run by chubby-cheeked tannies who were as famous for their crocheted doilies as the sweet, cheap and delicious treats they sold.

Back then, lemon meringue was just that: lemon curd, plus meringue. But as the tuisnywerheid era fell away, so too did artisanal food; and you’ll agree that mass-produced lemon meringue simply doesn’t match up.

For a long time, I bought my food only from supermarkets. Farmers’ markets were the preserve of trendy Garden Route towns, or took place so far away in rural no-man’s-land that urban rats such as us never went to.

Plus, we thought that supermarket food was fine. It kept us fed and it looked like good food should.

But the move towards sustainable, free-range, organic, ethically-produced and healthier produce has snowballed; my generation has about-turned in search of the good, solid grub that (we assume) our grandparents enjoyed. Back then, when people had a backyard bursting with chickens, goats, tomatoes and spinach – and time to feed them all.

Without doubt, supermarkets are a consumer lifeline – and it’s perfectly acceptable that they’re focused on profit, since they, like most of us, are running a business.

What bothers me, though, is how the marketing spin doctors from one or two big chains have cottoned on to people like me – the ones who don’t want to see pigs die in squalor and pain, or cows bred to be milked within an inch of their lives – and hoodwinked us with apparent lies.

By now, most people – especially moms – know that commercial fresh produce is sprayed with pesticide, chemically treated and possibly genetically tampered with to prolong shelf life (purely for profit, as always).

We also know the story about the poor battery chicken: the one which endures inhumane cruelty in cramped conditions.

So, when we decide to go the tuisnywerheid route – back to basics, pure and simple, more flour, less MSG – we expect to be able to make informed choices; it’s taken us long enough to learn the label lingo.

And when we see organic, free-range or free-roaming, or cruelty-free, we buy on trust.

But groups such as The Conscious Consumer South Africa and Grass Consumer Food Action are among those exposing the half-truths and subtle fibs being spun by big corporates who will tell you pretty much anything to make you part with your money.

It confuses me that one chain’s milk labelled as produced from free-roaming cows who spend their days lolling in green pastures is, allegedly, a well-disguised reality fudge.

According to reports, about 50% of those cows actually live in barns, where they eat GMO feed. You may argue that at least some of them get to roam free – but the marketing fools us into believing that they all do.

It’s taken about a year to get it right, but I now buy my eggs, pork, beef, chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, butter and milk from real, live people who don’t use chemicals and actually allow their animals to walk around, as nature intended.

And what I love about my local, big-name supermarket is that there’s always a spot reserved on shelves for these producers should they wish to sell there.

So it’s not all bad.

But it could be better, if only these manic marketing clots would stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

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