IT DOES WHAT it says on the can. Well sort of? Maybe? Actually not really, not at all when you think about it. The battle is conducted in clinical fashion and lost when we hand over our hard earned sub-minimum wage cash at the unlevel playing field of the checkout. Having worked all day we just want the fruits of our labor, the food on our dinner plate, to be instant and familiar enough to stall the gnawing inside. The friendly fire of being pummeled into quiet submission by multi-million dollar marketing campaigns conducted down through the years of the war of attrition, to endure and then crave the chimera food, whose actual life-sustaining qualities are sacrificed in the additional-cost-to the-consumer processing, which turns a humble potato into a snack that has 32 additional ingredients. Okay I know, salt and butter work great with potatoes, so thirty additional ingredients are needed to replace real wholesomeness and actual nutritional value by creating an engineered and wholly illusory ‘flavor’ of contentment, as expressed by the smiling girl in the TV advert. We instinctively know all this but sometimes in the moment nothing else will do.
Food companies list the ingredients of their products on the can so we know what goes into the food we are buying. On the good faith assumption that the food manufacturer is telling the truth, people can then make an informed choice about whether they buy the food product or not. If they don’t like a product because it contains a certain ingredient (maybe the consumer is allergic to peanuts which if ingested by them could cause a serious if not fatal reaction) then they can buy another product, which does not contain peanuts.
This is the ‘freedom of choice’ that capitalism wears on its sleeve as its highest virtue…freedom of choice for the consumer…democracy in action… we the people being able to make an informed choice and then voting with our wallets so to speak. At least that is the peddled mythology… corpPOCKracy! de-schMOCKracy!
In reality, ongoing marketing wars and narrative construction battles are being fought over and over regarding the engineered wording on the can and its font size. Voila the inanity of going to all that trouble to list ‘sugar’ as the much more exotic and seemingly inoffensive but wholly fabricated ‘Florida Crystals,’ for example. As if anyone on minimum wage has the time to wade through the tsunami of insidious acting chemicals that parade as innocuous tummy warming bonus ‘nutrients,’ or to dissect the saccharin differences between acesulfame potassium and the di-aspartame bucolic tri-glycerides in our kids’ Halloween candy? The token nod to an imagined democracy bestowed by the dubious small print on the can versus the twenty foot high lettering on billboards, amplified by the gigantine magic machine of radio and TV.
Last November the people of Washington State put initiative 522 (I-522) on the ballot, which would have required that all foods containing genetically modified ingredients be labeled as containing such. Even according to capitalist inner logic—freedom of choice for the consumer— this would make sense right? Except, the bio-tech giants like Monsanto and their clientele in the food industry see GM labeling as a huge public relations dent to their profits.
Setting a record for the most money ever raised in Washington to fight a public initiative, a handful a bio-tech companies contributed in excess of $10 million, and thirty-four food giants collectively chipped in another $12 million by funneling money through the blandly inoffensive sounding front group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The money, chunk change to corporations looking to make billion dollar profits, paid not least for a barrage of TV ads that were fine tuned to trigger the anger points of minimum wage earning Americans: it will cost you more and it will cost you more again because of increased taxes.
Recruiting a wholesome cast of doctors, teachers, scientists, farmers, the former director of the Washington Department of Agriculture Dan Newhouse, and former Washington State Attorney General Ken Eikenberry to provide the mock gravitas to NO- to I-522 campaign, the message consisted of the outright lies that labeling GM ingredients in foods would be “misleading’ “unfair” and “costly” i.e. “would cost taxpayers millions.”
It is not rocket science but is proven science that targeting the people who have the least time to educate themselves about an issue —because they work longer hours for less money— with inflammatory lies works wonders for those corporations whose raison d’être is to grab back some of those minimum wage dollars. It is why marketing and advertising even exists because it has been proven over and over, to work in favor of the seller.
Thus, the finely sculpted sound-bite, amplified through the medium of TV, can be targeted to monopolize the five second attention span allotted to regular working people on any particular issue. In this case the marketing lie that the basic human right of putting food on the table will cost them “hundreds of dollars more” on their annual food bills, if GM foods are labeled as GM foods.
In actual fact in the countries where GM products are labeled, they are actually cheaper than their non-GM counterparts because in order to combat general public suspicion about GM foods, the food corporations consistently underprice them in order compete against non-GM foodstuffs, again targeting the traditional mass market for junk foods, the deliberately mis-informed lower income classes.
Like there is anything actually ‘fair’ about a combine of food corporations and biotech companies, none of whom are actually based in Washington State, raising three times the amount raised by the public campaign of advocates for GM labeling, and using it to thwart real democracy at the state level, knowing that the scientifically proven safe margin of 3-to-1 will buy them their desired result. Herein is the metaphor for how US politics works on any issue in the twenty first century: corporations unite to employ PR companies to set up fake grass roots groups to inflame the debate, and form people-friendly-sounding front groups to funnel money to bankroll lies on TV about unfairness and higher taxes to working people, to buy a favorable outcome to said combine of corporations. Does what it says on the can. Guaranteed.
Think the food and bio-tech giants were worried by the mandatory flash of fine print that appeared on their election issue advertising? “This voter information paid for by No on 522, Olympia WA. Top five contributors, Grocery Manufacturers against I-522, Monsanto Company, Dupont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences LLC, Bayer Cropscience.” No because the blink-and-you-will-miss-it proviso, is engineered to be exactly that, scientifically proven to have next-to-nil effect on the consumer decision making on the issue, when eclipsed by the bold type, red for danger, “N0 I-522” which hogs the screen for the duration.
Late in October 2013, when the current Attorney General’s office of Washington State, succumbed to public pressure and forced the Grocery Manufacturers Assocaition to name who had contributed to the campaign to defeat I-522, two of the top donors turned out to be quasi arch rivals PepsiCo and Coca Cola Co, who chipped in $1,620,899 and $1,047,332 respectively. In scientifically mapped marketing strategy terms when you put the united combined might of Pepsi and Coca Cola, up against Dr Bronner’s soap, (the biggest single contributor to the Yes on I-522) you know who will win. No contest, because the fight can be and was bought.
So here is the double flip-back. The five second attention span message in reverse. Reading between the lines, one can reasonably assume that the fabled secret ingredients of the world’s two leading cola brands can now be said to include genetically modified ingredients. Put simply, and this is the only sentence you need to take away from this essay: PEPSI AND COKE CONTAIN GENETICALLY MODIFIED INGREDIENTS. DON’T BUY THAT SHIT.
Amplify that just a little, put it on the internet, and send it around the world, a science experiment to see if electronic word of mouth can have an effect. The aim being to stir the slumbering we-the-people giant, in a collective retch and vomit of the once darling brands of the American dream, who have had it far too good, for far too long, and in so doing flex some of the muscle of genuine people’s democracy in action. Hold that thought.
An aside on the business of selling. It really is not rocket science. In the December of 1997, when Chumbawamba were signed to the corporate music giant Universal in North America, we played Tubthumping on the David Letterman show. The following week our point man at Universal showed us a graph. Album sales had jumped by 170,000 copies from the previous week. The only thing that was different was that that one appearance on a national TV show. And all those extra sales for that one week were more than all our seven other albums combined had sold in total during our entire previous fifteen years of being a band. It’s as simple as selling cookies. Or biscuits. At the time the CEO of our then British record company EMI had made his fortune selling biscuits. At the time Universal was owned by Seagrams the Canadian Liquor giant. Coca Cola now own a huge chunk of what once was Seagrams.
Another aside. On David Letterman we changed the final choruses of the Tubthumping to “Free Mumia Abu Jamal” (at the time on death row in Pennsylvania, and still incarcerated, for allegedly killing a cop when he was sixteen despite fabricated prosecution evidence and a prejudicial trial). Here is another lesson about the corporate owned media: if you stick your head above the parapet you will be summarily punished, ridiculed, exiled… and never forgiven. We burned our bridge right there and it still remains the right thing to have done. The rule of deference to the corporate narrative (if you want to keep your job) applies across the board. It is the reason why the New York Times, on balance, acted as a megaphone in cheering George Bush and his cronies on for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 instead of acting like investigative journalism is supposed to act, to pick its way through what was even apparent back then: that the evidence for Saddam’s WMD was fabricated by Project for the New American Century think-tank-niks and their pals in the intelligence services.
It is the reason why the consensus of 97% of the world’s leading scientists across a hundred disciplines conclude that humanity is on a crash course to rendering the planet uninhabitable, can be ignored and sidelined in favor of a narrative (advertising that dwarfs actual journalism) that encourages us to consume ever more products created by the burning of fossil fuels. And it is the reason why the Huffington Post will in all likelihood choose not to syndicate an essay like this one.
But back to the nation’s favorite drinks and the prized secret recipes and unique flavors that first hijacked our taste buds as children, and have made those products so successful down through the twentieth century and into the brave new world of the twenty first. Except, there is such a thing that is known as ‘product drift’. Meaning, the Coke and Pepsi from our childhoods that we remember so sweetly actually do not exist anymore. Meaning those drinks truly taste way different today because the actual ingredients have changed dramatically. Meaning, the R&D food guys are always tinkering with the formula, because the numbers guys are saying that for the next financial quarter acesulfame potassium is going to be way cheaper than aspartame, which will net way more in profit than it costs to buy an election in Washington State. Meaning that the secret GM ingredients in Pepsi and Coke have nothing to do with improving the taste or nutritional value of a drink, and everything to do with maintaining the business relationships which unite Pepsi and Coke as part of the corporate cartel, which holds the monopoly on the content, supply, distribution and marketing of food in this country. When it comes to waging war against consumers, as happened in Washington State, Pepsi and Coke stand shoulder to shoulder.
Pepsi and Coke are not metaphors for the American Dream because they represent the mythologized—free choice for the consumer—workings of free enterprise, rather because they mirror the fake democracy (deMOCKracy) of our corrupt and haplessly broken political system. The chemical teeth rotting schlock that make the US dental industry the most expensive and successful (if you can afford it) in producing that all-American smile, in the four yearly competition to have a Pepsi or a Coke machine installed in the White house is like the pantomime battle for the White House itself. The corporate guy always wins. Because our Citizen’s United deMOCKracy enables elections to be bought by the highest bidders. And here’s some product drift for you. In 2014 we have a Democratic president that is to the political right of where Republican Richard Nixon was in 1972. And old Tricky Dicky is rolling in his grave with envy at what Obama can do with wire-taps these days, like the word “warrant” was never even invented.
Informed readers will know that in Vermont there occurred a victory in for genuine food democracy that mandates all foods containing GM ingredients be labeled by 2016. And also that the food-bio-tech combine are fighting tooth and nail dirty to squash this virus and prevent it from spreading.
Ergo, the recently formed “Coalition for Safe Affordable Food” is not an actual concerned citizen’s grass roots group but an industry front group trying to buy legislation in Congress that would let companies label foods with genetically engineered ingredients as “natural.” And meanwhile food industry stooges, in another attack on food democracy, are trying hijack the National Organic Standards Board and rewrite its mandates to allow, not least, the addition of antibiotics and other non-organic synthetic materials to foods labeled that carry the USDA Organic certification.
Every day is a battle in this war. If you are a Washington State voter it is payback time for Dan Newhouse (former Director of Washington Sate Department of Agriculture) who is running as a Republican to replace the retiring Republican Doc Hastings seat in the House of Representatives, in November this year. You know who his food giant-bio-tech sponsors will be likely be, ensconced in the small print of those NO –I-522 TV ads.
The carcinogenic stranglehold of the food giant corporate monolith is barely a hundred years old. It is is bad for our health and bad for the health of the planet. But every time we support our local small-scale organic farmers, farmers’ market or grow our own food, it is a battle won over standing in line at the check-out with a bag of engineered potato chips. And it is worth remembering that since stepping out of the hunter-gatherer crib, we won those battles for 12,000 years, so it is not beyond our reach today.
Oh and BOYCOTT COCA COLA AND PEPSI.