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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Organic smoke (and mirrors)

David Khorram, MD

Just hours before my last column was to be printed, I got a call from my editor, Jayvee. “David, I can’t publish this column as written.” This must be bad, I thought. Did I offend someone? Was it because I used the word “heroin”? Or worse, did I make some unforgivable grammatical error? Jayvee quickly informed me that the problem was with a certain four-letter word that appeared in the column. He informed me that he would have to replace the word. The word that I had used starts with “S” and ends with “M” and rhymes with “Pam”. The replacement phrase that appeared in the edited final version of the column was “processed meat.”

What’s going on, I asked Jayvee. Why can’t I use the word that starts with “S” and ends with “M” and rhymes with “Pam”? Can I use “Something Posing As Meat” instead? Or how about “Scientifically Produced Animal Matter”? As it turns out this minor hubbub occurred because one of the other columnists had made mention of this infamous processed meat brand that starts with “S” and ends with “M” and rhymes with “Pam” in a disparaging way (though I’m not sure that is possible) and the Tribune had received a friendly letter from the lawyers of the corporation that makes the processed meat brand that starts with “S” and ends with “M” and rhymes with “Pam”, saying, in effect, “Stop making fun of us, or we’ll sue your pants off.”

Apparently, these folks don’t want any attention drawn to the implications of the nutritional label on the side of their product. Total calorie count: 609 (for a small 7 ounce can). The label clearly points out that nearly 80 percent of the calories in every mouthful come from fat. This is not a nutritionally dense food. Calorie-count.com gives it a nutritional grade of D+. If anyone draws your attention to the fact that the product is not a great one, the lawyers come knocking. They get really upset if we’re doing it in a humorous way.

What gives? Well, sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. There are forces in the world that work very hard to influence you, and that do not have your best interests in mind. They have their own best interests in mind, and in the case of some private enterprises, those interests usually have something to do with separating you from your money. You would think that in this day and age of health consciousness, any respectable well-intentioned (that’s the key) company that makes a product of such lousy nutritional value would somehow conclude, “You know, this was a good idea during the War when people needed fat-in-a-can with an indefinite shelf-life. But in today’s world of rampant obesity, what’s the point? Let’s just pull it off the market.”

I know, I know. That’s a naïve dream from some kind of ethical world where “market forces” are not the god at whose altar all excuses are laid. But the point is, as consumers, we have to realize that there are indeed forces out there that do not have our best interests in mind. In fact, those forces may not give one hoot about our best interests. I’ve recently been flabbergasted at the boldness of a new advertising campaign that strives to make a particular brand of cigarettes seem “healthy.” Their advertisements, which appear in all kinds of magazines, invoke ideas of patriotism and the natural spirit of the Native Americans. They tout their tobacco as being “natural” and even go so far as to point out that it is “organically grown.” Organically grown! That’s outlandish temerity. Stick the word “organic” next to anything, and everyone automatically associates it with being good for you. Heck, just toss a pack into the grocery cart next to your soy milk and alfalfa sprouts and enjoy! They’re organic cigarettes.

The tiny print in the ad clearly states “Organically grown tobacco is no better for you than any other tobacco, and in fact, tobacco causes lung cancer, death, low-birth weight, vision loss and pretty much any avoidable disease you can think of, but we’re going to do everything possible in this ad to keep your attention away from these words. Don’t look at the little black-and-white Surgeon General’s warning box. Look over here at all these pretty colors. And at this hot babe beckoning you to come have a smoke with him/her.”

The list of institutions, be they private or public, that do this sort of, well, lying, under the euphemisms of “marketing” or “public information” is long. As you become attuned to the process, you can recognize it, and reflect a bit about what is being done to influence you. It’s worth taking some time to ask, “Is this really good for me? Is this really what I want?” Because sometimes, no one else will ask for you. Bring on the organic version of that processed meat that starts with “S” and ends with “M” and rhymes with “Pam.” We’ll be ready.

(David Khorram, MD is a board certified ophthalmologist and director of Marianas Eye Institute. Comments and questions are welcome. Call 235-9090 or email him through www.MarianasEye.com. Copyright © 2006 David Khorram)

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