One of the interesting points that came up at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum was that advertising is always getting the blame for people being fat/violent/irresponsible but, as Mr Advertising Industry Man pointed out, “Adverts don’t make people fat, people do”. Not meaning that there’s a team of people out in the streets, pinning people down and force feeding them lard, but that the decision to buy and/or eat something rests finally with the individual, not the advertising company. Essentially, you can choose not to buy something and, even if you don’t choose what food you have available, you can choose whether or not to eat it.
We’ll probably never get away from that as an argument, so long as we’re not fed by a tube directly from the central government into our bellies (freaky), but I don’t think it gets advertisers off the hook entirely. We may have the final say as what goes in our mouths, but the advertisers have a huge sway over the factors that influence that final decision and what exactly we think we might be doing/saying/being when we make that decision.
For example, here is an advert for Galaxy chocolate – you’ve probably all seen it.
This advert disturbs me (almost a much as the comments underneath – ‘what an ugly looking slag’ – issues much?). To me, this advert appears to be normalising and even glamourising a whole bunch of stuff that I think isn’t really cool. It’s normalising associating food and emotions (‘I know what I feeeeel like’, keeping a Galaxy bar in your ‘special place’ with all other treasured photos, trinkets, mother’s ashes, any other things that have a special emotional quality and significance), and it’s totally, totally suggesting that eating alone and stashing food is A-OK, comforting and even a little bit sexy.
We have a problem with capitalism leading to over-production and, once we realised that we only have a finite physical need for all that crap, we found that we had to create an emotional sink for it instead. We’re being trained up to associate any number of high fat and sugar foods with any number of emotional states – I see it in myself. When I’m bored I think ‘mmmm cake’, when I’m feeling depressed or a ‘bad thing’ has happened (most recent example, falling off bicycle with giant rucksack, lying in street with feet waggling in air like upended super-beetle whilst uncaring Londoners streamed round my prostrate form like the tide round a shipwreck) I think ‘mmmm cake’, when I do something amazing and want to celebrate I think ‘mmmm cake’, when.. you get the idea.
Even more worrying, I notice this happens irrespective of whether any other part of my body wants cake. This is not my belly making this association, it’s my brain. As a general rule, I think we’ve started looking outside of our own bodies to make decisions about what and when and why to eat. Particularly as a fat person, I seem to be trained to look for external cues for eating as, clearly (I mean, just look at me) my own natural inclinations around food are wrong. It’s lunch time – now I must eat. This article tells me I must eat porridge – I must eat porridge. This advert tells me that I should eat a Magnum in order to appear alluring – I’m feeling unalluring, I’ll eat a Magnum. At no point do I really reference my own belly. I think that’s probably a bit weird.
Still, I’m having a bash at this whole mindfulness thing – paying attention, eating mindfully (although frequently I’m just too late, too hungry or just somewhere too public to smell each mouthful/chew everything with my eyes closed/hold one item of food in my mouth for an extended period of time) and it’s certainly interesting.
I was going to have a piece of chocolate to celebrate finishing a post but, actually, I’m not really hungry (when I think about it). I might just go sit in the sun for a bit instead.