Healthy Packaged Food Cons: Are You Getting Suckered?

I was happy to see Grist get a little snarky about a “squeezable fruit” product for kids called Tropolis that’s supposed to make healthy eating more portable and fun. "Aren't apples and grapes already pretty portable snacks?” the site asked. Yes, but big corporations like PepsiCo, which owns Tropicana, which makes Tropolis, can’t increase their market share in the healthy eating sector by opening a fruit stand. They need to "add value" to an apple by putting it inside a colorful plastic package so it can be sold to parents who are concerned about childhood obesity and healthy eating.

Selling people more plastic-packaged crap they could easily make themselves under the guise of "healthy" is a sucker’s con game. Just confuse people by making them feel so busy all the time, then make them forget how easy it is to prepare simple, healthy foods.

Some of my favorite examples that we've discussed recently include:

Bob Evans Oatmeal Bowls. These are precooked, microwavable oatmeal with flavoring. “The oatmeal tasted soggy and slightly sawdusty, and the apple bits were mushy," said James Norton, who writes Supertaster on CHOW.com. Making your own oatmeal is on a level of arduousness akin to tanning your own buckskin, right? Wrong. It takes five minutes—I’m serious—to cook rolled oats. To make steel-cut oats, you can soak them overnight so they’re already soft and just need to be warmed up with a little water in the morning.

Chopped fruits and vegetables in plastic containers from the grocery store. "[W]hat kind of over-privileged priss-ball can't chop his own friggin' vegetables?" asked Tim Carman of the Washington City Paper's food blog, Young & Hungry. Perhaps poor parents who have been led to believe that breaking down a head of broccoli into florets will deprive them of 11 hours of quality time with their kids. COME ON PEOPLE. Precut vegetables and fruits are often treated with chemicals to keep them from browning. And who knows how many hands have touched them and how long they’ve been sitting around? If you don't have arthritis or another physical impediment that keeps you from being physically capable of cutting vegetables, put on some tunes and see how much it's actually not a drag.

Baby Carrots| Eat ’Em Like Junk Food. The carrot industry recently began packaging baby carrots in Doritos-esque bags, some of which went into school vending machines. This was hailed as some kind of totally rad marketing move by the media: Yay! Kids will finally eat more carrots! First of all, they are still baby carrots. Why can't you just eat normal carrots? Why do they have to be skinned into "cute" form, and treated with antimicrobial agents? Then, why is it a good thing that they're dressed up in bags that will turn into litter, just to make them more “fun”?

There's something really sad about people losing the self-empowerment to just bite into a normal carrot, or cut up a squash. Many people in our culture have accepted the marketing messages that very simple food preparation and consumption are time-consuming problems to be solved. It is a slippery slope toward total helplessness. But it's not too late—you can get started with the basics NOW.