A few weeks ago we took Sebastian to New York City. Since he learned most of his English from watching American movies and television he was excited to see in person so many of the places that were filmed in NYC. And, of course, Christina, Alyssa, and I were excited to show him the magic of New York at Christmas Time. We drove from Chestertown to Hoboken and took the PATH into the city. We all crammed into the back of a taxi, rode on several subways, and, according to Christina’s Apple Watch, walked 8 ½ miles! Sebastian saw an incredible amount of the city in just one day and it didn’t disappoint.
As we made our way uptown Sebastian was checking off his list:
- Joe’s Pizza (because that was where Peter Parker worked in the first Spiderman movie),
- the arch at Washington Square Park,
- the tree at Rockefeller Center, and
- Time Square (which included a cameo appearance from the Naked Cowboy).
Christmas magic in NYC
Everything was festive. Lights and holiday decorations were everywhere. The windows of shops were full of displays that were not only holiday themed, but incredibly hi-tech. Faces of the window shoppers even appeared in some of the displays themselves. We even had an opportunity to get our own faces plastered across an electronic billboard in Times Square by uploading a photo through a QR code. Sure, all of this was marketing. But, brilliant marketing indeed. It made everyone feel part of something larger.
It all wasn’t sparkly
But, despite all this holiday magic, we encountered a number troublesome things during our adventure. The PATH and subway stations were just plain filthy. In fact, much of the city felt dirtier than I remember from my last visit. The plumes of marijuana scented smoke smacked us in the face every time we walked out of a store onto the street was overwhelming. But, the most disgusting experience of the entire day took place in Macy’s of all places.
Yes, of course we took Sebastian to Macy’s (we couldn’t let him miss the Miracle of 34th Street). And, we made it all the way to the top to see Santa (who knew they had a wooden escalator and so many floors). On the way back down we stopped on the mezzanine and I simply couldn’t believe what I saw. The entire mezzanine was nothing but candy. But, what bothered me more than the refined sugar, preservative, artificial flavoring and coloring-laden food was the messaging around all of it.
Here are just a few of the messages on the aptly named IT SUGAR display that plastered the walls:
- Candy is always the answer
- Candy Makes Us Happy
- Absolutely No Nutritional Value Added
- Dessert Before Dinner
- Candy Doesn’t Judge
- Part of a Colorful Diet
This dangerous messaging carried over to the packaging of the products as well. For example, despite its cute name, “Dingle Bearies” the package of the milk chocolate covered gummy bears boasted that it is, “A Delicious Part of Your Unbalanced Breakfast”
The blatant messages were absolutely disgusting. It is not as if the majority of our population is walking around healthy and in need of such an advertising campaign that advises to not be so hard on ourselves and embrace the candy canes and sugar plums that only come around once a year. We have far surpassed that. The hedonistic indulgence of sugar has morphed from once (or a few times a year) to EVERY SINGLE DAY for far too many of us and this type of messaging isn’t cute any longer.
This is no longer an issue of our consumption of junk food resulting in a little acne or a few extra pounds. We are now witnessing how our modern consumption of junk food has resulted in a widespread diabetes that, at best, results in insulin dependencies and foot amputations, and, at worst, death. In fact, it is cruel. It is criminal.
Am I being a Scrooge??
I can hear some of you right now telling me it’s the holidays and just loosen up. Believe me, hear you. But, concern for what we put into our mouths during the holidays can no longer be taboo. We must talk about these things if we are going to create the type of change in our food system that we so desperately need.
People actually listen to these messages, if even subliminally, and use them as license to splurge. It doesn’t bother me so much that these food companies are making money. However, it angers me that they are making money while ruining the lives of their customers. I believe they have a responsibility; in fact, I believe we all have a responsibility.
A new power of messaging for 2024
Imagine a world in which anyone with an opportunity to share their voice widely – whether a movie star, tik tok celebrity, head of a marketing firm, blog author, podcast host, or even classroom teacher – also believed they had a responsibility to use their platform to improve the lives of their audience. What sort of messages would they send? What sort of positive change would it create?
We take our responsibility very, very seriously at the Modern Stone Age Kitchen and Eastern Shore Food Lab and want to use this as an opportunity to send a message to all of you by sharing our word for 2024: CONNECT.
We are making it a priority this year to connect to ourselves, one another, our family, our community and the world around us in the deepest, most meaningful ways possible. We hope this all inspires you to do the same in your own way and to make this the healthiest, most nourishing year of your life.