Overeating with Our Eyes: How “Food News” Advertises

Food advertising tells us to eat more. Obviously. It’s advertising. “Buy more food” translates to “eat more food,” which either means: Be hungry all of the time, or eat even when you’re not hungry. Now food news is doing the same thing.

Nearly every site has a food section, whether they’re an online music magazine or a major media player like Yahoo.com. Increasing readership in the food realm requires, in part, increased viewership through shared articles. Food is visual. It’s the food imagery that serves as click-bait. And nothing catches the eye quite like junk food. A photo of a double chicken-cheeseburger will draw more eyes than a beige mix of granola. If the primary concern is readership, an attempt to increase page views relies on appealing to perusing minds with fat, sugar and salt—visually.

The U.S. government already promotes this mentality of consumption, but with real food. Professor of Nutrition at New York University, Marion Nestle, speaks up in the 2014 documentary, Fed Up. “When obesity became a problem, the Department of Agriculture was put into conflict of interest,” she says. “Because on the one hand it was telling people to eat less in order to prevent obesity, and on the other hand it was telling people to eat more to promote consumption of American agricultural products.”

Without the means of government backing that pushes the food industry to produce and promote, is food media serving the same purpose? Is the online Food Section the digital grocery aisle, and the individual junk food-related article a single pack of Sargento sharp cheddar, where the man in the commercial slices each piece by hand?

sargento

 

In the ’80s, the high demand for skim milk left dairy producers with excess milk fat. They turned it into cheese and the government helped to promote cheese production through advertising. Fed Up shares a total gem of a vintage jingle: “Cheese, glorious cheese, tastes mighty inviting.” Eighties advertising. It’s worth a laugh, but stops no short of success. In 2007 alone, the USDA reported an annual sales increase of 30 million pounds of cheese. What was once a handful of cheese choices is now a multitude. It’s not just a decision between cheddar and sharp cheddar (neither of which should be orange, naturally), but a choice between thinly sliced, shredded, cubed, string cheese, on-the-go-snack slices, variety pack, or personally sliced at the deli counter. Light Havarti, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, Brie, Creamy Brie, Light Brie, and the stand-by, Kraft singles, only begin the list.

The availability of online food media’s lists grows longer, practically accompanying the dairy aisle. Buzzfeed, leader of lists, can capitalize on the normalcy of over-consumption in its tried-and-true format. In addition to it’s much-loved blogger recipe roundups such as “21 Next-Level Snacks for Any Time of Day“, which includes grilled cheese pull-apart rolls, Oreo Peanut Butter, and Fruit Salsa Dessert Nachos, Buzzfeed also creates their own recipes in video format. Urgent titles promote visual consumption. The 54-second narrative of “You Need This Pizza Dip In Your Life” includes lead characters, milk, cream cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, and more mozzarella, with supporting characters, tomato sauce and pepperoni. Cheese promotion at its most theatrical:

 

Bustle’s also a fan of blogger recipe lists, asking for no compensation from Kraft Foods Group in sharing “19 Oreo Recipes That Prove Once And For All This Is The Best Cookie On Earth.” And in “Nacho Recipes That Will Renew Your Faith In The Power of Chips and Cheese,” not all recipes include chips, but 24 include cheese.

Likewise, in the same Bustle post that reports Rita’s suspension of custard due to an avian flu-caused egg shortage, the author includes a list of custard-purchasing alternatives. So any company that isn’t concerned with serving egg products that come from farms with unhealthy chickens gets a promotional shout-out in the process. Ironic, at best.

Then, Yahoo Food announces, “Now You Can Get Cold-Brew At Starbucks All Over The U.S.,” As if Starbucks’ sales were at risk if it weren’t for promotional reporting. Coffee is already the delicious addiction our culture promotes. If overeating is a result of “here it is, you want it, you deserve it,” then coffee addiction is the result of “you need this to work hard” and “you work so hard, you deserve more.”

Food isn’t only consumable by way of fork-to-mouth. We scroll through it all day long, food news populating our news feeds and home pages. At the end of the day, our brains have consumed so much food, it’s hard to decide what to cook. We’ll probably order cheese pizza.

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