Traitor Joe's

I do quite enjoy shopping at Trader Joe's. They have a lot of unique stuff that's reasonably priced, and that you won't find at a lot of major supermarkets. It's also a nice break for me from the grocery shopping grind. I can explore and try and have fun picking out new things. And I liked that, although the store is pretty health conscious, they didn't throw the anti-obesity schtick in your face the second you got in the door.

Nope- they greeted you with alstromeria and firewood.

Until now.

I don't usually get their monthly "Fearless Flyer," but someone thought to stuff it in my mailbox (let's hope it was the postman). I brought it up to my apartment to look at while I was cooking dinner.

So there I am, cooking raviolis and sauteing parsnips and carrots, when I see a little description box that stops me cold. "Reduced Guilt Whole Grain French Onion Pita Chips."

I don't have a problem with products labeling themselves "reduced fat." It's a description. I don't necessarily like the fact that they are, in fact, made and consumed so widely, but it's a fairly neutral way to say what's in there. There is, of course, the matter of what, exactly, "reduced fat" means, but still. That's a battle for another time.

But reduced guilt? Is there regular guilt? Mother-enriched guilt? Guilt-trip snack mix?

I know some people will laugh at the clever pun and think, "It's good so many people are tackling the obesity epidemic head-on." Or go and eat the whole damn bag because they won't feel guilty afterwards.

What this implies is much more dangerous. It implies that we should feel guilty after eating. It doesn't matter what we're eating, we should feel guilty. And these pita chips will reduce that guilt so you feel better about what you eat. Which sounds exactly like the anti-obesity rhetoric that is drummed into our skulls.

If they come up with reduced-guilt celery stick, I'll shove the stalk up their...

...where was I again?

Ah, yes. The Fearless Flyer. So, after finishing my dinner (the veggies were starting to burn), I looked at the flyer more closely. On the second page, there was a little cartoon next to the ad for "Pretzel Slims." One lady says, "These pretzels have absolutely everything: garlic, onion, sesame seeds..." And the other lady says, "Then how do they maintain their slim figures?" Right, because garlic has so many calories.

At least they won't be plagued by vampires.

Then, on page 5: "Organic Moral Fiber Cranberry Orange Bran Muffins." Emphasis mine. The description opens with "There's lots of talk these days about one's moral compass. But what about the fate of one's moral constitution?" Because you can't be a good person if you don't eat the perfect diet. Eating is our new measure of moral fitness, just as gender and skin color were not all that long ago.

It ends with "Fiber is considered a 'weight loss winner,' in that fiber fills you up, so you eat less, reducing calorie absorption and curbing cravings." Wouldn't they want a "weight loss loser"? Secondly, I don't know that fiber decreases your absorption of calories. And if a food really did make you eat less, it wouldn't make a whole lot of economic sense. Just like weight loss centers: it's not a profitable model is you don't eat as much, or if you lose the weight and keep it off.*

*Results not typical

There are more transgressions in the Fearless Flyer, but the last one is on page 6. It's the "Complete Body Cleanse Internal Cleansing System." The Flyer said that "it refers to a method of internally cleansing one's body of impurities." It consists of a "fiber formula, a digestive formula, and a liver formula."

So let's not kid ourselves: this is just a very high-priced laxative. Except along with all of the "toxins" that leave your body with the massive quantities of diarrhea (let's also not kid ourselves here) are the helpful bacteria in your digestive tract. The ones that help you absorb vitamins. Some supplements- not the ones at Trader Joe's- say that these detox systems will give you a flatter abdomen. That's called water loss and dehydration. And the second you drink or eat next, all of the roundness will come back with a vengeance as your body clings to every last drop of water.

At the end of the day, I don't know that Trader Joe's really has the health of the customer in mind. They do, however, have the health of their pocketbooks.

Will I continue to shop there? Probably. I don't go very often anyways, and if I were to boycott every food that advertised purported health claims, I wouldn't be able to eat much at all. But I do think there's some value in knowing what we're up against.


Dreaming again said...

How heartbreaking.

I expereinced watching a young girl today say "I was bad" when having been asked in a group if they'd eaten a snack that day.

My heart shattered to see such young innocence feel that way about a snack.

(I posted about it in my ED awareness post today)

carrie said...

You're right- that is so incredibly sad. I want to give society a collective shake.

Libby said...


I do 80% or more of my shopping at TJ's... but I'll admit I've never read their little flier. I honestly may need to write the company on this one...

That really upsets me! Not sure what to think here...


Harriet said...

Great post, Carrie.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your observations, the fact is that these comments are coming from someone who is a recovered (or recovering?) sufferer of an eating disorder, and thereby the comments are not *as* relevant to those in the general public. People without eating disorders do not generally make such strong associations with the semantics on their food labels and their own self-worth.

I have bought every single one of the products you mentioned. I think it's a fact that our society is obsessed with eating and it may be morphing into a type of sensationalism and way of differentiating the strong from the weak, but I hardly believe the marketing minds over at Trader Joe's are intentionally or non-intentionally perpetuating this. The fact is, Trader Joe's does attract a breed of shopper who is more health conscious and savvy than most people. These stores also have a tendency to be in liberal areas where semantic kitsch like "Moral Fiber Bran Muffins" is appreciated.

I hate to say it, but I think you're reading far too into this. But then again, most people who have eating disorders are the type of people who over-analyze and dissect everything in their lives that they cannot micromanage.

Anonymous said...

Yay for thinking critically!!! I so appreciate that you are seeing subtle advertising and trendy vocabulary for what it is. Thank you for understanding the value of this. Big changes creep into society on the backs of little words...

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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