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Variety is the Spice of Life
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Dec 15, 2004 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive of articles by Mark
The other day I was in my usual supermarket, (which shall remain nameless since I teach cooking classes for them), searching for my beloved Pepsi, a 12-pack of cans to be exact. As I perused the soda section I encountered vanilla Pepsi, cherry Pepsi, Lemon Pepsi, caffeine-free Pepsi, and diet Pepsi. EVERYTHING but regular good ole fashioned Pepsi. There was not one 12-pack, 6-pack, or case for that matter, of regular Pepsi. Hello? Anybody home? Obviously we’re overdoing it with the bells and whistles.
Recently chicken broth was on sale in the same store. Can you believe every can of the regular broth was sold out? But there was plenty of the low-sodium, reduced fat, and herb flavored broths. Another time Mozzarella cheese was on sale. Even though the whole milk and the part skim milk mozzarella were both on sale, there was not one package of whole milk mozzarella to be found. It was equally exasperating rummaging through every tub of cottage cheese on the shelf in quest of one container of the regular kind. Oh there was low-fat, no-fat, whipped, and pineapple, but your everyday, run of the mill cottage cheese was an elusive quarry. Apparently “regular” is not so regular any more.
Take milk for example. There’s regular milk, 2% milk, 1% milk, and skim milk. Milk is 4% fat so the 2% milk has had half of it’s fat removed. Thus, 2% milk is NOT 98% fat free. It would be more accurate to say it’s 50% fat free. Likewise, the 1% milk has had 75% of it’s fat removed. Only the skim milk is virtually fat free. So at one end of the continuum there’s regular milk and at the other end there’s skim milk. Then there’s a mid-way point for folks who want to cut down on the fat yet retain some semblance of flavor, namely, the 2% milk. So do we really need the 1% milk? Like that 1% is going to be the deciding factor in your bypass surgery. Now add in organic milk, soy milk, and various flavored milks and the simple act of retrieving a container of regular milk is like playing Where’s Waldo.
And of course, God forbid we didn’t have a “lite” version of every product under the sun. I’d need a calculator to count how many times I could only find the lite style of the item in question on the shelf.
Now manufacturers are developing “low-carb” versions of their products to appease the growing number of individuals being duped by this latest dietary mass hysteria. Who would have thought there would come a day when traditional Frosted Flakes would come in a “low sugar” variety? Shall we call them Semi-Frosted Flakes? Something else is flaky in this picture if you ask me.
This entire hodgepodge is the product of the marriage between capitalism and a spoiled populace replete with food neurosis. On the one hand are the food manufacturers endeavoring to create every permutation of their product in an interminable crusade to increase their market share. So if they add raspberry ice tea to their product line they’ll boost sales 2%, and if they add a ginseng tea they’ll squeeze out another 1.5%, and if they make caffeine free versions of both they’ll get another 2%, on and on ad nauseam.
Ideas for new products however, don’t always originate in the mega-corporations’ think tanks. As previously alluded to, it is often society’s latest food craze that drives producers to jump on the bandwagon and cash in. First we vilified sugar, then fat, then red meat, then salt, and now carbohydrates. Somewhere in that timeline caffeine became a bad guy too. Subsequently we now have foods that boast “low” or “no” versions of these substances.
Moreover, in addition to identifying the enemies, we sought to ascertain who the heroes were as well. We decided that fiber, whole wheat, beta-carotene, anti-oxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, among others, wore the white hats. Consequently the American entrepreneurial spirit met the challenge. Foods that were already naturally high in these nutrients were advertised as such. Foods that were not were either fortified with them or processed in a way to maximize them.
But then a new round of villains appeared. They were not discrete substances but specific food cultivation techniques deemed unhealthy. Once again, big business responded. Now we have free-range turkeys, hormone free chicken, organically fed cows, farm raised fish, and organic vegetables. Now you can understand the trend in recent years of increasingly larger supermarkets and the birth of the mega-mart. They need the extra space for all the varieties of these products!
In the end many would argue that it is the consumer that benefits from this process. That we are bestowed with more choices and it’s always beneficial to have more options. Well I had every option under the sun but the one I wanted while looking for my Pepsi. So I went with the no-cal, no-sugar, no-salt, no-caffeine, unflavored Pepsi, otherwise known as water. But of course I had to choose from the spring, mineral, naturally sparkling, purified, or glacial.