Thursday, September 11, 2008

Claims and Clichés

"It (sic) accelerating basic trends — recognizing that food at home is healthier, there is better control of the calories, content of food, less expensive and in tune with family values," [Tim Hammonds, president and CEO at the Food Marketing Institute, an industry trade group] said.
"More are eating out at the grocery store"
Just in case "family values" hadn't quite made it onto the list of "terms so clichéd that they're basically meaningless" yet, now it's being applied to - picking up prepared food from the grocery store, and eating it at home. I also suspect that Mr. Hammonds is trying to push "healthy" into the category as well. How is eating food prepared somewhere else at home any healthier than eating it where it was prepared? I can see how one might make the case that picking up a rotisserie chicken from a grocery store is healthier than getting, say, the 10-piece bucket of Original Recipe from Kentucky Fried - but that's a completely different issue than whether or not the same food is more healthful if I eat it at home than it would be if I ate out.

As for the rest of it, I suspect that only "less expensive" really holds up in the real world. Why does buying prepared food and bringing it home control calories or the content of food better than eating out? I doubt that food leaks calories while you're taking it home. I suppose that there might be research that shows that people tend to eat larger portions when they eat out, so that I'm not quite sure of. And as for content of food - where you eat it doesn't change that - it's who prepares it. I don't have any more control over what went into food I bring home than I do over food I eat in a restaurant. In fact, given that many casual or formal dining establishments do allow you to make certain requests concerning preparation, I'd bet that I have more control than I would in a grocery store, where the food is pre-prepared.

Hammonds is indulging in a common industry pastime - conflating two things that seem similar by describing one as having all of the positive traits of the other by linking them through a common characteristic that is unrelated to the traits in question. Going to the grocery store and preparing my own food from basic ingredients is usually (depending on what I cook, and how well I cook it) more healthful, gives me exact control of what goes into it and allows me to better control the calorie count than eating out. But that's because I prepared the food myself. Buying prepared food removes that factor. The fact that I picked it up from Safeway or Dominic's on my way home, rather than eating it at Olive Garden doesn't replace it.

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