Adventures in Gluten (and Sugar) Freedom from a southern blogger chick!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A corny discussion

This is a first for me. I'm doubling up a post on both my personal blog and my public relations class blog.

This is a post about the use of propaganda in public relations campaigns. And it's directly related to a mass-mediated commercial and a web site campaign that's been going on since the beginning on September.

Backstory: Readers of my gluten-free blog know I've made a concerted effort to eliminate high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from my diet. My personal research has convinced me that this product is dangerous to the digestive tract, especially for those who are immuno-challenged, like I am. I based my decision on two things: First, I did research (including paper documents from non-biased nutritionists,) and Second, I did an elimination diet. I eliminated HFCS from my diet (even threw away my ketchup, bbq sauce, and salad dressings). I've also tried to give up my consumption of plain old corn syrup, but that is also difficult. But suffice it to say that this endeavor has made me all but give up Snickers bars, my favorite gluten-free treat. Finally, I discussed this at length with a medical professional I trust -- my gastroenterologist.

I have been troubled by and curious about a new campaign from the Corn Refiners Association that has been airing on television for the past several weeks. This persuasive campaign is designed to show the innocence of HFCS, with a cute couple discussing the safety of the ingredients. (You can find this video, and the other commercials, here. I recommend you watch so you'll see the message they send.

Yes, they want you to believe that HFCS is a Sweet Surprise. Over and over, the corn refiners association wants you to know that there is no caloric difference in HFCS and sugar. That there's no difference in HFCS and honey. And that HFCS is less expensive to use than sugar, honey, or molasses as a sweetner.

And to make sure you believe them, they back up their claims by doing survey research and sending out press releases.

For instance, consider the Press Release that suggests that a National survey* of Moms shows that Moms are more concerned about individual ingredients, rather than the "big picture" -- that kids still eat the wrong foods and don't exercise enough. The sponsor of the survey? The CRA. I immediately notices the *asterisk* by the word survey in the lead of the release. What did following that asterisk show? I quote:

*Wakefi eld, a national polling fi rm, conducted the survey between August 18 and August 25, 2008 using an email invitation and an online survey. Results were collected from a random sample of 400 mothers ages 18 and older. Quotas are set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population.

If you don't know survey research, recognize this: A national survey that is invited and online is only going to get a certain kind of audience. And I highly doubt that they conducted a random sample of 400 mothers age 18 and over, especially if they set QUOTAS to ensure reliable representation of the U.S. population. In other words, it's a survey that generalizes to a large audience something tested only on a small one.

This is propaganda, from a group most attacked by a society that is giving up HFCS for healthier choices. It is a direct response to the film King Corn, which has raised awareness and concern about corn production in the United States. They've even created their own propaganda website that echos the information at Sweet Surprise. You'll find it on google -- under High Fructose Corn Syrup Facts. Read to the bottom! It's copyright the Corn Refiners Association!

Here's a funny thing about propaganda, though. It always contains a kernel (pun intended) of truth. For instance, yes, HFCS is cheaper to use than sugar, honey, or molasses. And yes, the press release is right -- some parents aren't seeing the forest for the trees when it comes to dietary issues for obese children. Many of their claims are in fact couched in truth.

But as is the case with most propaganda, it's the truth, but not the whole truth. Not completely.

One must read on to get a clearer picture. I read this site several months ago, and it convinced me that, FOR ME, high fructose corn syrup is a risk.

What I hope you're asking now is, "is that website also propaganda?" Is it the tool of a propaganda campaign from people who want to take down the Corn Refiners Association?

The point, and there is an important one here: Propaganda and persuasions are everywhere, about every single product in society. Public relations is an industry of persuasion and often, propaganda, and ALL public relation's communication to society is on behalf of a client. Someone out there is representing the Corn Refiners Association. Someone out there is representing the film King Corn.

And somewhere out there, there's the truth HFCS and its impact on the human digestive system.

The directive for all of us, as consumers, is caveat emptor. That applies to our consumption of ALL media, whether that media is selling popsicles or political candidates.

But what is the directive for those of us who are public relations practitioners? To quote Hamlet, "Ay, there's the rub." Must we believe in the clients we represent? Students, could you represent a client in whose stance or product you didn't believe?

We must always, always be aware of the source and motive of our information, whether we're on the receiving or disseminating end of it.

And remember, if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!

Much love, and pay attention!



celticjig said...

I totally agree with your thoughts on HFCS. I saw King Corn a couple of months ago - great movie. Have you read Michael Pollen's books? If not I would recommend all of them, but in particular, Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food.
We love bourbon and ginger ale (go figure) and our favorite ginger ale is full of HFCS so we have been experimenting with making our own and in general ridding our diets of all corn syrup - go sugar!

Ginger of the North

Addison's Mommy said...

Therein lies the reason I took the non profit PR route...I think this is why most PR practitioners take this route as well...It's hard to sleep at night when you only do a job for the money and not the love/belief of it.

Julie, the mama said...

I had to make myself finish the almost lost me when I read that you gave up ketchup. After I picked myself up off the floor, I did finish. I'm proud of you for becoming a healthier eater.

I still think you are the GF Paula Deen.

Gluten free Kay said...

I have to avoid corn syrup because I'm allergic to corn. Celiac and allergies require A LOT of label-reading. High furctose corn syrup is in EVERYTHING! For that reason, I'm cooking and eating like a pioneer these days. I have to make my own ketchup, pickles, tomato sauce and mayonnaise.

I was astounded that the corn syrup ad delivers the message, "It's okay to feed high fructose corn syrup to the people you love." EEEEEK!

Dana said...

I'm so glad to see this post - mainly because I recently saw that commercial myself and thought it was so incredibly bizarre I had to be imagining things.

At least now I have written proof that there's a commercial out there touting the high fructose corn syrup as a healthy food additive...wait....remind me why that's a good thing...oy.

Gluti Girl said...

I am so with you on this! I am outraged. There is so much genetically modified corn too. We have no idea what we are doing to our bodies. You know for so long they were saying the hydrogenated oils were okay. Now they are telling people not to eat them. Cigarettes were okay, we all know what happened with that. Caveat emptor!

I saw those commercials and I was disgusted by them. They are hoping to prey on a certain segment of people who will blindly believe them and not do their own research. Sick. We are just making our children sick.

a kelly said...

Outraged? yes!
Years of suffering has me convinced that I was eating "fake" food that made me sick. Just can't do processed at all. I'm hoping I can introduce some grains in the future...but for now even rice is a rare occurrence.
I've been following this blog: Kelly the Kitchen might like this...the food industry's dirty little secrets....

a kelly said...

oh...and great post!!

Addison's Mommy said...

I noticed this morning while drinking my 1% milkfat NesQuick Chocolate Milk that it is 99% caffeine free, gluten free and contains no HFCS...

How wonderful is that! Of course, you probably don't love chocolate milk as much as I do....

Kate said...

Hey Ging -
Did I tell you that you helped my Love and I kick the soda habit?
We are a HFCS-free house for 95% of the things on hand.

You rock, girlie!

... said...

The first time I saw one of these ads I almost fell out of my chair - it was so patently absurd. But then I thought of all the folks I know who don't do their own research - they are in danger of falling for this junk. Really sad to me the number of people who give us control of their lives and will believe anything if it is presented w/ an air of authority.