Wednesday, February 4, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup ad targets African-Americans

Your humble narrator was drowning in domestic tasks yesterday, and began SEWING (!!!) ((((stop the presses)))) stuff that has been torn and buttonless since the beginning of time. While sewing, I sat in front of the TV watching THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ORANGE COUNTY. The new one, Lynne Curtin, looks fabulous. I wondered, MUST we play tennis and work out 24/7 to look like that?

I think so. ((sigh))

But interspersed with the usual gossip and catfights were commercials FOR high fructose corn syrup. By the time I saw the same commercial a dozen times, I was LIVID.

The Corn Refiners Association is assuring us that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is "fine in moderation"--and brings us this chirpy-cute commercial to drive the point home. Watching it over and over, I realized, the race of the participants and the ROLES they are playing, particularly enrages me, and I must say something about that. The OPEN RACIAL POLITICS of the commercial are fascinating, as well as infuriating.

Note that the African-American woman haughtily schools the woo-woo white woman (who reminds me of Mary Gross on the old Saturday Night Live; she used to specialize in the wide-eyed, clueless hippie routine). The white woman patronizingly blurts out to the black woman that the drink she is pouring has HFCS, and the black woman (subtly, but calmly superior) lets her know that it is JUST FINE. Then, nervous that she has been unnecessarily self-righteous with a black woman, she quickly adds, "I love that top!"

The background is very suburban American-mellow; these are two housewife-moms at a neighborhood party of some kind, with balloons everywhere and children scampering about cutely.


First, let's be clear that this commercial is directed at WOMEN, who buy most of the food for children and families. And most assuredly, it is directed at BLACK WOMEN, with a black woman reassuringly delivering the comforting nutritional information. This is at a time when African-Americans have the highest rates of diabetes in the USA. The American Diabetes Association has a whole page on this fact alone:

Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes: * 3.7 million or 14.7% of all African Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes. * African Americans are 1.6 times more likely to have diabetes as non Hispanic whites.
And what contributes to diabetes? Guess. Consumer Reports analyzes the ad point-by point:
1) "It’s made from corn." True. High-fructose corn syrup is indeed made from corn. But you won’t get the same beneficial nutrients in it that you would from eating an ear of corn.

2) "Doesn’t have artificial ingredients." Partly true. The claim about artificial ingredients is a tricky one, since high-fructose corn syrup is processed using artificial agents. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that if the final product has come in contact with synthetic agent glutaraldehyde, then it cannot be called “natural,” which they define as meaning no artificial or synthetic ingredients were added. But if the manufacturer uses the artificial agent in its production, and it does not come in contact with the corn starch, it can be considered a natural product. So its possible that some high-fructose corn syrups may be able to claim “no artificial ingredients,” according to the FDA, while others would not be permitted the phrase. It’s distinctions like these that lead Consumers Union to consider the “natural” label not meaningful.

3) "Like sugar, it’s fine in moderation." True. Most foods are fine in moderation. It’s too much or too little that causes problems. However, some would probably argue that with high-fructose corn syrup in so many products, to truly enjoy it in moderation you’d probably be better off leaving the “red juice” on the shelf.
This is pretty tame criticism, but does make the point that this ad is pure propaganda for the industry, using a comforting set of buzzwords. A commenter at Consumer Reports, tellingly named Open Your Eyes, puts it even better:
HFCS seems to be in everything we eat without enough research. Foods that did not have HFCS before have now either been forced to up their prices or to jump on the bandwagon to compete. Now consumers were oblivious to this extra sugar intake until recently and researchers are still finding new data on its effects. According to [another commenter] fructose is easily transformed to energy without the use of insulin. Simply put: everything we eat= HFCS, High Fructose consumption=low insulin production, Low insulin=Diabetes. The name says it all "High Fructose" --so more than normal, and that is a problem. Just because it comes from corn does not make it good for you either. Soap... made from animal fat+potassium, wouldn't eat it. Glue... made from animal parts, wouldn't eat it. Play dough.. sure its non-toxic and salty but it's simply not food.

Humans evolved eating naturally occurring food and HFCS doesn't grow on trees. HFCS came from a test tube in a lab. The body has a problem with artificial because for hundreds of thousands of years it got used to natural and it came from natural. This crash course of artificial isn't going to do very well.
Another woman commented that she attempted to buy soup today and couldn't find any that DID NOT contain HFCS.

Soup? Huh?

One reason that quack Dr Atkins made such major inroads with his goofy diet, was that he correctly pointed out how much sugar (usually in the largely-hidden and/or misunderstood form of HFCS) is in EVERYTHING. Most people were unaware, for example, that this insidious form of sugar is sneaked into non-sweet prepared foods like ketchup, soups and salad dressings. One could conscientiously read the packaging-labels, and still not fully realize one was eating pure sugar, unless you understood exactly what HFCS is.

Further confusing matters is the fact that back in the day, "fructose" (by itself) was considered a healthier alternative to sucrose (pure table sugar), since it came from fruit. Thus, for many years, consumers believed HCFS was some kind of improved-sweetener. And of course, it is not: it's a way for the corn industry to turn us all into junkies, and in the process, make themselves very rich.

Just as the tobacco companies turned out propaganda in the 60s, assuring us that nicotine was FINE, JUST FINE, these commercials are the nutritional equivalent of the SAME BULLSHIT. From Newswise Science News:
Researchers have found new evidence that soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children. In a laboratory study of commonly consumed carbonated beverages, the scientists found that drinks containing the syrup had high levels of reactive compounds that have been shown by others to have the potential to trigger cell and tissue damage that could cause the disease, which is at epidemic levels. They reported here today at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

HFCS is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and more easy to blend into beverages than table sugar. Some researchers have suggested that high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity, a claim which the food industry disputes. Until now, little laboratory evidence has been available on the topic.

In the current study, Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., conducted chemical tests among 11 different carbonated soft drinks containing HFCS. He found ‘astonishingly high’ levels of reactive carbonyls in those beverages. These undesirable and highly-reactive compounds associated with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules are believed to cause tissue damage, says Ho, a professor of food science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. By contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar, whose fructose and glucose components are “bound” and chemically stable, the researcher notes. Reactive carbonyls also are elevated in the blood of individuals with diabetes and linked to the complications of that disease. Based on the study data, Ho estimates that a single can of soda contains about five times the concentration of reactive carbonyls than the concentration found in the blood of an adult person with diabetes.
And, as we have established, WHO is developing diabetes at dangerously high rates right now? African Americans.

Is it any accident that an African-American woman was chosen to deliver the Corn Refiners Association hype in this commercial? I hardly think so.

Please be aware of this industry's LIES and open manipulation of consumers as you go about your shopping... and check the labels, if you don't already. You will discover that HFCS is in everything from soup to noodle mixes. They have money to burn... or at least enough to run some expensive, carefully-targeted advertisements to defend their wanton creation of more sugar-junkies.

With all that extra coin, they don't need yours.


JoJo said...

There is, or was, a small Mexican restaurant in San Anselmo that sold Coca Cola in glass bottles. Best Coke we'd had in years. Turns out, it was imported from Mexico and was still made with sugar. HFCS is in freakin EVERYTHING now. I'll only buy the bakery cookies at Safeway b/c they just taste better than the commercial brands.

Rachel said...


I've been screaming about HFCS for years, and people have always told me "there's no research to support that". But I've always known there was.

I mean, HFCS is like the MSG of non-salty foods. I don't know about anyone else, but I really don't like MSG, and I certainly don't want it in my ketchup.

yellowdog granny said...

great post and dead on..being a diabetic when I saw that commericial I stood up from my recliner and screamed'says WHO' you dumb motherfuckers..sigh*

JLK said...

Wow. That commerical.........WOW.

You know what pisses me off about this HFCS stuff? The fact that it's really difficult to find other options. I love soda, so I drink diet soda to avoid the liquid calories. But that means I'm drinking artificial sweetener instead, or I can pay out the ASS for "natural" fruit soda.

And everything else that's considered "healthier" or "light" adds some other harmful ingredient to make up for what's missing. Low sodium? Think higher fat or sugar content. Low fat? Higher sodium content. Low carb/sugar? Higher fat content.

The stuff that's actually healthy and/or natural is always extremely pricey if it also tastes good. My Garden of Eatin organic black corn tortilla chips are amazzzzzing, but they're like $4 for a tiny ass bag!

Lucy Q said...

The HFCS ad with White actors, the one where the young White woman explains to her White boyfriend/fiance/husband that HFCS is okay, does that one target black women?

DaisyDeadhead said...

Lucy, it doesn't sound like it, but I haven't seen that one. I've seen the one I posted about 50-60 times now.

I wonder why I haven't seen any others? (Perhaps the broadcasts of the ads are also geographically determined?)

lilacsigil said...

Wow, I'm glad we don't have HCFS in Australia - I have enough trouble keeping my soy intake low (thyroid issues) let alone HCFS as well!

We have a sugar industry to support!

Rosa said...

HFCS is simply a cheap substitute for sugar. It's in Dr. Oz's Food Hall of Shame, that's where I first heard about its dangers.

Daisy, can I mail you a pair of pants that need mending? I just discovered a rip today.

Kim said...

I don't no what you talking talking TALKING about, Daisy. But ah WHOMPED over the wastebasket with mah white toe! Then I said, "THERE!"

Then, Kim, SHE say, "Stop knocking that over, Zuzu!"

An ah say, "I DO knock it overzuzu!"



PS. :) So maybe Zuzu will still blog sometimes! :)

DaisyDeadhead said...

HI ZUZU!!!! (((happy happy)))

JoJo said...

I don't know if you guys have Jones Pure Cane Soda on the east coast, but it's made here in Washington. They have some unusual flavors; my fave is Green Apple. But it's made w/ pure cane sugar and it tastes sooooo good. I don't make a habit out of it, but occasionally I'll treat myself to a 4-pack.

Lucy Q said...

I live in a rural part of Alabama (but not far from Birmingham) with a higher pecentage of African Americans than much of the country.

I've also seen, several times, a third HFCS commercial, this one where a 13/14-year old male explains to his 17/18-year old older brother that HFCS is okay.

I'm pretty sure that one isn't targeting Black women either.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Lucy, I was talking about this specific ad, no others. Read the title = ad, not ads, plural.

Thank you for sharing.

D. said...

I've been eating Brown Cow yoghurt ever since I made the discovery that Dannon, to which I'd been faithful for 30+ years, contained HFCS. Yoghurt!

By the way, I've linked to this.

Brian said...

I agree with your points about corn syrup, but not about race. Yes, the black woman was the smart, somewhat condescending one, but why does that matter? Her attitude had nothing to do with her race; rather, she was the "good guy" in the scene and she just so happened to be a black woman. The message of the ad wouldn't have changed if the characters reversed races, were both white, were both black, were both hispanic, etc.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Brian, the slightly annoyed attitude the black woman adopts in the commercial ("Excuse me?") is an accurate cultural mirror/expression of the annoyed attitude of the African American who is frequently patronized by whites who think they know more than they do, and start "educating them" about this or that (exactly as in the ad), and the emotions African Americans feel regarding being condescended to by idiots. This ad capitalizes on (and thereby exploits) those charged emotional exchanges, manipulating the viewer. The white woman nervously blurting out "I love that top!" to cover her social faux pas, would likely not happen if the two women were regarded as equal in all ways. In fact, the white woman may not have so readily "corrected" another white woman, seeing as how she really doesn't know what she talking about. (She would have just quietly felt superior.) But she feels she must educate the benighted African American woman, which is the genesis of the ad.

I have to ask, how many similar situations have you been in? I've been in quite a few, and sometimes they can get fairly highly charged, so that's why I ask. Whether the participants in such a conversation are black or white, matters a great deal.

"Sharing information" is not taken the same way by everyone, nor should it be.

As I said, I think this ad was targeted to middle class black women, as well as to white women. (the women in the ad) It was shown repeatedly during REAL HOUSEWIVES on Bravo, after all.

Women buy the family food and do most of the cooking for kids. Of course commercials target specific demographic markets.

Cassandra Says said...

You have to love the it's made from corn argument. Vodka is made from potatoes - does that mean that if I down a quart of it it's just like eating a baked potato?

HFCS is nasty stuff. Sure, anything is fine in moderation, but the combination of high calories with zero nutritional value isn't exactly an ideal thing. Interesting fact - I used to have pretty severe hypoglaecemia. When I switched to eating less processed foods, it went away. I still eat plenty of sweets, just in a less processed form. And what's in most processed foods? HFCS. I'm pretty sure that's not a coincidence.

N said...

Daisy! I realize this post is like a million years after you wrote your article, but congrats on standing up for this ridiculous act of ignorance-enhancement among the average American.

Ooo, a commercial that says HFCS is just fine? Well then it must be!

I almost peed my pants with shock and awe when I saw these commercials. I can't wait for the "Bovine growth hormone makes milk taste better and makes you grow stronger!" commercials. And I agree with you on the race thing - I think people are so completely naive about marketing and commercials. There are whole groups of people whose job it is to figure out exactly what combo of race and gender would make people buy more, more, more.

Speaking of corn, have you ever read/written about the Monsanto controversy? I recommend the documentary "The Future of Food" (Netflix) if you haven't already seen it. Good shit.

Thanks for keepin it real!

Irene said...

You are awesome. I felt the same way when I saw that damn commercial

Anonymous said...

saw you at march against monsanto, daisy, and this post was linked to that one. good work. keep on educating.