Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Fat Empire strikes back

The fatty fast-food industry is up in arms following the release of the documentary Supersize me! in major theatre chains.

Of course, people are not forced to eat the greasy, tasteless manufactured food loaded with sugar and salt most fast-food outlets still offer the public. If they insist on ingesting Big Macs, the willing victims of the industrial chefs have only themselves to blame. Still, it’s hard not to poke fun at the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King.

McDonald’s walks a fine PR line about their flagship, the 600-calory burger. They’re basically trying to say eating a Big Mac is part of a balanced diet, while pointing out moderation is an important nutrition principle. They actually manage to hold their message together pretty well, a tribute to the writing abilities of their PR professionals.

By the way, a Big Mac and a large order of French/Freedom fries will get you 90% of your recommended daily quota of fat, 68% of your carbohydrates (with a large Coke) and 60% of your calories, reducing you to suck on carrots until the next breakfast. Don’t even think about that apple pie.

Anyway, back to the retaliatory strike.

Over the last 10 years, the fatty food industrialists and the PR agencies they pay have been busy putting together front groups such as the American Council on Science and Health. Those false grassroots groups (the technique’s cleverly called astroturf from the fake grass used in football stadiums) and the “experts” on their payroll reacted with commendable vigour, attacking the movie in every media interview their PR people can get for them.

The credibility of an organization has a major impact on how its message will be received by the public. People might not believe a McDonald’s spokesperson saying eating a Big Mac every other day has no impact on your health, but they will be more attentive if it’s said by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health. Most people have no way of knowing the ACSH is founded by McDonald’s and other corporations or that Dr. Whelan is a mouthpiece for the fast food industry.

The media’s public affairs rolodexes are filled with experts and spokespersons of such front groups, who are called upon to comment on issues critical to the choices people make, from nutrition to medication, education to taxation.

The success of astroturf campaigns depend on deception. How’s a citizen supposed to know oil and coal companies in fact owned the Global Climate Coalition?

He can’t. Reporters can but more often than not, they don’t care to find out.

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