Let’s start with the following premise: Pop-Tarts are not actually food. They are only food in the same way that McDonald’s fries or an Oreo cookie is food, which is to say they’re sugar-laden hyperprocessed junk that, when overconsumed, puts you on a path to an early grave.
And the very nature of this product is that it will be overconsumed. Eat a pack of Starburst with some Mountain Dew and then try to eat an apple—you can’t. The apple tastes like bland garbage compared to the artificial sugar bombs we drop on our palates every day. The more of these you eat and drink, the more that regular food tastes washed out and forgettable. It’s parallel to how drugs rob people of the ability to enjoy normal pleasures, and how Law & Order: SVU robs us of the ability to appreciate Murder, She Wrote.
That premise established, it’s a little horrifying that Kellogg’s gave away a million Pop-Tarts via a “Pop It Forward” Facebook contest that it ran last year, and it’s ridiculous that media organizations (in this case, the Quad City Times) are giving fawning, uncritical write-ups to a nakedly commercial idea that’s only marginally better for public health than distributing a million packs of cigarettes.
According to the Quad City Times, most of the Pop-Tarts presented to the contest’s runner-up—who gets to distribute 100,000 of the toaster sweets—are not merely being handed to people on the street; they’re actually going to food banks and to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pop-Tarts, you’re further fattening up food-insecure Americans, and waging arterial war on our troops. Cut it out.
Now: the obvious backlash. Freedom of choice blah blah fascist liberals blah blah etc. Here’s how the argument over food seems to be playing out these days:
Person #1: We should really work to curb the consumption of [insert fatty/sweet/artificial crappy food product here] in schools, and start critically looking at how we eat, as a country. It’s making everyone fat and unhealthy.
Person #2: This is fascism! How dare we restrict people’s freedom of choice! It’s unconstitutional!
Person #1: I’m not suggesting we ban Coca-Cola/Pop-Tarts/that horrible Denny’s cheese stick sandwich, I’m just saying that it’s bad public policy to encourage people to eat things that put them in the hospital and make them sluggish and miserable. We need to make healthy choices the public-policy default.
Person #2: You are no better than Joseph Stalin.
Person #1: Well, if that’s the case, then OK. I’ll come right out and say we probably should ban that horrible new Denny’s sandwich.
In the end, Kellogg’s has done what it will do, media organizations will celebrate the company for its generosity rather than slagging its death-by-frosted-pastry marketing campaign, and haters like me are gonna hate. But the next time we celebrate a massive company making a nationwide grass-roots push to promote its unhealthy food, perhaps people will write to their local media organizations and point out the danger in this particular approach to PR.
And perhaps the Israelis and Palestinians will sort everything out next week over a particularly tasty batch of falafel, and brown cows will begin giving chocolate milk. It could happen.