Deceptive Big Food Cons

This week, my husband is pod-visiting his elderly parents – one of the advantages of everyone being vaccinated is that they can all get together. One of the advantages for me is that I’m only demi-vaccinated now; so I had to stay home. Since my husband has been leaving the house fewer times than I have, this is one of the few times I’ve been alone in the last year – and probably the longest extended time that I’ve been alone.

On Thursday he called me on speakerphone and my brother in law thanked me for sending him and asked whether I missed him. I think the pause before I responded went on a fraction of a second too long. Of course I miss him. But in that fraction of a moment pause, I was reflecting that, after he had left the day before, I had decluttered the apartment… and it was still decluttered the next morning. And that the TV – which he turns on at 6 am and keeps on all day while working and turns off around 11 pm, long after I’ve gone to bed – had been on a total of 2 hours in his absence. In our tiny little NY apartment, you can hear the living room TV in every corner of every room. So, of course I miss my beloved husband. And I am really enjoying the uncluttered silence.

To continue my self-indulgence in his absence, when I popped down to the corner grocery to pick up a missing dinner ingredient, I picked up a chocolate Easter Bunny. I honestly don’t think I’ve eaten a chocolate Easter Bunny since… well, sometime in childhood. I’m not a big fan of milk chocolate and most Easter Bunnies taste like they are made out of the cheapest chocolate possible; so on the level of indulgences, this does not usually rank for me. But, for some reason, this year I really wanted one.

The one I ended up, pictured above, is about the size of my hand and – I discovered when I opened it and bit the little ears off – is made from solid chocolate, not hollow in the middle. And it’s good quality milk chocolate, if you like milk chocolate.

But then I happened to glance at the food labeling on the back of the package and shame, Hershey’s. I’m sorry the picture isn’t better quality but take a close look. Do you see what I noticed?

The serving size is 1/4 of a package – in other words, 1/4 bunny.

Now I put it to you: who eats just 1/4 of a bunny? Aside from a mother who just can’t afford a bunny per child (it happens) and they have to split it – or maybe a thrifty shopper who, the day after Easter, recognizes the quality of this particular bunny and picks up any extra bunnies at a hefty discount to freeze and chop for use in place of chocolate chips or something later – the idea that the majority of children wouldn’t gobble down the entire bunny on Easter morning is highly unrealistic.

Food companies often hide the calories in their products by fudging the portion size. They don’t want you to glance down at that carton of yogurt, get calorie shock and make the informed decision to exercise willpower (the same reason that restaurants don’t want calories on the menu). Telling you that the serving size is half a container (or – even more evil in my mind – expressing it in ounces, which forces you to do mental math to figure out what you’re really eating) is deceptive, you glance down: oh, this is only 150 calories, you think, not noticing that bunny is intended to serve 4, and you are really eating 600 calories. Check it out the next time you are browsing instant soup, chips (9 chips is often a portion size, like anyone would stop at 9 chips), or any fast-preparation food – I’ve even seen them do this on TV dinners.

But, just as ridiculous as the 1/4 serving Easter Bunny portion size – is that they chose to practice this deception on an Easter Bunny. Almost nobody counts calories on an Easter Bunny. It’s not like Mom expects it to be healthy or that it’s an everyday food. I honestly can’t imagine a mother who cares that much about her children’s health to take a stand on a Hershey’s chocolate Easter bunny. Nobody equates Hershey’s with healthy foods – we associate that brand with chocolate, which is an indulgence, by definition not healthy. If it’s that important to Mom that her kids’ Easter Bunnies are healthy, she’s going to pick a bunny from another brand, one known for healthy stuff not for indulgences.

So all this silly little deception accomplished was to draw my attention to it and remind me of the ploy that the Big Food practices to deceive us into buying food that is unhealthy for us. As an informed shopper, the fact that they try to deceive me usually makes me so angry that I refuse to buy their product just on principle.

This one was so ridiculous it just made me laugh – and wonder if the food packaging designers at Hershey’s is just so used to deceiving consumers on their other products that they just automatically applied it to this delightful Easter Bunny. Their SkinnyPop, for example, says it contains 4.4 servings in a 4 oz bag, each serving also containing 150 calories… Perhaps 150 is the magic number and they size the portion to hit that number…? Even more insidious, a starburst on the front of the package promotes that it contains 39 calories per cup, but the serving size on the back is 3 3/4 cups. This is why I pop my own popcorn, in an air popper, which allows me to control my own portion size and fat and salt content.

The sun is shining and the birds are singing. I have all the windows open for the first time since last fall and am airing out the house. Now I am going for a walk.

Happy Springtime!

(When I come home, that bunny will be toast.)

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