Monday, March 14, 2011

Truth in Labeling

In the supermarket recently, I noticed a can of tomato puree that was helpfully labeled “Gluten Free”.  This is just a rash of products similarly marketed which bear so little relation to any of what the label says they exclude that I am baffled that any PR person in his right mind would think this is suddenly going to change the buying habits of America.  Water – now fat free! 
Has the American shopper really been bypassing these products every day fearing that they contain trace amounts of insidious, unwanted ingredients?  Do the marketing geniuses behind this campaign really expect the screeching of supermarket cart wheels as a potential buyers stare in amazement – “Gee.  I never bought this grape jelly because I was afraid it contained Meat and/or Meat By-products.  But now that I know better, think I’ll stock up on a dozen jars . . .”
I supposed the whole truth in labeling thing could allude to the fact that the product was made on equipment that did not also process whatever it isn’t supposed to contain.  But what would that be?  I am trying to imagine what grain product I would be feeding through a tomato squeezer.  Are there really any dual tomato puree/bread making operations out there?  I’m thinking not.
This is not the first time a label has had to do double duty.  This dates back to the first time someone thought that mixing lawyers and litigious consumers sounded like a good idea.  (P.S.  For those who are interested, it wasn’t.)  “Joe’s House of Joe Hot Coffee.  Warning, this Coffee is Hot.”  Yes.  I know it’s hot.  That’s why I bought it.  I for one would be better served by a label that let me know that the coffee wasn’t hot.  “Joe’s House of Joe Hot Coffee.  Warning, this coffee may not be so hot.  Joe lost a packet in Vegas last week and hasn’t been able to afford to fix the coffee machine. “  For my money, a much more helpful message.
Then there is the Lather-Rinse-Repeat school of labeling.  Instructions so incredibly and painfully obvious that you have to wonder about the original lawsuit that led to their being required in the first place.  Who sued the shampoo makers?  Was it really that hard to figure out?  “Gosh, Your Honor, the bottle really didn’t say.  I just kind of poured the whole thing over my head and trotted along to work.” 
Don’t even get me started on product warnings.  I got a computer monitor covered in a plastic bag, emblazoned with what I can only assume was the international symbol for “don’t put this over your head”.  If I have just bought a high-resolution graphics monitor, chances are I’ve mastered the whole ‘plastic bags are dangerous’ thing.
And who sits in an office all day and comes up with this stuff?   “Hey Ed.  Packaging just called.  They need a drawing of someone not sticking a lawn mower up their nose.  And make it International.”
Well that’s it from here.  If you will excuse me, I have rummage through my cupboards for something for dinner that is Ostrich-Free.  You just never know.

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