Blogger Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat points out the hypocrisy of Trader Joe’s “reduced guilt” line of foods in a recent blog post. Because why are foods telling us the amount of guilt we should feel about eating them? Why does any food feature the word “guilt” on the packaging?
Of TJ’s “reduced guilt” wheat crackers, Ragen writes:
First of all, the fact that these Wheat Crisps are “reduced guilt” indicates that, at least in Trader Joe’s estimation, I should have felt guilty about eating some crackers in the first place. And I’m still not off the hook if I get these crackers – they’re not “guilt free”, just reduced guilt. So I should apparently still feel guilty, just less so. I just wish they would have told me how much less guilty I should feel – 5% less, 30% less? And reduced from what original level of guilt? Are we talking about the guilt I would feel eating other wheat crisps? What if I was planning to have pretzels but then choose these instead? If I was thinking about having broccoli but went with the crackers should my guilt still be reduced? Thanks a lot Trader Joe’s – I’m freaking out here, I’m going to have to hire some of the students from my talk at Cal Tech to create a algorithm to let me know how guilty I’m supposed to feel for eating these crackers.
I’m a (reluctant) fan of TJ’s. While I think they’re pretty allright for a big-box store, I’m not sure all the adoration they get in the healthy living sphere is necessarily deserved, no matter how good their frozen food section happens to be. I shop there, for sure, but I don’t try and fool myself into thinking that doing so makes me a better or more conscientious consumer than if I were shopping at Giant, Albertson’s or Shop & Shop. Their food might be slightly less processed and come in prettier packages, but I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that Trader Joe’s is any more sustainable or eco-conscious than other retailers.
A lot of the appeal of Trader Joe’s comes from the yuppie, pseudo-gourmet clout the store courts in the minds of consumers: the workers in Hawaiian shirts, the array of fresh flowers outside, the quirky hand-painted signs throughout the store. That idea of Trader Joe’s as different and better, I think, is what makes Ragen’s post about the rhetoric that Trader Joe’s is espousing on with this “reduced guilt” packaging interesting to me. She says:
Wait, how about I don’t feel any guilt at all since, while I like Trader Joe’s products, I’m not ready to put them in charge of my emotions.
But I think, since Trader Joe’s does certainly cultivate a different kind of emotional relationship with its consumers, there’s a fine line there. I mean, would you be more likely to buy a Trader Joe’s cake mix that says “reduced guilt” in a happy font than you would a Duncan Hines “reduced fat” cake mix? I probably would. That’s due to their very smart and very sneaky branding, the branding that makes you think you’re buying something better, something cheekier, than just a reduced calorie product, essentially a diet product. Ragen continues:
I understand that advertisers will do whatever they can to sell a product, but they’ve got us coming and going. Feeling rebellious? Have this sinfully delicious cheesecake. Feeling bad about the cheesecake? Have our guilt-free brownie mix. They are allowed to do this, but we don’t have to buy in and, if our goal is a healthy relationship with food, this does seem like the way to go.
What do you think about the “reduced guilt” label? Do you think it’s ultimately contributing to an unhealthy relationship with food or do you think it’s just a harmless marketing ploy?