Any beast can look like a prince, if lined up next to a more terrible villain. This basic psychological manipulation is the marketing paradigm of companies that sell consumers unhealthy food. Since there is not much to brag about when selling low-nutrition foods and snacks loaded with sugar, cholesterol, and salt, the trick is to brandish something bad that the food does not contain.
High-fat food has long been claiming that it’s sugar-free, while high-sugar food has been announcing that it’s fat-free. Of course, eating both would make the consumer anything but fat- or sugar-free. But although conniving, these half-truths are at least, well, . . . half true. They point to an ingredient that the food truly does not have, to help people maintain diets based on mainstream nutritional thinking.
But the present wave of food claims is no longer constrained even by the ethics of half-truth. Companies are relentlessly trumpeting their products’ purity from one ingredient that they know full well does not harm consumers or public health, to hide the simple fact their food is largely unhealthy.