Amidst the many conflicting, confusing studies about nutrition and about what we should and shouldn’t be eating, I’ve come across a helpful hack for making better food choices. Ideally, of course, you’re eating nothing but whole foods, cornucopias of fruits and vegetables and legumes with an occasional nut or lean meat thrown in and, when you’re feeling truly indulgent, some kind of dessert you made from scratch out of nothing but beets, carob, Greek yogurt, and hand-ground quinoa flour.
Maybe someone, somewhere has the time and discipline for that, but that person is not me. I have a job, a family, a number of hobbies that have nothing to do with meal preparation, cooking, and kitchen cleanup, and yet I enjoy consuming food items on a daily basis. All of that means I regularly eat packaged food products.
If you don’t, then no need to read any further. Besides, I’m sure you need to get out and tend your garden or grind up some prunes to make that homemade Lara bar, so I’ll let you get to that.
But if you’re a partaker of the packaged foods like me, here’s what you wanna do: take your snack food and turn to the back, where the Nutrition Facts and ingredients are printed. You could read and analyze those if you’re some kind of brilliant food scientist, or you can do what I do and read the other descriptive text they’ve placed back there.
Because here’s the secret I’ve uncovered, and that I share with you today, free of charge: There is a direct relationship between the quantity and quality of copy written on the package and the food’s nutritional value.
If the description printed on your snack package juxtaposes the physical and the metaphysical, if it raises more questions than it answers, if you find yourself tilting your head in confusion over its meaning and/or talking back to it, if it has a slightly disconcerting subtext of scientific mysticism, if it reads like it was written either by the greatest poet of our time or by someone who has not quite attained fluency in the English language, but you can’t decide which, then you, my friend, have a winner on your hands. Snack at will, guilt-free.
Here are some examples to prove my point, taken from the packages of various healthy snacks in my pantry:
- “Dry roasted organic pumpkin seeds misted with authentic Atlantic sea salt.” Because there’s nothing worse than inauthentic salt of unknown geographic origin, unless it’s salt that has been sprinkled on your food rather than misted. That’s just crass.
- “Made from super nutritious beans that have fiber and protein grown right in them.” I feel like they’re throwing shade at some other, inferior beans, the kind that don’t have fiber and protein “grown right in them.” Which I suppose would be…jelly beans? Touché, Beanitos, touché. (Although, upon further reflection, tortilla chips made out of jelly beans might be the best thing ever.)
- “Good protein, ethical nourishment, and rewarding satisfaction.” Somehow this reads like they are overcompensating for something. I’m pretty sure this would be the exact ad copy for soylent green.
- “The magnesium, zinc, and iron are appreciated by all.” Maybe, in some alternate realm where all beings bow down and pay homage to elements. This makes me feel like I’ve been taking poor magnesium for granted my entire life.
- “Give your taste buds the gift of delight.” It’s not even my taste buds’ birthday, so why are those spoiled brats always expecting gifts?
- “Delicate white tea gets its youthful blush from red currants, acai berry, hibiscus and rose petals. Candied pineapple and mango pieces mingle with apples in this sweet timeless elixir.” This makes me feel slightly icky inside, probably because it’s as close as I’ve come to reading a romance novel since middle school.
- “Through the screened front door, zingy lemongrass and spritely spearmint coax contemplative pan-fired green teas to come play. Calmly, lemon verbena opens the door and invites them all to a cup of tea.” This sentence could only have been written by (and possibly only makes sense to) someone who was stoned out of their mind.
This rabbit is alarmed because she just realized that the ingredients in her tea never once passed through a screen door.
You’ll notice none of this flowery language on the back of the Cheetos bag or the Entenmann’s box or the Little Debbie carton. They use very little verbiage, filling up most of the space with pictures of the other flavors they make. These companies invest their funding and energy not into hiring copy writers but into the lab, where their Frankensteiny food-like creations are diabolically engineered to be irresistibly delicious and addictive. These guys know that the taste and sensation of a puffy Cheeto melting on your tongue is more convincing than a Norton Anthology’s worth of poetic language. They understand that the body’s desire for a Swiss cake roll comes from a powerful, primal place that transcends language and reason.
So there you have it. Further proof that words are your friends. If your packaged food product isn’t willing to spin you a yarn and throw some weird metaphors at you, you need to approach it with extreme caution and self-control and only eat it in small portions on rare occasions. Take this knowledge and go forth to your snacking.
I now count myself among the shady, billion-dollar diet advice industry. I mean, this tip is as valid as anything you’re gonna hear from those mofos.