In many ways, the modern media landscape goes out of its way to ensure your average person doesn’t really know for sure what type of diet is good for them. Diet fads are a multi-billion-dollar a year industry, and they invest quite a bit of money into keeping the “secret” to shedding excess weight seem like some proprietary breakthrough. They fund massive campaigns intended to sell you on the idea that, in order to be healthy, you need to exorcise the fat demons from your body by only eating like a caveman, a baby deer or a turn of the century farmer.
Even the debate between conventional produce versus organic is continually muddied by biased studies funded by lobbies on either side. For instance, the data doesn’t really support the idea that a strictly organic diet is healthier, but variables like pesticide use and misleading studies make it difficult to know which elements of which diet are actually better for you, and which are just a part of a concerted marketing campaign aimed at selling you an eight dollar jar of water with a bit of asparagus in it. The thing is, confusion about what effect different types of food have on your body is nothing new, and you may even still believe some dietary myths that were born out of marketing or even propaganda campaigns that were prevalent in your parent’s or grandparent’s youth.
SOFREP readers are, by and large, rather savvy when it comes to all sorts of things, healthy living included. Still, even smart, experienced and educated people are susceptible to being misled by pervasive misconceptions, especially when they’re delivered by government officials and have a loose basis in undeniable fact. One such program gained quite a bit of notoriety just a few years ago, when Domino’s Pizza found its sales lagging behind the competition and realized that it might be because their pizza didn’t actually taste very good. So they teamed up with an organization called Dairy Management, which is effectively a cheese lobby with a budget of around $140 million per year, and specifically spent money on trying to get Americans to eat more cheese. The effort, and organization, was born out of slumping dairy sales in the face of America’s recent interest in reducing the amount of saturated fat in their diets. Only a few years earlier, the organization had funded a series of studies intended to show how eating more high-fat dairy could help Americans lose weight. Of course, the science didn’t support that so they simply reverted to the “but it’s so delicious!” argument.
Together, Domino’s and Dairy Management devised a plan to increase the amount of cheese on their pizza by around forty percent, which worked, and although the pizza became much worse for your health, it’s continuing to sell like gangbusters. The problem with that isn’t that Domino’s is giving America what it wants (who doesn’t love cheese?); the problem is that Dairy Management is a government-funded agency with a vested interest in dairy-farming.
The program, which saw increased support under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, spends tax payer money every year to try to convince people to eat more cheese, while other government programs work to convince you that high fat diets aren’t healthy. The government is spending money to discredit its own efforts to make you eat better, and it could be argued that isn’t even an intentional move… it’s just a product of a massive government with poor internal communication and, occasionally, some pretty shady motivations. What do you think would happen if a government intentionally went out of its way to mislead you about your diet? How pervasive would that become?
Well, let’s see: do you think eating more carrots will improve your eye sight? If you said yes, maybe, or “Ya know, I’ve totally heard that might be true,” then you know just how far a government propaganda campaign that ended more than 70 years ago can reach when it comes to what we eat.
Back in World War II, British (and eventually American) pilots were tasked with the near impossible feat of engaging German bombers over the English Channel under cover of darkness. At the time, aviators had to rely primarily on their own senses rather than the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat, but the advent of on-board Airborne Interception Radar (AI) gave the Brits a fighting chance at locating the bombers before they could reach land. The thing is, if the Nazis were to learn about England’s new plane-based radar, they would immediately begin working to subvert it… so England’s Ministry of Information hatched an idea: they’d convince the world British aviators simply had incredible night vision.
Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their deception, and they didn’t have to go far to find it – it was already growing beneath their feet.
Vitamin A has long been known to be an important part of your diet for eye health, and for those with vitamin A deficiencies, eating food rich with the vitamin can indeed improve eye sight (back to normal levels). With this in mind, the Ministry of Information looked for a food rich in Vitamin A to credit with their pilot’s “incredible night vision”–carrots.
Carrots were a brilliant choice for other reasons too: the war effort had limited sugar rations throughout the country, and people were eager to find snacks they could incorporate into their kid’s diets. What better snack on the go than one that’ll help you see during the government mandated blackouts intended to inhibit bomber targeting? By pushing carrots, the government was able to offset concerns about rationing other food stuffs, while convincing the Germans that they were shooting down their planes using nothing more than some good old-fashioned British agriculture.
The success of the campaign is difficult to measure, as it was only a matter of time before the Germans realized their enemies across the Channel were using more than good eyesight to engage their bombers. One RAF night fighter ace, John Cunningham (nicknamed “Cat’s Eyes”) managed to rack up 20 kills, 19 of which were at night – the Germans likely knew something was afoot. Nonetheless, in homes all around the world, parents still tell their kids to finish their carrots because it will improve their vision.
As a basis of comparison, that would be like if people told kids eating Vitamin C will add thirty years to their lives, simply because a serious vitamin C deficiency could cause scurvy.
Modern marketing is such an intrinsic part of our daily lives today that a campaign like that could almost certainly skew your perspective toward thinking all GMOs were harmful, for instance, or sell you on the idea that opposing political party members are freedom-hating monsters. Propaganda isn’t going anywhere – if anything, it’s improving all the time.
Keep that in mind the next time you’re watching CNN or Fox News… and of course, don’t forget to eat your carrots.
Featured image courtesy of the World Carrot Museum