Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fake Real Food or Real Fake Food?


August 20- 26, 2009
A Slickly Seductive Mayonnaise Sales Campaign Gets Whipped Up for the Facebook Generation
A while ago I saw a TV commercial that grated on my nerves for reasons that I found difficult to define at the time. “Corporations don’t start movements!” I yelled at the TV. I’m kind of what’s known as a local food activist. I certainly understood that I was probably reacting negatively to the Hellman’s mayonnaise “Real Food Movement” advertisement because of how it was cleverly co–opting the messaging behind the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is a non–profit international organization that celebrates the pleasures of the table, and promotes the value of food that is “good, clean and fair”. This food company was painting its promotion of community gardening in eco–chic colours, and by doing so, hoping to promote their brand in the process. “Was it cheeky irreverence or more like cheap, unflattering imitation?” I wondered, and thought little more about it.
Based on a colleague’s sincere recommendation, I visited the Hellman’s Mayonnaise “Eat Real Local” web site about a week ago. It is well–designed, highly interactive, folksy and welcoming. It is also overtly patriotic in its appeal, in the same way that Tim Hortons’ TV commercials are designed to make you feel like a proud Canadian every time you order a double–double or whatever. Then it hit me: I was looking at a sophisticated deflection of the aims of the sustainable local food movement.
The site is slick. It turns the visitor’s attention away from my movement’s news about better environmental stewardship, respect for rural life and small farms as well as regional food producers of all kinds, improved food access for all communities – and instead points visitors towards the same old message that says that you can buy an idealized lifestyle in your supermarket. It amounts to a mass–consumerist endorsement of the food system’s destructive, inequitable, and unhealthy status quo. Check it out: at
It urges me to “TAKE ACTION NOW”, and then virtually leads me down a shiny supermarket corridor of rustic–looking digital imagery while making people think that they are somehow making a real difference to the promotion of local food and farming by taking the site’s four ‘pledges’.
We as visitors are urged to:
1) “Commit to eat real food.” (Translation: continue to consume, which is easy enough, and especially commit to eating Hellman’s mayonnaise).
2) “Eat seasonally”, which is generally good advice (the upshot here: they want you to use their online–only digital food availability chart, which means you get to receive even more cheerful prompts to buy their mayonnaise). Annoyingly, this page cheekily urges us to “spread the word” by sharing this “real food” promotion on Facebook, Twitter and also via convenient e–mail links (in English: use the internet to harass your friends into buying more mayonnaise, too).
3) “Get your grocer on board” – to save us the trouble of interacting with grocery store managers, they promise to contact the grocer on our behalf with a request for more local food at your supermarket. The request for more local food will be made for us as soon as we provide our names, our e–mail addresses, and the names of our favourite grocery stores (i.e. you help Hellman’s collect free marketing data). What a thinly veiled way to collect personal information from consumers!
4) “Create with local food.” We are encouraged to cook. Okay, that’s not a bad thing, I guess. At this point we are asked to submit our recipes for “local variations” on “great Hellman’s recipes” (i.e. underlining the point, which as you may be able to guess by now: they almost seem to want you to bathe or shower in mayo at least twice daily).
Finally, the skeptics among us would naturally ask about the local food campaign. “Why are we involved?” Hellman’s asks us to ask them. So we click on the little mayonnaise bottle icon. The answer offered there contains a lot of drivel about how they care about local food, blah, blah, blah… While they offer us abundant, exciting reasons for engaging in such advertising efforts as this web site, they manage to leave out the only explanation that gets to the truth of the matter: they must be struggling for market share. The global economic downturn must be having a negative impact on consumer spending on non–essential foods like high priced supermarket mayonnaise.
If you do occasionally crave the creamy taste of real mayonnaise, why not bypass the Hellman’s website and their fake “Real Food” campaign altogether and make your own mayonnaise? It’s easy! I’ve tinkered with the recipe a bit by using apple cider vinegar instead of the traditional lemon juice, because I’m trying to cut down on my use of imports. I’ll be honest with you: making this at home with the high quality oils and other ingredients that I like to use does cost a little more. That’s fine, because it makes sense to treat this food like the luxury item that it is, by using it in moderation. The original recipe can be found at Recipezaar:–Mayonnaise–110610
2 eggs (room temperature)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (lemon juice is more traditional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups grape seed oil (for a mild tasting result, but you can use any vegetable oil)
Directions: Use the best quality ingredients that you can. Combine eggs, juice and salt in a blender at high speed for one minute. Slowly add 1 tsp oil while blender is set on medium. Continue adding the rest of the oil until mayo is emulsified. Store the mixture in the fridge in a glass jar for up to three days. So many variations: olive oil instead of grapeseed, garlic, herbs, a dash of cayenne or curry powder… go for it! I can’t wait to try making this with local verjus from Niagara.
Do not serve uncooked egg dishes like this one to the very young, the elderly, or the immuno–compromised.
For the online versions of the article (including the super-easy recipe for Homemade Blender Mayonnaise) please click on one of these links: Fake Real Food or Real Fake Food?  or visit The Ram's Horn  for a slightly surreal editorial cartoon that accompanies the article.


Anonymous said...

I share your irritation at multinationals' practice of co-opting movements towards organic, fair-trade, and now local, using the language of those who truly care about such things in order to rope people in to buy the same old. It goes hand-in-hand with buying up organic and alternative brands.

For vegans it is also quite easy to make home made mayo using just the ingredients you listed, but substituting eggs with silken tofu.

Rizzy said...

Interesting post.
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Glenn Miles said...

I continue to marvel at how some people think their cynicism will convince anyone to do things better. Too bad, I'm sure you are capable of better.