The rise of clean eating

This case study submitted as part of assessment for my Master of Gastronomic Tourism unit Aesthetics of Food and Wine is an attempt to examine the influence of organic food products in the marketplace and the consumer trend toward healthier choices. The case study items selected provide to a contrast in the marketing claims and purchasing motivation of two popular cooking oils – canola and coconut.

Aestheticisation and the rise of clean eating

Introduction
The consumer demand for the transparency of ingredients has never before seen such traction. As the heightened risk of the dangers of commercially processed food, in particular deadly trans fats, and as the threat of food security grows, coupled with ‘widespread popular mistrust of the food supply”, authenticity about where our food comes is more than a mere market trend. In this report we will look at the key market drivers that entice the consumer to make their choices (Harvey, McMeekin, Warde p. 3).

The natural procession of organic foods swelling our national shelves has given rise to a new breed of health-hungry consumer. The organic shopper’s basket overflows with a collective bounty of processed food is a gourmet escalator to a disease-free longevity. Consumers can be seen squinting over nutritional panels in the nature aisle or thumbing the mainstream food press for the latest organic product.

The consumer looks to replace their previously processed pantry with organic substitutes as opposed to embracing seasonal, fresh organic produce and learning to cook with the harvest. In addition, the digestive problems stemming from a previous diet of pesticide infused conventional produce must be rectified before the benefits of a new life with organics can truly enrich one’s cellular self. However many consumers who purchase processed organic food are often still overweight, fatigued or addicted to coffee and carbohydrates. Yet the health issues remain. The pandemic of diabetes and obesity continues and the syndrome of the irritable bowel is becoming an epidemic.

The notion that just eating organic food is doing you good is a myopic view. Physical exercise is also the key to good health and eating organic seasonal vegetables should be mandatory health insurance. Consuming only organic food is not a weight loss program. While nutrition is 80% and fitness is 20% of the equation, oxygenation to the brain by way of interval fitness training, reduced caloric intake and a healthy, balanced emotional life are also mandatory components for the integrity of the digestive function.

The raw food movement advises that low thermal processing is indeed a passage to longevity. The new health attitude has created a fresh take on society’s obsession with food with its virtuous pursuit of choosing organic becoming a virtually unsustainable choice when it comes to our emotional health, which ultimately governs our digestion. Products of the organic industry are becoming the latest superficial, must-have brands.

Face to farmer

Primary motivators behind the healthier choice movement is the implication of farmer-to-face and paddock to plate campaigns that suggest to the consumer that the food item is grown and/or hand picked just for them. The identification of quality chains promotes an elitist banner. A universal marketing technique is to create an emotional direct response from the consumer as the react to marketing campaigns and claims. The threat of war, the rising fear of disease, and the desire to lose weight so as to fit into society’s slender fashion parameters, are key drivers for many consumer style and food choices.

For example, vulnerable consumers are comforted from the repercussions of the war in Iraq by building virtual fortresses around them. They might create bunker style recreational rooms in their well-secured homes with massive plasma screen TVs, so as not to have to go out to the cinema located within a bustling mall. Television shows celebrate reality and home renovations that encourage consumers to build even stronger palaces to guarantee their sense of safety.

This market trend is called cocooning and it promotes a sense of safety and that all is well in their world, that they are free from harm. This trend stems from the desire to remain young at heart and be surrounded by the comforts of a more familiar nostalgic past – before technology, when life was simpler and somehow safer.

The sense of ownership of what’s happening in the outside world and the desire to be in control their own backyard are both primal and modern day drivers. Solutions to the ‘source of anxiety’ linked to the consumer survival. The successful marketing companies know just how to penetrate the market with powerful influential campaigns that in turn inflate the bottom line sales. (Murdoch & Miele, in McMeekin & Warde 2004, p. 23).

The aestheticisation of consumption

“If we do not nourish our own minds, bodies and souls with the delight of aesthetic experience, how can we bring this to those we teach?” (Snowber. p. 115)

Mary Eckhardt, former co-owner of The Green Grocer organic grocery store in North Fitzroy always had an eye for good packaging, and spent most of her first years of business in organics pulling her hair out over the unsightly brown packaging, it now seems it has gone to the other extreme.  She now sees grossly over-designed and over packaged products, many imported that have become a bit homogenised in look with much of what can be found on the supermarket shelves in conventional lines.

To any retailer, packaging and product presentation is one of the most important aspects to catching the sale, nothing wrong with good packaging, as long as the product inside compares in taste and quality.  In the case of the aforementioned store, they always kept their packaging and labelling to the minimum, with a style and look that is appropriate for the product. When the owner looked at her customers’ shopping baskets she identified clearly two types of shoppers.  Firstly, the wholefood shopper buying small grabs more frequently.  The other consumer goes for house made products, already a huge growth area in 2008. This consumer would embellish their basket with small amounts of fresh, mainly fruit, and well packaged treats.

Gowings_Coconut

Case studies in contrast: Coconut oil and canola oil

In the case of canola – the oil for the Little Aussie Battler

Renowned Chinese medicine expert and author of Healing with Wholefoods, Paul Pitchford noted that in his clinical practice he found that canola oil damages people’s health and lives in many ways. Nearly everyone who stops using it improves in health status.

Health claims

Nutritional Merits

  • Omega 3s – essential for circulation and can help reduce the effects of harmful fat and cholesterol accumulations
  • Monounsaturated – a more stable oil

Setbacks

  • Refined
  • Generally genetically modified
  • Animal Studies: permanent scarring of kidneys, heart, adrenals and thyroid [These studies cannot be performed on humans because they involve the animal to check for organ damage]
  • Human reports: growth retardation, decrease in blood platelets, high blood pressure, stroke, and numerous allergies[1]
  • Since the use of vegetable oils is so widespread, it would seem that a lack of essential fatty acids would seldom occur—but many oils contain rancid forms of these fatty acids. All polyunsaturated vegetable oils contain two or more double bonds on the molecular level that easily accept oxygen (thus leading to rancidity). Monounsaturated oils contain only one such bond per molecule, and saturated oils none

Industrial

In recent times canola has been discovered to be a possible remedy for our current energy problems. This common family of weeds that grows over most of the earth produces oil, that when mixed with diesel fuel and perhaps other fuel, has these properties:

Canola-based bio-fuel means:
1. 50% longer engine life
2. Dramatically increased fuel economy

This is where canola excels. And it produces bio-fuel many times more efficiently than corn or other crops. Potentially the ideal use of canola oil is as a fuel for cars and trucks (Pitchford 1983).

Ethical, political, agricultural

Canola production is now the largest oilseed crop representing 57% of Australian oilseed production over the past 5 years, while cottonseed comprising 36%.[2]

Social economic markers indicate that consumer choice is driven my low cost and the up sell of more affordable oil than olive oil, locally produced is a bonus.

Planted as a solution to drought stricken farmers whose livestock levels had plundered during the Victorian/SA drought.

Aesthetics

In my research it appears that there is an amateur approach is what drives the canola consumer compared to the more educated coconut oil aesthetician.

In Australia, Canola was planted as part of a solution to farmers on the drought stricken land of Victoria and South Australia in the mid 90s. The promise of a resilient golden crop with consistent turnover and annual yield promoted a fresh look at canola as an alternative to expensive olive oil.

When KFC launched their canola campaign entitled The Goodification with taglines that include “good is still good” and the hash tag #sogood. To celebrate the launch of KFC making the ‘important decision to change the oil they use’ into stores across Australia in 2012, the marketing campaign spruiked the seed was “sourced entirely from Australian farmers, delivering the same great taste we all know and love.” This building a sense of consumer trust that fried food giant was doing something healthy for Australia by keeping the local farmers in business and more importantly – promoting canola’s great taste to a mass market of fried food consumers.

Key phrases include ‘great news for farmers’, and ‘rural community’ as KFC buy from only 200 canola growers. This promotes exclusivity of farmer yield, builds a compelling marketing cache of consumer trust, and gives rise to an ‘Aussie feel good’ campaign that relates directly to the powerful marketing image of the ‘Little Aussie Battler’.

If taste is a biological adaption (Teil, G & Hennion, A 2004 p. 20) the taste drivers here are simple pleasures and the sense we are doing something for the country we live in. However there is a vast disconnect between the industrial reality of the fragmented oil from the seed and the high temperature process from which the oil is extracted. When oils are heated to extreme temperatures they become hydrogenated and this creates a product called trans fats. Trans fats give crunch to crackers and biscuits, much like butter and lard did before the onset of the industrial production of processed foods.

In the case of KFC, taste is literally just that – the switch to canola will make the chicken taste better and crunchier (Miele, M & Murdoch, J 2002). What the canola marketers and taste-makers carefully disguise and do not tell the consumer is that trans fats are deadly and highly carcinogenic (Gowing p. 35).

Coconut oil

This tropical fruit was formerly known as cocoanut, a term derived from16th century Portuguese and Spanish cocos, meaning, “grinning face” – because of the three small holes on its coconut shell.

Approximately one third of the world’s population depends on the humble coconut with one billion coconut palms blowing throughout the tropics, which in turn produce over 50 billion coconuts per annum – mostly for consumption as detailed below – but also dried as copra – a valued trade commodity used in the production of soap and also for lighting in the 19th century (Gowing, pp. 125-128).

History and nutrition

Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts that are harvested from the coconut palm. Certified organic coconut oil is a premium product as conventional products may have added solvents such as hexane, which is used to extract cooking oils from seeds.

Prior to World War II Asian military occupation of the Philippines and other South Pacific islands resulted on the once-plentiful supply of coconut oil was effectively cut off from the United States. As the post war industrial revolution kicked in, manufacturers began to develop alternative sources of cooking oils – hence the “You ought to be congratulated” phase of mono and polyunsaturated fat boom gave rise to a very profitable promotion of vegetable oils.

BToward the end of the 1950s, influential marketing campaigns managed to steer the general public away from saturated fats like butter – and coconut oil. These fats were accused for elevating cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol was the new enemy of our health, and heart disease was one of the greatest threats to humanity. This gave rise to a high carbohydrate diet of al dente pasta and white sliced bread. According to marketers, it was fibre we needed most.

We said farewell to butter, eggs and coconut oil and hello to allegedly ‘heart healthy’ vegetable fats and the dreaded and deadly processed soy bean boom, determined to see the sinking of tropical oils harvested in poorer countries who may not have been able to defend their livelihood.

Health claims

In 2004 the Coconut Research Centre declared the medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) that are found in coconut to “help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.”

In addition, these medium chin fatty acids a.k.a. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) stimulate thermogenesis. Thermogenesis the process where your body produces heat by increased burning of fat – this is a good thing for people who are trying to lose body fat.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (Vol. 87, No. 3, 621-626, March 2008), “Clinical studies have shown that consumption of MCTs leads to greater energy expenditure than does consumption of long-chain triacylglycerols. Such studies suggest that MCT consumption may be useful for weight management.”

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FHW_CocoCut_5steps

Marketing

The promise of coconut oil marketing appeals to that of the taste-maker. Most retail products depict a tropical island portrait with palm tress and luscious island women with long flowing hair – all the essential symbology of a carefree holiday, a suntan and feeling relaxed and stress free.

However coconut oil is also celebrated for its authentic ‘coco-nutty’ flavour. Just as olive oil and macadamia oil have their own distinct flavours, pure coconut oil is very rich and creamy. When heat-treated, it imparts a tropical aroma that in turn encourages the digestive process by way feeding the senses, starting with the eyes and nose – a truly biological approach. (Teil, G & Hennion, A 2004. P. 20)

One of the key ingredients in coconut oil that has wellness marketers celebrating is monolaurin. The precursor is lauric acid, which is proven to deactivate bacteria yeast and fungi. “Of the saturated fatty acids, lauric acid has greater anti-viral activity than either caprylic acid (C-10) or myristic acid (C-14). (Enig. M., 2006).

What this means is both scientists and health practitioners acclaim that the health attributes touted in coconut oil are highly. This has a very influential effect on the consumer who will be swayed by efficacy of a product, coupled with taste and proven healing attributes.

Coconut oil does not raise cholesterol levels but is quickly metabolized into energy. As it is high in a compound called lauric acid, it was once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is short chain.

Another great marketing myth is to up sell cooking oils as being cholesterol free. Only mammals can make cholesterol, therefore non-dairy oil – and avocado for that matter – do not contain blood therefore they can have no cholesterol. Coconut oil has no cholesterol and no dangerous trans-fats as found in other oils. This oil has a high flash point, which means that is an excellent oil to use whenever high temperatures are needed, such as stir-fries.

With a new stream of recipes replacing butter with coconut oil, a plethora of vegan and allergy sensitive consumer gives rise to a greater and more discerning clientele for what makes a trend stick and a flavour sell.

Like coconut oil, coconut water had reached almost peak status. Coconut water is the clear to lightly cloudy sweet nectar of a young coconut. The water is highly refreshing and rehydrating, hence it is sold almost effortlessly to wellness and fitness enthusiasts.

Conclusion

In the comparative case study analysis provided, it is clear to see that two competitive oils on offer are marketed by way of their aesthetics to a board demographic and taste. Both case studies put forward appeal to an entirely different niche within the marketplace.

What drives taste is often depicted by trends. Like fashionable couture, food trends are driven by fine dining innovators and the consumer desire for peace and ease in the kitchen. Solutions to stress are ultimately what food manufacturers promise.

From my observations in both clinical practice and as a marketing consultant, it is fascinating to watch the amateur health enthusiast embark on a dedicated nutritional and culinary journey. In my opinion, their perception of healthy food is usually a direct correlation to their choice of cooking oil. A realisation of the emotional, ethical and cultural impact that highly refined and processed oils are having on human health creates a cascade of greater consciousness – or a greater appreciation for the aesthetics of taste.


References

Print

Gowing, S, 2012, “the Healing Feeling – recipes & remedies from Australia’s leading spa chef’ p. 35.

Miele, M & Murdoch, J 2002, ‘The practical aesthetics of traditional cuisines: slow food in Tuscany’, Sociologia Ruralis, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 312-328.

Pitchford , P, 1993. Healing with Whole Foods. 1st ed. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.

Snowber, C 2009, ‘An aesthetics of everyday life’, in S Richmond & C Snowber, Landscapes of aesthetic education, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle, pp. 65-77.

Teil, G & Hennion, A 2004, ‘Chapter 7. A new aesthetic of food? Relational reflexivity in the “alternative” food movement’, in M Harvey, A McMeekin & A Warde (eds.), Qualities of food, Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK, pp. 156-175.

Willmont, D, 2006. Fat Chance: Surviving the Cholesterol Controversy and Beyond. 2nd ed. USA: Willmountain Press.

Digital

Enig. M. 2006. More Good News on Coconut Oil. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/more-good-news-on-coconut-oil/. [Accessed 14 September 14].

Gowing, S. 2008. Are organics becoming the new Prada? [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.foodhealthwealth.com/are-organics-the-new-prada-2. [Accessed 14 September 14].


[1] Willmont, D, 2006. Fat Chance: Surviving the Cholesterol Controversy and Beyond.[2]http://www.australianoilseeds.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/7358/Marketing_GM_Grains_Ian_Dalgliesh_Canola_Workshop_20_March_09.pdf

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