With the release of a bacon and cheese sandwich with fried chicken as the “bread,” this year has seen no shortage of over-the- top foods. But none of these compares to the ultimate in extreme new foods: baby carrots. “Baby carrots” and “extreme” are hardly words you’d think to find in the same sentence. But judging from the launch of a $25 million marketing campaign, extreme is just what carrot farmers want them to be.
“Eat ’em like junk food” is the campaign’s slogan. Ironically, this campaign to increase vegetable consumption is trying to beat potato chip and cookie marketers at their own game. Instead of focusing on the healthy angle, carrot pushers hope to make their product cool. The campaign is replete with its own YouTube channel and iPhone game. One commercial for baby carrots features a helmeted man in a shopping cart taking heavy fire from a baby-carrot-shooting chain gun. Heavy rock music blares.
The new carrot crusade has serious implications for our nation’s obesity epidemic. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, just 26.3 percent of people met the government’s vegetable consumption recommendation. That number is down slightly from 2000.
Some groups have reached for the low-hanging fruit of solutions in the battle of the bulge: government intervention. Famous “food police” groups want the government to restrict or ban marketing of certain foods to kids.
This push took a ridiculous turn this summer, when one California county voted to ban toys with kids’ meals at restaurants, essentially taking the “happy” out of “Happy Meal.”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest was overjoyed. Its litigation director recently warned that allowing toys in kids’ meals means that “children will pester their parents to take them to McDonald’s.” Well, duh. Kids like the taste of burgers and fries, toy or no toy. Pestering is a kid’s modus operandi for just about anything.
Never mind that parents already know what their kids are eating — they’re the ones driving to restaurants or supermarkets and plunking down their cold, hard cash. Further, there’s absolutely no evidence that banning toys, or food advertising generally, does anything to curb childhood obesity.
Bans have been tried elsewhere to little avail. Sweden banned ads targeting kids under 12 in 1991. More than a decade later, the BBC reported that obesity rates there were similar to those in the UK, which had no such restrictions. The same was true for Quebec (with ad bans) compared to the rest of Canada (without).
So where do baby carrots fit into the fray? First Amendment concerns aside, the campaign to control commercials lacks the very thing the baby carrot promotion excels at: innovation in co-opting the tactics of its unhealthy competitors.
Cornell University researchers found that referring to carrots as “X-ray vision carrots” increased consumption among preschoolers by 62 percent. It stands to reason that slapping Dora the Explorer or Sponge- Bob on a slick packet of veggies has a good chance of gaining new young converts.
Whether the campaign for baby carrots ends up winning hearts and minds (and stomachs) is yet to be seen. But this is one fight where the Ministry of Censorship can stay on the sidelines.