Amidst a Twitter firestorm controversy this week is Panera Bread — caught in a mix of consumer anger and frustration.
Many food companies change their practices to accommodate consumer concerns or requests. All that is fine and understandable. There’s nothing wrong with eating fewer processed foods and minimizing the amount of high-calorie junk food in our diets. Creating meals with real wholesome ingredients that provide healthier options is admirable.
The problem is that sometimes these marketing tactics go too far to where it sends a very anti-science message. Panera Bread has earned a place in my personal Facepalm Hall of Shame for food companies that do a disservice to science and ag, but take a look at this shameful campaign where customers take to Twitter, responding to them to take a hike:
(Seriously, the responses might restore your faith in humanity, or if anything give you some highbrow entertainment.)
Sodium benzoate. The full video starts with scary guys in hazmat suits and gas masks, running their fingers through a powder marked “explosives.” They then go on to pull at your heartstrings, with kind loving families at a fireworks show. How romantic. They finish the video claiming they took additives out of food and put them back where they belong — comparing your food to crazy explosive devices.
What an anti-science message. The problem here is that food additives sometimes play a very important role in food safety and shelf life, thus reducing food waste. Sodium benzoate is proven safe; a commonly used food preservative that we eat everyday and is also naturally occurring in cranberries, prunes, cinnamon, and apples, among other foods. As always, the dose makes the poison.
In the world of food marketing, “fear” is the new “sex” when trying to sell something.
Comparing your food to explosives is a bit far fetched, sure. But the reality is that food additives cross over all the time. You may be surprised to hear that there are 185 uses for a pig in terms of animal byproducts we use everyday. I’ve also written prior about how GMOs provide us with everything in life from toilet seats to tires. There’s over 4,000 uses for corn alone. Just because corn is used in alcohol, tires, fuel, and high fructose corn syrup does not mean it’s scary.
Speaking of scary, I can play that game, too. Did you know that dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical additive used in nuclear reactors and in food? Foods are commonly drenched in this chemical additive that is responsible for killing millions of people every year. Dihydrogen monoxide is powerful enough to rust pipes! If it can rust a pipe, imagine what it’s doing inside your body after you consume it? The government pumps this into our homes all day, every day. Boycott dihydrogen monoxide! Sign the petition! Donate now!
Oh wait. Dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical more commonly known as “water.”
This is what they do. Take a chemical that people have never heard of, make it sound scary, try to separate themselves from the competitor, no matter how unethical it may be, and use fear to sell. Fear is easy, science is hard.
In a time where the internet is crawling with misinformation from an anti-science era, let’s not add fuel and “sparks” to the fire, Panera.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.