Back again, with a commercial rant

News: I’ll be blogging from the Merrie Monarch hula competition for the Star-Advertiser this year. It’s just a month away; I’ll be there from Tuesday to Sunday (April 10-14) and can hardly wait. You’ll be able to read about my daily activities on the S-A web site but I’ll do some food reports on this site, too. Hilo is one of my favorite eating towns.

Visiting my mom recently, I joined her in watching her favorite morning talk show with Kelly Ripa. I never watch these at home but it’s easy to get hooked; Ripa is actually quite charming in a slightly ditzy way. But I was appalled at the food advertising that is paired with the show. Most of the time, I live in a rather rarified world of locally grown or harvested, fresh, organic, sustainable, mostly healthy, unprocessed or less processed foods. These advertisers are so far from that it was like receiving communications from a distant planet, one I’d forgotten existed.

I’m no food snob; there is cream of mushroom soup in my pantry. I like SPAM. I like Japanese-style curry gravy made from the box (Vermont brand, or, as a Japanese waiter pronounced it recently, “Ber-MONT-u”). I think that new concentrated stock  in little plastic cups is the bomb. I use frozen prepared products (Bertolli’s pasta; we had Safeway Select butternut-stuffed ravioli last night and it was easily as good, with homemade browned butter-nutmeg sauce, as anything I could make myself). But . . .

After a few minutes of watching the show and not muting the commercials as I usually do, I began to take notes. These were some advertisers: McDonald’s (touting its fillet of fish sandwich; sorry, burgerfied fish is not a fillet); Campbell’s Tomato Soup (okay, I do eat that; comforting when I’m sick or cold; Grandma only let me have it as a treat), Hamburger Helper, Green Giant, Zippy’s, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup (“stir it, stir it up, stir it up, stir it”).

The ones that put me over the top, however, were:

1) the suggestion that you pour a can of undiluted Campbell’s beef soup on rice and call it dinner. I can think of few things nastier — that odd smell, gelatinous texture, overcooked vegetables, too much salt. Soup is NOT gravy.

2) the truly inspired partnership between Kraft and Hormel that would have you stir SPAM chunks into the blue box macaroni and cheese! By the time that one came on, I was pretty much laughing so I wouldn’t cry. I can’t count high enough to add up the fat calories, the sodium, the sugar. I really loathe Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; it’s much too sweet and has some kind of caramel off flavor. (If you have to use a box, Annie’s isn’t bad.)

I almost retch when I see the commercial for Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni where the mom character asks how her son likes his cheesy glop and he is so moved he can’t speak; he just leans into her with a seraphic smile. That’s what a whole lot of fat, salt and sugar at once will do to you; put you into a mindless food coma.

The other thing that got me was the assumption behind these commercials that women are so busy they have no time to cook but are still charged with doing whatever food provision gets done (accurate) and that these products are there to help Busy Mom, leaving her smiling, carefree and adored by her family (oh, please!). It’s as though they’re layering a seemingly up-to-date viewpoint (Mom works) with an outdated and even reprehensible one (that technology-driven shortcuts will save us all).

In just a little more time than it takes to use the box, Mom could wilt chopped in a little onion oil, throw in lower-fat hamburger (ground turkey or buffalo for and even lower fat protein), pour off the fat, boil some good-quality Italian pasta, snip some parsley from the windowsill or pull some dried herbs out of the cupboard and grate good, aged cheese into the thing at the end. She’d know exactly what was in the dish, she’d have had some time to decompress from work while cooking, she’d have a sense of accomplishment and she’d still get hugs. She might even have, oh, I don’t know, involved the family in food preparation, teaching them something about cooking, caring for oneself, taking responsibility, teamwork.

And you know what else? Dad could have done that. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a man cooking who was not a) in a white coat on a cooking show, or b) wearing a silly apron and wielding a grilling tool?


  1. Robyne

    March 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I will NEVER use anything that has the word, “helper” in it! I have challenged several wives to make the “helper” version and I could make the homemade version in the same amount of time. Thanks for the reference to the Zippy’s commercial though…..they don’t have those in Michigan!

  2. Vadalia

    March 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Welcome back!
    Looking forward to your reports about the hula competition, and about the food, food purveyors, and cooks in Hilo, the place that introduced me to Liliko’i Butter. Mmmmmm mmm mmm!

    Agree with you totally about the crap sold as food nowadays. Just because something is eatable doesn’t mean it is edible.

  3. Keoni

    March 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    So happy that you’ll be reporting from Hilo once again. I always enjoyed your ‘diary’ in past years; now I get to read it again! 😀

  4. Dee

    March 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    I used to always have cream of mushroom, rice, cans of green beans and corn, rice, evaporated milk, and mixed frozen vegetables on hand. Invariably when there was still more month and little to none left in the bank account (many many years ago), I’d pull them out and make end of the month meals. Boiled up the rice (before I had a rice cooker), put the soup in another pot with some of the evaporated milk and water, warmed up a can of the green beans or corn or frozen vegetables, and put it together (rice, then veggies, then soup/sauce). It helped fill tummies and I learned how to stretch things out. Now I’ve SPAM on the shelf, cans of chicken (can’t eat tuna anymore—disagrees something fierce), and powdered milk. My daughters are learning to use herbs and seasonings without salt to enhance their foods. Made homemade mac and cheese last week and it tasted really good!

  5. Joko

    March 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    As my mom used to say about Kelly Ripa, You can hear her above everybody else on that show! She’s a good empaxle of how far you can rise if you’re a size 0, 85-pound bleached blonde with plenty of guts in today’s twisted world. When I first heard AB was going to be on Regis & Kelly I thought I’d have to watch it online because the San Antonio station that had carried it for something like 20 years dropped it a year or two ago for Rachael Ray’s show, but it turns out another local station has picked it up. I’ve had an immersion blender for ages and never had the nerve to try it, but I’m going to inaugurate it with this pumpkin soup.

Leave a Reply