Variety, choice, the manufactured illusion of it, and creating more yourself

November 16, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Fitness, Nature

Can we all agree processed food is unhealthy garbage? Yet people eat tons of it. I want to talk about one reason. And that reason is not just about cereal. It applies to many places in life.

When I was a kid I loved boxed cereal. Didn’t everyone grow up eating it? And as a kid you loved sugar cereals. Why not? Before some age you hardly knew or cared about nutrition.

Over the years I learned about nutrition, especially how removing everything from a grain but the sugar ruins it. Then adding more sugar ruins it more. Adding some vitamins negligibly changes it nutritionally; it just helps market it to people who don’t know better. This knowledge changed my experience walking down the supermarket cereal aisle.

I used to think of the aisle having tons of choice. Look at all the colors, fonts, features, and benefits in the aisle:

Supermarket cereal aisle

Want more?

Supermarket cereal aisle

Too bad you don’t eat the color and fonts. What pizzazz!

To a young me the cereal aisle seemed like a lot of variety. Overwhelming even.

When I learned about nutrition I came to see past the packaging to the contents. Now I see all these cereals as identical by any measures that matter to me. They’re just sugar with chemicals for flavor, color, and to kill germs. The contribution of anything else is negligible to me.

Through no conscious intent, just the effect of that knowledge unconsciously percolating through me, the aisle came to glaze over into identical-ness. A colorful uniform blandness. To the point where even the bright colors offered no variety.

Supermarket Aisles

Where I once thought of the different brands signifying meaningful difference — like one brand was healthier, another was fruitier, another was crunchier, etc — I’ve come to see them all as some corporate smokescreen hiding that they aren’t selling food but unhealthy “food.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t do business with people who turn something healthy unhealthy and sell it to you as healthy. Oh yeah, marketing it to kids, getting them to influence their parents.


Variety you make

People who know me well know I eat almost the same breakfast every day — oatmeal with fresh fruit chopped on it. Even with the mixed nuts and chia seeds I’ve been adding lately (oats, nuts, and chia seeds all come from the bulk food section of my market), when I say it that way it may sound like I have less variety.

On the contrary, I have more, at least by what matters to me. The fresh fruit, no matter how many times I have them, seem to have more variety of flavors and textures than all the boxed cereals.

I’m writing today because the pear I chopped to put in my cereal this morning stopped me in my tracks when I first bit into the slice I ate on its own. It had a complexity no sugar cereal could match. And it didn’t taste like the pears I had earlier this week. I almost decided to eat the pear unmixed into the cereal to highlight its incredible flavor.

Apple Banana Pear

If you’ve read this page enough you know I try to understand human motivations by connecting them to evolution. As best I can tell, fruits were healthy to our ancestors. Probably in their environments eating unlimited amounts was healthy. That is, I suspect we evolved to feel motivation to eat as much fresh fruit as we could, so it never gets boring. I suspect the fruit evolved for us too.

The result is that fruits have complex mixes of flavors that never get boring.

Blueberries Strawberries

Boxed cereals don’t have that variety and complexity of flavors and textures. At least not in my experience. While you might think the oats I eat have less variety than the range of grains in boxed cereals or the pizzazz of their processed crispety-crunchiteness, I find otherwise.

First, they only have a few grains — mainly corn, wheat, and rice. Then they refine them all so much you only get a similar flavorless shell of a grain. The crispiness, like the color on the boxes, fades in excitement to uniform similarity.

Other illusions of variety and choice

Think of other places you see illusions of variety and choice sent at you under the guise of variety and choice and see if you find any trends. How about

  • Soda
  • Chips
  • Fast food
  • Pop music
  • Sit-coms
  • Talk shows
  • Soap operas
  • News programs

I could go on. When you start seeing the underlying similarity among the appearance of choices you start to see the difference between the values they want you to accept and the classic values those things had before modern marketing. You start seeing similar sources pushing the illusion of variety of choice on you. Have you ever seen broccoli or blueberries advertised like Doritos?

You start living a different life. I think you start appreciating nature and community more. I don’t fault people at the places trying to sell me this stuff. They probably think they’re making the world a better place. After all, grown adults buy the stuff. I just can’t do business with them.

What do you think?

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7 responses on “Variety, choice, the manufactured illusion of it, and creating more yourself

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