Opinion | Off the Cuff

A heart on the label and food for thought

As people become nutrition savvy, advertising companies and marketers have come up with the great gimmick of putting hearts on food labels

  • By Mahmood Saberi Senior Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 January 30, 2013
  • Gulf News

I have become a nutrition bore and it is driving my family batty because I am constantly reading the food labels.

“See, see, look at the sugar content in this cereal,” I shout triumphantly at my wife as she hurries down the aisle at the grocery shop, pretending she does not know me.

“No wonder I feel so sluggish in the mornings with this sucrose-loaded breakfast,” I shout at her, startling a round, little girl picking up her favourite cereal box.

Once, when my wife sent me a grocery list by SMS, I believe I had disappeared for about two hours. Later, I realised that I had spent the time reading the food labels. However, it was time well spent, I told my wife. “There’s no point being literate and then keeling over and dying while waiting for your juicy, beef steaks at the butchery,” I told her.

Now I look for food items that have hearts drawn on the food labels. “See, this is good for your health,” I tell my wife as I pick up a cooking oil with a giant, red heart with two upper chambers and two lower chambers on the label and with the legend “Heart Friendly” on top.

(But somehow it felt as if the cooking oil was for Dr Hannibal Lecter, a fictional character fond of human flesh). “Don’t pick up that oil, you can’t really cook Indian food with it,” said my wife.

As people become nutrition savvy, advertising companies and marketers have come up with the great gimmick of putting hearts on food labels for those who are educated, but do not have time to read the labels. “That’s disgusting,” said my younger son, who hates biology, when I showed him a heart sitting on his porridge pack. He shudders at the thought of dissecting frogs and gazing at their beating hearts.

Now going shopping for groceries is like trying to find a gift for the girlfriend or partner on Valentine’s Day, with shiny, round hearts all around you! I suppose over time, some irrational people in some societies will find all this talk about hearts not good for the young, impressionable minds and ask for a ban on this happy, beating pump on our food labels.

I did not think that food would one day become as dangerous as smoking, where cigarette packs have pictures of a skull grinning at you. Labelling of cigarette packs with subliminal messages on it has not yet taken off in the UAE, but soon you may see people carrying packets with all sorts of diseased organs drawn on them.

Can you imagine going into a hazy, shisha bar in the near future where everyone is enjoying a quiet cup of coffee and a drag with a warning label on the shisha pipe showing a sad-looking lung gasping for breath? Social scientists say that such labelling helps in hammering home the message that smoking is dangerous for health. I believe if that works with cigarettes then it should also work with food. What the advertising companies should do is remove those glorious red hearts from certain food packets and bottles and send the correct message home — that eating is bad for your health.

A time will come soon — with so many obese, time-bombs around us ­— when you will sit down to eat a hamburger and maybe see a pancreas on the bag of French fries and a short lecture on the side about diabetes; or a liver on a bottle of beverage and read about cirrhosis while you listen to jazz music playing in the background.

And then everyone will be medically savvy and will be leading happy, animated healthy lives.

Gulf News
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