Over the past year I have seen a significant rise in the number of food-related healthcare company start-ups. Zipongo is one with which I have been familiar for some time; but the evolving recognition that a majority of our most expensive health conditions could be mitigated through healthful eating has spawned a plethora of new ones. I have received inbound calls from at least 5 such companies very recently and I’m sure there are far more than that. Each of these companies is seeking in different ways to raise awareness of healthy foods and healthful eating habits and to use sophisticated methods of consumer engagement to get people on the quinoa and kale bandwagon.
I was thinking about this emerging start-up trend as I was listening to drive-time radio the other day, when the DJ reminded me that June 1 is the first of two National Doughnut Days. In case you missed that, there are TWO National Doughnut Days (the other is November 5th). Given our national Type 2 Diabetes epidemic, I am surprised that there is not a companion National Metformin Day, or week.
The radio story made me wonder how many other National Food Days there are. I would think, given our government’s and healthcare industry’s attempts to improve healthy eating habits, there might be a long list of healthy food days, but not so much. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 175 days designated as National “X” Day where the “X” is food-related. But the very first of these days that one could remotely consider healthy on the Wikipedia list is June 17th, National Eat Your Vegetables Day. In other words, you have to travel 6 ½ months into the year before the PR departments of any healthy food item got around to seeking attention for their products. I supposed that National Vinegar Day is pretty neutral coming as it does the day before, but since vinegar is often used to improve fish and chips, I’m going to call it a wash.
Of the 175 National Food Days, only 12 of them, about 7% if I am generously rounding up, relate to healthy or healthy-ish foods. Honors go to Beans, Spinach, Watermelon, Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch (a pretty weird one in that it honors not just a veggie, but an associated command), More Herbs/Less Salt, Acorn Squash, Oatmeal, Turkey (aka Thanksgiving, which is hardly known for it’s healthful outcomes), Deviled Eggs, Chicken Soup (for the soul, no less), Cranberry, and Red Apple. By the time you get to December 31, National Champagne Day, you can toast the sound of your arteries slamming shut since all of the other days are loaded with sugar, salt, fat and carbs.
There are other lists of National Food Days aside from Wikipedia’s, but none of them is any better, really. Do a search for “national food days” and every list you find is dedicated 90%+ to the foods that we are told to avoid for the good of our health but never do. These lists tell us exactly why Lipitor, Lisinopril and Metformin are the M&Ms of our time. Fyi, National M&M Day is October 15.
There are bizarrely specific national food days, such as those calling out the magnificence of Coquilles St. Jacques, Grape Popsicles, Brandied Fruit and Scrapple, which is apparently not a word game. If Scrapple were a word game, you would get a triple word score every time you mentioned pie, as there are an unusually high number of national food days dedicated to specific pies.
I particularly like the cynical utilitarianism of some of the catch-all days, like National Junk Food Day (July 21), National Greasy Food Day (October 25), National Snack Food Month (February—a whole month for goodness sake) and Eat What You Want Day (May 11). The last one might just be called, “National screw it, I give up, let’s gargle with partially hydrogenated corn syrup Day.”
There are few things more important to consumer engagement than effective marketing. And yet our healthy food growers and purveyors cannot hold a candle to candy, soda, fried food and alcohol manufacturers and supporters when it comes to garnering consumer attention. And thus the radio talks about National Doughnut Day and not National Salmon Filet Day, undoubtedly influencing what we buy at the grocery store on our way home from work. Salmon-flavored doughnut anyone?
Making “good” foods sound like yummy foods is, in my opinion, at least as important as trying to motivate people to eat healthily. People are drawn to what they perceive as delicious and often have to force themselves to eat what they are told is good for them. On the Wikipedia list there are 190 days that haven’t already been claimed by foods that, when digested, break down into pharmaceutical company profits. Perhaps those kale and quinoa folks should gear up their PR machines and get to work.
Ps—the kale crowd should know that comedian Jim Gaffigan is working against them; this video is hilarious and my favorite line is this one, “Kale is a superfood and it’s special power is tasting bad.”