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March 1, 2013

Consumer Culture and Fast Food

Mommy, why do restaurants with chemicals in their food have playgrounds inside?

What incredible insight from my four-year old!

The Walmart where we do most of our grocery shopping used to have a McDonald’s in it.  As I narrated every single step on our weekly excursion, I would tell the girls, “And that’s a restaurant, but we don’t eat there.  One day, a couple of years ago, in response to the 1,438th question of the day, “Why don’t we eat there?” I replied flippantly, “Because they put chemicals in their food.

That stuck with the girls, and they’ll often guess as we pass by certain brightly-colored restaurants, “Mommy, is that a restaurant that puts chemicals in its food?

The girls know that Mommy and Daddy prefer to eat at non-chain restaurants, or one-of-a-kind, as they understand it.  They love those restaurants, too.  We only eat out about once a week, but that’s basically all they know.

Sure, they’re attracted to the play structures you can see through the front windows of many of those restaurants, but the girls know, “You can only play there if you eat there.”  And then I reinforce, “We love to play at the park, right?  We love fresh air!

I loved seeing Baby A put two and two together yesterday with her question about playgrounds and chemicals.  I added that those restaurants often give small toys with their food as a way of appealing to children.

My professional background is marketing.  It’s been a great passion of mine since I was introduced to the academic subject as an undergrad.  Over the past two or three years, I’ve delved into the subject from a new perspective…that of a parent.

I am fascinated – and admittedly often alarmed – by our consumer culture.  My most recent read on the topic (thanks to a recommendation from Mama, Mama, Quite Contrary) was Buy,Buy Baby.  I know the subject matter of the book backwards and forwards, and I was right in the middle of much of it during my last job.  Still, it’s incredible to step back and think about the fine-oiled marketing MACHINES that are geared towards our children.

And…most psychologists agree that children can’t discern between fact and persuasion (in the form of advertising) until they are considerably older…around seven years old!

Yes, I’m trying to steer my girls to make good choices.  And I think it’s equally important to try to help them understand the motivations behind some of the “not-so-good” choices…be it food or clothes or anti-wrinkle cream…that are available to them, too.


undomestic mama said...

LOVE this. It makes me sick the amount of stuff that is marketed to children in order for their parents to get it for them. My twins are perfectly happy playing outside with a few cars and a ball, but they're bombarded with images of water tables, trampolines, Power Wheels and who knows what else that they MUST have.

Amanda said...

I admire your dedication to helping your kids navigate our consumer culture. I do similar with my girls. I haven't been as good about it as you are because I have close family and friends that love giving the girls marketed toys. But I do talk to them about commercials and that we need to use our own minds to decide whether it something we need/want and not just the flashy commercial selling it to us.

I told them about the skating doll I got when I was a kid. The commercial shows the doll skating across the floor. The real doll would stand up for a second try to move and fall over. I told them that sometimes commercials don't relate exactly how the product really is.

My biggest pet peeve is that every girl toy has to have a princess slapped on it. I couldn't even find skates for my girls this last Christmas that didn't have some Disney or Dora on it. I finally ended up getting them the blue and green "boy" skates. The packaging had boys and even labeled it as "boy" skates. They were plain green and blue though... why do they have to be "boy"?

Mrs FF said...

Ha Ha Ha Ha. It's so true and I agree. I cringe when my cousin feed "chicken" nuggets to her kids. And with all the horse meat, donkey meat etc going around now, it is even scarier.

My sister is studying Marketing management and she always tells me the marketing terms/thinking behind many of every day things retailers do to make shoppers acquire new desires(like lining the path to the till with candies and lip glosses)

Anonymous said...

oh man. i totally get this. we're in dc right now and i LOVE the fact that there are no fast food places within walking distance of our house. there's just the park, little restaurants, and (of course) the market. and that is just what people in this neighborhood do. they buy stuff at the market for food. you know the people who sell it to you. it's fresh. it tastes better.

and i hate how something can be labeled as women's and be priced so much higher...even though it is quite obvious that it is the same as the men's!

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