Can Trader Joe’s Reduce Our Guilt Around Food?

I caught part of some gameshow and one of the questions was about the name of Trader Joe’s diet food line.  That brand name is “Reduced Guilt.”  And that sucks.

First of all, the fact that these Wheat Crisps are “reduced guilt” indicates that, at least in Trader Joe’s estimation, I should feel guilty about eating some crackers in the first place.  And I’m still not off the hook if I get these crackers – they’re not “guilt free”, just reduced guilt.  So I should apparently still feel guilty, just less so.

I just wish they would have told me how much less guilty I should feel – 5% less, 30% less? And reduced from what original level of guilt?  Are we talking about the guilt I “should” feel eating other wheat crisps?  What if I was planning to have pretzels but then choose these instead?  If I was thinking about having broccoli but went with the crackers should my guilt still be reduced?  Thanks a lot Trader Joe’s – I’m freaking out here, can anyone create an algorithm to let me know how guilty I’m supposed to feel for eating these crackers?

Or, hey what about this –  how about I don’t feel any guilt at all since, while I like Trader Joe’s products, I’m not prepared to put them in charge of my emotions.  I have never seen any study indicate that guilt is good for digestion or health.  Remember when we talked about that ridiculous Truvia ad campaign where a jingle singer used insane, grief, guilt, relief, and love three times discussing an artificial sweetener?  We’ve got “sinfully delicious” cookies.  Some desserts are decadent (the act or process of falling into moral decay): but some are divine (of or pertaining to a god, especially the Supreme Being).

I understand that advertisers will do whatever they can to sell a product, but they’ve got us coming and going.  Feeling rebellious? Have this sinfully delicious cheesecake.  Feeling bad about the cheesecake?  Have our guilt-free brownie mix.  They are allowed to do this, but we don’t have to buy in and, if our goal is a healthy relationship with food, this does seem like the way to go.

Even the idea of healthy foods and unhealthy foods is tricky.  Some eating plans say that potatoes are the devil but others say that you can live on potatoes, milk, and a little bit of oatmeal.  Some say eating lots of meat is healthy.  Some say that not eating any meat is healthy.  Some food plans say that anything cooked is unhealthy. Some people love peanutbutter as a protein source, some people die if they eat it.  For someone dealing with hunger any kind of food may be better than no food. There are issues of access, culture, personal health circumstances, personal values, and personal choice involved.  I think that any public health focus should be on providing access to foods that people would choose to eat and true, unbiased information.

I used to struggled a lot with my relationship with food and I’ve found that my mental health and physical health improve dramatically when I remind myself of, and – as much as possible – remove myself from, our culture’s mixed messages, moralization, and hyperbole around food. It turns out that if I refuse to feel guilty about eating food, then every food is guilt free.

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25 thoughts on “Can Trader Joe’s Reduce Our Guilt Around Food?

  1. I love me some Trader Joe’s, but I absolutely refuse to buy any food stuff that says ‘reduced guilt’ on it. Or diet. Or sugar-free.

    Mac and cheese, soda, potato chips, wheat crackers, brownies… nope, I don’t feel any guilt about eating/drinking these things. If I want them and have access, I eat them happily. If I don’t want them or they aren’t available to me, I don’t eat them.

    And that’s that.

  2. I just wanted to know if it’s okay if I copy and paste part of this for my daughter’s health education teacher? My daughter is only 5. She loves physical activity and PE, but she came home a few days ago and started talking about “bad” foods she should never eat, according to her teacher, and how exercise is very important if you don’t want to get fat. As I was not brought up in a positive environment regarding food (I was given my first appetite suppressant at age 5) or weight (I frequently heard “if you keep eating that, you’ll get so fat you won’t be able to fit in the door”), I have made a conscious effort to create a healthy psychological environment regarding those things for my own daughter. In my own home, it’s good, but how do I help her when the messages come from people she respects, and wants to please, like her teacher?

    1. I’m a health teacher and I’m struggling with continuing my job with the materials I am given to teach health, nutrition and (gasp) weight control. I flat out won’t teach weight control in public school. They can fire me if they want. I no longer use any of the materials provided to me (audiovisual) because they are full of headless fatties and threatening messages that are based on bad science and research.

      I say talk to the teacher and tell her that you do not want values placed on foods and to eliminate fear of fat talk in her class with your child or you will pull her from the class and teach her these things yourself.

    2. This. My son (freshly six, in kindergarten) recently has developed a keen interest in his strength, his muscles, the macronutrients in food (though mostly just protien), and if a food is “healthy” or “not healthy.”

      Some of this he has definitely picked up at home, though I try to frame my attention to food in a positive way for him. We discuss moderation a lot and that all foods are healthy, but some foods you shouldn’t eat exclusively in place of others. (I’m lookin’ at you, Easter candy.) We also talk a lot about how important it is to try new things and get a variety of foods, ideally without creating a moralized good/bad dynamic (which I hate!).

      This is all well and good at home, but it’s so hard when I feel like we’re going to a spend A LOT of time countering the messages he picks up at school and from his peers. All I can do is just try to inform him when he’s gotten incorrect information.

  3. I hate most of the language used to market food, but decadent never bothered me. It always reminds me of Judi Dench describing her birthday party in Chocolat as “a perfectly decadent evening.” Dinner and wine with friends, dancing, chocolate, and thumbing her nose at the jerk mayor. Sounds like a party to me!

    1. Decadent food party – puts me in mind of an old Asterisk and Obelisk comic I read years ago. It included a part where a bunch of Romans were having a fondue party. Whenever anyone dropped their bread in the cheese, they’d cry out, “Get the stick!” You never saw what happened, but at the end, everyone was absolutely covered in cheese, and grinning to beat the band. As a child, I thought it was silly fun. As a teen, I thought “What is this? A cheese orgy?”

      So, from an old-fashioned Christian perspective, I suppose a cheese orgy would literally be decadent, and falling into moral decay, and all that.

      Still, it looked like such a lot of delicious fun. Where’s my fondue pot?

    2. Someone once defined decadence as the deliberate prolonging of pleasure and hang the consequences. Do it too often and the consequences can suck the fun right out of life; but the occasional decadent moment is good for a person IMO.

      She said, while washing down the stodgy but nourishing leftover whole wheat spaghetti and chicken marinara she had for breakfast with an ice-cold cola. I wouldn’t do this every day, but Easter Week is a time to party after six weeks of Lent!

  4. You are my emotional boost everyday! I just love your blog! You give me so much encouragement to just go out and be myself and enjoy life! And you are hilarious too! Thank you so much for being YOU:o)

  5. I once bought TJ’s Reduced Guilt Mac ‘n’ Cheese by accident (the regular mac n cheese is quite tasty and filling). It reduced my guilt by 0% since I already have no guilt about eating food, but increased my hunger two hours later by 100%. Fake food doesn’t fill me up.

  6. I would like “extra guilt” chips, because if food is going to come with emotions attached, I want my money’s worth. I would also love to see other emotional states combined with other foods. How about some rage-reducing radishes, or passive aggressive peanut butter, or confusion corn chips? 🙂

  7. If I were embezzling money from a charity or having a secret affair with a married person, I would eat these crackers.

  8. Some caution about not, in our enthusiasm for emotional-label-free foods, engaging in our own versions of “good food, bad food.”

    There are many reasons for choosing foods that do or do not contain some ingredient or another, which have nothing to do with “fat=bad” or weight loss. Diabetics and those prone to hypoglycemia might seek sugar-free or reduced-sugar foods. Some epileptics require high fat foods. There are allergy and other health reasons, as well as religious and spiritual reasons, for choosing or not choosing certain classes of foods or specific ingredients.

    So if something is labelled as containing or not containing specific ingredients, that in itself is no basis for criticism,

    I totally agree that the inappropriate assigning of emotional labeling to foods (apparently, specifically in TJ’s case to lower-fat foods) is based on incorrect assumptions and frankly, stupid marketing.

  9. Weirdly, I’ve only ever associated the word “decadent” with delicious high caloric foods. I don’t even think of “moral decay” as part of its meaning. It would be interesting if in some distant future, the word “guilt” loses its primary meaning and is only associated with the caloric content of food.

  10. I just ran a thought experiment. I made skillet sweet and sour chicken for dinner tonight. It looked an awful lot like a diet meal I used to eat, except of course there was more of it and it tasted much fresher. It was so tasty that I had a second helping instead of dessert. As I was putting away the leftovers, I considered nibbling a bit more. I looked down at the skillet of creamy-pale chicken cubes. orange carrot coins, glossy onion, and bright yellow pineapple chunks lolling in the fragrant scarlet sauce and thought of the same thing packaged in a little icy box with “Guilt-Free!” on the front.

    Appetite all gone.

    (Oh, hey, recipe. Put on a pot of rice to cook. Cut a large onion and a large sweet pepper, sweet potato, or carrot into fork- or chopstick-sized pieces. Dice some leftover chicken or turkey breast. Put 3/4 cup chicken broth, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a screw-top jar, shake well, and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet just below medium heat; add the vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon each ground ginger and salt and ground red pepper or paprika to taste. I don’t like capsaicin very much; I used paprika. Cover the pan and leave the vegetables to sweat in the butter just until al dente, 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Uncover, shake the sauce again, pour it in, add a 20-ounce can pineapple chunks or tidbits with juice, stir in 1/3 cup each sugar and cider or rice vinegar, bring just to a boil, stir in the meat, turn heat to Low, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Half an hour start to finish if you start cutting stuff up while the water for the rice is coming to a boil. Also good with leftover pork. If you want to try it with ham, leave out the sugar and salt, replace the soy sauce with more chicken broth, and adjust the seasoning after the sauce has thickened.)

  11. I was so disappointed when TJ’s started doing that, since I like how their reduced-salt nuts just say “50% less salt”. No assumptions about why you might want that, just a straightforward description.

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