SHELF LIFE / 2004
In the future, all memories will be like this:
"The continentals like their furters, and Herta's one they really like. They like to grill them, it really thrills them, come on, take a bite. Cold in the salad, or from the barbie, microwave them their always out of sight. For baked potatoes, just heat them, they're really wild with rice. They make a feature on a pizza, make hot dogs very nice..."
The human mind is a strange thing. We cannot choose what our mind chooses to remember. The problem isn't that my mind isn't retentive - it's the fact that it's retentive about all the wrong things. Fact: About 60 tons of food passes through the gastrointestinal tract of the average human being in a lifetime. The food is expelled from the body in the form of faecal matter, but the advertising campaigns that sold us the food in the first place remain in the mind. Through indoctrination, through repetition:
"My Kelloggs Honey Smacks, you know that I love you (love you). I can't help myself. I want you and nobody else. Tasty honey, crunchy what, you're so good to eat, oh its my only goal to get you in my bowl..."
Maybe as a child, you're more receptive to these things. And after all, a lot of these campaigns are aimed at children. But while I can recite verbatim a jingle for a series of products that I don't recall ever buying, let alone having any 'brand loyalty' to, I can't for example recite even a short passage of text from a piece of classic twentieth century literature. I don't even know the exact date of my own mother's birthday. And the worst thing about all of this is the fact that Kellogg's Honey Smacks are no longer available in shops, so this is not information that I can usefully act upon. For example, Honey Smacks were formally known as Sugar Smacks. I'm speculating that this change was to do with the downgrading of the word sugar to a culinary pejorative - its processed, and it rots your teeth, whereas honey, essentially the same thing, is more closely associated with nature - with hives, beekeepers and pastoral scenes. But perhaps it was the connotations of domestic violence and heroin abuse elicited by the word 'Smack', that caused the final metamorphosis of this cereal into its current incarnation - Kellogg' s Honey Loops. This is all fairly rudimentary, the processes are obvious, but when it comes to meat products, we are dealing with another form of advertising logic that brings things slightly - closer to the bone:
"I' m the Bowyers Missionary, and that's official. My colours true, my flavour too, I sure ain't artificial..."
In this case, I have some imagery to accompany this lyrical recollection. With the Bowyers Missionary campaign, the picture that remains in my memory (and anyone can correct me if I'm wrong about this) is of a singing brown cartoon sausage, dancing through the jungle, demanding to be eaten by the natives, presumably as a means of 'converting' them. So essentially, the subtext was suggestive of a violent death by cannibalism, and this, coupled with the somewhat colonialist allusions seemed to have disturbing implications for me, even as a child. But in hindsight, further connotations do come to mind. In the mid 1980's when this advertisement was aired, it was quite likely the presence of the human form of mad cow disease in the food chain was at its height. We now know that high risk produce included meat products such as sausages that used offal, and mechanically recovered meat - very much the sort of fare that found its way onto the average 1980's school menu. And that, I certainly do remember. Similarly, in the real jungle, some scientists were suggesting a certain group of tribesmen in Papua New Guinea were also contracting a degenerative disease of a similar kind, caused by the consumption of their dead, an activity also prevalent in dairy farming methods at this time.
So this is still a recurring theme in much food advertising - the personification of the inanimate. Or in the case of the Bowyers sausage, the re-animation of slaughtered, possibly disease ridden flesh. The edible walking and talking - and just dying to be eaten. A reversal of this, and a perhaps less threatening approach, is seen in products that utilise a caricatured form of the consumer themselves. In the case of the children's food products, its usually some form of cartoon animal. Now these animals are usually wearing a baseball cap and are often a comparable colour to that of the product.
"My name's Coco, I'm a monkey like you, I live in the jungle, not in a zoo, I fed on leaves when there weren't any shops but I'd rather have a bowl of..."
When you buy a box of cereal, you're not just buying a box of cereal. The transaction is a far more complex and multifarious process, because as well as the cereal, you could also be buying a summer blockbuster, a plastic toy, the opportunity to enter a free prize draw, and by extension, a child's temporary silence. Because many of these products are tied to finite events, such as a sporting tournament or a film, we are now looking at the phenomena of the limited edition cereal.
A good contemporary example is this - start the day the ogre way with 'Shrek 2 Mud and Worms Chocolatey Corn and Rice Cereal'. Apparently, 'Gross never tasted so good'. So there is a market for dirt and filth. But the marketing team here are arguably displaying a lack of sensitivity regarding the real issues facing children in their everyday lives. If, you suffered from Enterobius Vermicularis as a child - that's threadworm to the uninitiated, the sight of this (hold up worm) in your cereal bowl amongst the lumps of brown crisped rice the morning after a night of severe anal itching, and the horror of seeing small, centimetre long white worms in your stools - would be a less than welcome visual association. Now, one of the preventative measures for the contraction of diseases like threadworm is to avoid the consumption of food and drinks containing high levels of sugar. Now much is currently written about the growing problem of childhood obesity in this country, and connections have been made between this trend and the role that celebrity product endorsements play in our buying habits. I'm going to come at this from a slightly different angle. Because, a personal endorsement is a seal of quality. In most cases, there is a photograph accompanying a text extolling some sort of personal connection with the product, often in a handwriting font, along with a signature for authenticity. Then we have Ainsley Harriot's 'Spice Sensation' range of cous cous meals ( 'Warmer than a Moroccan Sunset') clearly manifesting the image of the kindly, avuncular, unthreatening Negro cook. But an endorsement also has a finite life. What is missing here? Time was Jamie Oliver (signature gesture) would be pictured leaning over a Vespa, declaring himself to be 'absolutely doolally' about herbs. Strangely, his post endorsement absence seems to exceed the presence of the 'erb itself.
The TV Chef connection is logical in the context of these endorsements. But then there are those with no recognisable connection with food whatsoever. Believe it or not, diminutive jockey and horse racing icon Frankie Dettori has a range of pasta products on sale. Dettori claims that 'from a young age, I had two burning passions - fine Italian food and thoroughbred horses.' Of course, some rather unpleasant possibilities present themselves when we consider the idea of these two passions REALLY being brought together...
Now 70's acting icon Paul Newman is for some reason, wearing an Elizabethan Ruff, as he adorns a bottle of Newman's Own. But the question for me is - Newman's Own what? The claim on the bottle is that the product contained therein is 'all natural'. Therefore, the connotations of personal endorsement also have an undercurrent of personal - bodily involvement. I find this is particularly the case with sauces, dressings and the like. In this case, the oil separates, producing a golden head which can only be described as resembling a form of thickened urine. Then there is this - brown residue to consider, suggestive of...
...its not that I'm obsessed with bodily excretions, but if it wasn't for the association of this food with a specific person, perhaps these ideas wouldn't rear their heads. But these thought processes could just as easily suggest an ecstatic oral union with the bodies of our beloved celebrities, akin to the holy sacrament of the Eucharist. The body of Christ - the body of Lloyd Grossman.
Robin drinks an entire jar of Lloyd Grossman pasta sauce.
Speakeasy (2005) The Green Room, Manchester, UK