About Me Contact Me Popular Posts Other Writing Press Put Me To Work

Brands and blog tours – not always so sweet.

10.05.2010

in blogging about blogging,politics,ranting,things that make you go argh

I guess I’m super behind the times in just having learned that there’s a promotional mommyblog tour right now for the Corn Refiners Association via the marketing consultancy, Mom Central. A few dozen bloggers, paid in gift certificates, listened to a webinar and then posted the promotional information disseminated by the CRA and their paid experts.

Gah.

Although in fairness, the CRA twitter feed informed me that it was not promotional.  It was educational.

You know what’s educational? This New York Times editorial by Michael Pollan.

And this one.

And this one.

I am totally not down with high fructose corn syrup (or Corn Sugar or Mercury-Laced Sweetener or whatever they call it now) and have been writing about it for a while now. You can thank Nate in part for that. He’s my agro-idealism hero.

If you don’t believe that HFCS bad for you, then believe it’s bad for the environment. If you don’t believe that, then believe that the corn subsidies are bad for us economically.

So while I can’t blame an industry for trying to stay in business in the face of oh, pretty much anyone with half a brain who knows that foods processed within an inch of their lives are killing us slowly and that there’s no need to have HFCS in bread, ketchup, or canned peaches–I find the CRA’s entire campaign predatory and misleading. Case in point: This (infuriating) “advertorial” [*link to cache of post which was removed] on Mom Central, (also covered at BNET who doesn’t like it much either) which includes claims like High fructose corn syrup, like sugar and honey, is natural.

Natural? Last I checked, there was no High Fructose Corn Syrup Tree.

All this said, I’m not a scientist. I’m not a nutritionist (or they’d kick me out of the club for malpractice) I can’t cite as many sources as a lot of you can to defend my distrust of high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, I love Coke. And Pepsi. So full disclaimer: I’m a total hypocrite.

But.

This whole thing is raising all sorts of questions for me about blogger-brand relationships, once again. Because it used to be that it was just some KY Jelly product hoping for a mention. I feel like this kind of lobbyist-created advocacy changes everything.

Alas, I can’t change the world. All I can change is me. (Or us?)

So I ask myself, what’s our personal responsibility when we accept campaigns like this?  What’s our responsibility to our readers beyond the little FTC disclosure bit (speaking of which, some bloggers disclosed compensation, some didn’t).

Is a review the same as an endorsement? Is reprinting press materials verbatim the same as a “review?”

If we are to engage on blog tours and brand tours and sponsored posts, what do we owe our readers, exactly?

Then I wonder, what’s a consultant’s responsibility in disseminating the information to the bloggers they work with? I was saddened to learn that on the Mom Central advertorial post, the author is identified as an MD, but not as a paid consultant for the Corn Refiner’s Association, which the BNET article revealed to me.

I see that as intentionally misleading. I don’t like it.

It makes me think about the big ol’ Nestle Family twitstorm earlier this year. What was Nestle Family’s obligation to their guests when Nestle boycotters took issue with the event and started challenging the bloggers there? If we use a hashtag or accept a free trip–or even a gift certificate–are we now spokespeople for the brand?

Really, what is the marketer’s obligation to protect us as publishers or marketing partners, even as they are trying to sway us as consumers? And how can we insist on it?

Too many questions, it’s hurting my head!

Personally, I would start with just making sure a blogger understands the outreach to begin with. One blogger on the HFCS tour wrote (no link out of respect)

The professional speakers used a lot of technical scientific terms and words that rather confused me,  but ultimately the important message I learned from them is that there is no significant difference between HFCS and table sugar. 

Judging from quite a few of the other posts I read, they also didn’t seem to understand much more than the simple talking point “HFCS and table sugar are the same.” And they didn’t seem to research the issue much beyond what they were told by the paid endorsers before creating their posts.

One blogger confessed apologetically on her blog after her comments got heated:

We only know what we [were taught by the CRA]. I actually was thinking about doing more research after doing my post as I am not educated enough on this topic to really say how I feel about it in all honesty. 

Educational indeed.

Now surely a blogger can’t be held responsible for every action of every company we recommend. We all have different levels of understanding of brands and products, and different things we care about. I always feel defensive when I see bloggers being attacked in comments for whom they choose to endorse. Frankly, dig into most multinationals and there is some skeleton in some closet somewhere. If not right in the foyer. We have to pick and choose our battles, and my battle may not be the same as yours.

But–and I’ve said this many times before–I believe we all need to own our words.

And I do think we have an obligation to understand what we’re posting about and who we’re advocating for–not just when it’s paid, but especially when it’s paid.

This week, a whole team of bloggers got paid in gift certificates by a multi-million dollar lobbying organization so that when concerned parents hit the web and Google High Fructose Corn Syrup, they’ll get a bunch of posts from “trusted moms” saying HFCS is just like sugar! Don’t cut it out any more than you cut out honey! It’s fine! It’s NATURAL. Doctors told us so.

I hope it was a really good gift certificate.

—–

For the follow up to this post, please see On ethics and integrity. The real kind, not the pretend kind for your press kit.

181 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

Beth B October 5, 2010 at 4:38 am

Great post! I do think bloggers should do some research and understand the product before they participate in a blog tour.

But I am the wrong person to even discuss HFCS.. I am mad enough about why they need to put sugar in fruit juice..

Reply

Usedtobeme a/k/a Stella D. October 5, 2010 at 5:37 am

Great post!

Reply

Anonymous October 5, 2010 at 6:36 am

Agreed about HFCS, but what on earth is a blog tour?

Reply

Mom101 October 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

A blog tour is a series of posts around a single topic or product, generally set to run at a given time, all coordinated by a central consultant or PR person, then generally aggregated in one place, like on that consultant's own website.

Reply

Heather Lopez October 5, 2010 at 11:10 am

I declined to participate in that campaign when it came out. I am always honest, regardless of compensation or not. To me, true product reviews and articles teach the readers and the brands what works and what doesn't.

Reply

Mir October 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

On the up side, every single blogger on this tour can now be easily crossed off the list of People I Will Ever Read Or Take Seriously For Even A Moment. So there's that.

(Thank you for your eloquence, Liz. All I could manage in the face of this was incoherent, rage-filled muttering.)

Reply

Michelle October 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

Great post on an important topic. I was SO surprised when I got the email concerning this tour- there was no way I could post about it and look at my blog in the morning. The excerpts you posted proved there are people put there who just don't know any better–but are they the best to promote a brand? Kinda scary. Like you, I know HFCS is bad, and I work to avoid it (candy not included)…..thanks for writing this!

Reply

the new girl October 5, 2010 at 11:35 am

This makes me woozy. WOOZY.

I..I just don't get it. I don't. The same as sugar? Honey? Are they KIDDING ME? You need to wear protection to MAKE this stuff because there are CAUSTIC CHEMICALS involved.

I love your balanced writing and coverage of the topic. So much. Thinking about this stuff makes me buggy, though, and then incoherently angry and then kind of hopeless.

Gift certificates, eh? Hmm.

Reply

Mom101 October 5, 2010 at 11:44 am

Heather and Michelle, three cheers! I wish you would write about this too.

What makes the idea of an “educational” blog tour disingenuous is the fact that skeptics and dissenters feel they need to decline instead of writing a negative post.

It's also why getting paid for reviews by the marketer you're reviewing is a crappy model.

Reply

Nina October 5, 2010 at 11:49 am

Great post Liz! Sounds like corporate America taking advantage of underinformed bloggers. It is so important for bloggers (esp. moms) to research and know what they are advocating for before they post!

Reply

Goddess in Progress October 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

BLECH. That's all I can say. Not only is that shady as all get out from a marketing perspective, but this also remains a segment of the blogging population that I simply don't understand.

I don't get a ton of PR pitches, but I decline nearly every single one I get. Even if it's a good cause or event, I'm simply not in the “business” of being a commercial for every company, brand, or even non-profit out there. I write for myself, I write to be authentic. Yes, I have gotten an opportunity or two to be involved in things that I really and truly believe in, and I'm super grateful for that. But unless it's something that I'm raving about to my friends well in advance of getting a PR notice about it, you won't be reading about it on my blog.

This HFCS nonsense, I totally agree, is at the FAR end of the spectrum, into deceptive and/or manipulative. So distressing.

Reply

veep veep October 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

To quote Mir:
“On the up side, every single blogger on this tour can now be easily crossed off the list of People I Will Ever Read Or Take Seriously For Even A Moment. So there's that.”

I thought the same exact thing when I went to look and see who participated.

I have my belief about HFCS and while I know everyone is entitled to their own belief when it comes to what they give their kids to eat, I found it disturbing that they mostly posted verbatim from the sponsor and some didn't even understand much about the topic.

I also hated to know that some moms would do this for a gift certificate and that a mom runs the consulting company who set this blog tour up. Yes, I actually did wish it wasn't a parent who set the blog tour up so I could say, well, they don't have children so they don't care to research the statements behind this sponsor.

A blog tour like this hurts all of us.

Reply

Dad Who Writes October 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I stumbled across this via a link in my twitter feed.

The relationships between brands and bloggers fascinates me and I've sounded off about it more than once. The question you have to ask yourself is not “Would I use this product?” but “Is this product me? Am I happy to be identified as this product in a creepily literal sense?” Because when you become an advocate for a brand, that's what you're essentially doing. Banner ads are one thing – I think we all know that if you blog on wordpress and (like me) are too tightfisted to pay, ads beyond your control are going to crop up. But when you write about a brand in your blog, you're forming an alliance that isn't so easy to unpick.

The easiest thing, of course, is to simply not do it, though if you need the money, that's not such a simple answer (and some people do blog to make ends meet). But every time you schill on behalf of Nestle or Pampers or whatever, you're swapping a little bit of your blog's soul (and yours) in exchange for the personality of that brand.

Reply

Pam October 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Here's an idea… Get those nice folks to return the gift card and take the posts down. If you don't know what you wrote and don't understand what was said, how can you leave it up and have the CRA continue to benefit?

Reply

Adventures In Babywearing October 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I'm appalled. But I'm not. But I am. God, it's late 2010 I feel like we should be much beyond this crap by now. I remember when I first saw an HFCS commercial on Bravo a couple years back & thought it was an SNL skit.

Hopefully your post will be toward the top of the google page.

Steph

Reply

Boston Mamas October 5, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Liz, as you know from Twitter, I spent yesterday afternoon basically cleaning up the shards of my head from the floor after it exploded when I (also late apparently) heard about this blog tour.

I'm on the Mom Central mailing list (after attending a lunch there several years ago) and I was trying to scour my brain to remember whether I ever received notice about this tour (I can't scour my trash unfortunately because I empty it regularly).

Now, I could be wrong here, but I don't recall receiving the message (and I have another uber natural food blogger friend who is on the MC list who also doesn't recall seeing it) — and if that is the case, it suggests that Mom Central intentionally went after bloggers they figured wouldn't put up a fight about the campaign. Which, in my mind, basically screams, “Yeah, we know this is totally shady, but hell, the corn people make a craptastic amount of money and are paying *us* a lot of money!”

I have turned away a lot of well compensating opportunities (direct from companies or via agencies) because they don't make sense — not only from my editorial POV generally, but also because there is no way in good faith that I could disseminate information about certain topics/products to my readers. I know there were probably (way) bigger bucks in play for Mom Central, but there's a definitive trade-off in respect. And in my humble opinion, respect and integrity is worth more than whatever dollars changed hands here.

Even if the amount was, you know, enough to buy a corn sugar powered Hummer.

-Christine

Reply

PunditMom October 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I've done my best to avoid HFCS for years because, to paraphrase Kathy bates' character in the fine movie The Waterboy, HFCS is “the devil.” Seriously, there's no reason for it other than finding a way to subsidize an industry that grows more corn than we need and to keep prices low on products like soda. As for the bloggers, a little research on one's own goes a long way. One doesn't have to be Christiane Amanpour to figure out when someone is trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Reply

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) October 5, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Full disclosure: In the past, I have publicly discussed my issues with Mom Central's want for ethics (or at the very least, their lack of etiquette). Certainly, there is no love lost and the grapes are fermented.

My head is spinning on this one, Liz. Thank you for bringing it up. For a blogger to say “this is what we were told” is irresponsible and ultimately, cheapens ALL of our worth. I try to be conscientious in everything that I review, even with a crappy $15 DVD that featured way too much animal sex for my taste. I gave it a bad review and moved on. I haven't been asked to review anything since by that firm, but so be it. I VALUE MY READERS.

You said it all in this statement:
“…….I believe we all need to own our words.

And I do think we have an obligation to understand what we're posting about and who we're advocating for–not just when it's paid, but especially when it's paid.”

Reply

Melissa {adventuroo} October 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm

This infuriates me on so many levels… from the CRA getting mom bloggers involved to the mom bloggers taking the bait.

I went and visited these bloggers' posts and they all pretty much sound alike. Luckily, most of them had few to no comments and the comments they DID have were 99% against HFCS. I love that others aren't letting a few silly posts convince them… but I'm afraid for Google to bring up these posts in search engines.

Reply

Muskrat October 5, 2010 at 1:11 pm

HFCS is gross. Paying taxes so that our government can pay farmers to overproduce cheap, shitty food in stockpiles is grosser. Taking a lame gift certificate so that you can push a shitty policy and shitty product is grossest.

Reply

Wendi October 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I wonder who they'd promote if they were given TWO gift certificates.

Great post.

Reply

Cyn October 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I have so many things I want to write, but I will pick just one. I believe posting positively about or even consuming HFCS is a lack of thoughtfulness. Haven't we yet learned to be thoughtful in all our choices? I don't think an “Oh, I didn't know that.” is acceptable anymore. What you publish on your blog, what you put in your body, what you choose to put in your children's bodies, should all be thoughtful decisions.

Reply

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting October 5, 2010 at 1:22 pm

This is a wonderful post. I don't recall seeing this email come through my inbox, but I would've taken it out and stomped on it's hilarity and stupidity in a friggin' heartbeat and proclaimed as such had I have seen it.

This is so much more than just HFCS, this is about promoting fake-bullshit in our foods and hiding it as an educational webinar. As an advocate for all-natural and organic foods myself, I am appalled that the Corn Refiner's Association thinks buying off a few mom bloggers with gift cards to spread their word would be a good idea?

I am even more-so appalled that it's all about dollar signs for the aforementioned company to even TAKE the campaign in the first place. It appears money is much more-so important to them than America's health.

It's about taking a stand, people. Would they promote a Red Dye #5 blog tour? Would they support an “Aspartame doesn't cause cancer” blog tour?

Geez.

Reply

Milehimama @ Mama Says October 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Wow, where did they even find these bloggers? Maybe they just read in a very different niche. I can't imagine any of the 'big bloggers' that I sub to in Reader NOT doing their own research and just repeating the party line.

It's true that HFCS has the same calories as sugar… but that's it. And calorie count is not the only (or even best) measure of nutrients and food ingredients.

HFCS is like the perfect storm to me… I oppose it for health AND political reasons.

Reply

The818 October 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Wow, that last paragraph really chilled me to my bones, Liz. This is the really scariest part of what's going on between bloggers and brands right now…truth and marketing have become so blurred, I don't even think the people hitting the publish button can tell the difference any more.

Amazing {nauseating} post.

Reply

Meagan Francis October 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Are you kidding me?

When I read this quote: “…a lot of technical scientific terms and words that rather confused me, but ….I learned…that there is no significant difference between HFCS and table sugar”

I did one of those ugly, snorty laughs–you know the ones that are more out of disbelief, shock and disgust than humor.

Honey, (which is no different from Corn Sugar as I've now learned through highly technical scientific terms I can't wrap my pretty little brain around!) if a PAID REPRESENTATIVE of a brand tells you something using technical terms meant to impress and confuse you, you haven't “learned” anything. You've been brainwashed, and now you're being used as a (likely, poorly-paid) pawn.

It takes a lot to surprise me these days, but my jaw hit the floor on this one. Not that the companies tried. What amazes me is that the bloggers bought into it and put their ethics and reputations on the line. It would be one thing if they really believed in HFCS and all that it stands for, but judging by that quote I'm guessing that isn't the case.

Maybe I'm just more skeptical than the average mom. Like Steph, I was so incredulous when the original “HFCS is just like sugar!” commercials came out, I thought they were parodies.

Reply

Stimey October 5, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I don't think to write about a product or campaign is to endorse it, but if you just repeat what marketers say to you without any critical reasoning attached, then, yes, you are endorsing.

I reviewed a book a while back that offered medical advice for kids with autism that I thought was not just bad, but dangerous. I wrote about the book, but that does not constitute an endorsement, because I applied critical thinking to it and said, in no uncertain terms that I believed the book to be dangerous and didn't recommend it.

I checked out what some of the other blogs who were also reviewing the book were saying and most of them had just published the press release. I doubt they even read it. I think that constitutes an endorsement. And not just an endorsement, but an unthinking endorsement, which is much worse. (After all, if you actually do believe/advocate for what they are saying(and can back up your opinions), that is okay—even if the rest of us think you're wrong.)

Whenever I agree to review a product on my review blog, I email the company and let them know that I cannot guarantee a positive review. I write my opinion—good or bad. And then I do.

I don't think there is anything wrong with participating in a blog tour about HFCS—in fact, I wish more skeptics had, so as to balance out the coverage—but it is important that participants write honestly and critically about it. To do otherwise is lazy, dishonest, and bad reporting/blogging.

Reply

Mommy Niri October 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Christine (Boston Mamas) – I do get the mailing list and did receive the campaign. I have to admit feeling so let down that this was happening. In fact it saddened me no end to feel that we use our power for this sort of thing. It also made me make an important decision to not have a group button on my site which may represent projects I don't believe in and cannot control. I do recall it was a bigger amount promised than usual and smirked that they would have to do that for someone to promote them. I could not imagine, no matter how I may need any money, wanting to promote something that disgusts me so much.

Another point, is that I was again disappointed to find that a conference I had pulled out of speaking (I pulled out for separate personal reasons) also had them listed as a sponsor. I understand money is money but as moms and parents I would hope we would start drawing the line somewhere. http://typeamomconference.com/sponsorships/sponsors/

Again last week I found out that there was a campaign to change the name of HFCS – makes me ill – do they think we are stupid? Or should I not speak on behalf of everyone?

Reply

Nate October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Great post. I couldn't think of a snarky, sarcastic thing to say if I tried…

Go get 'em, tiger, you know we all got your back!

Reply

Bill/Shredheads October 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

To be honest, by itself, HFCS doesn't concern me a whole lot. I try to keep it to a reasonable minimum in our diets, but frankly I don't search it out. Given the choice I know it's healthier to eat something natural rather than HFCS, but it's not at the front of my food buying decisions.

What DOES concern me is the amount of money being spent to convince me HFCS is okay. THAT makes me feel like it's not okay and they're trying to shove it down my throat. Kind of like when a candidate spends millions and millions of dollars of their own money to get elected. Really? You want it that badly? That throws up red flags right there, when you'd rather spend money on advertising rather than doing it “the old fashioned way” and earning it.

Enough typing. Time to go eat twinkies and a coke. ;)

Reply

CentsibleLife October 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Like others I am dismayed that anyone would just write a whole hearted endorsement of HFCS after being shown “educational” materials which were apparently so technical they might be confusing. Sadly I don't think many bloggers realize that's what they are doing, and they may not realize they are being exploited by a lobbying group with millions of dollars that could be better spent on putting real food into our kid's mouths.

I do not receive pitches from the consulting company who ran the campaign but as my friend Mindi Cherry pointed out to me the same company recently ran a blog tour for the a reformulated ketchup without HFCS. Clearly they are all about making money and using their network to promote whoever is paying them the most.

Reply

Annie @ PhD in Parenting October 5, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I'm furious about this too, Liz. I'm furious at the Corn Refiners for trying to mislead people. I'm furious at Mom Central for agreeing to work on such a disgusting campaign. I'm furious at the bloggers for not doing a tiny bit of their own research.

Last year as the whole Nestle Family thing was debated and discussed on my blog, the one key message I kept hammering home to those who claimed they had no idea about Nestle's unethical practices before accepting the trip, is that it wouldn't have taken more than 60 seconds of Googling to find out that they are one of the most criticized and boycotted companies in the world.

The same holds true on this one. If those bloggers had spent two minutes on this before agreeing to be part of it, they would have realized that there is another side to the story. That should have been a red flag enough for them to either turn it down (the fastest and easiest thing to do) or at least do more research before accepting.

I wish I'd known about this earlier. I would have written an open letter to the “corn sugar” bloggers like the one I did to the Nestle Family bloggers last year, encouraging them to at least ask the tough questions while they are there and to take everything they hear with a grain of salt.

I will be writing about this too, but am taking my time to ensure that I fill it with the best facts and research available and that I SEO the hell out of the post to ensure that it is what people find (instead of the garbage pumped out this week).

Thanks for this Liz.

Reply

girlymama October 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

What makes me the most sad – beyond the blogging issue – is that this rebranding of HFCS as “corn sugar” will probably work. Between the commercials I've been seeing, the one that make anti-HFCS facts sound like health-nut propaganda, and the fact that you have to make SUCH a tremendous effort to find any food without HFCS, its hard to imagine that the majority of Americans will catch on to what is happening to their health.
Excellent post, Liz. Thanks.

Reply

Matt SF October 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I think the HFCS debate is a great example of the evolution of publishing tactics during the “Information Revolution”.

When you're a corporation fighting a battle for brand/commodity/company supremacy, your first weapon is information.

However, your backup weapon is misinformation, and it's used when science creates an unfortunate truth that can only be countered by politics and marketing.

And now that information is so freely available, companies are doing all they can to create subversive and tainted content to sway the minds of influential people who will help them disseminate the type of web content most beneficial for their self-interests.

Reply

One Hungry Mama October 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm

How come I wasn't invited to the blog tour? HA!

Okay. Seriously. I'm not sure how to write this delicately. And the baby won't nap this morning, so I'm rushing and will probably offend people. If I do, I'm truly sorry. I don't meant to be disrespectful, BUT…

I'm dumbfounded by the idea of blogging about HFCS. Back up… let's assume that you truly believe it's an acceptable ingredient. That means we disagree and you have a right to blog about what you believe. Fine. (Although, I'd have to argue that anyone who believes it's an acceptable ingredient is unfathomably misinformed.)

But, now, what about folks who are unsure or who don't know about HFCS… WHY would they knowingly blog about a controversial ingredient without being informed or having a strong POV?!

If you want to raise your voice in a community–which is what you do when you start a blog, no matter how small–you have to take responsibility for that.

And, while all the other players bear responsibility for this debacle of a blog tour, I think personal responsibility is the bottom line. Especially as a family food blogger–you actively encourage people to make and eat certain foods. You actively encourage them to feed these foods to their children. Please, food bloggers, be more thoughtful about that.

Reply

Julie @ The Mom Slant October 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm

You already know how I feel – heck, I wrote a whole series of posts about HFCS a couple years ago. But I think the Muskrat summed it up best for me.

Thanks for writing about this in such an even-handed, multi-faceted way.

Reply

SuZ @ NYTMBlog October 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Wow, great post.

I especially like this part about a High Fructose Corn Syrup Tree.

Now, I'm like you and love my soda so I'm kinda a hypocrite on the subject, but you can't claim something is just the same as natural sugar when it's just not.

Maybe in their “tutoriual” about HFCS they should've shown how it was made and maybe the bloggers would've been more informed…. or not.

Who knows.

But it's a great post, thanks for sharing it with us.

Reply

selfmademom October 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm

When CRA changed the name from HFCS to “corn sugar” earlier this year, I knew something was up. It smelled of bad PR from the start (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/a-new-name-for-high-fructose-corn-syrup/)

I just didn't know that it would be this. As I mentioned in my tweet this morning, and to echo Boston Mamas' sentiment, you will notice, very clearly, that the campaign did not target food bloggers. Because a food blogger would never list HFCS as a substitute for sugar when baking cookies. It's not the same. (I've written about this in the past too, as you know.)

Also, the fact that a mere gift certificate would be enough inducement for a blogger to write about a topic that she admittedly doesn't understand well enough to articulate outside of the big corporate talking points infuriates me.

Mom bloggers – we are a freaking marketers dream. We're turning into those wind up dolls where we just spew out whatever someone tells us because they push the right button. They give us money. We post what they want us to say.

We keep spinning this wheel of credibility, authenticity, full disclosure and we keep landing on “bankrupt.” Stacy of MC surely was smart enough to know that people would fall for the gift cert instead of thinking about the end-game of this promotion – it doesn't bring jackpot for anyone in the long run. Except for those food bloggers who get to keep their credibility.

Reply

Jaelithe October 5, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Ooooh, I sort of wish they had invited me. I do understand “science-y language,” you see. And I know a lot about food. In fact, I write these articles about sustainable food at Care2, like, once a week, so I have to research science-y thingies on food ALL THE TIME. I could have written SUCH a detailed analysis of their claims.

Which is, I'm sure, why they didn't invite me.

(Well, that and the fact that my poor neglected mommyblog has an audience of, like, five, and I do practically no paid advertising there.)

Reply

Julia October 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Liz, Nate may well be your agro-idealism hero but you are my “snark'em till they wake-up to the dawn of the era of responsibility” hero and I adore you!

Reply

andrea from the fishbowl October 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Did anyone on the blog tour post anything objective, like any third-party research about HFCS? Did anyone ask the hard questions? I'm surprised AND dismayed.

Reply

Magpie October 5, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I love it when you write like this. Thanks, Liz.

Reply

the grumbles October 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

“The professional speakers used a lot of technical scientific terms and words that rather confused me, but ultimately the important message I learned from them is that there is no significant difference between HFCS and table sugar.”

wow. just… wow.

this is the reason i don't participate in many reviews. i'm not going to promote things i don't like or understand or things that aren't valuable to my readers. it's part of trying to be as genuine and honest as possible. my integrity is worth more than a gift card.

Reply

Alias Mother October 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Oh, fer the love…

I wrote out a huge comment and it didn't go through. *bang head, weep*

Here we go again.

I am generally anti-HFCS, can't imagine blogging about something without doing research, and think the HFCS PR campaign is 100 different kinds of shady.

That said, I don't think it's all that different from other campaigns.

A few years ago, a bunch of bloggers went on a tour of (I think) a Pampers factory. Following that, the internet was treated to a bunch of posts from trusted bloggers about how environmentally friendly Pampers are. Look! You can eat them! Anyone who has done even a smidge of research into disposable vs. cloth knew they were full of crap, sorry about the unintended pun. And if anyone asked about it, the response was, “Look, I'm no diaper expert. This was just what I was told.” But there was no shirt-rending and hair-tearing over it.

Why the difference? Because HFCS is a hot topic right now. That's the only reason for the outrage.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be bothered. I am bothered. But I am consistently bothered by these blurred-lines campaigns, not just when the topic is a trendy one. So if we want to talk about it, let's talk about it broadly and not just string up these particular bloggers as dumb and irresponsible. There's a bigger conversation here. Let's look at it.

Reply

Plushroom Soup October 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I'm not a mom, but this enrages me nontheless. I've been railing against HFCS and corn subsidies since I was in high school, and I just don't understand how 15 years later, our society is still relatively clueless (or willfully ignorant) about this issue.

Even if HFCS is the “same” as table sugar on a molecular level, table sugar is also processed and not exactly healthy. In fact, last year the American Heart Association lowered their recommendations for maximum consumption of table sugar/added sugars, and those recommendations are scary low (http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4471). Why scary? Because as others have mentioned, it takes a LOT of hard work to find products not loaded with HFCS or other added sugars. Per the AHA, I should consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day. Many “whole wheat” breads contain 2-4 grams of sugar per slice. So my healthy sandwich already has up to a quarter of my daily sugar allowance, assuming I don't put mustard or mayo on it, which, again, asssuming I use a typical store brand, will add another 2-4 grams. Extrapolate this example over a typical day, and you can see how quickly those grams add up.

It is ridiculously irresponsible for the CRA to market HFCS as harmless, and for bloggers to endorse them without the facts.

Reply

Rosanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN October 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I commend all the moms who feel that they couldn't do this sort of blog tour. You should only do what you are comfortable with and what you believe in.

I believe in the scientific process. I don't believe in hype, and I sure don't believe everything I read on blog comment pages.

Full Disclosure: I'm a registered dietitian and consultant to the Corn Refiner's Association. I would not have decided to work with the CRA had I felt any reservation about HFCS or the industry. I like our American food industry.

I also live in a rural town and know farmers – Responsible, hard-working farmers.

What gets me is that folks are so cynical (and Michael Pollan has helped drive this cynicism) about the farming industry. The information is presented as if there are no responsible, moral people at all in the farming or food industries. I think that there are.

I view many aspects of food processing as progress. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and I don't think I want to go back to the days where I have to chop the head off a chicken before dinnertime, and find time to bake bread every other day (by the way- we need sugar in bread because it feeds the yeast – otherwise it wouldn't rise).

When you hear, “HFCS is just like sugar”, it's a simplified way to explain that HFCS is metabolized like cane sugar is metabolized. That's just how our body works.

When a blogger quoted “…a lot of technical scientific terms and words that rather confused me…” this was not the intention. The intention was to educate the moms/consumers about the facts. And the facts in this case are all about science.

Sure we should do our best to feed our children a healthy diet. (Personally, we plant a garden, we even have our own chickens:) Yummy eggs. And we make sure our kids are very physically active). But I also purchase some processed treats (in addition to bags of apples, bananas, carrots, greens, grapes, berries, milk, yogurt, fresh meats from the local butcher, etc).

This is the deal: it comes down to choices and behaviors. HFCS serves a purpose for the food industry, is safe, and does not “cause obesity”. It does matter, to a lot of people, that some foods are made affordable.

You can make your own choice, and hopefully it balances out – good nutrition at all meals, proper portions, exercise, serving milk with meals, not soda pop…But a few cookies and chocolates thrown in won't hurt.

Another non-biased view to consider: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/shakespeare-sheep-and-sug_b_720777.html

Rosanne Rust

Reply

Mom101 October 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Thanks for the comment (twice!) Alias Mother.

Can't speak for anyone else's outrage, but I actually do think that this is a lot different than the Pampers example. That, from what I can tell, was a brand taking you on a tour of their factory and telling you good things about their products. You know you're at P&G.

In this case, a lobbying group is disseminating misinformation and half truths that are hurting our children, through doctors who are paid consultants (but not disclosing that fact), and calling it “an educational campaign about sugar.”

While I agree there are always similarities in how PR works, I find the CRA example far more predatory.

Reply

Mom101 October 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

@Roseanne

thanks for a thoughtful comment and for disclosing your relationship with the CSA.

No one here is saying that “there are no responsible, moral people at all in the farming or food industries.”

I would be the LAST person to make that claim.

I am also the last person to say that cookies and chocolate should be stricken from the diet. This isn't a debate about sugar overall. Although yes, we need to eat less of it as a nation.

A few main points are:
1) Unprocessed foods are nutritionally preferable to processed foods
2) HFCS is being called natural despite the fact that it's not.
3) Bloggers were lured with gift certificates to write about a controversial topic without being coached how to think critically about it or being offered opposing points of view.

It is hard to just “make our own choices,” as you say, when so many products are laden with HFCS not all of which are labeled. There's no ingredient list next to every McDonald's menu item when you walk up to the counter.

Lastly, in defense of cynics: Cynics are good. Cynics help shed light on issues that need fixing. They rarely do it maliciously.

I know: The biggest cynic on the planet is the father of my two kids.

Reply

Beth October 5, 2010 at 3:11 pm

“… and find time to bake bread every other day (by the way- we need sugar in bread because it feeds the yeast – otherwise it wouldn't rise)”

Bullcrap.

Yeast, including that found naturally in the air, as in sourdough, survive and propegate just fine on the carbohydrates in fresh whole grain flour, without any added sugar. Which, by the way, I use every other day to make my bread. From scratch. Even though I work full time. Because I can't find a loaf of commerically made bread that (a) tastes as good as my non-sugar/non corn-sugar added loaf does and (b) because I can't find a loaf of
non-sugar/non corn-sugar added bread on my store's shelves.

Being “troubled” to do it is something I take on for the betterment of health, and your comment does little more than ring of the same promotional hype the HCFS industry has been using form the start.

Reply

countryfriedmama October 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I'm in a really bad mood. I should probably wait until I'm happier to comment, but here goes: Boo, hiss on HFCS for trying to fool moms about the true nature of “corn sugar.”

And although I loved Type-A Mom and I think Kelby Carr did an excellent job with that conference, I was disturbed to find a water bottle in my bag with a big corn sugar logo on it. I hate throwing things out. Maybe I'll turn it into a planter, instead.

Clearly, the HFCS lobby has targeted us an easy mark. But for the love…really? Women who spend their free time writing aren't the teensiest bit informed about this widely publicized frankenfood? Aren't we smarter than this? There have been so many films, articles and exposes about HFCS in recent years, I can't imagine anyone not having heard something about there being an itty-bitty problem there.

Reply

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

1 trackback

Previous post:

Next post: