“There’s a sucker born every minute” – Someone that isn’t P. T. Barnum, although he was wrongfully credited for saying it.
For those unfamiliar with P. T. Barnum, he was a man who made a fortune scamming people. Not in the traditional sense, though; people willingly paid Barnum to see a monkey’s head sewn onto the tail of a fish (and presented as the Fiji mermaid), a fossil giant (which was actually just a stone sculpture), and a slave he had bought named Joice Heth who he claimed was 161 years old and was none other than George Washington’s nursemaid. He even sold 1,500 tickets to Joice’s autopsy to prove that she was indeed 161 years old. However, the surgeon who performed the autopsy revealed that she was probably around 80 years old at the time of her death. So, basically, if you sell it well enough, people will buy it. Kind of.
You can actual sell an idea that will sell your product. Barnum sold the idea that there are things out there in the world that are mystical, magical, outside our mundane normality.
Meanwhile, we have recently seen a health food industry explode. But what do P. T. Barnum and the health food industry have in common, you ask? Well, it’s unclear if the products they sell actually help keep people healthy like they claim they do, or if they’re just selling the idea and hoping that their products will keep you healthy.
See Also: 6 Mysteries That Were Complete Hoaxes
First off, even though it’s the hottest thing (read: green) since broccoli, it’s a lot older than you think. Kale (also known as farmer’s cabbage) was one of the most popular greens in Middle Age Europe, and even the ancient Greeks and Romans ate it (even though it was of a slightly different variety). Of course, if you went to a Middle Age farmers’ market and asked for “kale”, the vendor would most likely look at you perplexed. Actually, it’s the Middle Ages, so you’d probably get burnt at the stake, stoned, flailed, and whipped for being a time-traveling warlock eating kale, because the last time kale was this popular, it went by the name boerenkool.
But enter PR person Oberon Sinclair, who was hired by the American Kale Association, and boerenkool jumped into a phone booth and emerged as [trumpets] a superfood [echo: superfood, superfood, superfood]! PR firm My Young Auntie hocked the new (see: ancient) green to the hippest of hip New York eateries and even created a line of Kale-wear which donates a large amount of its profits to the Edible Schoolyard Project, a project that aims to bring local, organic food to public schoolchildren.
Now you have a superfood that actually helps the children. Then a small controversy brought even more attention to the brand (yes, we live in a period of history in which vegetables have brands). Finally, to cement kale’s healthy food cult status, Hollywood (the perpetual consumer of all things hype) adopted it as its favorite thing to eat. To the chagrin of wheatgrass. Although extremely beneficial health-wise, kale isn’t astoundingly healthier than other dark greens such as spinach, collard greens, and even mustard greens, which also happen to be a fraction of the price.
Yet another hip-afied ancient foodstuff, these grains actually relish in their ancientness; they don’t bashfully say they are 25 even when they’re pushing 45… thousand. If you’re unfamiliar with ancient grains, they’re grains our Paleolithic ancestors ate and are said to be healthier, higher in nutrients, and easier for us to digest, making the assumption that our peptic system hasn’t evolved in the last tens of thousands of years.
A few of these grains are farro, quinoa, chia, and sorghum. Of course, the ancient grain caboose was hitched to the Paleo diet hype train. Damn it, now I have to explain that: the Paleo diet postulates you should avoid all things post-farming and excludes dairy and processed food, because obviously the advent of farming has been horrible to the evolution of humanity. The Paleo diet instead consists of food ancient ancestors would have likely eaten like berries, meats and fish, and even allows for modern preparations. Wusses, I’d like to see how much weight you’d lose if you had to compete with a bear for a salmon and then take a honking bite out of it as it’s still flapping around in your hand.
Hey… I just might have invented the newest diet crazy, the No-Faux-Paleo diet. Nonetheless, the Paleo diet is heavily criticized because it completely excludes both grains and legumes (which are beans, doofus). The problem is that grains and legumes are really good for you, and completely cutting them out of your diet isn’t removing a great source of protein, nutrients, and carbs.
I never thought there would be a fruit with celebrity status, but açaí comes to trump that perception. This Amazonian fruit is in everything from vitamin water to juices, ice cream to vodka (which generally cancels health benefits either immediately or in the form of a drunken visit to McDonald’s at 2am), and even lip balm. Sure, acai is packed with nutrients including important antioxidants, but there are other fruits that kick its butt, and even some veggies. So, why so popular?
Well, a couple of preppy pretty boy gringos went down to Brazil and purchased a container’s worth of açaí puree. They brought it back home to California but couldn’t sell it initially, so they started pawning it off (in juice form) as an “exotic energy fruit drink, high in fiber and antioxidants” and then the pitched it to gyms around the United States. Finally, they managed to haggle their way into the Sundance Film Festival where they served smoothies to the stars.
Eventually, the fruit gained notoriety as the “celebrity fruit”, enjoying favored consumers from the A to the Z list. Even the word “superfood” was constructed by an “anti-aging” expert, Dr. Nicholas Perricone, whose book sounds more like a snake oil salesman’s pitch than a doctor’s: The Perricone Promise: Look Younger, Live Longer in Three Easy Steps… I’m not even joking.
Speaking of things that were “marketed” into existence, do you know of a fuzzy fruit that goes by the name Chinese gooseberry? Well, that’s because the person that initially imported the fruit thought of calling it something a little less racist and a little more cute would help… and that’s how we got the kiwifruit, which was inspired by New Zealand’s national animal.
So are there are some famous products or food crazes that I missed on this list? Let me know in the comments section below… and if you haven’t pick up on it, this article basically calls all of you dumb for buying into some businessperson’s marketing pitch for the latest thing.