“We Apologize For the Delay, Your Call Is Very Important To Us” — Prove It, Corporate America
Last month, I spent a merry hour and a half on hold while making six different phone calls, three each to two separate companies. I hope that both companies actually record every second of the connection “for quality assurance purposes,” because I had a whole lot to say while on hold, especially to the company that subjected me to a male voice every ten seconds, repeating: “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.” I longed to crawl through the line and shut off that recording with extreme prejudice.
The other company let the silence run, but the less frequent pre-recorded interruptions were just as irritating. I heard, “We are experiencing an unusually high volume of calls. Your call will be answered in the order in which it was received. We thank you for your patience.” I suspect, but cannot prove, that the truth is: “Your call is absolutely not important to us; therefore, we have slashed our Customer Relations staff and do not employ enough people to handle the number of calls we receive. Our true market demands that we supply dividends for investors, and that is the only demand we heed because it is the only data we collect. So there!”
Am I jaded? Am I overstating the case? Not at all. Consider the case of consumers versus high fructose corn syrup (hereafter HFCS), an ingredient linked to higher rates of obesity and found in “everything from Coke, Pepsi and . . . iced tea to . . . yogurt and . . . cookies. It also lurks in unexpected places, like. . . crackers, . . . bread, . . . ranch dressing and . . . tomato soup,” according to an article in the New York Times, “A Sweetener with a Bad Rap” by Melanie Werner (July 2, 2006). Werner’s conclusion, as the title implies, is that the harms of HFCS have not been proven, but some consumers began to shop differently, more carefully in the belief that HFCS should be avoided.
Corporate America fought back by hiring advertising firms to convince us that there is no difference between sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I’ve seen those ads; so have you. But even as they aired, science quietly marched on to uncover some proof, and in March 2010, Princeton released a very different portrait of HFCS, reporting: “In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also … [leads] to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.”
But we don’t yield to one study any more than Jason Bourne yields to gun shot wounds, assassins on every corner, and head blows while driving at high speeds through the streets of some foreign city. We undertake more study, and I guess that’s fair and reasonable. I wouldn’t want our food industry to err on the side of caution as I do when investing.
But obesity is a huge, ever-widening problem (pun intended), especially in the Midwestern states where corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye, especially for our children. Obesity adds to our health care burdens and costs–so much so that First Lady Michelle Obama has taken up the causes of healthy foods and vigorous exercise. She also leads by example. Mrs. Obama exercises, grows organic produce on the White House grounds, and strives in the best interest of others. I applaud her for choosing health and strength as her legacy.
Corporate America, please hear her. Please hear me and countless other consumers. Granted, soda pop is not an essential, nutritious food source, but we consume a lot of it anyway, and it does not have the zing it once did. HFCS may be almost identical to sugar chemically, but when mixed in drinks, the result is flatter and fattier.
Please err on the side of caution, Corporate America, and remove HFCS from soft drinks, replacing it with sugar—just simple sugar, then remove sugars from foods unless they are absolutely essential to the product. And while you’re at it, don’t wait for California or any legislative body to force you to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups or formaldehyde in hair products. Both BPA and formaldehyde expose humans to unnecessary risk. Above all, please avoid lobbying Congress to declare that a smear of tomato paste on a slice of pizza transforms pizza into a vegetable. Just do the right thing, please, for all of us.
Finally, Corporate America, please take my call. Don’t put me on hold one second longer. We taste the difference in the beverages you sell us, and we know to whom you answer: bottom lines and stock exchanges. I don’t begrudge you a profit, but we would like for you to listen to us. We’re out here in the marketplace, too. We know that the present you shape is the future you create.