Assuming that you get all your news directly from press releases, you’re probably already familiar with this story of the truth shining forth despite the best efforts of the sugar-industrial complex to cover it up. With the dead bodies of fat kids. “Today,” it reads, “the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) launched a new million dollar ad campaign designed to put an end to the blatant inaccuracies surrounding the much-maligned ingredient: high fructose corn syrup.” Ah, yes, the Center for Consumer Freedom—so named because “People’s Center for Consumer Freedom,” “Glorious Center for Freedom and Truth” and “Southern Poverty Law Center” were already taken. Apparently so was “Corn Refiners Association,” because that’s who sponsored the press release. They’ve also created the website Sweetscam.com, which sheds some long-overdue light on the conspiracy to make people think that eating a bunch of high-fructose corn syrup will make you fat, when in fact “Some research demonstrates that lean people actually eat more sugar (and less fat) than obese people.” That’s one of the many myths debunked on Sweetscam.com’s Myths and Facts page, along with “sugary sweeteners are bad for your teeth” (in fact, “almost any food left on your teeth for too long will lead to tooth decay over time”) and “high-fructose corn syrup is actually high in fructose.” See, that’s actually sort of a private joke among high-fructose corn syrup’s friends, like the way you call an enormous black man “Tiny.”
My brother, who is not morbidly obese, alerted me to this campaign to salvage the reputation of a valiant industrial sweetener yesterday, when he told me about this advertisement in which a man is unable to identify—from a police lineup including corn syrup, honey and cube sugar—which sweetener made him fat. The Coalition for Consumer Freedom’s argument here seems to be that it could be any sweetener making Americans so disgustingly overweight that they stop thinking of themselves as even capable of being loved by another person—a tactic akin to trying to get yourself acquitted by pointing out that it was a gang rape. Sure, recent studies have linked HFCS to insulin resistance and demonstrated that it often contains high levels of mercury, but have you seen this study about how HFCS is basically harmless? It was conducted by White Technical Research Group, which also makes DDT and, um, high fructose corn syrup.
Exactly why the Coalition for Consumer Freedom has chosen this moment to spend millions of dollars debunking myths about HFCS is more of a philosophical question—I mean, why did Rosa Parks refuse to give up her seat on the bus?—but it might have something to do with the recently proposed tax on soda and other sugary drinks. At a penny an ounce, the tax would generate $15 billion of revenue in its first year* and would be levied against manufacturers, not consumers. It might also do something to reduce Americans’ herculean consumption of soft drinks, which probably has something to do with Americans’ herculean asses. As of January, 34 percent of Americans are obese, and another 32 percent are overweight. That’s two out of every three people, suggesting, at the very least, that the sweetener industry wields more power than the t-shirt industry.
When the federal government tries to tax an industry that brings in $30 billion a year selling a product that A) is completely useless and B) makes people less attractive and, eventually, dead, you can bet some old-fashioned democracy is gonna go down. Rather than present our elected representatives with scientific evidence that drinking eight cans of soda a day won’t give you Type II Diabetes within a month, the Center for Consumer Freedom has taken their message straight to the people—specifically, people who are less interested in scientific evidence than in a man wearing a cupcake suit. They’re also employing the preferred sales technique of contemporary advertising, the Imagined Conspiracy. Much like the makers of Miracle Whip, the Corn Refiners Association trusts us to not give in to the enormous pressures of socially-condoned sweetener conformity and “agenda-driven” experts. “Most of what you think you know about sweeteners is probably wrong,” Sweetscam.com tells us. “Some of this is a product of simple misunderstandings. The rest is a giant scam.”
Exactly who is perpetrating that scam, and for what reason, and how they’ve managed to cover it up for so long, remains unanswered, possibly because the whole thing was thought up by consultants in an ADM boardroom in rural Illinois. What’s striking about the campaign to tell the “truth” about high fructose corn syrup—besides its mendacity—is the degree to which it seeks to replicate the appearance of a grassroots movement. It’s about “consumer freedom” and helping us see through the “scam” of modern scientific research. Like Levis and Kid Rock and the 9/12 Movement, high fructose corn syrup knows that Americans are sick of being told what to do. As John the Baptist and Abbie Hoffman put it, the truth will set you free.