"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 February 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Tummy Trouble


[i hate people.]

It may kill you, but at least

you'll die without causing harm

to the stock price of a major

corporation. And that, in the

contemporary currency, means

that your death will hardly

register at all.


When ground beef larded with cow

shit and accompanying bacteria

killed four people back in 1993,

the fast food chain that served

the E. coli-laden meat took a

big hit at the burger box

office; customers, apparently

wanting to continue living

despite their longstanding

loyalty to the consumption of

fried carcass fat, stayed the

hell away from Jack in the Box

for quite some time. Ditto

consumers of the pain reliever

Tylenol, which permanently

relieved the pain of seven

people back in the '80s, after a

rogue shopper poisoned the

product on store shelves.


More recently, an old Smiths

song took on new meaning: Meat,

for a little while, was

murder-suicide. Back in January,

hungry folks eating packaged

meat products from a

listeria-contaminated plant in

Michigan started dropping like

flies; 12 people died, and at

least three women miscarried,

after eating hot dogs and deli

meat from the problem factory.

And yet, reports The Wall Street

Journal, consumer confidence in

the meat sold by Sara Lee hardly

wavered at all; sales figures

remained remarkably solid.


"The corporate name isn't

attached to Ball Park Franks.

How many people know that

Hygrade is a Sara Lee brand?

Almost nobody, I would think."

That quote comes from Jack

Trout, a marketing strategist

asked by the Journalto comment

on the deaths. Also offering

their opinions were two Wall

Street analysts, who noted with

evident pleasure that a few dead

customers here and there

probably wouldn't prove to be

especially damaging to the

company's bottom line. The folks

at Sara Lee, it turns out, have

a marketing advantage

(apparently unanticipated) when

it comes to the problem of

sustaining sales figures among

their surviving customers:

They're coy. The company sells

all kinds of unrelated products

under names that don't always

link the whole package together

with a single shared brand

identity. So, here's a neat

marketing benefit - those who

live through today's purchases

often have no clue when they're

buying another product the

company makes. And yes, Wall

Street still loves

"transparency" in a corporation.

Just not the kind for customers.


[i spend saturday running errands for rockstar who had tied 
one on and was uh, recovering.
midafternoon i parked my car down the street form his house
and left it there until the next morning.
at point in the evening i heard a car alarm sounding just like mine,
but figured it could be anyone's as mine really needs to be hit
or suffer a break-n to be activiated.
as it's a cheapy, it lasts only 5 minutes.

Of course, the brand names still

took a hit, even if the damage

didn't spread to the corporate

parent. (Except, of course, for

the inevitable lawsuits.) And so

the damage control wasn't just

passive. Bil Mar Foods, the Sara

Lee subsidiary responsible for

the contaminated products,

quickly issued a fearless public

statement. After "discussions"

with the US Department of

Agriculture and the Centers for

Disease Control, the company

announced it was "voluntarily"

taking the "precautionary

measure" of recalling some of

its product. The statement

helpfully explained, "The CDC

has indicated that it is

studying whether some of these

products might contain the

listeria bacteria." Note to CDC

investigators: Try kicking the

dead customers.


Extruded offal paste isn't the

only food product with a

Clintonesque PR team, of course,

and the life-vs.-death question

rages on in a number of

corporate venues. While Sara Lee

is busy conducting retail trust

triage, for example, the

nation's breakfast cereal

marketers are casting nervous

glances in the direction of your

colon. (Well, sure - ours, too.

But we're shy.) Health-loving

manufacturers like Post Cereal,

the breakfast foods division of

tobacco giant Philip Morris,

have long promoted their crunchy

chunks of morning grain as

quasi-medicinal: Eat this and

you won't die. A couple of years

ago, Kellogg even asked the

federal government for

permission to claim that its

product helped prevent colon

cancer. The Food and Drug

Administration said no, but that

hasn't stopped some cereal

sellers from helpfully pointing

out that whole grains may very

well help prevent deadly



[the next morning i came out to find 
that someone had pulled one of my wipers up and mutilated it.
is that really necessary?
what kind of assh*le who lives in the city
 thinks that's ok?]

Toward the end of January,

though, things got serious for

the whole notion of breakfast as

high colonic. A report in The

New England Journal of Medicine

delivered the bad news that

fiber doesn't appear to prevent

colon cancer at all. The data

behind the report was generated

by scientists tracking the diet

of 88,000 people - that's 88,000

people - over 16 years. Borrowing

from the pages of the nation's

cigarette marketers, Kellogg

reacted with a responsible

public statement: Anxious to

maybe one day arrive at an

understanding of the role fiber

plays in the prevention of colon

cancer, the company pledges anew

that it will "support

independent research" on the

topic. Well, sure - God spoke

from the burning bush and

everything, but what the hell

does that clown know? Let's get

a second opinion from our friend



Not that any of this is new, of

course. Among the more enjoyable

precedents, Sara Lee and Wilford

Brimley (they'd make a great

couple, don't you think?) aren't

much more than floor-model punks

against the likes of the PR

folks at Proctor & Gamble.


The last time we looked at P&G's

Web site for olestra, the



substitute for plain old fat

(marketed under the brand name

Olean), we saw a masterpiece

of aw-shucks image-spinning that

opened with a rustic farmhouse

set in a rolling green field.

What olestra does for food, P&G

does for language: "In a way,

Olean works just like some of

the fiber found in foods like

apples, corn, and bran."


But that was back in June 1997,

when anal-leakage jokes were at

a premium. The stories on Sara

Lee's mystery meat pushed us

toward wistful remembrance,

though, and we stopped back at

the olestra Web site recently

for a Proustian wallow through

our butt-humor youth. To our

mild surprise, however, the old

neighborhood has changed; the

farmhouse is gone. P&G has

adopted the posture of cold

empiricism to sell its synthetic

food replacement. Does eating

olestra cause diarrhea?

Absolutely not, we learn in

P&G's fake fat FAQ. And click

here for a detailed scientific

report that proves it! And the

detailed scientific report does

prove - well, something: "The

results of the study showed

that, even in olestra consumers

experiencing what they described

as diarrhea, these subjects had

no change in the stool water

content, and also, no change in

electrolytes or the pH of the



So you see: Not diarrhea ... at



[anyway, i drove with it sticking up until
the wind on the freeway knocked it down,
in a downpour, 
destroying the other wiper and rendering me blind - on the freeway.
i was not happy.
i managed to get the next exit
crawl to the nearest parking lot, grand auto by chance, who were no help,
and called rockstar to come get me.
the point is, i could have gotten killed because 
some jerk with no self-control
or anger repression had to vandalise someone elses property.
most likely for no good reason.]

Also offering a response to

reports that olestra binds with

some undigested vitamins and

carries them out of the body,

P&G slips gracefully around what

would seem to be the point:

"Olean cannot affect any

vitamins or carotenoids already

stored in the body." So just be

sure to store all of the

vitamins in everything you eat

before you put it in your

digestive system, where it could

just possibly mix,

detrimentally, with olestra.


And then there are the "expert

opinions" from noted physicians:

"Olestra tastes great," says a

respected pediatrician. Look for

other companies to mimic this

fascinating tactic in their own

promotional literature:

"Snickers bars are sweet and

chewy," says a leading

neurologist. Medical science

lends a nice patina to those

critical questions of flavor.


One final caution before you

draw conclusions from all of

this. The marketing tactics used

by major corporations to sell

food products may appear, at

first glance, to be bullshit -

but careful chemical analysis

reveals that it merely appears

to resemble bullshit. Of course,

we borrowed the Proctor & Gamble

lab for our case work, so take

that with whatever gravity you

consider wise. The stuff on the

table, in any case, is still

pretty hard to swallow - as are

the tactics used to sell it.


Now, how about a Ball Park

Frank? It may prevent cancer, we

think. It might even cure your


courtesy of Ambrose Beers


[Purchase the Suck Book here]