Several fast food chains have jumped on the "healthy" bandwagon, which to me, is akin to tobacco companies saying they've created healthier, safer cigarettes. Of course, neither of them have stumbled upon a healthier solution; we all know in our heart of French fry-craving heart of hearts (or nicotine-needing habits, if that's your thing) that what they've created is nothing other than a marketing strategy.
Sell the latest health craze, sell patriotism, sell people who have lost weight (Jared, anyone?), show us cute puppies and mighty horses, and we're suddenly supposed to be A-Okay eating, say, veggie sliders from White Castle.
Indeed, that's just what is happening. The fast food chain, known for their hamburger sliders, desserts on a stick and the movie, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, has recently announced the addition of veggie sliders to their menu.
Their web site attempts to lure the health-conscious, by asking the question, "Have you eaten your veggies today?" It's one part reminiscent of the first half of the 1990s McDonald's slogan, "Have you (had your break today?)," and one part causing childhood memories of my mother to surface, inquiring about my veggie intake with her one eyebrow raised, as if to imply no dessert will be had if those string beans remained on my plate. I'm already turned off. Still, it's only fair to dig deeper.
I clicked on the image and was taken to a larger picture, this time a close-up of the veggie slider. Phrases such as "grilled to perfection" and "chock full of..." rested next to the slider, along a call-out with the name, "Dr. Praeger's." Hmmmm. Just who is this Dr. Praeger and what's the relevancy to White Castle? More digging was in order.
Who was Dr. Praeger?
A bit more detective work led me to a PDF file (also on the White Castle site) that talked all about Dr. Praeger. There, it explained that "Dr. Praeger was a successful cardiothoracic surgeon in New Jersey who, with his medical partner Dr. Eric Somberg, made it their mission to introduce people to nutritious food that actually tasted great. They produce a wide range of products including veggie cakes, breaded fish items, Kid's Little, and now our tasty Veggie Slider!"(1)
More research led me to discover that Dr. Peter Praeger, who passed away from unknown causes in 2012 and had been undergoing prostate cancer treatment, was the co-chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He was also president and chief executive of Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods, a maker of frozen natural foods ("frozen" and "natural" just don't go together if you ask me), including veggie burgers and meatless chicken (ditto), sold in supermarkets and health-food stores in the United States and overseas. Ultimately, Dr. Praeger's Sensible Foods grew to become a multimillion dollar venture, providing the likes of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods with items such as sweet potato pancakes and Tex-Mex veggie burgers.(2)
Veggie slider has MORE calories than original plain slider
Interestingly, for those curious about calories, an original slider has 140 calories, while the veggie slider has MORE, coming in at 150 for a plain one and 270 if you add Ranch dressing. Additionally, an original plain burger slider has 13 total carbohydrates while a plain veggie slider comes in at 20 carbs. There are some positives, however. A plain veggie slider does have lower sodium levels and trans fat than the original burger.(3)
Still, I'm not convinced.
Trying to pull the wool over our eyes
On one hand, I applaud the effort, but on the other hand I realize that it's nothing more than a marketing strategy aimed to tug on the heartstrings of those trying to get healthier or stay that way. But there's no pulling the wool over my eyes. I've worked in the advertising and public relations industry for several years (no longer, by choice). I'm familiar with all the psychology that goes on about "creating the need," of linking popular names with new products to help the baby brand piggyback on the shoulders of the more famous one ("oh, so the product MUST be wonderful"), and of capitalizing on life goals as well as life fears. Sigh.
So you see, I'm not fooled by fast food chains that display nutrition facts from behind faux oak picture frames near the registers. Not fooled by Jared. Definitely not fooled by White Castle's veggie slider no matter how many veggie bits it contains.
Meal names that attempt to resonate with healthy lifestyles, nope, they're not going to perk up the ears of smoothie-making, fresh-food eating, elliptical-using folks like me. Besides, making my own recipes with fresh, whole foods is not only healthy, but allows me to be creative in the kitchen.
Tomato and peach salsa, anyone?
Jennifer Lea Reynolds
Jennifer Lea Reynolds is a weight loss success story who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle. A fan of the elliptical, roasted asparagus and remembering to put the lid on the blender, she’s appeared in many national and local print publications. She lives in New England where she writes professionally about health and wellness in online publications including Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, The Huffington Post, and more.