I Appreciate Postmates, but Why Do They Need to Attack Cooking?

How marketing and advertising try to alter and shape our relationship to food

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Although my parents meant well, it’s hard to believe how ignorant we were about food products in the late 1960s and ’70s. As a kid, I’d start my day off with a big bowl (or two) of milk and the sweetest, most candy-like cereals my little hands could reach from the grocery store aisle. I’d then wash it all down with a large glass of imitation orange juice or Tang.

With my blood cells locked and loaded with hyperactive sugars, I’d bounce around the station wagon’s rearview seat and arrive at elementary school feeling nauseous. And during the first hour of class, my attention deficit disorder would peak right before a hypoglycemic crash.

But not to worry — the school’s milk and cookies cart would arrive at 10 AM sharp, and the entire sugar cycle would start over again until lunch.

Food ignorance

Sad to say, I never understood why I felt so bad every day in school. The school nurse told my mom it was anxiety. And my dad’s solution was to give me a pack chalky heartburn medicine, Rolaids, to chew during the day.

None of us ever dared to consider — “Maybe it’s the breakfast?” But how could we? Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch and the NASA astronauts drank Tang in space, and look how well they turned out.

As the catchy advertising campaigns suggested, I thought this diet of highly processed, sweet cereals tasted “grrrrrreat!” and was “magically delicious.” But I didn’t yet know what good food tasted like or what a healthy, nutritious breakfast even meant.

On the one side, my parents and teachers tried to teach my virgin palate how to eat healthier. But on the other side were food marketers and advertisers — armed-to-the-teeth — waiting to kidnap my taste buds.

Unbeknownst to my parents and me, I was losing a psychological war with marketers who knew how to condition my mind to associate breakfast as fun and entertaining instead of healthy and nutritious.

My cartoon adviser

While I never saw the marketers behind the curtain, the lovable, brightly colored cartoon characters they created shaped and influenced my beliefs about food. These amusing and persuasive characters made promises of fun, escape, and fulfillment, none of which had anything to do with nutrition or health.

It took me many years of bellyaches, focus problems, and near-diabetes, to realize the marketing team’s nutritional approach to breakfast-time was slowly killing me. My desire for these products was not natural, but induced by sophisticated advertising techniques that knew all the right psychological buttons to push.

But once I got older and my health became more of a critical issue for me, I learned about what a daily diet of highly processed, sugary food does to my body and mind.

Why couldn’t I see that before? Because these cereal hypnotizers changed my relationship with food for their financial benefit. And now it appears food delivery brands want in on the game of brainwashing consumers too.

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Don’t cook!

Postmates has an impressive business and brand, and I’ve often used their app to try out different local and gourmet restaurants during Covid. I recognize the value they provide people and restaurants, especially during the pandemic.

But I found their new marketing campaign, the “Don’t Cookbook,” distasteful to those of us who love food and care about how our families relate to the ritual and tradition of cooking.

The Postmates Don’t Cookbook includes provocative pull-quotes and captions with phrases like,

“Say no to cooking,”

“Never cook, always eat,”

“This book saves kitchens.”

On the Postmates.com website, they provide a satirical story titled The Best Don’t Cookbook [QUICK + EASY]. I’ve listed a few of the excerpts below.

“That’s right, I come from a long line of dinner-ordering-kitchen-skippers. It all started with my great-great-grandmother. One morning, she knew that she wanted a delicious breakfast, but she also knew she in no way wanted to make it. Or wanted anyone else, for that matter. She decided that a clean kitchen was a happy kitchen.”

“From that day forward, the Don’t Cooking started and never really stopped. My grandmother was a Don’t Cook, my mom was a Don’t Cook, and I won’t even touch a cutting board. So whether you have Don’t Cooking in your blood or you just want to get started now, read on for exactly what you need to know.”

“The Don’t Cookbook is the easiest cookbook ever because, well, it involves no cooking. If you’re looking for an easy cookbook, this might honestly be too easy. Close the pantry, turn off the oven, put away the plates. Because tonight, you’re not cooking. And tomorrow, you’re not cooking. And next month? Well, you get the idea.”

“The person who said that cookbooks need to teach you how to cook was very old school and we no longer follow their ideas. Instead, now cookbooks show you pretty pictures and inspire you. Oh, you don’t like being inspired? Then the Don’t Cookbook might not be for you.”

The social and cultural message is simple: Food delivery is fun and delicious while cooking at home is a waste of time and life.

I get that the campaign is being satirical and talking in a tongue-in-cheek(y) way. And I’m familiar with this cynical, cultural advertising approach of mocking institutions to younger audiences. But behind this humor is a real attempt to associate cooking with drudgery.

The return to cooking

The pandemic has been a painful, tragic time for many. But one of the silver linings that has come from it is a return to the art and craft of cooking, eating more meals together with family and friends, and thinking more about the makers and producers of the food we put into our mouths.

Just as much we care about what we put into our family’s bellies, so too should we care about what we put into their minds.

I’m not the cultural police. Nor do I want to legislate what marketers or advertisers can say to their target consumer groups. But these attempts to influence our relationship to cooking are not all that different from the old cigarette advertisements or sugary-cereal marketing campaigns.

Our battle with food

Every day people struggle with what to eat. One option is to eat healthy, wholesome, and nutritious food, improving, if not saving your life. Another option — spearheaded by sophisticated marketing teams — is to eat a highly processed, cheap, shallow sugary/salty version of grub that disables kids, teens, and society.

This battle to eat right goes on daily. But if marketers push the right buttons, they can alter our relationship to food by changing how we think about cooking and how we associate time spent preparing meals. It seems subtle but can have a lasting impact on our food behaviors.

Postmates can market their food delivery services how they want. But I don’t understand why they have to attack the kitchen and the art and craft of cooking homemade meals. Cooking at home and eating meals you made together establishes a healthy relationship with food. And Postmates could be a part of celebrating how expert chefs and cooks make food at restaurants as a way to inspire all of us, but that doesn’t appear to be their approach on the issue of food.

Instead, Postmates made cooking the enemy.

Since we’re all spending so much more time at home, we have a rare window of opportunity to help ourselves, families, and society re-think how we eat each day. And I don’t want to lose that battle again to marketers bent on distorting our relationship with food.

But I fear Postmates and their ad agency have already won because I’m writing an article about this new campaign and getting them the attention and debate about the value of cooking meals at-home they crave.

I’m a retail architect that studies human behavior, perception, and decision-making. I’m fascinated with the intersection of where commerce and community meet.

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