No doubt about it: America is schizophrenic about food. Just when the national rhetoric is focusing on all things “local” and “sustainable,” the carrot industry has launched an advertising campaign that promotes baby carrots as anything but real. Until I saw the videos in the “Eat ‘Em like Junk Food” series at BabyCarrots.com, I never realized that baby carrots could stand in for missiles or bullets or a phallus. No more Bugs Bunny or Spongebob Squarepants, those innocent branding icons of the past. Edginess now turns people on.
I find it weird that carrots are being positioned as junk food. With all the hype about labeling and obsession with calories, shouldn’t carrots be marketed as calorie-free and vitamin-rich? Instead, most of the videos feature a sexy woman who can’t get enough…baby carrots. She rubs them suggestively along her naked arm, exhorting the viewer to “indulge.” Or she sets her (machine-gun) sights on a hunky young guy who succumbs to her powers and literally explodes into thousands of baby carrots for her pleasure. The “nerd” in the clip shown here likewise explodes after a diabolical woman with carrot-colored eyes and hair subjects him to a linear-accelerator-like device, taking the trope of “crunch” to the extreme. With its special effects and futuristic vibe, this commercial couldn’t be further removed from the context of wholesome carrots growing naturally in the ground. Oddly, though, the commercial opens with just that allusion: a folksy male voice and cheerful orange logo announce “Brought to you by a bunch of carrot farmers.” Then it’s back to the future as the palette shifts to a ghoulish black and orange and a synthesized voice proclaims, “Behold! The future of crunch!”
Not that baby carrots were ever truly natural. In the vegetable’s long history they are veritable infants, having entered the world only in 1986. In an effort to avoid waste, misshapen adult carrots were fed through an industrial peeling machine, and the babies were born. If, in the past, these preternaturally shaped carrots were cast as cute, they are now touted as weapon-like projectiles. What does this say about our relationship to food? What does it say about our desires?