SUBSCRIBE >>

“Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience when it has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked?”

Edward Thurlow, 1731-1806
Lord Chancellor of England
Wilberforce, Life of Thurlow

Over the years my brother has sent me many provocative articles, but for pure nostalgia, nothing beats “Salt + Fat2 Divided by Satisfying Crunch x Pleasing Mouth Feel = A Food Designed to Addict: How the processed food industry creates and keeps selling the crave,” a New York Times Magazine article adapted from Michael Moss’ forthcoming book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.”

As he knows, I spent 11 years with Kraft, much of it – as he may not know – under the boot heel of the Kraft VP whose speech is highlighted at the beginning of the article: Michael Mudd: tyrant, toady (everybody above him on the org chart was his master; below him, a slave), bully, micromanager, liar, diversity-monger (sort of; his diversity hires kept quitting), consummate corporate politician (he rose to Operating Committee – The Highest of the High Heights), speechwriter wannabe, and master bullshitter.

Name is Mudd.

No one is more deserving of the saying “his name is Mudd.” He is the David Dirt I have repeatedly cited in my blog posts as the classic example of the Bad Boss (Mudd ~Dirt, get it?) who got away with it because he knew how to make his numbers and manage upper management. And he was a master bullshitter, an almost sociopathic charmer who kissed executive ass and did vile impersonations of people behind their backs. I can only wonder what this schmuck did to me.

Early on, we clashed, and I realized what a control freak he was. He had a PR message ready before we’d even talked to the exec. Holy shit, what are you, his subconscious? At least give the guy a chance to tell us what he thinks the company should say. Pissed Michael off that I didn’t accept this dictation quietly. Good. Fuck you, thought I.

Classic Bad Boss

Michael was, as noted, the leadoff speaker at a gathering of food industry chieftains, described in the early paragraphs of the article. It took place in 1999, when I still worked for Michael, and the is the first I’ve heard of it, 14 years later.

Not surprising. In contrast to his ingratiating, oleaginous public charm, Michael was a Bad Boss in every possible way.

His favorite tools with me were secrecy, ostracism, and assignment-grabbing, even before I was placed within his reporting structure. He could have included me in a lot more of what was going on, but he chose not to. He gave others, usually women, assignments that should have gone to me.

Job-grabbing

He tried to do my job for me . I wasn’t the only one: a male colleague, qualified enough to be the PR VP of Unisys after he left Kraft, was reduced by Michael’s assignment-stealing to sitting at his desk and writing a column for his Porsche newsletter – what a waste.

I guess it was Michael’s way of showing that everyone but him was dispensable. When I resisted his assignment-grabbing, he bawled me out for insubordination. I wore that like a badge of courage.

I suppose he felt threatened by other men. Only one alpha male per herd, as he demonstrated by keeping the department 80-90% female the whole decade of the 90s and beyond. His diversity numbers looked great. As
a female mid-exec once remarked by way of explanation, “Michael likes babes.” He married one of his employees. Couldn’t keep his hands off the merchandise.

What Corporate America rewards

Michael tyrannized people of both genders and four ethnicities. Several men worked there and left during his tenure. All – including the Asian guy who was back at his old job in two weeks – attributed their departure to Michel’s dictatorial management style.

This is what gets rewarded in Corporate America. Michael Mudd is by far the rule, not the exception. Repeat: the rise and durability of Michael Mudd is due to his ability to dish out the public BS and schmooze his fellow execs, regardless of how he treats his employees.

Michael is emblematic of everything that is rotten about American management, most especially the dictatorial boss-ocracy, the command-and-control hierarchy that ruins so many employees’ lives (the bookshelves groan with books on how to manage a psychotic boss, or the like) and, often enough, the company’s performance.

Timing the BS

Oh, yes, almost forgot: his uncanny ability to strike the right note a moment before it’s too late. The article devotes several paragraphs to his speech. It makes awed reference to his intricate presentation with its 114 slides and his “unthinkable” linking of the food industry’s fortunes with those of the tobacco industry.

He compared present times with those precipitous days in the early 90s, when the cigarette manufacturers knew it was all going bad, at least in the US, very quickly. Michael obviously — and understandably — didn’t want to see food industry execs paraded before a Congressional committee and harshly criticized for the harm their products were doing.

Mudd acknowledged – what a news flash! – that what happened to tobacco was starting to happen in the food industry. That’s right folks, as late as 1999, the food industry was getting concerned that its salty, fatty, crunchy , artificial-color-and-flavor-saturated products were contributing to the nation’s obesity.

A little late

This is, perhaps, a half century or more since the widesperead use of processed foods.

It’s been decades since it was observed that in Western societies, rich people, for the first time in history, are thin and the poor are fat. Numerous studies document that immigration to America and adoption of the local diet frequently lead to health problems in the next generation, if not sooner. And how many years has Kelly Brownell regarded the processed food industry as a public health menace? And in public dining, how many years has the Center for Science in the Public Interest been hollering about “heart attacks on a plate”?

And in 1999, the food industry was just getting the message.

Mudd directed an equal mea culpa towards advertising. He recognizes – another “Duh!” moment – that kids are malleable and that what food companies put in the ads is just as important as what they put into their food. Huzzah!

Reminds me of when the industry adopted standards for children’s advertising in general – right about the time people were starting to draw a bead on it for manipulating small minds into buying their crap.

He used to defend it. This is the same hypocrite who, several years before, defended food advertising with the lame argument that by the age of 6, kids had already had enough exposure to the world to enable them to critically view the ads. Michael, what a load of shit.

And now you’re blowing it out again. How many time have I heard “we gotta be part of the solution” because we definitely are part of the problem? Sounds so good. It’s the corporate PR knee-jerk reaction. First say it, then figure out what it means.

Do you think just saying it makes it so? No, of course not, you have to pretend to DO something. So in your 1999 speech, you proposed, first, finding out what drives people to overconsume your products, “to gain a deeper understanding of why people overeat.”

Holy shit, Michael, they overeat because you design your products to make them overeat! This is a classic example of appearing to do something while doing nothing, of spinning wheels while figuring out the obvious.

Mudd also suggested pulling back on the salt, sugar and fat in food products, but that apparently went nowhere (or at least the article contains no update, 14 years later), because Steve Sanger, the next speaker and head of General Mills, said the industry wasn’t going to budge on taste, which means crunchy, salty, and fat. He’s right – compromise on taste, and you lose market share.

“Real food — not our products”

Michael, there’s a reason why years ago, a Kraft CEO, planning a management conference with you and me in his lavish office, said he wanted plenty of food there – “ and real food – not our products.” Surely you remember that moment.

The name Geoff Bible also brings back memories. President of Kraft when I was hired, he was a tough, wiry Aussie, an unapologetic smoker who said he’d match his health against that of any man his age. A big-hearted guy who drove many corporate charity projects, a twinkle in his eye, with many years of war stories about building Philip Morris’ international tobacco business when most countries had government monopolies.

A wonderful client to write speeches for. Very big on personal liberty and responsibility.

The other item that I can relate to is LunchablesTM.

It almost died before it reached the market. Top Kraft and Philip Morris execs thought it would be a dud.

But the technical and marketing genius behind the whole thing, Bob Drane, persisted, and LunchablesTM , satisfying CareerMom and her guilty need to have something good to give her kids for lunch…as well as her kids, who love to open little gift-like boxes and play with their food – well, one thing followed another, drinks and desserts got in there, and LunchablesTM. became a billion-dollar-a-year business.

Complaints about the nutritional value of the box has been ongoing, and the company has made a few tweaks to make the products less of a public health menace. But consumers like LunchablesTM. just fine, because it responds to the needs mentioned above, nutrition be damned..

Speechwriter wannabe

I called Michael a speechwriter wannabe. You see, I was a real speechwriter: the speaker’s message in the speaker’s language, and where that was lacking, I supplied and supplemented it, seamlessly. One CEO’s wife told him, “I can’t believe you didn’t write that!” The highest compliment – perfect authenticity, perfect anonymity.

But Michael didn’t know how to be that kind of speechwriter. His narcissistic ego wouldn’t allow it. He simply made the exec a ventriloquist’s dummy and gave him a script. He was good at that, but I don’t know how often the execs actually delivered his scripts. I guess it qualifies for “Most Money Made With an English B.A.”

But as a speechwriter, Michael was less Winston Churchill, more Paul Josef Goebbels. You didn’t know what he’d sneaked by you until he’d sneaked it by.

Sneaking by

That’s what happened again at the High Conclave of Food Execs. He made them think that they could do business as usual, cutting harmful, addictive ingredients just enough to make health claims but not enough to affect revenues. It’s a fine line. But then Sanger came along and said they don’t even have to do that.

This is the food industry’s perpetual conundrum: to produce food-like products, convince people they’re good to eat, get them hooked on salt./fat/sugar AND STILL convince the media and public that the industry is concerned about nutrition and obesity.

There’s no question that the grocery industry has been one of the major transformative changes in modern life.

Food preparation used to take an incredible amount of time. Humble Jell-O, for instance, was once an upper-class dish; your servants had to start with sheets of gelatin, which they would melt before adding flavor. Very labor-intensive.

Turning the other way

In exchange for letting others do 99% of the procurement of our food, we prefer to ignore what it takes for them to do that – all the stabilizers, colors, emulsifiers, flavors, and preservatives that enable food to be cooked, packaged, transported long distances, and kept on a grocery shelf. The science and technology are invisible but impressive. Even the packages have to be minor engineering marvels.

We also ignore, at our peril, the fact that we have entrusted our nutritional needs not to publicly-owned cooperatives or nonprofit companies, but to profit-making corporations. They are BUSINESSES and as such must generate growth and rising stock process.

Why food companies exist

That happens only if people buy more of their products, which is why food companies push snacking as a fourth (or fifth) meal, why they use the phrase ”mindless munching” (internally only, of course) as a desired state.

Again: they are not there to feed or even amuse you (as it might seem, with the KoolAidTM Man all the different macaroni shapes). They are there to make you eat more. Or in the case of Coke, surely one of the vilest things you can put in your body, to drink more.

That’s just how it is. Slick pricks like Michael Mudd help sell it by sounding all caring and earnest and touchy-feely about being part of the solution. Consider Michael a performance artist. He once spoke – a brief aside, but I caught it – of the importance of faking sincerity, of coming out with exactly the right bullshit at the right moment.

Truly the words of a master.

7 Responses to “Down Memory Lane in the Land of Velveeta and Tang”

  1. on 10 Mar 2013 at 11:34 pmAnonymous

    Very chewy stuff, and I don’t apologize for pun.

    1. As SW in PR, I’ve seen the 7 (or more) Deadly Sins in all their noxiousness. Mordred’s song in “Camelot” is apt. Awww, I could write a BOOK, I tells ‘ya.

    As a fat child (Ma bought us Boxes of candy bars - she was child of Depression) I learned Human Sadism is ubiquitous and Vile and Omnipresent from early age. I protected kids on the playground, until the Bullies got too damn Big for me to handle.

    A Good SW is Always in Danger from Envy & Exploitation. He’s too busy and stressed to notice all the knives.

    2. I Demur on corporate machinations on food a bit. How hard is it to give good meals to your kids, instead of processed foods & Big Macs & Free School Dreck?

    They try to sell Good Food in supermarkets for Michelle’s “food deserts”. The customers buy the same Crap as always, and the vegetables rot.

    … So much more. Bottom Line (I hate jejune jargon): I fear our Leaders in All Areas have become Transnational Elites. Corrupt, Incompetent, Greedy, Feckless, Unethical, Unmoored Pashas.

    Maybe we Deserve them. Scary thought.

  2. on 13 Mar 2013 at 4:43 pmAlan

    Thanks for all the food for thought (heh, heh).

    Re #2: It IS hard for Moms, so many of whom have to have jobs, to provide nutritious meals on a consistent basis. I went to the internal company seminars - research shows, again and again, how powerfully convenience drives food choices.

    Yes, the SWer’s executive access is a source of murderous envy on the part of power-seeking underlings (behind their friendly collegial smiles).

    Just saw a news story about how human DNA is being implanted in sheep to make their organs more transplantable to people. Then they’re going to teach the sheep to vote for corrupt politicians, support immoral wars, buy useless crap, and follow psychotic religions — because that’s what sheep do!

    So many people are vicious, domineering assholes that the few who do urge kindness and charity become saints or found sects themselves. Treating people like human beings - what a novel concept!

  3. on 13 Mar 2013 at 9:05 pmAnonymous

    Re Food, I suppose you have a good point. But allow me to play Devil’s (Food) Advocate (not Homer Simpson’s).

    Maybe I’m not good example. I’ve lived alone for 25 years, 20 of which while working. V v rarely ate junk food, mostly at work parties.

    I used healthy ingredients in Crock Pots. Same for Weekend Cooking Frenzies, which I portioned off in plastic bags and put in chest freezer.

    Would that be so hard for parent(s)? Dammit! I Love Puns!

    As for Sadistic Climbers - I execrate their ilk, which is myriad. I bet Mrs. Broadwell & GEN Petraeus are charter members.

  4. on 16 Mar 2013 at 12:38 amAlan

    Rich…You are a dietary outlier. People living alone are BIG customers of convenience/grocery foods.

  5. on 17 Mar 2013 at 9:52 pmAnonymous

    Perhaps personal history has something to do w/it. In 7th & 8th grade, Pa owned Tavern in Lake Villa. Ricky’s Wagon Wheel. I was short order cook.

    Nights, weekends, summers. Summers I did 3 meals. Worked in restaurants thru HS. You’d think I’d “experiment” w/strong drink, but I didn’t.

    I like to cook, but vowed Never to work in Food Service. 6 day weeks, nights, weekends, holidays. 10, 12 or 14 hour days. One New Year’s my feet were bleeding.

    A tough PRico dishwasher beat the hell out of me once. Unconscious several minutes. I told Pa, who worked in same place. He did Nothing.

    Even in swanky restaurants, most kitchen staff are low pay, but None can be trusted. I’ve seen it all. I pity them all.

    I could make a week’s meals from supper & drinks at Outback. A few days at Applebees.

    … Check out Gatsby trailer w/Florence & Machine on YT. She’s Fabulous. Fabulous.

  6. on 18 Mar 2013 at 1:51 amAlan

    I still say you need to publish an autobiography. Jesus, what you have been through! I was a waiter at camp, and that was enough.

  7. on 21 Mar 2013 at 11:20 pmAnonymous

    Thanks. I really hadn’t considered myself or life v interesting. Oh. Did I mention my journey thru the haut en bas Demimonde? Of course I didn’t! And shouldn’t. A few squeakers, but I was lucky.

    Ever watch “Californication”? Terrific dialog, incredible plot. It’s not unlike the Seinfeld segment on Jerry & George’s TV series - eh, writers. Anybody can write. Pffftt.

Leave a Reply

Best News: Best News:
Site Secured By: Website Guardian