Take the Bait
by Mark R. Vogel

            The other day I went fishing on the lake where I live.  I caught six fish.  Nothing huge; nothing to brag about, except maybe the number.  I experimented with three different lures.  As any fisherman will tell you, there are times where one type of lure is ignored while another is the key to success.  Not surprisingly then, two of them produced no response.  But the third, a gold Rapala® crankbait, resulted in my piscatorial sextet.  For those of you unfamiliar, a crankbait is designed to imitate a small fish.  When retrieved through the water it wiggles from side.  They come in all sorts of sizes, colors, and shapes, not to mention models that can produce different types of vibrations and sounds.  All of these different features combine to attract the fish.

            As I was removing my craftily engineered snare from the gaping maw of one bass, I began to ponder something obvious, but nevertheless taken for granted.  I was trapping these hapless creatures by tricking them into thinking they were about to gobble up something yummy.  In a nutshell, their drive to eat coupled with ensnaring, fake food was their undoing. 

            My mind extrapolated to the human realm.  I began to think about all the ways that food producers and vendors “lure” the hungry public into taking their bait.  Unlike a fishing lure which is a complete imposter, their allurements aren’t decoys, (or are they?), but the underlying process is similar.  I chuckled to myself as I likened humanity to fish, swimming through life, chasing after artfully presented victuals. 

            Restaurants ceaselessly entice us with their mouthwatering commercials.  They showcase perfectly prepared and often overflowing portions of their premier dishes in engaging and attractive surroundings.  Although not a ploy engaged in by preeminent establishments, many will also include tantalizing pictures of their entrees on their menus.  A picture isn’t worth a thousand words.  It’s worth the money made from spurring diners into splurging on pricier items. 

            Sounds and smells of food are another type of bait in the restaurant’s tackle box.  How many times have you heard a plate of sizzling fajitas or a sizzling steak being delivered to a nearby table and then ordered it yourself?  I recall sitting in a neighborhood tavern one evening that served individual toaster oven pizzas.  A patron ordered one and the aromas enveloped the bar, inducing other patrons to do likewise.  The bartender carped to me about the cascade of pizza requests, stating “all they have to do is smell’em.”

            Returning to the visual clues, supermarkets flood their customers with alluring pictures of their offerings.  These simulacrums adorn not only their weekly circulars and television ads, but the various displays strewn about the store.  They are further reinforced with the incessant audio advertisements resounding from the overhead speakers.  While these sonorous temptations are often subliminal, the next time you’re shopping make an effort to pay attention to them.  Notice how they are sprinkled with catch phrases such as “fresh,” “just baked,” “lean,” “delicious,” and the like.  Add to this the bright lighting, clever shelf positioning strategies, and the countless pricing enticements, and the entire store is one giant crankbait.  This is why it is advised to never go to the supermarket hungry.  You will bite.

            And of course, there’s the tremendous amount of money and effort that goes into every food company’s packaging.  Millions, perhaps billions, is spent each year on package design, not the least of which is the titillating pictorials directly aimed at sparking your desire.  There are even wines with colorful, flowery, labels, contrived to catch your eye and tip the scales away from the nondescript bottles.

            Unfortunately, there’s another aspect to the analogy between fishing and food advertising , one that too often holds true, namely that the “lure” is just that; a facsimile.  A dismal disappointment of what was expected.  I have no doubt that everyone reading this can think of instances where they tried a restaurant or a product in response to their ad or picture, only to bask in regret.  We all know the experience of taking the bait and being duped. 

I’m particularly reminded of one well known seafood restaurant chain whose crustaceous title shall remain nameless.  I’m always struck by their seductive commercials; plates of steaming, glistening, plump seafood with lemons squirting.  I am compelled to admit that I have taken their bait on more than one occasion, only to discover that the fish was me and not on the plate.  Sinking my teeth into their lure it was too late to spit out the bait.  Like the fish who must endure the painful extraction of the hook, so too was the money from my wallet.  And worse yet, I’m not much smarter than the fish for I tried the bait again.  Fortunately, I finally got the point. 

But that’s life.  You live and you learn.  Just like fish, sometimes we can’t tell the difference between the decoy and the real thing.  We are bound to rely on our senses which can be easily beguiled.  There are stories of anglers who have caught fish with previous lures still stuck in their mouths.  There are even fish tales of individuals who caught the same fish twice, (much like me in the above example).  Humans however, can learn from experience.  We can learn not to take the bait.  Eventually.

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