The more I dig into the semiotic moves made by food companies on their labels and logos, the more I see that it is just as often a lifestyle or value being sold as it is the product itself. And, interestingly, there seem to be many obvious conventions to signifying these values. Industry by industry, artists and advertisers indirectly cooperate to solidify concrete iconographic codes. And these icons, whether we realize it or not, are very impacting.
In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud uses the word “icon” as “any image used to represent a person, place, thing or idea.” Icons vary between realistic to entirely abstract—some representing the appearance of the thing itself while others bare no resemblance. Now, observe these logos not for their text, but for the icons behind them.
These icons begin more realistic representations of pastures with the Green Giant brand and become more abstract, ending with the “Fresh from Florida” appeal by Pell’s Citrus, which depicts the same idea in highly simplified use of color and lines.
Despite their different placements on the real/abstract spectrum, these icons are answering to the same code: the appeal to fantasies of agricultural purity. Americans love identifying the food that they eat with some ambiguously old-fashioned and unadulterated farm they have collectively imagined. The rolling, green pastures remind us of a sort of harmony between nature and our eating habits. Furthermore, the sun setting (or rising) behind these fields brings in its own culturally-embedded meaning: timelessness, predictability/stability, etc.
It makes sense that this icon—and the many similar ones across other sections of our food industry—would want to comfort us. Especially at a time when our methods of food production, distribution, and consumption raise serious concerns. As agricultural companies like Monsanto and oligopic competitors like Tyson and Perdue come under public questioning, food industrialists use these icons to lull consumers. The icons then become a sort of opiate to the masses, pushing the belief in a non-existent methods of production.