Is he talking about the economy? Health care? The wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan or on terror?
No. What has Akren flummoxed is shrimp scampi.
Akren, a teacher in Ladera Ranch, Calif., is none too happy about the shrimp scampi sold in the frozen-foods section of his supermarket.
Recently he purchased a 10-ounce, single-serving package of the dish, basing his decision on the mouthwatering photograph on the cover of the box -- a tantalizing color photo depicting 11 shrimp on a plate mixed with some pasta and diced tomatoes.
I've seen the photo. It is indeed tempting to any hungry shopper who hankers for a serving of shrimp sauteed with garlic and lemon butter.
When Akren cooked up his meal, however, only six shrimp graced his plate. Compared to the box illustration, he was five shrimp short.
Granted, many recipes for shrimp scampi call for 1.5 pounds of shrimp to serve four people. If we're talking large shrimp, that translates roughly to 33 shrimp, which is eight shrimp per helping. So six shrimp doesn't seem far off the mark for a reasonable single serving.
That's beside Akren's point, though. His issue is the packaging.
"Showing 11, yet giving only six, seems hardly fair or ethical," he writes.
Thinking his first experience might have been a fluke, he cooked up another batch two nights later. Still only six shrimp, from a box that still showed 11.
When he buys a six-piece Chicken McNuggets dish from McDonald's, Akren says, he expects to get six McNuggets, and does. But in that case the number is clearly specified on the menu.
"But what about when you can only go by the picture?," he asks. "Is it unethical for the company to clearly have less product in the actual meal than the picture may show? Shouldn't the company be called on it? They are essentially doubling their profit because they are only putting half of the featured food in the actual meal."
Government agencies in both the United States and Canada do have regulations forbidding deceptive advertising. Nothing on the packaging lists the number of shrimp in a given package, however, and the photo bears the caption "serving suggestion," so it's unlikely that regulatory agencies will take these companies to food court.
Still, however legal it may be, is it ethical for companies to pump up their plates to draw in consumers? Clearly, when it says "serving suggestion," the company isn't implying that the consumer should purchase another five shrimp to toss into the meal -- or is it?
There's nothing wrong with companies doing their best to make their food look as scrumptious as possible on the packaging, utilizing professional preparation, expert lighting and clever camera angles to show themselves at their best. In this case, however, Akren does have a legitimate gripe. It's wrong for companies to package their products in depictions that clearly misrepresent the contents.
Gifted food stylists can make a plate of six shrimp on pasta look as good as one with 11 shrimp. The right thing for this company to do is either to beef up the shrimp content to match the depiction on the box or to reshoot its packaging photography to more accurately reflect what's inside. Not to do so is misleading. Whether or not this is the issue that people really want to know about this election year depends, I suppose, on how hungry they are.
c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)