Why the Quebec grocery chain Maxi was accused of ‘grossophobia’

Weight gain has been one of the unintended consequences of the self-isolation period, giving rise to the term “Quarantine 15” (a reference to the purported extra pounds people are gaining while at home).

Multiple respondents to The Message‘s ongoing “Quarantine Diaries” series have talked about their propensity for snacking during working from home period, while media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and CNN have all covered the topic.

On the surface, it might seem like an area that’s ripe for humour. However, some organizations and people, particularly those with eating disorders, have sounded the alarm about the implications of trivializing the phenomenon.

Quebec discount grocery chain Maxi found itself embroiled in a mini-controversy recently when it directly addressed the subject with an ad starring its longtime spokesperson, Martin Matte.

The French-language ad featured Matte, made up to look like he’d gained a significant amount of weight, joking about all the local food from Maxi he’d been enjoying during the self-isolation period. At one point, he tips a can of St. Hubert Hot Chicken Sandwich gravy into his mouth.

The ad was criticized for promoting “grossophobia” (defined as prejudice towards people who are overweight), and was denounced by groups including Anorexia and Bulimia Quebec (ANEB Quebec)—which said in a Facebook post (auto-translated from French to English) that it “could have impact on psychological distress, shame and guilt due to the messages being sent.”

Maxi promptly withdrew the ad, replacing it with a new version (below) prefaced by an apology. Matte’s voice can still be heard in the revised version, but the screen is covered in tomatoes—presumably a representation of ire felt by some people towards the ad.

“A brand close to Quebecers must listen to them,” said the Loblaw Companies Limited brand in an online apology (also translated). “You tell us loud and [clear] when you like and find our ads funny and you tell us loud and [clear] when you like less.

“We listened to you [and] that’s why we decided to remove our last ad. We had no intention of hurting anyone. We wanted to spread our love for the products from here, but obviously we missed it.”

The criticism surrounding the ad even caught Matte by surprise. In a May 28 Facebook post, he wrote that “no one in the process of [creating] this ad wanted or thought to offend overweight people. Never. That said, I’m sorry for the people who felt offended. For real.”

Chris Powell