Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mommas Take Care of Yo Babies

You probably noticed this article in the New York Times today about the regulation of marketing horrible, disgusting, unhealthy food products to children and teenagers. The Federal Trade Commission came out with their report today on it. Basically, if you are unfamiliar with the marketing scene, there is very little regulation. I read an entire book called Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle (professor at NYU) all about this exact thing; how, basically, what happens is the government imposes bogus, pathetic and weak regulations on food companies to sort of, kind of hinder them from directly targeting kids and teens, but there is little to no enforcement and, above all, they really make their own rules. It's a travesty. It's actually a travesty. From Gawker:

A bunch of big huge evil food companies got together and formed a group and promised to either not advertise to kids, or only advertise products to kids that are "good" for them. Then these companies individually decided for themselves what it means to advertise to kids, and what food is "good." With predictable results! Here are some products you should be aware are good for your babies:
Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Burger King's macaroni and cheese. Mmm! Plus, some companies say an ad only "targets children" if more than half of its audience is made up of kids under age 12. So 51% 13-year-olds and 49% toddlers, go right ahead with that bacon double cheeseburger ad!

So, broken promises, broken records from food companies and the government and we all know that it just comes down to the bottom line. Do companies really care about kids? Your kids? If they did, they would stop making soda altogether (the soft drink industry is the biggest marketer to kids and teens), because there is absolutely nothing about it that has any nutritional value. At all. Nothing. I worked at a marketing firm for four months and it is unbelievable the levels to which they have this down to a science--there is even a complete demographic outline for things about "Gen Y" and "Millenials" (that's what they call kids and young kids) to tell you precisely where their Achilles heel is. It's sick.

It's something that really drives me into being a nutritionist, because in a sense, you almost feel that people from a very young age are absolutely up against it. If they do not have the proper direction and people to show them their way through these dark tunnels, to shield them from the bombs of purely capitalistic marketing tactics and when they are even given shit food in their schools, what can you expect them to know about what is good for them? What can you expect them to eat? If I give Alice Waters any credit, it is for traveling the country moralizing on the fact that it MUST start early and be a vital part of a child's upbringing, to start in the schools, as she says.

But, teaching kids eco-gastronomy, on a pandemic level, despite how much they love to work in the kitchen and the garden, is a challenging undertaking. It's much easier to have graphic designers draw shitty cartoon characters and slap them on cereal boxes that contain basically sugar and corn. There are 17,000 new products a year introduced into the food industry market. How many national or worldwide programs are there that pop up every year to counter this? Granted, this is not utilitarianism (it's fucking capitalism), but more must be done, in proportion. And, as Waters said, getting parents to realize that paying for good food might be expensive, but it's more important than buying your kids Nikes--the implications of good food choices are many, as we know.

I am just preaching/regurgitating the advice of my idols. But whatever. It's true.

Anyway, check out the articles as I await Nestle's take on it on her blog.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Erika on Obama and Food

Two of the three blogs I have linked to on my blog have most recent posts about Obama. Clearly, there's something about this guy. America likes him and they'll decide in November if they really love him. For now, we're just dating, and sometimes when you're dating someone you take the most minute things into consideration. This is especially true if you've just be spurned out of a bad relationship and you're jilted, skeptical and exceedingly discerning about your choice of a new mate. This is our plight, dear friends, as Americans. We're coming off of an eight year Ike and Tina situation, which left us rollin' on the river, and now we're reeling. We're looking for a little revival and we're reeling.

Again, it seems only fair that we approach any new relationship with the most meticulous curiosity, down to what someone we are seeing eats. This I completely understand. Reporters and voters alike have been highly scrutinizing about what Mr. Obama puts in his mouth and what it says about his character. Are we what we eat? Perhaps more relevantly, is our future president what he or she (okay, I could've just said he at this point, yeah) eats? What does this say about their character?

As seen in my previous post below, Dowd and Williams both see Obama's food choices as examples of, at the very least, his secure place in the middle class if not his elitism. We all know that he made a substantial amount of money off of his book as well as being a 'successful' senator married to an attorney. They have money. I know they grossed like over a couple million last year, according to some New Yorker article I read about Michelle, but they also tow the line between wanting to not seem un-relateable in regards to money. Times is tough, yo. They recognize that.

So, why is Obama name-dropping Whole Foods and spouting off about arugula? Why is he eating arugula? Because he's an elitist foodie? Arugula's appearance in the American diet can almost be absolutely pin-pointed to Alice Waters and the beginning of her restaurant, Chez Panisse. Arugula is, yes, most often seen on nicer menus in higher-end restaurants. It may be considered an acquired taste, but guess what else: It's fucking good for you.

The opinionists and reporters have missed the mark. If Dowd wants to tease Obama about something, it shouldn't be about his nutrition-oriented conscious decisions on what to put in his (incredibly fit--dare I say a little sexy?) physique. How can you mock someone for caring about their health for Christ's sake? Thank god we finally maybe have someone in political power that is interested in staying on top of his game physically as well as potentially influencing the [overweight, unhealthy, American] populous in this regard.

And aesthetics? Being conscious of aesthetic is hardly classist--the amount of effort put into the clothing worn by people in my, socio-economically less wealthy and lower class, community is incredible. Why when it relates to food does it become an 'other'?

Obama is in danger of seeming "too prissy about food," says Dowd?! Nutrition is prissy? Nutritious and health-conscious are prissy??? This is exactly my point that people in this country do not understand that the rules of nutrition are simple, affordable and even delicious. Arugula is not expensive! Doritos are expensive! Arugula is cheaper than Doritos.

More to the point, Obama reflects the changing tastes of Americans. It is absolutely my firm belief that as a nation we are becoming fascinated with nutrition, organics, going green, being more conscious in general of our relationship with the earth and what we put into our bodies from it. It's all on the upswing and I say "fuck yeah" if Obama wants to lead the charge. So what if he doesn't want to bow down and accept every piece of cherry pie or ice cream cone or hamburger in every small town across this land? I think it's great. I wouldn't want someone I was dating to meld all of their tastes to mine, especially if it were unhealthy for them, just as I don't want my president pandering to any class/race/type of people through eating junk food. There's nothing about eating junk food that is necessarily lower class or blue collar, might I add.

Vegetables are not elitist or expensive. Neither are fruits and many things that are good for you. I'll budge a little on organics, but scroll down a couple entries to see my article on eating organically, even on a budget. It's effort and time and interest that are the biggest price to pay. I would be intensely happy to have a president that doesn't condone McDonald's and eats bitter greens, just like I'd rather date someone that eats bitter greens rather than McDonald's. But not someone who's just bitter.

Dowd on Obama on Food

Does food affect the potential candidacy of a president? How much influence does what a president eats have on the average American, or, does what they eat on the campaign trail define them in class or status or personality type? What does their aesthetic and body type say about them?

From "May We Mock, Barack?", Maureen Dowd, NYT:
Article HERE

John McCain’s Don Rickles routines — “Thanks for the question, you little jerk” — can fall flat. But he seems like a guy who can be teased harmlessly. If Obama offers only eat-your-arugula chiding and chilly earnestness, he becomes an otherworldly type, not the regular guy he needs to be.

He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food — a perception heightened when The Wall Street Journal reported that the planners for Obama’s convention have hired the first-ever Director of Greening, the environmental activist Andrea Robinson. She in turn hired an Official Carbon Adviser to “measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed.”

The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines, The Journal said, bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.) At least 70% of the ingredients should be organic or grown locally, to minimize emissions from fuel during transportation.”

Bring it on, Ozone Democrats! Because if Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It will be the rest of us.

Also worth a look:

From "Obama Eats Arugula", Joan Williams, Huffington Post, Article HERE:

Remember arugula-gate, when Obama asked Iowa, "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately? See what they charge for arugula?" This was only one of a long series of Democratic food gaffes. Howard Dean was decried as a "latte-drinking" elitist, Dukakis got into trouble with Belgian endive.

That's just the tip of the iceberg lettuce. The professional elite is singularly clueless about how food and other taken-for-granted aspects of their lifestyle serve as "class acts." Think of the class structure of coffee, from the lowly 8 oz. cup of joe at Dunkin' Donuts to the $4 venti caramel macciato. Starbucks has made it all too obvious that food is a central way we enact class status.

Sociologist Marjorie DeVault documents two distinctive food cultures in Feeding the Family. The working class respects and expects food that is plentiful and familiar (think: Red Lobster). The upper middle class treats food as a field of knowledge and values novelty (think: Alice Waters).

That's why salad greens are divisive. Obama's campaign is to recognize the ways Obama is sending out alienating signals of class privilege in an entirely unselfconscious way (rather than denying that there's a problem, see this.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fast Food in Flickery

Found this on today. Totally awesome:

Indiana Jones and the kingdom of fat kids

With childhood obesity at alarming rates, movie tie-ins to fast food are irresponsible. An open letter to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

By Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.

May 21, 2008 | Dear Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg,

When I was a kid, your movies were a big part of my summers. So were all the goodies that came with them -- "Star Wars" action figures, Indiana Jones trading cards, Reese's Pieces (E.T.'s favorite candy). Somewhere in my parents' house, I think I've still got a box of treasures with all of those memories. Among them are souvenirs I picked up at Taco Bell and Burger King, like a "Return of the Jedi" soda glass with a portrait of the menacing Darth Vader painted on it.

A generation later, I still eagerly anticipate your movies. My friends and I lined up hours in advance to see "The Phantom Menace" in 1999, and I weaseled my way out of a family obligation with the in-laws so I could catch "Attack of the Clones" in 2002. A couple of weeks ago, I hopped online to check out the trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and I'm looking forward to buying the first three films on DVD.

In the 30 years since you've started making movies, one thing that hasn't changed is a kid's (or in my case, a grown man's) imagination and wonder. And who sparks that better than you?

But a lot of other things about kids have changed. Their health is one of them. Today, almost one in four kids is obese, putting them at risk for, among other things, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The epidemic of obesity is serious enough that we're predicting that this current generation won't live as long their parents and grandparents. That's incredible if you think about it.

Which brings me to why I wrote this letter. I'm a pediatrician, and every day I see overweight kids coming into my office. Getting families and kids to change how they eat is an uphill battle, and it doesn't get easier when big studios like yours wheel and deal with companies that peddle junk food and fast food.

You tied "Star Wars" to Pepsi and Frito-Lay, plastering Yoda and Obi-Wan over 2-liter bottles and Doritos bags. Recently I was watching CNBC and saw the chief marketing officer of Burger King unveil the Indy Whopper, a mammoth, juicy burger with pepper jack cheese and jalapeƱo sauce (to give it "adventure," the CMO pointed out), a tie-in to "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I see you also got Mars to manufacture a Snicker's Adventure Bar with coconut and chai that has Dr. Jones' face on the wrapper.

Besides the fact that none of these foods is healthy, one has to ask if they're what your characters would eat. Would Lord Vader chug down a Pepsi before he wielded his light saber? (If he did, would he drink it with a straw or take off his entire mask?) Wouldn't Indy, now a senior citizen, have more than just a little bump in his cholesterol if he had scarfed down his namesake burger with fries and a soda? How could he be fit enough to chase down ancient relics while dodging boulders and outwitting Nazis?

You may think I'm playing the blame-the-media-and-Hollywood game. But an increasing body of medical evidence shows that child advertising and obesity are correlated. Take a look at a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. According to the report, each week American kids spend a full-time job's worth of time in front of the TV, on the Web and playing video games. They will see about 40,000 ads per year, and two-thirds of those ads are for junk food and fast food. Studies show that what kids see on TV is what they tell their parents they want for supper. No doubt the Indy Double Whopper -- with bacon! -- will be flying off the greasy grill in short order.

It's not all the media's fault. Parents need to take charge of what foods they're buying and how they're preparing those foods. Many families, especially poor ones, get a whole lot for their hard-to-earn dollars when they buy cheap, processed and calorie-dense foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive, don't last as long and take time to prepare -- time that's hard to find if both parents work full time to pay the bills. This gap between the waistlines of the rich, middle class and poor is only going to get worse with rising food prices. It's also a crime that many hospitals, like shopping malls, now contain a McDonald's, where patients with Type 2 diabetes, cancer and other serious illnesses can gorge on fast food before and after they get treated for those very diseases.

So I'm asking you: Why do you still tie in your movies with junk food and fast food? I know that you and your corporate partners make millions from deals with conglomerate food companies and fast-food chains. But do you really need the extra cash at this point? Wouldn't it be better, in a corporate crusader kind of way, to change course? Stop these deals, or partner with somebody who thinks a little healthier?

I don't want to single out just movies. There's a ton of companies that use characters and celebrities to peddle junk food. Check out this summary from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Being a sports fan, my favorite is the one about Jason Giambi, who endorsed Pepsi by saying that drinking several a day really "lifts him up." (Actually, I think it's safe to say that it was more than Pepsi that lifted Jason's batting average during the 1990s.)

On the other hand, you are two of the most powerful and influential people in the media today. Mr. Lucas, you've even been called the forefather of the movie tie-in. So if you change, and do so publicly, others may well follow suit. About two years ago, Disney backed out of its long-term partnership with McDonald's in part because of the issue of childhood obesity. Would you both be willing to do the same?

If not, then perhaps a little truth in advertising, or in cinema, is in order. You should show us how your characters would look if they ate the food that you helped peddle. In that vein, you got Jabba the Hutt right. But Princess Leia in her skimpy steel bikini with cellulite? Indiana Jones having to hit the brakes during a car chase and find a glass of water so he can take his Lipitor? Now that I think about it, wouldn't Viagra have been the best tie-in for the new movie?

Humor aside, I ask you to consider the reality of childhood obesity. It's a serious problem; it needs serious solutions. Doing your part would help more than you might imagine.

Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Busy Bee

Please don't stop checking my blog. I assure you I have things brewing! Just click back now and then and voila, something may arise that will impress or aggravate you. Until then, I will fill with information. Yes, information, folks. Borrowed information. I hope you don't mind. I think this is helpful. Information on how to eat organically even on a budget! Check it out, from the Organic Consumers Association newsletter:

How to Shop for Organic Foods Without Breaking Your Budget

Most of us would love to have a fridge full of fresh organic produce and meats. But because pesticide and hormone-free products often have a premium price tag, going organic can seem like a luxury for anyone on a tight budget. So how do you make sure the green on your table doesn't drain the green from your wallet?

Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association, has these tips: First, learn to buy big. Many health-food stores have bulk sections, and if you fill a bag with, say, organic cereal, you may end up paying less for it than you would for the nonorganic variety, since you're not paying for packaging costs. Second, form a buying club. If a bunch of people pool their grocery lists, they can often special-order directly with the store, he said, and that, in turn, can lead to much lower costs.

Another path to frugal but healthy shopping is to choose your battles carefully. If you can't afford to fill your entire shopping cart with organic food, you can still feel good about what you buy. Sarah Bratnober, communications director at the Organic Valley Family of Farms, advises following the 80/20 rule-80 percent of the benefits come from 20 percent of the purchases. Think about what your family eats the most of, then go from there. For example, if you have a choice between organic milk and organic mayonnaise, and your kids go through a gallon of milk in a week but only two tablespoons of mayo, go for the milk. Fruits and vegetables are also good choices, especially the ones your family eats lots of. And if you have the option, get into community-supported agriculture, where you own shares in a farm and get a share of whatever it produces.

Finally, buy fruits and vegetables in season and focus on what's easily available, says Barbara Houmann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association. That way, she said, you may find that the prices are just about comparable with nonorganic fruits and veggies.

If you do manage to get more organic into your diet, you won't regret the extra effort. Organic produce isn't just healthy and better for the environment, it tastes better, too, according to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist for The Organic Center. And that flavor boost might just make it easier to convince your children to eat their veggies, or to introduce them to new foods.

As for cooking, Bratnober says some people are afraid to go organic because they think those products need special preparation. But no worries-she said that the cooking process is exactly the same as it is for regular groceries. There is one caveat: While most organic items, like produce and milk, have a similar shelf-life to their nonorganic counterparts, bear in mind that organic breads and pastries tend to go bad faster than nonorganic baked goods because of the lack of preservatives.

So there you have it. Organic and affordable in the same sentence. Who would have thought?