Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nutrition Check

This is how I learned to be cynical. Every Saturday morning of my childhood was spent in front of the TV watching cartoons and, of course, commercials. I remember the commercials more vividly than the cartoons. And if the commercial was itself a cartoon, even better... especially the cereal ads.

But every single cereal ad ended the same. A friendly voice announced "part of a balanced breakfast," and the still-frame image showed a tiny bowl of the product, a glass of orange juice, a glass of milk, a slice of whole wheat toast, two eggs, and a fruit parfait. I knew exactly what it meant -- the cereal wasn't good for shit.

And I also knew that although Kellogg's thought kids were idiots, I could spell "fruit" and Kellogg's could not. Now I'm older and realize the misspelling was a brilliant move. They could never be found guilty of false advertising with a nonsensical name like "froot loops."

But labeling is about to get a little crazier. For a $100,000 fee, Kellogg's and other food manufacturers can add more nonsensical words to their packaging. Smart Choices is a new food-labeling campaign ostensibly designed to help shoppers identify smarter food and beverage choices. You'll soon be noticing these bright green check marks on products such as sugar-laden cereals and fudgsicals. Are you cynical yet?

The nutritionists running the program are woefully unconvincing in their propaganda:
“The checkmark means the food item is a ‘better for you’ product, as opposed to having an x on it saying ‘Don’t eat this,’ ” Dr. Kennedy said. “Consumers are smart enough to deduce that if it doesn’t have the checkmark, by implication it’s not a ‘better for you’ product. They want to have a choice. They don’t want to be told ‘You must do this.’ ”

Dr. Kennedy, who is not paid for her work on the program, defended the products endorsed by the program, including sweet cereals. She said Froot Loops was better than other things parents could choose for their children.

“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”
Froot Loops or doughnuts? As if those are our only two choices!

I honestly hope there are no parents trying to decide between Froot Loops and doughnuts while passing over non-processed foods like oranges and bananas which will not carry the confusing check mark.

And it is confusing because the check mark does not indicate any kind of government approval. The Smart Choices system is designed by and paid for by the nation's major food manufacturers and managed by the American Society of Nutrition. They're not concerned with what's good for you and your family. They're concerned with their image and profits.

But now you know that little green check mark isn't good for shit.


Michael said...

It's a sad day when a parent needs to figure what a better choice is, between froot loops and dunkin' donuts cereal. It's obvious the donut, it's not pretending to be fruit, it's just a plain old delicious donut flavoured circle of fulfilment.

Trung said...

silly rabbit, trix are for kids!