3.11.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite For Profit, Chapter 5

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Appetite for Profit, Chapter 5: Nutriwashing Processed Foods

Summary:

Health claims on processed food packages have proliferated in recent years.  A prime example is the claim of "whole grans" in hundreds of products that in fact contain large amounts of heavily processed grains, and offer few whole grain benefits.  The federal recommendation to "eat more whole grains" refers to foods such as steamed brown rice - not Froot Loops and and chocolate chip cookies made with "whole wheat flour."  Nevertheless, a logo on a package gives these sugary, nutritionally void foods a halo of healthfulness, allowing consumers an easy justification to continue buying junk.  Many people may truly believe these are healthful choices for themselves and their families.

Given that consumers are likely to seek nutritional information from food packages, slogans such as "Smart Choices Made Easy" (PepsiCo brands) and "Sensible Solutions" (Kraft brands) are particularly concerning.  Touted as "a big help for moms," these efforts at nutriwashing encourage families continue purchasing the processed foods that are so profitable to the industry.  In reality, foods that claim to be "healthy" are often just nominally healthier that a specific company's least healthful products.  Yes, Cheese-its may be healthier than Cheetos... but that doesn't make them healthy.

"The argument that people aren't going to eat whole unprocessed foods becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that is both condescending and immoral."  Processed convenience foods, by their very nature, are unhealthy.  While their healthfulness (or lack thereof) can be mitigated, these foods will never be truly healthy.  Nutriwashed packaging claims present barriers to, not opportunities for, more healthful eating.

Discussion:

Nearly a decade has gone by since Simon's writing, and all that seems to have changed is that PepsiCo has moved on to the "Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation" and Kraft has crated its "Healthy Living" program.  Even at the Broad Street Whole Foods, that supposed bastion of healthfulness, guess what I found?  Health claims aplenty on processed foods that are far from optimal:

Annie's Homegrown Bernie's Farm Cheddar Crackers are "made with goodness!"  Not to mention organic wheat!  And there's an even an offer for a free "be green" sticker.  This is clearly a health food.

These here "presweetened" cereals - conveniently located on the bottom shelf where small hands can easily reach them - are obviously eons better than that normal grocery store stuff - the brand is Nature's Path!  The animals are exotic and lifelike!  And look, they've obtained nutrition's current holy grail: they're GLUTEN FREE!  Healthy healthy healthy, no doubt about it.

...and my personal favorite, turkey jerky.  Jerky isn't "healthy" - everyone knows that.  But look, no nitrates or nitrites!  Lots of protein!  I stand corrected - it MUST be healthy!
When not even a grocery store that has built its entire reputation on healthfulness can be depended on for truth in advertising, where can consumers turn? The waters of our food environment are not only shark-infested; they're infested with sharks in minnows' clothing.

(Note: sharks are not actually dangerous.  Shark attack numbers pale in comparison to how often humans kill sharks.  I just like to use figures of speech sometimes, and a bizarre number of them refer to animals.)

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