3.30.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Concluding Thoughts

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, Concluding Thoughts

In the concluding chapter of Appetite for Profit, Simon offers some broad proposals on how to combat food industry sway:
  • be skeptical of how industry efforts are portrayed in the media
  • don't be fooled by promises from the industry to "self-regulate"
  • keep an eye out for nutriwashing, the industry's favorite way to pretend that it's making more healthful food when nothing has really changed
  • beware of partnerships with seemingly health-oriented organizations - often they've either been bought or were actually created by the industry
  • don't let the industry shift responsibility away from itself and toward you with arguments like "personal responsibility"
  • don't support fat-shaming and industry's insistence that problems with overweight are due to lack of exercise rather than food intake
  • remember that special considerations must be made for children
All legitimate.  And yet, if I had it to do over again, I don't think I would have chosen this book.  While approximately a million times more dense, an updated edition of Marion Nestle's Food Politics would have provided much of the same information, more effectively and with more background, concision, and context.  This book at times reads like the work of a novice with an axe to grind.  Perhaps as an attorney, Simon is too ready to argue.  (Perhaps as a paralegal, I'm too ready to fault attorneys.)

It is of course possible that it strikes me this way because the book doesn't cover any new ground for me.  Having read Food Politics over ten years ago, as well as many other articles on these topics in the years since, I have literally heard all of this before.  For a reader just being introduced to the topics, though, perhaps it's just right.

Did you read Appetite for Profit?  How useful did you find it?  Would you recommend it to others, and if so at what knowledge level?  Do tell.  And join me tomorrow as I introduce April's reading selection: Weighing In by Julie Guthman!

3.25.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 12

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 12: Scapegoating Lawyers

Summary:

A CCF print ad that manages to be
fearmongering, fat-shaming,
AND lawyer-shaming.
In the grand old tradition of bad actors always and everywhere, the food industry would rather create rules to protect itself than to change its harmful (profitable) ways.  This tendency was shown clearly in the mid-2000s, when a series of federal and state bills was proposed with the purpose of shielding food companies from any liability for its customers becoming obese or otherwise unhealthy.  As of 2006, 21 states (including Louisiana) had enacted laws that banned obesity-related lawsuits.  "[W]hile food companies are busy proclaiming how much they want to be a part of the solution, behind the scenes, they are lobbying to protect themselves... ."

These anti-obesity-lawsuit laws are both unnecessary and telling, based as they are on an imaginary foe.  Frivolous lawsuits - those without any real legal grounds - are already disallowed and can lead to sanctions against lawyers who bring them.  Despite what groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedom may claim, there is not in fact an "army of greedy trial lawyers" from whom the industry needs protection.  As such, the laws have been called "a solution in search of a problem."

"If food companies are so worried about becoming targets of lawsuits, why don't they change their business practices to act more responsibly?"  That is the million-dollar question.

Discussion:

I've worked with attorneys for nearly a decade now, and one thing is universally true whether they're at a firm making money$$$$$ or at a non-profit doing good: they do not - I repeat, DO NOT - file cases that they can't win.  They certainly don't file cases that are actually frivolous per the law - that's the kind of thing you lose your license over.

Of course one (now-notorious) case was filed in 2002 against McDonald's.  A class action on behalf of several ill children, the case was less about obesity than about deceptive advertising, obfuscation, and accountability.  The case was dismissed in 2003 not because it was frivolous but because "the plaintiffs had failed to show that McDonald's engaged in deceptive practices and that consumers had inadequate access to information about McDonald's products."  The case was appealed and remanded (sent back to the court in which it was originally heard), and ultimately was "voluntarily dismissed with prejudice" in 2011 which frankly I don't understand.  But it was never ruled to be frivolous.

Another case was filed in 2012, specifically about the inclusion of toys in HappyMeals; it too was dismissed - but not because it was found to be frivolous.  The lawyers at McD's who throw around that word know what they're doing - they know that it has a different meaning in the legal world than in general discourse.  I'd love to see them sanctioned for it.

As for Louisiana's so-called "Commonsense Consumption Act" (Act 158 from the 2003 legislative session, in state law as LA Rev Stat § 9:2799.6), wouldn't it be great to get that repealed?  Just to send the message to food companies that they are liable for the products they sell, just like tobacco companies and asbestos companies before them?  Perhaps someone can work on it for the next legislative session.  For policy dorks, please take note that ALEC provides a model CCA on its website - that should tell you something about its true intent.

3.23.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 11

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 11:
Regulating Junk Food Marketing to Children

Summary:

The marketing of foods to children is an emotional, hot-button topic - particularly when it comes to junk food.  In 2005, the Institute of Medicine showed that the marketing of low nutrition foods promotes a preference for such foods among kids.  While correlation is not causation, it found that "the statistical association between ad viewing and obesity is strong."  In short, this advertising is bad for children's health.

Government regulation efforts have been ineffective in limiting kids' exposure to junk food advertising.  Industry's favorite tactic is to cry "First Amendment" at any such proposal.  This is despite the fact that "commercial speech" - the category into which corporate advertising falls - can be limited in light of "a pressing social interest" per the Supreme Court.  But food companies don't let reality get in the way of "a convenient excuse that covers up a self-serving desire to maintain the status quo."

Industry's next tactic is to market its healthier foods to kids - the troubles being that a) they are still marketing directly to children, who have a limited capacity to make good choices and most often rely on parents to buy desired products; and b) the foods aren't actually healthy, only nutriwashed.  "How can we begin to discuss eating the right food unless and until we talk about controlling an industry that spends billions of dollars a year trying to get children to eat the wrong food?"

It's been suggested that the government should increase spending on promotion of healthful foods and eating habits, but the reality is that no government agency can match the advertising budgets of the food industry.  Bans on advertising aimed at children have proven effective in other countries.  We must implement policies that prevent the exploitation of our children.

Discussion:

I feel like this chapter should have been placed before the chapter on food in schools.  Ah well.  Anyway, is there still junk food being marketed to kids?  What ever are they talking about?  It's not as if it's ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE.  It's not as if experts have explained time and time again that such marketing is detrimental.

At least TV ads aren't quite this obviously aimed at kids anymore, like they were when I was a kid...



...right?




For more info about food advertising to kids, check out this report released by PCRM - featuring New Orleans pediatrician Leslie Brown!

3.21.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 10

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 10: Battling Big Food in Schools

Summary:

The food industry has successfully blocked every effort to regulate its sale of foods to children in schools.*  Maintaining sales in schools serves a number of purposes beyond keeping the revenue:
  1. building brand loyalty starting at a young age;
  2. improving image by "promoting the myth of corporate philanthropy"; and
  3. avoiding the potential harm to reputation that may occur if their products were to be banned from schools.
Junk food is pervasive in schools at all levels, and is essentially unfettered.  These foods, sold in vending machines and at other easy access points, compete with the federally regulated school lunch program.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has determined that approximately 75% of such "competitive" offerings are of poor nutritional value.

Public schools in need of funds often enter "pouring rights" contracts with major beverage makers such as Coke and Pepsi.  These contracts give companies a monopoly on the products sold in a school, and also create opportunities for advertisement within the school and at extracurricular activities such as sporting events.  What's worse, the amount of money a school receives for the deal is often dependent on how much soda it sells - schools are thus incentiveized to sell more soda to students.  Despite popular support, state bills to limit such access usually fail due to heavy industry interference.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is notorious for fighting bills that limit junk food in schools.  Coca-Cola, though, takes the cake.  While other companies prefer to use front groups as its spokespeople, Coke has no qualms with standing front and center against any regulation that could reduce its sales, even to children.  For example, in Louisiana in 2005 Coke's lobbyist managed to change a bill aimed at completely removing sodas from schools, to one that required only 50% of Coke's in-school offerings to be "healthy."

Coke and other such corporations trumpet the ethic of "choice" - but whose choice is being respected in schools with exclusive pouring rights?  These contracts by their very nature exclude choice.  The industry claims that such contracts are a great source of funding for struggling school districts, yet fail to mention that the vendors will see far more money from them than the schools will.  The money gained by either party also comes at the expense of children's health.

"Whenever you hear a multinational corporation stand up for the little guy, this should instantly make you suspicious... Instead of asking what products Coca-Cola can sell that would pass nutrition muster, we should ask how we can properly fund public education so that we don't need Coca-Cola."

*Federal regulations have since been enacted, but are ineffective.

Discussion:

When I was in school, there were no advertisements that I can recall.   What I do remember is that I could get the "normal" (aka gross) school lunch for a dollar and some change, OR I could get the good stuff (pizza, nachos, and so on) for twice or more money.  Despite the fact that I was raised by a New Orleanian mother who put a hot meal on the dinner table every single night and refused to buy sweetened cereals or sodas, and the fact that I did not set foot into a fast food restaurant until I was in middle school, I fell into some very bad eating habits in high school.  We did have vending machines, but the idea of eating food out of a vending machine was so foreign to me that I never approached them.  Nevertheless, for the better part of 11th and 12th grades, my breakfast was a Coke and a cigarette and lunch was two chocolate milks and a honey bun.  My point here is that parents can do their damnedest to set a good example at home, but kids are affected by the world around them in ways that parents can't control.

This is part of why I find the various farm-to-school programs popping up around New Orleans so exciting.  Despite what parents are (or are not) able to provide at home, students at all five FirstLine Schools (Arthur Ashe, John Dibert, Samuel J. Green, Langston Hughes, and Joseph S. Clark), for instance, are exposed to the Edible Schoolyard program.  It allows kids to grow and eat their own food - an experience that many kids who grow up in cities know nothing about.  There are approximately one million terrible things about New Orleans' new all-charter-school landscape, but at least some of the schools are working toward getting food right.

Other farm-to-school programs around town include Sankofa NOLA's HEAL program working with students at Arise Academy, and the Cooking Up Healthy Options and Portions (CHOP) program run by Ochsner Health Services.  There are still many, many kids in New Orleans who have no access to fresh food at home or at school.  And yes, schools in Nola (and everywhere else) are basically busting at the seams with junk food and soft drinks (we call them cold drinks though).  We MUST work harder to feed our children well.  As we discussed last month, a hungry child cannot learn.

Of course, we're not alone.  Hopefully you know what ConAgra is (hint: their products are found in a supposed 99% of American households)... but perhaps it will be a big surprise to you, as it was to me, that it hosts branded events at schools.  The only word I can think of for this is shameless.  But then, there's nothing new about shameless behavior when it comes to food companies and kids.  If this is a topic of particular interest to you, make sure to check out the next blog post: kids junk food marketing!


3.19.2015

Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 9

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 9:
Eating in the Dark - Nutrition Labeling in Restaurants

Summary:

At both the state and federal levels, food industry lobbyists have kept the conversation about restaurant nutrition labeling off the table.*  It's no wonder, given that such labeling could interfere with the hundreds of billions of dollars Americans spend in restaurants each year.  It could also let consumers know, though, that they're consuming two to three times the calories in their one restaurant meal than they would in a similar meal at home.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) and related industry front groups like to preach about "personal responsibility" when it comes to food and health.  It is ironic, then, that it fights tooth and nail to prevent consumers from getting information about food in restaurants.  "How can consumers become more educated or act more responsibly without access to the information they need to make more informed choices?"

Those restaurants that do provide nutrition information, but in ways that are difficult to access, are similar to the fast food restaurants that serve salads: the promise gets customers in the door, but when it comes time to order their choices don't change.  This is at least partly because of the way the information is being offered: currently if the information in plain sight, it's on a poster with a tiny font and often outdated information.  For those using a drive-thru, it is entirely inaccessible.  Information printed on menus and menu boards is far more effective in changing behaviors, which is precisely why it threatens the food industry.

Industry pundits have claimed that the loss of sales due to menu labeling would lead to layoffs, closures, and other hardships - and also that people wouldn't pay attention to such labeling anyway.  Both of these things cannot be true.  "In the end, their decision [not to label menus] reflects that they don't want to do it, not that they can't."

*as of 2006

Discussion:

Menu labeling is an issue on which Simon and I seem to see eye to eye.  At least for large chain restaurants, each argument against it is nothing short of ludicrous.
  • It's too expensive?  You've already calculated the information and put it online, and you redesign your menu / menu boards each time you roll out a new product.
  • People don't care?  Then you have nothing to lose as far as sales, and are merely missing a great PR stunt.
The only plausible reason for the pushback is that providing nutrition information where it can't be avoided will cause fewer sales.  Not all consumers will change their habits when faced with the information, for instance, that 6 chicken nuggets (all by themselves, no sauce, drink, or fries) contain 18g of fat and 540mg of sodium - but some will.  You needn't lose any sleep over poor McD's losing money.  Given that it made a net profit of close to $5 billion in 2014 (with a gross income of $16.5 billion), I think it can weather a few lost sales.  (Not to mention that it could afford to pay a living wage... but that's a different discussion.  All of a piece though, innit?)

Lucky for Simon and I (and, you know, everybody), the FDA finalized a new rule in November 2014 mandating nutrition labeling on menus and menu boards at all restaurants with 20 or more locations.  HUZZAH!  This, obviously, covers every fast food chain - where there is arguably the most dire need for such information.  One downside is that the rule doesn't have to be implemented until November 2015; that's actually not far away though.  The other, possibly more pertinent, downside is that the rule stems from the one and only Affordable Care Act... also known as OBAMACARE.

This has got my conspiracy theory wheels turning like mad.  If conservatives manage to repeal the ACA, menu labeling will be over before it's begun.  Isn't it convenient that a new president will be elected just three weeks before the rule must be implemented?  That's probably coincidence.  (HA HA it's also not accurate - I'm a year off.  Leaving it in because that's funny.)  But I do wonder, now, how vocal the food lobbyists have been regarding the potential repeal.  After all, when FDA announced the rule, the Grocery Manufacturers Association had this to say: "We are disappointed that the F.D.A.'s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members.”  Poooor little grocery stores with more than 20 locations.  How ever will they get by?

The only legit argument against menu labeling comes from small, locally owned restaurants - those owned by human beings rather than corporations.  Last year I drafted an op ed on the subject of menu labeling, but opted not to submit it for publication specifically because menu labeling really could be a significant hardship for small local businesses.  I submit it to you here and now merely for the sake of discussion; enjoy.


Good Information is Good Business for New Orleans Restaurants

In New Orleans we live to eat, and it’s killing us.  But it doesn’t have to!  All we need is more information about what we’re eating.  Let’s ask restaurants to give it to us.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is a leading killer in the South. It causes a quarter of all deaths in Louisiana, meaning that thousands of people die from it every year here.  It’s what my grandma died of; I’d bet that we all have a family member who’s had a heart attack (or two), or has passed from cardiovascular disease.  Doctors agree that we should limit our fat and calories to manage our weight and to avoid heart attacks and strokes.  But we can’t follow that advice unless we know what’s in our food.

We’ve got a pretty good idea that we should eat around 2000 calories a day, give or take. AHA suggests that we eat less than 16 grams of saturated fat a day.  Great!  We know what to do!  Now what?

In general we know that meat, fried foods, and seafood (usually fried and drenched in heavy sauces and gravies) can be high in calories and fat, ­ but how many?  How much?  Without a restaurant’s recipes, we can’t calculate these numbers for ourselves. And something tells me that Commander’s Palace isn’t giving up the real recipe to their turtle soup anytime soon.
If restaurants want to keep their proprietary recipes a secret, that’s fine.  They should!  All we need from them is some basic nutritional information, like the amounts of calories and fat in their dishes.  Then we’ll be better able to make our own responsible choices based on how a dish fits in with our normal diets.  Without this info, though, we can’t dine out and also take “personal responsibility” for our health.  I don’t know about y’all, but I for one have no intention to stop eating out!

Restaurants may say that providing nutrition information is too difficult or time-consuming. They may worry that customers won’t want to order dishes that are too high in fat or calories. To them I’d say that it’s we, the customers, who make their businesses work.  If they don’t want to give us what we ask for, we can go elsewhere.  And as people who really, truly love food, there’s no number that will keep us away from our favorite dishes.  After all, we can just eat smaller portions.  However, refusing to give us the info we need could easily turn us away to competitors.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has wondered about the calorie or fat count of a po­boy at Parkway.  But without nutritional information from the folks who know what’s really in the food, we’re just making wild guesses.  Let’s ask our local restaurants to provide basic nutrition information, so that we can take charge of our own health and also keep enjoying our favorite dishes for years to come.  After all, where would our favorite restaurants be if we wouldn’t eat at them anymore?

3.17.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite for Profit, Chapter 8

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 7: Co-opting the Science

Summary:

"The corporate takeover of academic research is a growing problem that threatens to undermine the entire scientific process."  Food companies - or more often their attorneys and consultants - employ scientists to conduct research and opine in such a way as to cast a positive light on their products' healthfulness.  These third-party experts are used to create an illusion of impartiality.  Scientific studies funded by the industry often reach surprisingly industry-friendly results.

Well-respected health organizations are not immune from the taint of corporate influence.  The American Diabetes Association (ADA), for example, has accepted millions of dollars in contributions from Cadbury Schweppes.  After the "alliance" was announced, the ADA's chief scientific and medical officer stated in an interview that "[t]here is not a shred of evidence that sugar per se has anything to do with getting diabetes."  Of course, the ADA was already receiving donations from the likes of Kraft and General Mills.

The American Council on Science and Health (ASCH) is, similar to CCF, a food industry front group that aims to create a sense of third-party expertise in nutrition.  It espouses viewpoints of "no bad foods" and "calories in, calories out" to argue against any inference that, for instance, sodas shouldn't be sold in schools.  Such messages are of great benefit to beverage manufacturers, and of potentially great detriment to schoolchildren.

In addition to groups that are merely funded by industry, there are groups that have been assembled by and are employed by them.  One such body is the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition.  This research group, which is owned and operated by cereal giant General Mills, regularly conducts studies finding enormous health benefits associated with whole grains.  The Bell Institute has also been a driving force behind claims that dairy products contribute to weight loss.  Incidentally, General Mills also owns Yoplait brand yogurts.  Similarly, Coca-Cola's Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness has insisted that soda consumption has no connection to obesity.

"As more and more health experts and organizations slide down the slippery slope of accepting corporate funding, we will ultimately lose a critical tool for effective policymaking."  Translation: trust no one.

Discussion:

In this chapter we see the real problem with the fact that Simon is an attorney, not a scientist or even a public health expert.  She is not familiar with the process by which peer-reviewed articles are submitted, reviewed, accepted, and published by journals.  But of course, neither are most of the people who see headlines about such articles.  Also, that's not to say that influential conflicts don't exist - certainly they do.  Nutritionist Marion Nestle has published a number of blog posts that thoroughly discuss conflicts of interest in food research.

Simon also spends numerous pages of this chapter somewhat childishly complaining once again about the Center for Consumer Freedom.  Like, for real Michele, we get it.  You don't like them.  They're industry shills.  They've attacked you personally.  They spread misinformation.  We got it when you devoted ALL OF CHAPTER THREE to the group.

I'd like to note here that, despite my deep and abiding reverence for scientific knowledge, I am skeptical of nutrition science - and I think you should be too.  Here's why: the Western world is decades further behind in its understanding of nutrition than in other medical topics, because medical research has ignored nutrition in a really profound way pretty much forever.  (I'll spare you my personal anecdotal evidence on this, but hit me up in the comments if you want to hear about it.)

Each time any researcher comes to some sort of conclusion it's hailed as gospel... until it's proven false a few years later that is.  (Remember when transfatty margarine was sooooo much healthier for you than butter?)  As a result, each time I hear some news source proclaim that this food is magic or that food is poison, I think of when medical science was convinced that small demons caused all ailments and exorcism / leaches were the best cures.

Add to that the fact that much of the nutrition research happening today is funded by the industry - which no doubt seeks specific results - and it's wise to take any "revolutionary" new piece of nutrition information with more than a grain of salt.

3.15.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite For Profit, Chapter 7

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 7: Exposing Government Complicity

Summary:

Government is more likely to support food industry profit than the promotion of public health.  This has been regularly reflected in USDA dietary guidelines, over which the food industry tends to exert undue influence.

2005's revamped "MyPyramid" guidelines both place responsibility for health solely on the consumer and emphasizes exercise - rather than nutrition - as the key to health.  It is ironic to say the least that nutrition guidelines do not emphasize nutrition's role in health.  The redesigned pyramid is also significantly more difficult to understand.  The food industry's support of the new guidelines indicates that they are quite friendly to industry interests.

In 2004, the FDA released a report called Calories Count emphasizing personal responsibility once again.  At a "summit on obesity" the same year, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services encouraged the same, stating outright that "[w]e have to do it ourselves."  He even praised McDonald's for its healthier options.  At the same event, the US Surgeon General provided major food industry players a platform to voice their viewpoints, shutting out all other ideas under a guise of time constraint.  Such focused, industry-friendly messaging is surprisingly common at events purportedly promoting public health initiatives.

"When the federal government is complicit with corporations, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between public and private interests."

Discussion:

Who else grew up with this guy,
and the "four food groups?"
I frequently find myself reminding people that the evening news is not a public service: it is a moneymaking business.  The information presented, and the way in which it is framed, is orchestrated intentionally to boost potential profit.

I think most people realize that nutrition information that comes from food companies is the same.  They're not telling you to eat more protein or increase your whole grain intake for your own good; they're trying to sell you their products that provide "plenty of protein and a full serving of whole grains!"  What many may not realize, though, is that government is also hocking for the food industry.  Even public service announcements are often actually just industry advertisements.

After MyPyramid in 2005 came MyPlate in 2011 (and it has its own Facebook page, bee tee dubs).  The guidelines and icon recommend "protein" and do not specify "meat," but the meat industry didn't quibble with this as it's spent decades making sure that we believe only meats contain protein.  Also, note that it very clearly recommends dairy - and recommends three cups per day at that.  Given that 2/3 of the adult population of the world is lactose intolerant, and that just 1 cup of whole milk contains 8 to 9 grams of fat (5 of which are saturated) and 150 calories, that's just a bit insane.  The dairy industry seems pretty happy about it though.  And of course, you could choose cheese (high in both fat and salt) or yogurt (often high in sugar) instead!  Or skim milk... everyone loves skim milk, right?  But of course this is totally necessary, since there is literally no other possible source of calcium at all ever anywhere.  Just like protein is only found in meat.  EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.

The food plans outlined on the MyPyramid website are vague at best, and because they give amounts of each food type to be eaten in a week, rather than per day or per meal, would require an extraordinary amount of planning to follow.  5 1/2 cups of red and orange vegetables per week?  How do you even work that out?  How much is a cup of oranges anyway?  Last I checked, tomatoes and carrots don't come in cup measurements.  No wonder, as explained in the book chapter, that only 2 to 4 percent of the US population actually tries to follow these recommendations.

When looking at federal nutrition guidelines, it's important to realize that the USDA has conflicting missions: it is meant both to guide the dietary health of the nation, and to support its food manufacturers.  When it's more profitable for the food industry to sell junk food than healthful food (due in large part to government policy...), this conflict becomes deeply problematic.  It seems likely that until a different agency is in charge of providing governmental dietary guidelines, we will continue to receive industry-friendly advice.  I wait with baited breath to see the extent to which the upcoming guidelines are able to buck this trend.

Locally, we have a public health initiative called Fit NOLA begun by the New Orleans Health Department in 2012.  Fit NOLA is, in turn, part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! national initiative.  Fit NOLA's aim is to become one of the top ten fittest cities in the country by 2018; how it plans to achieve this is not clear, but it does unsurprisingly place responsibility squarely on us: "every New Orleanian will need to commit to being more nutritionally and physically fit."  Sure, we all need to take responsibility for our own health to the extent possible.  For many New Orleanians, though, that extent is small to nonexistent.

Yep, this logo.
While I'm glad that Nola is interested in improving the health of its residents, this program has a major visibility problem.  I literally didn't know it existed, for instance, until writing this blog post, despite the fact that I've been deeply invested in its food and restaurant scene for the past four years.  It also fails Branding 101: it doesn't even have a logo.

Its most visible effort by far is the Eat Fit NOLA program, sponsored by a non-public entity - Ochsner Health System - which owns and operates many of the area's hospitals.  Eat Fit NOLA labels menu items (with a logo!) at participating area restaurants to indicate choices that meet certain parameters.  I am skeptical of this program - in no small way because of the food options I've found in its facilities - but need to look into it further.  Have you tried Eat Fit NOLA choices at any area restaurants?  If so, please tell us about the experience in the comments.