Thursday, January 8, 2009

Appetite for Profit: An Introduction to the Food Industry

We've heard of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma -- what about Big Food? How much have consumers, politicians, and even public health professionals considered the co-optation of "healthy food" by mega-food corporations such as McDonalds, Kraft, and General Mills? There are many examples of how these companies or their spokespersons have tried and mostly succeeded in preventing healthier foods and drinks in schools, destroyed legislation to increase consumer access to nutrition information, and sent the message that physical exercise, not diet is what is making American obese. 

Appetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back is an excellent book by public health lawyer and advocate, Michele Simon. For anyone interested in gaining an expert perspective (I'm not saying it is unbiased - per se) in this issue this is a must read. People interested in childhood obesity and advertising to children may also find this book to be quite insightful.

The most useful sections of the book are found in the appendices. For example, who is the Center for Consumer Freedom? The name sounds good - I'm a consumer and I'm all for freedom! A brief glance at the appendix or a turn to one of the many pages in her book that references the CCF one will note that this "freedom" applies first and foremost to the restaurant industry. One ought be wary of many of the organizations involved in food advertising, lobbying, legislation, and policy. Many are not what they appear to be.

In addition to helping us identify industry-backed "objective" organizations, Simon also presents cogent arguments against several of the "myths" propagated by Big Food. For instance, why restaurant nutrition labeling won't put local restaurants (or industry leaders) out of business, how such tactics (point of sale nutrition information) can help consumers chose healthier options, and how schools (and more importantly, students) can thrive without soda and sports drinks sold in school.

This book renewed my passion for creating a healthier environment where we all have the ability to choose to live and eat well. My next task: understanding the Farm Bill. I have heard so much about this important piece of legislation that has an enormous amount of influence over what I find at the grocery store, where it is from, and how much it costs. 

What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Kelsey Woodruff said...

This sounds like a good book. I am especially concerned with school food, especially school food in low-income school districts.

I taught at a school with 100% free breakfast and about 70% free or reduced lunch. One morning, I asked my students what they ate for breakfast. "Chocolate cake with chocolate milk." This not only loads our kids up with calories (breakfast plus lunch was the amount that kids should have in a whole day, not to mention the dinner and flaming hot cheetos they would have when they got home) and fat calories, but gives them an idea that chocolate cake is an acceptable breakfast, a lesson that if learned in first grade will last their lifetime. Would this be happening if the food companies weren't cheaply producing and cheaply packaging the worst foods?