Outsourcing today’s food commentary to Buzzfeed:
Outsourcing today’s food commentary to Buzzfeed:
This advertorial was featured on the op-ed page of the NYTs two days ago by the Washington Legal Foundation (tagline, “Advocate for Freedom and Justice”). Rather than share my thoughts on this creative piece of freedom and justice advocacy, here are three reactions from good friends:
- “Pretty obvious where the money to fund these ads is coming from. I’m so sick and tired of the “freedom” marketing because the companies behind it are the ones taking away any type of choice. lskdjfslkdjflksdjalksdj.”
- “I like how they condemn alarming catchy phrases and use the term “self-appointed diet overlords” in the same paragraph.”
- “I’m guessing these guys just pulled their pro-smoking file and just pressed control replace cancer with obesity.”
Actually, I will share just one thought:
“The purported goal — reducing obesity — may be worthy, but their misguided approach will only succeed in enriching these self-appointed diet overlords at the expense of American consumers and their health.”
As a self-proclaimed self-appointed diet overlord, I just wanted to say that when I read the sentence above, and then thought about my paycheck, I got a little bummed out that maybe the other self-appointed diet overlords might be getting more enriched than me. I know it is wrong to covet another diet overlord’s income, but here I am wondering if I shouldn’t be charging more per condescending demonization and request tips next time I knock someone’s freedom soda out of their hand and shout “fat bomb” while trolling mall cafeterias. Maybe its time to rethink my pricing structure; “Let’s Sue!” bumper stickers don’t grow on trees, after all.
As part of its Eating Away Our Freedoms project, Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) today placed an advertorial on the op-ed page of the National Edition of The New York Times. WLF first debuted its “In All Fairness” advertorial column in 1998 in The Times, and it has appeared on the newspaper’s op-ed page over 150 times. The Times national edition reaches 75% of America’s population and according to one survey is read by 90% of major newspaper editors.
We encourage you to peruse the Eating Away Our Freedoms site and please consider signing up to receive updates as WLF supplements the site and continues to counter those “public interest” activists, regulators, and lawyers whose approach to reducing obesity enriches them at the expense of their intended beneficiaries.
Great post from Tom Laskawy, founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, here.
“Congress tried and failed to pass a farm bill last year. The question now is whether Congress can do it this time.
Actually, the question really is whether Congress will ever pass a farm bill again. For the first time, those close to the legislative process are starting to have their doubts. And that may be a really bad thing.
Bah, humbug, you say! The farm bill is larded with bipartisan subsidies for the largest-scale farmers who grow commodities like corn, soy, and cotton. It’s also the bill that authorizes the federal crop insurance program, which has grown like gangbusters over the last decade. Last year (thanks to the drought) farmers received over $17 billion in insurance payouts — almost all of which benefited large-scale commodity agriculture. A chicken pox on all their coops!
That not an unreasonable reaction. But also at stake in the farm bill are billions of dollars for conservation programs that help farmers mitigate the environmental effects of their work, and pay them to set aside marginal farmland as wildlife habitat. It also contains millions in federal funds that support organic farmers, help younger and “new” farmers get their start, and prop up local food efforts, organic research, and farmers markets.”
“RALEIGH, N.C. — Cities and counties would not be able to ban the sale of sugary drinks under a bill that passed the House Judiciary A Committee late Wednesday.
The measure would also bar lawsuits against food manufacturers and producers based on claims that a product led to weight gain or obesity.
“Has a lawsuit of this kind ever been filed in North Carolina?” asked Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake. Bill sponsor Rep. Brian Brown, R-Pitt, said he couldn’t speak to suits in North Carolina. “They have been filed nationwide,” he said. “This is a law that will be helpful to restrict those types of frivolous lawsuits in the future and really drive home the personal accountability aspects of North Carolinas business-friendly lifestyle.”…The restriction on cities has been informally dubbed the “Bloomberg Bill,” a reference to the New York mayor who led the push to restrict the sale of large-sized sugary beverages there.
The measure passed committee 8-5. It next goes to the House floor.”
Not that consumer lawsuits claiming foods have led to weight gain or obesity have had much success in courts in the past, but this bill would bar plaintiffs from bringing these kinds of suits altogether.
As anyone who has read Salt Sugar Fat (or read the extended excerpt that the NYT published back in February) knows, while there is certainly a personal responsibility component to individual health, processed and fast food companies have worked hard to make their products as successful as they are by approaching taste, texture, ingredients, and marketing with scientific exactitude (see this earlier post for an example).
Saying that consumers are totally empowered to eat whatever and however they want in our super-saturated food landscape ignores the influence wielded by the millions of dollars that go into the marketing, research and development of, for example, the perfect potato chip. As Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat, has said in interviews (like this one), when you start to learn about what goes into the making of processed foods, Lay’s famous slogan, Betcha can’t eat just one “starts sounding less like a lighthearted dare–and more like a kind of promise. The food industry really is betting on its ability to override the natural checks that keep us from overeating.”
Until the FDA wakes up from its prolonged nap and starts regulating the food industry on behalf of consumers, consumer lawsuits remain an important tool for keeping food manufacturers accountable and in check, which is what makes this proposed bill so troublesome.
This North Carolina bill would also prevent cities and counties from banning the sale of sugary drinks à la Bloomberg. As I said before when Mississippi passed their “Anti-Bloomberg Bill” in March, I don’t really understand how using state legislation to ban cities and counties from managing public health at the local level is an effective way of taking a stance against an overreaching nanny government, but hey, you do you North Carolina.
By the way, in 2012 Mississippi ranked as the second most obese states in the union, and North Carolina was one of only three states to experience an increase in obesity rate (along with New Jersey and Georgia). So NC and MS, if it does just come down to personal responsibility, it might be time to sit down and have a talk with your constituents.
A few choice quotes from WSJ article, Overeating: The Psychology of Small Packages:
“Hershey Co. learned that individual wrappers on bite-size candy were getting in the way of people eating candy in certain settings, like in the car. The company responded with Reese’s Minis, a small, unwrapped version of its classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, in a resealable bag. It facilitates “I-can-pop-one-in-my-mouth, on-the-go type of behavior,” says Michele Buck, senior vice president and chief growth officer for Hershey….Sales of unwrapped miniature chocolate rose about 14% in 2012 compared with the previous year, far faster than the 4% growth of miniature, wrapped chocolates, according to Nielsen data compiled for Hershey.”
“People are woefully inept at knowing when to hit the brakes with food. They eat to the bottom of the bowl or bag if that seems like a logical meal or portion size, a behavior dubbed “unit bias” by academics.”
From NPR article Supreme Court Rules for Monsanto In Case Against Farmer:
“Farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman had been using — and paying Monsanto for — the company’s Roundup Ready when he planted his main crop in the spring. He also signed a standard agreement not to save any of his harvest and replant it the next year. Monsanto demands exclusive rights to supply that seed. The farmer got into trouble when he planted a second crop of soybeans later in the same year, when the yield would likely be much lower. Bowman decided that for this crop, he didn’t want to pay top dollar for Monsanto’s seed. ‘What I wanted was a cheap source of seed,’ he says. Starting in 1999, he bought some ordinary soybeans from a small grain elevator where local farmers drop off their harvest. … He knew that these beans probably had Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene in them, because that’s mainly what farmers plant these days. But Bowman didn’t think Monsanto controlled these soybeans anymore, and in any case, he was getting a motley collection of different varieties, hardly a threat to Monsanto’s seed business. ‘I couldn’t imagine that they’d give a rat’s behind,’ he said.
Monsanto did care. It took Bowman to court. The farmer, as Dan reported, was ordered to pay Monsanto $84,000 for infringing on the company’s patent.
Monday, the Supreme Court upheld that decision. Kagan wrote:
“In the case at hand, Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article. Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.””
To put that $84,000 in perspective, Wikipedia puts Monsanto’s 2011 revenue at $11.822 billion.
Not that perspective matters, if you believe that a patent is a patent and should protect the owner whether the seed is worth $84, $84,000 or $84 billion. From that perspective, which is the one espoused today by the Supreme Court, Monsanto is the victim here, the seed is their property, and for “depriving [Monsanto] of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article,” this 75 year-old farmer is the villain for planting something that wasn’t his to plant.
Strictly speaking, the Supreme Court is right. Loosely speaking, Monsanto is a global Goliath whose rap sheet includes Agent Orange, the overuse of pesticides and growth hormones, unlabeled GMOs, and aggressive seed patents and whose dissolution would be an immeasurable and unmitigated gift to the current and future generations of plants, animals and humans. Loosely speaking.
Today’s Supreme Court case reminded me of a brief video by The Perennial Plate that I watched awhile back. The video outlines the impact of Monsanto’s sale of a genetically modified seed that requires land-destroying quantities of pesticides to grow and is sold at debt-incurring prices to cotton farmers in India. Dr. Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, anti-globalization author, and incredibly compelling woman whom I admire greatly for her intelligence and eloquence, explains in this 7 minute video that I promise is worth your time:
I haven’t passed the bar, and I don’t know much about the history of patent law, but I am willing to bet that the original purpose of patents wasn’t to allow chemical giants to very nearly approximate the villainous attributes of a Disney-esque villain in their unrelenting destruction of the world. Pride Rock before and after Scar’s reign comes to mind:
Not to lean too hard on Disney here, but this whole story feels like a song right out of Pocahontas. You patented seeds? You litigated over a crop? Does it make me such a predictable hippie to believe that water, air, the internet and the miracle of a fall harvest ought to be free for anyone to use and everyone to be held accountable for?
Every once in a while I read a sentence that causes some of the brain cells behind my eyes to undergo autolysis. Monsanto’s tagline, “A Sustainable Agriculture Company” is one of them.
“Unfortunately, the effect goes well beyond buying a candy bar to tide you over on the drive home, Wansink said. Shoppers who impulsively purchase ready-to-eat, low nutrition foods set themselves up for repeated diet disasters because they fill their pantries with junk instead of healthier fare.
“It ends up cursing the rest of your week because you bought way too much of the convenience foods and not enough of the good stuff. So now there is less healthy food for you to choose from at home.””
Last Thursday, The Motely Fool posted an article listing 10 Flabbergasting Costs of America’s Obesity Epidemic. I’m sure at this point no one is surprised with the scale and severity of the obesity epidemic, but please find the numbers reposted below, for ease of reference the next time you get into an argument about soda and candy taxes or corn and sugar subsidies with that one libertarian in your office.
“Obesity is costing us big time. Three times more Americans are obese now than were in 1960. Six times more Americans are now extremely obese than a half-century ago. Unfortunately, everyone is paying for this obesity epidemic. How much? Here are 10 flabbergasting numbers related to the costs of obesity:
1. $190 billion — That’s the amount of added medical costs every year that are estimated to stem from obesity-related problems. This total amounts to nearly 21% of total U.S. health care expenditures.
2. 105% — According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, this is the increased amount that obese Americans pay for prescription drugs compared to individuals who aren’t obese.
3. $3.4 billion — Call this the cost of the laws of physics. Cars burn around 938 million gallons of gasoline per year more than they would if Americans weighed what they did in 1960. At the current average U.S. gasoline cost of $3.64 per gallon, that adds up to $3.4 billion per year.
4. $164 billion — The Society of Actuaries estimates that U.S. employers lose this amount in productivity annually due to obesity-related issues with employees.
5. $6.4 billion — Every year this amount is estimated to be lost due to employee absenteeism related to obesity.
6. $1 billion — Another laws of physics annual cost. U.S. airlines consume an extra 350 million gallons of fuel per year due to overweight passengers. At an average jet fuel cost of $2.87 per gallon, those dollars add up.
7. $14.3 billion — This is how much childhood obesity costs the U.S. each year, according to a published study from the Brookings Institution.
8. $62 billion — Medicare and Medicaid spend nearly this amount every year on obesity-related costs. Of course, this really means that taxpayers spend this amount.
9. $66 billion — Columbia University researchers say that if current trends don’t change, obesity-related annual medical costs in the U.S. could increase this amount by 2030 — on top of current expenditures.
10. $580 billion — The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that annual economic productivity loss due to obesity could hit this staggering amount by 2030 unless the current situation changes.”
According to a related WSJ article from Friday (When Your Boss Makes You Pay for Being Fat), “Typically, 20% of a company’s workforce drives 80% of health-care costs… and roughly 70% of health-care costs are related to chronic conditions brought on by lifestyle choices, such as overeating or sedentary behavior… While companies can’t say it outright, many of their measures—such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure—are proxies for obesity” and “six in 10 employers say they plan to impose penalties in the next few years on employees who don’t take action to improve their health.”
Tricky to say whether these aggressive work-place measures will be effective and even trickier to draw the line between legitimate cost saving practices and discrimination. Easy, however, to say that preventive medicine is the cheapest and most effective, so I hope you had some veggies with your lunch today (might I recommend this gem of a salad from The Moosewood Cookbook?) and with the nice weather projected for most of us this week, have considered biking or walking at least part of your commute.
Excellent article from Mark Bittman today on the future of fast food. Fingers crossed that the next ten years will bring more options and less compromises, more tempeh and less additives, more veggies and fewer calories and absolutely no more of this or this.
Keep demanding these things from food providers, and maybe we can one day live in a world where real food is affordable food and eating meals made up of ingredients you can count on your fingers is no longer a privilege predicated on wealth.
If you don’t get around to reading the article,* here’s Bittman’s conclusion:
“Good Fast Food doesn’t need to be vegan or even vegetarian; it just ought to be real, whole food. The best word to describe a wise contemporary diet is flexitarian, which is nothing more than intelligent omnivorism. There are probably millions of people who now eat this way, including me…. My advice would be to skip the service and the wine, make a limited menu with big flavors and a few treats and keep it as cheap as you can. Of course, there are huge players who could do this almost instantaneously.
But the best thing they seem able to come up with is the McWrap or the fresco menu. In the meantime, I’m throwing out a few recipes to the entire fast-food world (here, here and here) to help build a case that it’s possible to use real ingredients to create relatively inexpensive, low-calorie, meat-free, protein-dense, fast food. If anyone with the desire can produce this stuff in a home kitchen, then industry veterans financed by private equity firms should be able to produce it at scale in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the price. You think people won’t eat it? There’s a lot of evidence that suggests otherwise.”
1) Does anyone want to make some Bittman black bean burgers and mexican chocolate shakes with me?
2) Does anyone happen to know some private equity firms that would back me on a healthy, cheap, amazing fast food (ad)venture? Maybe call it Burger Bliss? Burger Queen? Any takers?
* Its ok, I won’t tell. After spending some time on the numbers (WordPress tells you how many times readers click on each link), I’ve determined that you guys need more summaries, catchy titles and barely relevant goofy photos and less reading. If I could coax you here with puppies you know I would.
“A label that says protein has what researchers call a “health halo effect” that goes beyond just the promise of protein.”
“A mother believes food with protein will give her child energy before soccer practice and help her lose weight by making her feel full, according to consumer research from several large food companies including Kraft, Kellogg Co. and General Mills. An office worker sees an energizing snack that is better than candy at 4 p.m. A weight lifter sees a way to build muscle. They all see it as healthy.”
“Another example of the health halo effect: Shoppers often react to labels in illogical ways. When viewing food labeled organic, consumers give those foods lots of other attributes like having fewer calories and being more nutritions.”