Will the Celebrity “FNV” Campaign Be Co-Opted by Big Food?

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 6.37.54 AMLast week I applauded the new, celebrity-filled “FNV” campaign which is designed to promote greater fruit and vegetable consumption (“Celebrities Marketing Vegetables to My Kids? Bring. It. On.”)  The marketing campaign is being launched by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the nonprofit arm of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, and it was born out of a 2014 New York Times piece in which writer Michael Moss asked an ad agency to create a junk-food-style ad campaign for broccoli.  (Here’s the teaser video for the FNV campaign.)

My post sparked a Twitter debate in which some of my colleagues expressed serious concern about the FNV campaign, primarily for two reasons.  The first relates to advertising to children, and tomorrow Casey Hinds (U.S. Healthy Kids) will have a post in Beyond Chron explaining why she objects to FNV’s use of celebrities to encourage kids to eat even healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.  The next day, Wednesday, Beyond Chron will publish my rebuttal to Casey’s post on that topic.

So putting aside momentarily the issue of advertising to kids, the other main objection voiced in the debate was that the FNV campaign will likely be co-opted by the food industry and used to promote less-than-healthful products like fruit juice and highly processed fruit and vegetable foods.  And we do know from bitter experience that the food industry can be quite self-serving in setting its own parameters for what constitutes a “healthy” food or beverage (see, e.g., my 2011 post “Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s ‘Self-Regulation’ of Children’s Food Advertising.”)

Michael Moss, who was following our Twitter debate, summed up that aspect of our conversation this way:

moss tweet

I realized during our Twitter discussion that none of us actually had the requisite facts to answer that question.  So last week I contacted the Partnership for a Healthier America for more information.  Here’s what I learned:

FNV Ads Won’t Directly Promote Brands, and Participating Brands Won’t Use Celebrities

Even though the FNV campaign is underwritten in part by food companies, such as the Bolthouse Farms division of Campbell’s, PHA’s spokesperson assured me that the ads will be “focused on increased consumption and sales of fruits and vegetables, not on individual brands.”  So, apparently, we will not see ads with Nick Jonas or Kristen Bell holding up a bag of Bolthouse Farms seasoned carrots, and instead they will promote only generic fruits and vegetables.

That said, I was told that:

supporting organizations may feature FNV in their [advertising] and co-branded activations may occur (i.e. in-store tastings of branded commodities with FNV logo and message present). Regardless, supporting organizations can only use the FNV brand with prior PHA approval.

So does this mean that Campbell’s could put the likeness of Nick Jonas on the packaging for its Bolthouse Farms carrots?  In a follow-up answer, I was told, “At this time, [sponsoring companies are] restricted to use of the FNV logo and messages.”

I should note here that even if the FNV campaign were promoting branded products, or if at some future date branded products are allowed to use celebrity likenesses, I would still be fine with that.  In that regard I differ from food policy experts like Marion Nestle who, writing last week in Food Politics, expressed some overall discomfort with the FNV campaign, noting that “Marketing is not education. Education is about imparting knowledge and promoting wisdom and critical thinking. Marketing is about creating demand for a product.”

But unfortunately we don’t live in a world of quiet, thoughtful analysis.  We live in a world in which we are all bombarded by powerfully influential ad messages, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, and these ads almost invariably entice us to eat the least healthful foods and beverages.  We are paying a stiff price for that unfettered industry influence, in terms of the degradation of the American diet and the rise in obesity and related diseases.  Since that industry megaphone will never be silenced, in my view, counter-marketing for healthful foods is not only acceptable but urgently needed.

My only (previously expressed) caveat is that when it comes to children, I would want to limit that marketing to “minimally processed fruits and vegetables.”  But this leads us to the crux of our Twitter debate: just how will PHA define “fruits and vegetables” for the purposes of the FNV campaign?

The FNV Will Not Promote Highly Processed Fruit and Vegetable Foods

To get the answer to that critical question, I asked the PHA spokesperson:

Will the campaign promote or depict fruits and vegetables in processed form (such as applesauce, fruit roll-ups, canned fruit or vegetables) or will it only show fruits and vegetables in their natural state?  If the former, are there any set parameters used by the FNV campaign to decide what processed products may be included in the campaign?

Her answer:

FNV will incorporate all forms of fruit and vegetable products – fresh, frozen, canned, dried – that do not contain excessive calories, added sugar or sweeteners, fat or salt.

While I suppose there’s a bit of wiggle room in “excessive calories,” that ambiguity shouldn’t matter if PHA adheres to the rest of its litmus test.  In other words, once you rule out added sugar, fat and salt (the Holy Trinity of processed food flavor enhancers), you’ve essentially closed the door on highly processed foods being promoted via the FNV campaign.

That is very good news.

There Are No Current Plans to Promote Juice

When I asked if the FNV campaign would promote juice, I was told by the PHA, “Not at this time.”

This answer concerns me. There are many health experts who believe that even 100% fruit juice, due to its lack of fiber and high sugar content, is a driver of obesity, and the last thing Americans need is more sweet beverages in their diet.  I know some of the people behind the FNV campaign are paying attention to our debate on these issues, and I sincerely hope they stick to their current plan of not using the FNV campaign to promote juice.

* * *

I want to thank the PHA for responding so quickly to my questions and I hope this additional information is useful to those of you interested in this campaign.  Tomorrow I’ll share on social media the link to Casey’s anti-FNV post in Beyond Chron and then will share my response on Wednesday.

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Pizza and Sweetos, Oh My!

Two disturbing bits of kid-food news to share:

New Pizza Study: File Under “Duh”

pizzasliceA new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that pizza is a significant contributor to the daily calorie count of American children.

Specifically, according to a Los Angeles Times report* on the study:

On any given day, 22% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 eat pizza . . . .

The results revealed that younger kids eat 83 calories’ worth of pizza a day and teens eat 143 calories of the dish each day, on average. Those amounts were high enough to account for 5% and 7% of total daily calories, respectively.

On days when pizza is eaten, it composes 22% of children’s calories and 26% of teens’ calories. . . .

From what I can gather*, the study didn’t distinguish between pizza consumed at school (which must meet stringent nutritional requirements) versus pizza eaten off campus.  Either way, though, this news will likely come as no surprise to parents, who know from experience that at any gathering of two or more children, pizza always seems to be on hand.

Frito-Lay “Goes After” Young Kids With Sugar-Sweetened Cheetos

sweetosFrito Lay has announced that this spring it will be introducing limited edition sweet Cheetos, called “Sweetos.”

One industry analyst, speaking to Bakeryandsnacks.com, said,

Part of the sweet snacking trend is that it’s worked with younger consumers, so they’re hoping they can latch on there. Cheetos are skewed to a reasonably young audience.  They don’t want to seem they’re blatantly going after kids, but at a certain age it is fine.

Hmm…. At what age is it “fine” to “go after kids” with sugar-sweetened Cheetos?  I’d really love to know.

______________________

* The Pediatrics study is behind a paywall, hence my reliance on media reports.

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While We Were Out: A Kid/Food News Round-Up

while you were celebratingHappy 2015, TLT’ers!  

I think I forgot to mention here that I was taking a hiatus from blogging, but if you happened to notice my three weeks of silence on TLT, you probably figured that out.  :-)

My blogging break started in late December, when I had the pleasure of attending (and speaking at) a conference in Washington, DC arranged by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Pew Charitable Trusts.  It was a gathering of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity “Council of States,” which meant I had the chance to meet and talk with leading food policy advocates from all over the country.  For someone who usually does this sort of work alone at her kitchen table, it was an incredibly stimulating and educational two days, so huge thanks to CSPI and the Pew Charitable Trusts for inviting me to attend!

And now here’s a round-up of some of the kid/food news you may have missed while you were relaxing and celebrating with your families:

More On Home-Packed vs. Cafeteria Lunches

Another study has found that home-packed lunches are, statistically speaking, nutritionally subpar as compared to cafeteria lunches.  I addressed another study’s similar findings back in July and my take is this: school meals may well be superior to home packed lunches from a “nutritionism” standpoint, in that every nutrient in school meals is analyzed and accounted for.  But a myopic focus on nutrients can still result in a very highly processed, chemical-filled meal that many parents choose to avoid. That said, for parents with few resources or little nutrition education, school lunch is no doubt vastly superior to home packed lunches, if a lunch can even be packed at all.  That’s why I so strongly support the National School Lunch Program and will continue to work hard to defend the new, healthier school meal standards.

Which leads us to….

Republican Congress Gearing Up to Weaken School Nutrition Standards

We’ve certainly known this was coming, but Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico has written an informative preview of how the new, Republican-controlled Congress is planning on rolling back several key Obama administration food policy initiatives, including improvements to school food.  This is a serious challenge for school food advocates, and we’ll be talking more about it in the weeks and months ahead.

Maybe Family Dinner Isn’t So Endangered After All

Or so says the Washington Post.

Getting Junk Food Out of Classroom Parties

Out of concern over student health and food allergies, several school districts in Pennsylvania clean up their classroom parties.  (Hat tip: SNA Smart Brief)

Is Fast Food Adversely Affecting Children’s Brains?

A study discussed in the Washington Post (and many other news outlets) found an inverse correlation between children’s fast food consumption and their test scores, even when factors like socioeconomic status were ruled out.  What was most astonishing to me was this troubling 2008 statistic cited in the WashPo story: “Nearly a third of American kids between the ages of 2 and 11 — and nearly half of those aged 12 to 19 — eat or drink something from a fast food restaurant each day.”

Does the Timing of Recess Reduce School Food Waste?

It’s long been believed that allowing kids to take recess before lunch leads to greater fruit and vegetable consumption and less food waste, but a new study reported on by Reuters says otherwise.

Coming Soon: The Lunch Tray’s Makeover!

Finally, before the month is out I’ll be unveiling an entirely new look for The Lunch Tray.  I’ve been working on the design with the super-talented Rita Barry, aka Blog Genie, and while I might be a tad biased, I think it’s just so pretty.   :-)  In connection with the blog’s relaunch I’ve also created lots of helpful new resources which I can’t wait to share with you.  Stay tuned.

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McDonald’s and In-School Marketing: The Clown Speaks From Both Sides of His Mouth

The McDonald’s corporation has lately fallen on hard times, enduring seven straight months of declining domestic sales, a food safety scandal involving its Chinese meat supplier, politically motivated restaurant closures in Russia, even a Consumer Reports survey ranking its burgers as the “worst in America.” So on a December 10th conference call, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and U.S. President Mike Andres sought to reassure skittish McDonald’s investors by outlining a seven-point plan to turn around the troubled corporation.

Among the strategies discussed on the call was a need to “start with mom” by continuing the company’s  “McTeacher’s Nights,” i.e., school fundraisers in which teachers are put to work at a local McDonald’s restaurant and a portion of the night’s proceeds benefit the school.  In response to an investor question on the call, Andres then reiterated that the corporation’s financial performance would benefit by increasing its presence in schools.  Specifically, he said that McDonald’s franchise owners:

have got to be in the schools. When you look at the performance relative to peers of the operators [whose] restaurants are part of the community–it’s significant. So we’re celebrating that…this is an essential part of being an McDonald’s owner operator. This is our heritage. And schools are a big piece of it.”

(Emphasis mine; you can listen to a complete recording of the call here.) 

So far, the company’s new willingness to double down on in-school marketing hasn’t been given much favorable coverage in the press. CBS News had a hard-hitting piece about it last week (“Why McDonald’s says it ‘wants to be in the schools‘”) and yesterday food policy reporter Lauren Rothman had a similarly critical post in ViceMcDonald’s Targets Teachers and Students to Boost Flagging Sales” (I was pleased to be quoted in the latter.)

But the most troubling aspect of McDonald’s plan is that it flatly contradicts statements made on the corporation’s behalf before the federal government regarding the intent and impact of such in-school marketing.

Here’s the background.  Last February, the USDA issued proposed new rules for school wellness policies which, among other things, would instruct districts to ban marketing on school campuses for food and beverages which don’t meet the new, stringent “Smart Snacks” nutritional guidelines.  Such a rule, if adopted across the board, would effectively put an end to McTeacher’s Nights and most other McDonald’s school-related initiatives.  But USDA also expressly solicited comments from the public on whether such a ban should in fact extend to:

food and beverage advertising or marketing on the school campus during the school day via . . . indirect advertising (via corporate sponsored educational materials, teacher training, contests and incentives, grants, gifts, or event sponsorships) . . .

ronald mcdonald clown
Going into schools will definitely help my bottom line, but trust me: it’s only “incidental” advertising!

Not surprisingly, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), an industry self-regulatory group of which McDonalds is a member, submitted comments to the USDA which argued that such programs ought to be allowed on school campuses  — even if sponsored by companies like McDonald’s which sell junk food — so long as the corporate branding connected with such programs is used only for the sake of  “transparency” and “where the ‘advertising’  impact is merely incidental.”

But as McDonald’s U.S. president Andres’s own comments to investors on December 10th make abundantly clear, getting the company’s marketing messages in front of impressionable school kids and their parents is anything but “incidental;” according to the company’s top executives, in-school marketing is actually critical to McDonald’s bottom line.

This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has engaged in high-level corporate double-speak when it comes to its in-school marketing practices.  You may recall that back in May, I and five other moms attended the annual McDonald’s shareholder meeting as guests of Corporate Accountability International’s Moms Not Lovin’ It Campaign (“Speaking Truth to Ronald.“) When one of the moms in our group, Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, raised her concerns about McDonald’s youth marketing practices, including its in-school marketing, Thompson surprised many in the room when he told her unequivocally that “we don’t put Ronald out in schools.”

That statement was, of course, factually inaccurate at the time Thompson made it, and a few months later the company’s spokesperson had to backpedal from his statement when it became the subject of a letter campaign organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

It remains to be seen whether the USDA will buy into CFBAI’s laughable notion that McTeacher’s Nights and other forms of in-school fast food marketing (whether implemented by McDonald’s, Dominos Pizza, Chick-Fil-A or any other chain) don’t constitute “advertising” that should fall under the proposed Smart Snacks on-campus advertising ban.  I’ll of course keep you posted here.

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What She Said

One thing I love about being part of a blogging community is the way we can draw upon each other’s work and resources to advocate for our common goals.

That’s how I felt when I read this recent post from Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, addressing critics who think that instead of reining in the food and beverage industries’ $2-billion-a-year effort to market junk food to children, parents should just stand firm and say “no” to their kids.  This is a common refrain from those who oppose limits on youth junk food marketing and Sally’s post is such a definitive and perfect response, from now on I’m just going to link to it every time this issue comes up and say, “What she said.”  It’s definitely worth your time to read.

There’s only one point on which I and some of my colleagues (including, perhaps, Sally) differ when it comes to the marketing of food to children.  I’m previously on record as supporting youth-directed marketing of just one type of product —  whole or minimally processed fruits and vegetables — even though some advocates believe even this type of marketing is taking unfair advantage of kids.

But as I wrote in a debate on this issue with advocate Casey Hinds in Beyond Chron earlier this year, “Given that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is unequivocally good for children, how different are [such] efforts from using Sesame Street characters to encourage kids to brush their teeth or licensing Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat character to get them reading?”  You can read the entire debate with Casey here.

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Today I Debate the Ethics of Marketing Healthy Food to Kids

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.18.52 AMToday on Beyond Chron, I debate my friend and colleague Casey Hinds of US Healthy Kids on the ethics of marketing healthy foods like fruits and vegetables to children.  You can read my “pro” piece here, and Casey’s “con” here.

Thanks to Beyond Chron for giving us this platform, and to Casey for having the idea of a debate in the first place.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, too, in a comment here on The Lunch Tray or on Beyond Chron.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A Pill Too Bitter to Swallow

Many years ago, I mentioned to a doctor friend that a woman I knew — a Seventh Day Adventist who never touches alcohol — had been told she was at risk for cirrhosis of the liver due to her poor diet and excess weight.  My doctor friend looked at me skeptically and said I must have misunderstood the diagnosis — one could not get cirrhosis that way, she said — and since I’m no medical expert, I assumed I’d been misinformed.

But while “nonalcoholic fatty liver” was so rare thirty years ago there was no medical name for it, the New York Times reports it now affects one in ten American children, with the rate among children and teens more than doubling in the last two decades.  Of those afflicted, 10 to 20 percent will eventually develop the liver scarring that can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure, requiring a transplant for survival.  The condition is also a risk factor for developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

The cure for nonalcoholic fatty liver is quite straightforward: improving one’s diet by cutting out fast and processed foods and sugary beverages.  But despite incredibly powerful motivators  —  “crippling” abdominal pain (one patient referred to it as “being stabbed in your stomach with a knife”) and the possibility of needing a liver transplant (or, far worse, needing a transplant and and being unable obtain one, as demand outstrips the number of organs available) — many patients still find this “treatment” just too difficult:

Yubelkis Matias, 19, . . .  was told she has NASH several years ago. She is reminded of the trouble brewing in her liver by the sharp abdominal pains that come and go. . . . [S]he has been told by her doctors that diet and exercise may be her only shot at reversing the disease. But at 5-foot-5 and 200 pounds, she finds every day a struggle.

“I’m on a roller coaster,” she said. “I eat healthy, then not healthy — pizza, McDonalds, the usual. My doctor told me I have to quit all of that. But it’s cheap, and it’s always there.” . . . .

“A lot of times when I see a patient with fatty liver,” [Dr. Shahid M. Malik of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center] said, “the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Well, is there a pill for this?’ And there’s not. There just isn’t. You have to make lifestyle changes, and that’s a much more difficult pill for people to swallow.”

One could attribute the inability of these patients (or anyone suffering from weight-related disease) to improve their diets to a lack of individual willpower, but this conclusion ignores a whole host of societal factors that make eating healthfully on a regular basis extremely difficult for many.  As Dr. Thomas Friedan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once memorably said:

. . . if you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese.  That is not a reflection of individual personal failing.  It’s a reflection of the structure of our society. . . . [T]he popularity of weight loss programs is a reflection of both the intense desire of many people to lose weight as well as the great difficulty of doing so.  [Emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, when you have a condition like fatty liver disease that’s growing ever more prevalent, and patients clamoring for “a pill” instead of weaning themselves off their unhealthful diets, it’s predictable that drug companies would see the potential for huge profits.  The Times reports that at least two companies are now scrambling to develop drugs which will help treat the disease, and one of those companies saw its stock price “soar” when its first clinical trial showed promise.

Too bitter a pill for our elected leaders to swallow?
Too bitter a pill for our elected leaders to swallow?

There’s nothing new about any of this, of course.  Food companies profit from our dependence on their products while drug companies reap the profits on the other side of the equation.  But somehow the prospect of kids doubled over with liver pain and facing potential liver failure, entirely due to Big Food’s grip on our palates and our lifestyles, got to me on a visceral level.

I’m reminded of this quote in the film Fed Up from Dr. David Ludwig, a professor at the Harvard Medical school and a pediatric obesity expert:

What does it say about our society if we would rather send children to such mutilating procedures but yet lack the political will to properly fund school nutrition and ban junk food advertising to children? It reflects a systematic political failure. We’re the richest society in the world. We’ve failed because we’ve placed private profit and special interests ahead of public health.

Dr. Ludwig was referring to a morbidly obese teen undergoing gastric bypass surgery, but he could just as well have been referring to an overweight child needing a liver transplant.  And, indeed, we are clearly in the midst of a “systematic political failure,” because just as we already know the “cure” for fatty liver disease, we also already know the the “societal cures” for all obesity-related illnesses:

  • Restructuring the agricultural subsidies that make fast food and processed food unnaturally cheap, while inadequately supporting farmers growing fruits and vegetables;
  • Banning the advertising of junk food to children;
  • Taxing and/or placing health warning labels on non-nutritive, sugar-sweetened beverages;
  • Investing more money in federal school meal reimbursement, so schools can afford to buy healthier food and pay for the increased labor needed to prepare it;
  • Investing in school infrastructure, both to build school kitchens in which scratch-cooked meals can be prepared, as well as home economics classrooms where children can acquire basic cooking literacy and skills; and
  • Requiring and funding meaningful nutrition education curricula, including home economics, throughout the K-12 school years.

And yet, like a fatty liver patient addicted to fast food, our elected leaders are currently too addicted to Big Food’s and Big Soda’s lobbying dollars, and/or too afraid of “nanny state” rhetoric from the right, to muster the political courage to fulfill that Rx.

For four years now, I’ve been saying on this blog that some day the costs of obesity, both financial and personal, will be just too high for our legislators to continue to ignore.  But when you read about one in ten kids facing the possibility of a liver transplant due solely to the unhealthful American diet, you really do have to wonder:  where on earth is the tipping point?

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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One Mom’s Great Idea Brings Fresh Produce to Families in Need

Lisa Helfman
Lisa Helfman

A mutual friend recently introduced me to a woman named Lisa Helfman and, given our very similar backgrounds (Houston moms/lawyers with an interest in kids and food), it wasn’t surprising that we hit it off right away. 

At that first meeting, Lisa told me how years ago she’d  joined an organic produce co-op and was surprised by the dramatic improvement she saw in her family’s eating habits.  She and her husband wondered if they could bring the same experience to Houston’s underprivileged kids, and eventually Lisa formed an  innovative program called “Brighter Bites.”  By partnering with the Houston Food Bank, Brighter Bites delivers on a weekly basis fresh fruits and vegetables, along with nutrition education, to local families in need.   The program is being monitored by the University of Texas School of Public Health and has shown so much promise that our state legislature is funding a roll-out of the program elsewhere in Texas.  

I’ve been bugging Lisa to write a guest post here to share the details, but now Salud America has produced a terrific five-minute video about Lisa and the program.  Take a look and be inspired.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join over 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Mr. Zee Heads Down Under!

aussiemrzeeaussiemrzeeSo, this is cool!

I just found out that my rhyming children’s video about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory,” is going to be incorporated into nutrition education materials that will be made available to Australian teachers seeking to meet the requirements of the Australia Curriculum for Health and Physical Education.  I’m told that the video could potentially reach almost 40,000 primary school students in the Australian Capital Territory.

When I released the video last May, it was with the hope that exactly this sort of thing might happen.  I wanted to create a completely free resource for parents and teachers to help inoculate young kids (pre-K through 6th grade) against the powerful allure of processed foods and Big Food’s advertising tactics.

Since the video’s release, several teachers have contacted me to tell me that they’ve shared the video with their students and that children have been engaged by it.  My contact in Australia told me:

During a pilot of the lessons I observed students watching the You Tube clip and they were all “glued” to the screen and were very interested in the clip. I believe it definitely “hit home” to them and quite possibly enlightened many of the kids.

Woo hoo!  :-)

If you haven’t yet watched Mr. Zee, please do check it out and, if you share the story with your children or students, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Fast Food Industry Spends $4.6 Billion to Target Your Kids

Last week, a few of you questioned my endorsement of a new arrangement between the Sesame Street Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association in which Sesame Street characters will be used to market fresh fruits and vegetables to children.  There’s an understandable concern that kids, because they are uniquely impressionable, should not be manipulated in that fashion — even when the only result will be improved dietary health.

french fries and ketchupAs I’ve said here before, in an ideal world kids wouldn’t be the target of any marketing.  But for a sobering reality check on just how far we are from that ideal, I wanted to share with you a new report issued last week by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity regarding the fast food industry’s targeting of kids.

According to the report, in 2012 the fast food industry spent a staggering $4.6 billion to reach children and teens and, not surprisingly, the majority of those marketing efforts promoted  unhealthy foods and beverages.

Here’s one set of particularly troubling findings from the report that caught my eye:

. . .  McDonald’s . . . spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products ($972 million) as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined ($367 million). On average, U.S. preschoolers viewed 2.8 fast food ads on TV every day in 2012, children (6-11 years) viewed 3.2 ads per day, and teens viewed 4.8 ads per day. Six companies were responsible for more than 70% of all TV ads viewed by children and teens: McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Domino’s, Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC), and Wendy’s.

I encourage you to read the entire report here.
Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Book Review and Giveaway: A Beautiful New Kids’ Cookbook from ChopChop!

Not long after I started The Lunch Tray in 2010, a new kids’ cooking magazine called ChopChop was launched by Sally Sampson, a James Beard Foundation nominated author of twenty cookbooks, as well as a frequent contributor to magazines like Food & Wine and Bon Appetit.  But when my friend Donna first told me about the magazine, I was worried:  in my experience, most kids’ cooking magazines and cookbooks seem to operate on the assumption that kids have no interest in making anything except sugary foods and beverages.

But ChopChop turned out to be a revelation, full of easy, nutritious, and ethnically diverse recipes, along with useful cooking tips for kids and adults alike.  And the magazine was (and is) backed by an impressive advisory board drawing from the experts in public health, nutrition, academia and more.  (You can read my 2010 interview with Sally Sampson here.)

Since then, ChopChop has moved on to new heights, even winning a James Beard award for 2013 Publication of the Year.  The editorial duties have been turned over to Catherine Newman, a blogger and writer I adore (Ben and Birdy!) and in August the magazine released a gorgeous new kids’ cookbook which I’m pleased to review and give away today.

Called ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family, this new cookbook offers over 100 recipes for every meal, everythingchop chop from “Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw” to ” “Crazy-Good Buttermilk Biscuits” to “Any-Many Bean Soup.”  Each recipe is accompanied by a full color photo as well as an easy-to-read coding system that tells children whether an adult’s assistance is required and how long the cooking will take. And scattered throughout the book are amusing and informative little blurbs entitled “Did You Know?,” discussing topics as diverse as what an anchovy is to the origins of the phrase “cut the mustard.”

ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family is so good that here in Texas, it’s going to be placed in every one of our public libraries and over 1,000 of our public schools!  I can’t wait share it with my 11-year-old chef, and now one lucky Lunch Tray reader can win a free copy of their own.

Just leave a comment below by 6pm CST, Thursday, November 7th.  You can tell me why you’d like to win or you can just say hi.  I’ll use a random number generator after the comment period closes to select one lucky winner and if you comment twice (e.g., to respond to another reader’s comment), I’ll use the number of your first comment to enter you in the drawing.   I’ll email you directly if you win and announce the winner on TLT’s Facebook page, too.  (This giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.)

 [Blogger disclosure:  As with most of my book reviews, I received a free copy of this book for my perusal.  However, I never accept any other form of compensation for the book reviews you see on The Lunch Tray.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Can We Crowd-Source A Reader Question re Food in the Classroom?

Between my recent laptop crash and this mysterious “Lunch-Tray-third-anniversary-project” I keep alluding to on Facebook, I’m falling woefully behind on various promised posts.  One such post is the answer to a question left on TLT’s Facebook page by a reader named Allison who is concerned with junk food in her child’s classroom.  Since I’m pressed for time, I’m going to share my bare bones advice for Allison, but I’d love it if my readers could chime in, too, with their own thoughts and experiences.

Here’s Allison’s post:

I have read some of your articles re: food in the classroom – and want to try to encourage our school to consider food-free classrooms (or at the very least – junk free classrooms). Can you give me advice on the best way to plant this idea w/the admin? I was thinking of compiling a notebook with articles/resources (some of yours if that is ok) to share with the principal – stuff to back me up rather than just telling him why we should go this direction. Food/junk in the classroom has always been a concern of mine – but even more so since my youngest has a severe food allergy – and will begin K in the fall. My oldest does not have food allergies – but is constantly coming home reporting to me the crap she has been given throughout the day – as rewards – as incentives – as manipulatives in learning a subject. The worst offenders tend to be the teachers who do not have children themselves (and interesting to note also have weight issues themselves). Any advice you can give me to help me try to make a difference for the health of all students I would greatly appreciate. I know there are other parents who agree with me at this school – but are not willing to step forward b/c of the backlash that most likely will occur from those parents who see nothing wrong with kids grazing all day on sugar. Thanks!

My answer:

Allison:

I totally feel your pain.  When it comes to food in the classroom, what you’re taking on is not just a classroom problem, but a much larger societal mindset which doesn’t see any problem with these practices, or which doesn’t view junk food as particularly harmful, and changing those attitudes is a very tall order for any one parent to address.  Even in my own kids’ schools, I’m glad to report that the incidence of food-as-a-reward has gone down over the years, but the practice certainly hasn’t stopped entirely.

Before turning your question over to TLT readers, here’s my quick answer:

1.  Forming a coalition of parents is always easier than going it alone.  There likely will be a backlash from other parents, and it’s good to have other people standing with you so you can’t be portrayed as some nutty outlier. I’ve found that health-conscious parents often suffer in silence, and you might be surprised at how many parents feel as you do once you broach the subject with them.  This can be done informally, through casual conversations, or you could raise the issue at a PTA or other school meeting to garner support that way.

2.  Try to locate your district’s wellness policy and see if it has any language regarding the use of food in the classroom.  The policy should be somewhere on your district’s website, often housed wherever there is information about your SHAC (that stands for School (or Student) Health Advisory Council (or Committee)).  It’s likely the topic is not addressed, but if it is, then it may be persuasive to show your principal that his/her school is not in compliance with stated district policy.

3.  It is always much better if you can marshal facts in support of your position.  So rather than making vague complaints about “unhealthy” food, a standard which is open to broad interpretation, it’s much more persuasive to be able to say, “On such-and-such day, the children were given such-and-such sugary foods as a classroom manipulative, with each child likely consuming X  teaspoons of sugar during the lesson.  However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than about 3-4 tsps of sugar (130-170 calories) in a young child’s day, which is far less than the amount consumed in the classroom that day.  And the candy eaten at school was likely not the only source of sugar in most students’ diets that day.”  That sort of thing.

4.  There are lots of resources on the Internet to help you make your case to a principal, teacher or other parents.  Here’s a list from a recent TLT post:

KY Healthy Kids has a useful list of medical organizations which discourage the use of food rewards, a list which may carry weight with your child’s principal or teacher.  My own Food in the Classroom Manifesto lists ten important reasons why classrooms should be food-free.  (A clean, easily copied Word version — no fancy “parchment” background to gobble up your printer ink— can be downloaded here.)  The awesome Rudd ‘Roots Parents website, run by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, has loads of additional information and guidance for parents to draw upon, as does the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the many other sites in my list of parent resources to the right of this post.

To that list, I’d also add this PDF handout from the Spoonfed blog.

OK, TLT’ers, anything to add?

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Readers Respond: What Are Our Societal Obligations to Food-Allergic Kids?

PeanutsI was a little scared to post yesterday’s piece about novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s request that parents of non-allergic kids take certain precautions to protect kids with food allergies at the playground.  The degree to which society needs to collectively accommodate such kids can be a hot button issue, and I had no idea what to expect in terms of reader reaction.

But in the end I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer niceness of TLT readers, both here on the blog and on TLT’s Facebook page.  Here are two typical comments that came in from parents not affected by food allergies in their own families:

We generally avoid taking peanut butter to the park. If we do you can bet we wipe up good when we’re done. I don’t get why this is so hard. I do not want to be the cause of another child’s suffering, regardless of whether the general public thinks I am responsible or not. It’s just a decent thing to be aware of. It takes a village people!

And . . .

No snacks on the playground. Water only. When it is time for snack, we exit the play area, find a nice shady spot in the grass and have our snack away from everyone else. When providing snacks for a group, I steer clear of nuts, berries, kiwi and soy. Or I just ask the parents ahead of time if there are any allergies or food avoidance in the group. I know I would appreciate the thought if one of my children had food allergies.

And many parents felt that Sittenfeld’s requests would serve all kids well, regardless of allergies.  Here’s a comment along those lines from Alissa Stoltz of Simply Wholesome Kitchen:

. . .  there are so many benefits to ALL kids to not allow them to run around eating and dropping food all over the place, that the fact that it will also help protect kids with potentially life-threatening allergies makes it a no-brainer.

Dana Woldow of PEACHSF had a similar view:

Letting kids run around while eating is a bad idea on many counts, including increasing the likelihood of choking. Also, part of learning healthy eating habits is to value eating as an activity worthy of one’s full attention, not something to do while also doing something else (like watching TV); distracted eating not only can lead to less enjoyment of the food itself, it also makes it harder for the child to realize when he or she has had enough.

I wasn’t the only one pleased to see such widespread acceptance of Sittenfeld’s proposal.  Here’s an email I received yesterday from my sister-in-law, Lisa Siegel, whose daughter has a severe nut allergy and was one of the first kids to undergo the type of desensitization program discussed on the blog here.  Lisa has been a committed advocate for food-allergic families and had this to say:

I had to share that I am surprised and encouraged by the supportive comments made on yesterday’s TLT allergy post.  I was recently a part of a national conference call hosted by FARE to gather testimonials on how the stress of having a food allergic kid affects the entire family.  One recurrent theme shared by parents was the frustration of reading new stories/blog posts written by those unaffected…and reader comments filled with judgement and insensitivity.  No one can truly understand what we go through until they are faced with their own adversities.  But the posts on your blog may show that the tide is slowly turning.  Thanks for putting the dialog out there!

But not everyone felt that Sittenfeld’s requests were realistic or desirable.  Reader Kate had this to say:

While the article doesn’t quite say it, it sort of assumes every park going kid has mom and dad hovering nearby with a wipe. I’m not trying to be disrespectful here, but is that really the sort of culture we want to create? Many kids are of an age to play in a park by themselves. Some I know might even cut through the park on their way to or from school, and take a quick ride on the swing. Sure we can teach these kids to be respectful of their environment, but it wouldn’t be realistic to think they were 100% free of contaminants at all times, or would be carrying a packet of wipes.

And finally, I wanted to share this interesting perspective from Justin Gagnon, CEO of ChoiceLunch (a school food provider in California) and also a parent and sometime TLT contributor:

. . . I have to say I’m disheartened by an environment where nuts are villainized and banned in so many schools, but highly processed foods that have “clean” allergen statements are not perceived to pose a threat. One is actually a great source of protein and energy for kids, but is life threatening to a small minority with dramatic and immediate consequences. The other is seemingly innocuous, but has dramatic and long-term negative consequences that many refuse to even recognize.

My 2-year old son and I were thrown out of my daughter’s preschool class Halloween party because I gave him a bag of trail mix that had nuts. We were ushered away immediately and almost incredulously at our brazen ignorance. The classroom, unbeknownst to me, was nut free. At the same time, the class was enjoying store bought, artificially colored cupcakes, go-gurts, goldfish and fruit juice – all parent provided in strict accordance with the nut-free snack policy of the school. 

There has to be a middle ground here. Schools implement drastic elimination food policies because they don’t know how to deal with severe allergies. Many times these policies restrict far more nutrient dense and wholesome foods than are otherwise allowed…all in the name of safety.

I think Justin’s point could be the topic of a separate post: does vigilance about food allergies result in kids eating more processed food?

Thanks to all who wrote in and engaged in this important discussion.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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