As predicted, other cities and counties are following New York’s example and requiring calories to be listed on menu boards. The latest is Portland, which follows Seattle and San Francisco, if you are keeping score. In Portland, 90 chains are involved so there will be plenty to talk about. Who’s next?
Sunday’s New York Times has a beautifully illustrated account of how the U.S. food supply has changed since 1970, based on USDA food supply data. These do not measure actual food intake. Instead they measure food produced in the U.S., less exports, plus imports. The USDA has collected (or computed) such data since 1909 and to the extent that they are collected the same way every year, give a good idea of food trends, even though they overestimate actual food intake. I like this USDA data set a lot. It shows that production of all foods is up, with the biggest increases in fats (59%), grains (42%), and sugars and corn sweeteners (17%). Vegetables are up (15%), but so are corn sweeteners (373%), cream cheese (350%), and sour cream (275%). The article doesn’t say so, but calories went up from about 3,200 to 4,000, an increase of 800 calories per person per day since the 1970s. Why are Americans gaining weight? Duh. There is more food around and we are eating it.
So it wasn’t tomatoes; it was a jalapeno pepper (maybe). Congress wants to know what took the FDA so long and why the Florida tomato industry got creamed in the process. But every proverbial cloud has a silver lining: the food industry wants more regulation. It’s about time. They finally figured out that a stronger FDA would be good for business. Look what it took to teach them this lesson! Not a pretty sight.
The FTC has released its new report on food marketing to kids. The big news? The food industry only spends $1.6 billion for this purpose, a figure nobody I know believes. The FTC had to subpoena this information and I’m sure that companies gave the lowest number they could. Kellogg may spend $32 million just for media advertising for Cheez-Its, but I’m sure it’s hard for the company to figure out how much of that goes for packages with cartoons on them. The FTC press release compliments food companies for all the great things they are doing to protect kids from what they used to do. It makes recommendations that begin with words like “work toward,” “encourage,” “continue,” and “consider,” but nothing much that says “stop!” I think $1.6 billion is likely to be an underestimate but it doesn’t really matter. The number should be zero, no?
All The Economist has to do (see previous post) is read the press. Here are a couple of relevant items. What’s bad for restaurants is good for Kraft Foods. Its sales of all those packaged foods are growing. That’s what people are eating instead of going out, apparently. Next, the parent company of two restaurant chains–Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale–in the “casual dining” sector filed for bankruptcy. Why? Higher food costs and fewer casual diners. And McDonald’s is about to give up its popular dollar menu. I suppose there could be an upside to this, but I’m dubious. You think so? Go tell The Economist.
I didn’t know anyone at The Economist ever disclosed the name of anyone who worked there but Jeff Koo, who seems to in some capacity, sent me a link to the magazine’s debate forum. The proposition for the week is: “There is an upside for humanity in the rise of food prices.” The magazine invites your comments, along with those of experts. Here’s your chance. Tell them you think higher food prices are just what the world needs right now. You don’t think so? I certainly don’t. Better let them know right away.
Thanks to Michele Simon for the heads up on the Federal Trade Commission’s new report on how much the food industry spends on marketing to kids. The FTC is releasing the report Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. I can’t wait to see what it says. View the webcast!
Following New York City’s lead, California’s hotshot governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has just signed a ban on trans fats into law. It takes effect in 2010. This, plus labeling requirements for packaged foods, ought to end the practice of partially hydrogenating vegetable oils. My prediction: trans fats are soon to be a thing of the past. This should have happened a long time ago, as there are plenty of substitutes. So the big question is whether the disapperance of trans fats will have any effect on health. I hope it helps reduce the risk of heart disease but nobody should expect it to help people maintain weight. Whatever substitutes get used will have the same number of calories. Why are New York City and California doing this? Because it might do some good and is politically expedient. Getting vending machines out of schools, stopping marketing to children, and getting everyone on bicycles is a lot harder.