I talked my way into a press screening of Food, Inc. last night. Good thing. This film is the riveting documentary directed by Robert Kenner due for release soon but already generating lots of buzz, and for good reason. It’s a terrific introduction to the way our food system works and to the effects of this system on the health of anyone who eats as well as of farm workers, farm animals, and the planet. It stars Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, among others, but I was especially moved by Barbara Kowalcyk, the eloquent and forceful food safety advocate who lost a young son to E. coli O17:H7 some years ago. I can’t wait for the film to come out so everyone can see it. I will use it in classes, not least because it’s such an inspiring call to action. Here’s the trailer.
The creativity of marketers never ceases to amaze. Johnson & Johnson, maker of the artificial sweetener, Splenda, has a product-placement partnership with Harlem Heights, the BET reality show aimed at the black hip and fabulous. As the New York Times puts it, the partnership is about integration – this time of products into the daily business of cast members. The Times quotes BET’s vice-president for integrated marketing: “You need to…understand exactly where some of the natural, organic places for integrations are, so things don’t feel staged.”
At last, a new meaning to the idea of integration!
Today’s snow storm has closed New York schools and cancelled my scheduled lecture on Staten Island. This unexpected holiday gives me time to contemplate the latest challenge to marketers of chocolate candy: gas emissions from dairy cows.
Cadbury estimates that 60% of the carbon footprint created by its chocolate operations in the U.K. comes from dairy cows. The average cow, it says, gives off 80 to 120 kilograms of methane annually, an amount equivalent to that produced by driving a car for a year.
The remedy? Reduce cow burps. How? Cadbury is going to try feeding them more clover, more starch, and less fiber, and treating them better.
Will this work? If it does, will you buy more Cadbury chocolate?
Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts who writes a blog on food policy, has just sent me his analysis of food companies’ attempts to self-regulate the way they market junk foods to children. As he puts it, self-regulation is at a “critical juncture.” Translation: the voluntary system isn’t working very well. Food companies, he suggests, must do a better job or expect others to do it for them.
Researchers, bless them, have done the obvious at last and published it in the February 26 New England Journal of Medicine (and here’s how USA Today explains the study). They put some intrepid volunteers on 1400-calorie diets varying in content of protein (15-25%), fat (20-40%), and carbohydrate (35-65%) and waited to see how much weight they would lose by the end of two years. Ta-da! The participants all lost a lot of weight in 6 months, but slowly gained it back. By the end of 2 years, they lost about the same amount of weight regardless of the mix. Conclusion: when it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than what you eat. Or, as I am fond of saying, if you want to lose weight, eat less!
Food marketing is on my mind these days. It clearly is also on the mind of marketers at Pepsi. What’s wrong with you women. You aren’t buying enough Baked Lays? Pepsi’s research on your feelings about snacking and guilt reveals that you want foods that are healthier. Pepsi’s answer to this problem? New packaging, of course. This ad is probably too small to read but here’s what it says: First woman: “These things are the best invention since the push-up bra.” Second woman: “I wouldn’t go that far.” I wouldn’t either, alas.
When it comes to food marketing, I know I live on another planet but really, doesn’t the fuss over the packaging of Tropicana go too far? According to the report in the New York Times, consumers are so upset over Pepsi’s new Tropicana carton design that they have forced Pepsi to withdraw it. Pepsi, it seems, underestimated the deep emotional bond its customers had with the original packaging. Deep emotional bond? With orange juice packaging? Readers: I need some help with this one.
As if that weren’t enough, CSPI’s Margo Wootan sends me the latest newsletter from the Council of Better Business Bureaus giving details of voluntary efforts by food companies to improve the nutritional quality of products marketed to kids. Do these seem like significant improvements?
I know I’ve already posted today but I’m on an American flight to L.A. connected to GoGo and can’t resist checking out the WiFi. It works! And they aren’t charging for it on this flight! And anyway, we have terrific news today: Kathleen Merrigan’s nomination as USDA assistant secretary. Here’s what I told Eating Liberally about it. Enjoy the day!