by Marion Nestle
May 24 2013

Weekend viewing: A food politics story for kids—Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory

I’ve been waiting for the weekend to write about the kids’ story by Bettina Elias Siegel, the school food advocate who writes The Lunch Tray blog  (and who put “pink slime” on the map).

Her video story—in rhyme yet—is titled Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory: A Tale of Processed Food and is worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch it (try it out on your kids!).

I wondered about the back story: how did she come to write it, who did the illustrations, how did she put it together?    Fortunately, Dana Woldow, also a long time food advocate, has just posted an interview with Ms. Siegel on just those points (the interview starts about half way down the post).  Ms. Siegel says:

If kids could see more clearly how the processed food, fast food and soda industries are earning profits at the expense of their health, I do think they might grow resistant to those industries’ marketing tactics. That was the idea behind Mr. Zee and his apples.

The interview explains the details of how the story got written, illustrated, and posted.

Ms. Woldow’s column concludes:

Of course, not everyone has the equipment, the confidence, or the patience to make their own video, but anyone can use social media. Watch Bettina’s video (with your children, if you have any), and if you like it, share it with your friends. It won’t undo all the marketing that Big Food does to kids, but it’s a start.

Try it out on your kids.  What do they think of it?

  • Nancy Huehnergarth

    Congratulations to Bettina for “giving birth” to this wonderful, creative children’s story/video. It’s really terrific! Every parent should watch it with their children.

    If food reform funders would be willing to fund a national media campaign geared towards young adults, to enlighten them similarly about how the food and beverage industries are earning massive profits at the expense of their health, I do believe the tide would really turn.

    We’ve been shopping around such a proposal but funders, so far, are unwilling to come onboard because this is outside of their normal activities. Let’s hope that changes. Big Food/Beverage use skillfully created marketing messages to get us to gorge on unhealthy food products. We need to use similar techniques to make Americans aware of how they’re being manipulated.

  • I tried out Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory on my own worldly 9-year-old, Will, and even before he saw that Mr. Zee is holding a tiny copy of our book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, he was fully absorbed and really liking it. I think this is going to be a huge hit.

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  • Marion:

    First of all, thank you for sharing my “Mr. Zee” video with your readership!

    After watching the proposed — and purely voluntary — children’s food advertising guidelines crash and burn last year under Big Food’s lobbying pressure, I’ve come to believe that we may never see meaningful legislation to rein in the advertising of unhealthful products to our kids. The only other option, in my opinion, is to focus on the other side of the equation by ‘inoculating’ kids against those messages.

    This little video is only one small step in that direction, and I wholeheartedly agree with Nancy Huehnergarth’s comment above that a national media campaign along these lines is sorely needed.

    Thanks again for the share, and I’ll be curious to hear what your readers — and their kids — think of “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

    – Bettina Elias Siegel

  • Steve

    I am not an orchard professional, but I do have a back yard orchard. I can tell you, that no matter how much you care for you fruit, not every apple, pear or peach grown is the perfect size, the perfect shape, the perfect uniform color, blemish and worm free that it would be purchased off a grocery store display. I don’t have a figure of what the percent would be, but I’m sure it’s very high. If it weren’t for the processors that used this less than perfect fruit, thousands of tons of fruit would go to waste in this country every year. To demonize people or companies that produce safe healthy food from these products is wrong.

  • Steve: I’m certainly not advocating food waste. But there’s quite a wide gulf between use of surplus apples in minimally processed, healthful foods (such as natural apple sauce, dried fruit leather or 100% apple juice) and the highly processed, brightly colored, artificially flavored “fruit snacks” that have minimal nutritional value but are nonetheless aggressively advertised to kids — and pitched to parents as somehow “healthy” because they “contain real fruit” or “contain Vitamin C.”

    Here is the ingredient list from one such “fruit snack” (Betty Crocker Fruit Gushers). I think it speaks for itself:

    Pears from Concentrate, Sugar, Dried Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Fructose, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Grape Juice from Concentrate, Maltodextrin, Carrageenan, Citric Acid, Glycerin, Distilled Monoglycerides, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Potassium Citrate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Agar-Agar, Color (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellows 5&6 and Other Color Added), Xanthan Gum.

  • Thank you for the article and the link to the video. I have a four month old boy and his future diet is something I am constantly thinking about. I’m not sure if it was the lack of information available, but my generation (I’m 23) was subject to pretty poor dietary habits at an early age. I want to make sure my child has a different understanding about fast food than I did. This video will help me illustrate the importance of eating healthy.

  • Hi Marion,

    This is very interesting. I have kids and I would like them to grow up healthy and aware of these things. Anyway, thanks for the links! 😀

  • Kim

    I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve heard good reviews from my friends who have read it. I’m deciding whether I should purchase this to help me with my kids.

  • Just watched the video and it’s great. Anything that can educate kids about the food they eat has to be a good thing. Great work!

  • Great links! I have forwarded this article to my sister who is ‘knee deep’ in eating issues with my nephew!

  • Wow! This is a great article. I have a daughter and I think this will be very beneficial for her. I will check the links later. Thanks for sharing! 😀

  • This is great! I would like to teach my children how to develop a healthy lifestyle and I believe this video will help me a lot. Also, I love the links posted here. Thanks! 😀

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