by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fast food

Jan 31 2018

Annals of food marketing: define “egg”?

Competition in the food service industry must be fierce these days.

My colleagues who are members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently received this letter from a public relations firm working for Panera.

Subject: Panera’s Quest to #RespectTheEgg

Did you know 50% of the top 10 fast casual restaurants that sell breakfast have an “egg” made of at least five ingredients, often more? That’s why Panera has officially petitioned the FDA to establish a clear definition for the term “egg,” in an effort to improve standards and transparency throughout the food industry.

In the meantime, customers can rest assured that when they order an egg at Panera, that’s exactly what they’re getting. Panera has launched a line of new breakfast sandwiches featuring 100% real, freshly cracked, cooked-to-order eggs with no additives at all.

In case this is a fit for anything you’re working on, here is a link to more materials and images, including:

  • Panera’s Official Press Release
  • An Infographic Comparing Competitor’s Eggs and Breakfast Sandwiches (print size and JPG for social sharing)
  • Images of Panera’s Breakfast Sandwiches
  • The FDA Petition
  • Panera’s New & Improved Breakfast Menu

You can also find detailed nutrition info on Panera’s new breakfast sandwiches here. Please let me know if you have any questions on Panera’s quest to #RespectTheEgg!

The press release does not say what evil additives are used by Panera’s competitors.  Fortunately, Forbes has a list.  Its top prize goes to Subway, but the others don’t look much better.

Here’s the ingredient list for Subway’s Egg Omelet Patty (Regular):

Whole eggs, egg whites, water, nonfat dry milk, premium egg blend (isolated pea product, salt, citric acid, dextrose, guar gum, xanthan gum, extractive of spice, propylene glycol and not more than 2% calcium silicate and glycerin to prevent caking), soybean oil, butter alternative (liquid and hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavors, beta carotene (color), TBHQ and citric acid added to protect flavor, dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent added), salt, beta-carotene (color).

Hey—eggs are the first ingredient.

Panera isn’t really asking for a standard of identity for eggs.  It’s asking not to count an egg as an egg if these kinds of things are added to it.

I can’t wait to see what the FDA does with this one or if it even tries to attempt to draw the line between the items in the non-egg “premium egg blend” and additives like salt and pepper.

Mar 31 2017

Weekend Reading: Fast Food Kids

Amy L. Best.  Fast Food Kids: French Fries, Lunch Lines, and Social Ties.  New York University Press, 2017.

This is an academic sociologist’s account of what and how kids eat in school, and why.  Amy Best, a professor at George Mason University, spent several years quietly observing kids eating at McDonald’s and Chipotle, and in cafeterias in a low- and high-income high school.  She also did countless interviews.

The result is a reality-based analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of school lunch programs, and how school cafeterias are used by kids as public spaces defined, as Best puts it, by racial segregation and educational and income inequalities.  She also has plenty to say about attempts to reform school meals, the role of “hypervigilant” parents, and the draw of fast food.

Of school food, she says:

Unlike family food, school food holds little if any sacred value; nor does it contain the allure of commercial foods…What is clear is that for some kids, school lunch will continue to be regarded with indifference (and in some cases open contempt).  That is the case because the food is school food.  In principle, kids find the relationship to public school objectionable, not the food itself (even though some school food really does warrant genuine complaint).  Boredom with food is also about boredom with school.

She argues for introducing critical food literacy into the school curriculum, meaning critical thinking about current food system issues.  This sounds to me like what Alice Waters has been trying to do–and is doing–through her Edible Schoolyard projects, and also like the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy.  Both call for issues related to school lunch to be part of the school’s educational mission.  Best does not mention either effort in her book, an unfortunate omission in an otherwise thoughtful account of a complicated and important topic.

Jul 9 2015

Annals of the nutrition transition: KFC in Myanmar

The nutrition transition is the term used to describe a population’s rapid shift from widespread undernutrition to even more widespread overnutrition and its health consequences.

Here is an example of how that happens.

Thanks to Catherine Normile, currently working in Myanmar, for this report.

The first KFC, and the first major American fast food chain for that matter, opened in Yangon yesterday. I didn’t go inside but I scoped it out, I thought you may be interested to see the incredible crowd outside, and how unfortunate a contribution this is to Yangon’s downtown. It’s on a main road directly across the street from Bogyoke Market, the busiest market in Yangon. My favorite quote comes from this Jakarta Post article: “It is internationally famous, so I think it must be healthy.” Said by a man who queued for 3 hours to get chicken.

Myanmar1

Note the waiting crowd.

Myanmar3

There were long lines to get in.

Myanmar5

The Burmese diet is changing.  Catherine’s previous report was on the influx of Coca-Cola.

I’ll ask again: is anyone tracking changes in health statistics in that country?

Aug 1 2013

Front page news: fast food workers need better pay

Fast food workers striking for higher pay are on the front page of the New York Times today.   And about time too.

The salient quotes:

  • Our union’s members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve. We think it’s important to back low-wage workers…to make the case that the economy is creating jobs that people can’t support their families on.
  • In a lot of low-income neighborhoods, probably the largest employer is the fast-food industry, and we’re not going to reduce the level of poverty in those neighborhoods unless we try to get that industry to provide jobs that pay a living wage.
  • One Taco Bell worker…has about $900 a month to feed and clothe her three children. They receive food stamps.

Food stamps?  If fast food and restaurant workers need—and qualify for—food stamps to feed their families, this means that American taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of these industries.

And if you want a terrific introduction to what this issue is about, take a look at Saru Jayaraman’s  Behind the Kitchen Door (ILR Press/Cornell, 2013).

Jul 23 2013

Taco Bell giving up on kids meals and toys

USA Today announces that Taco Bell will no longer be offering kids meals with toys or, for that matter, kids meals at all.

How come?  “The future of Taco Bell is not about kids meals,” says Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed. “This is about positioning the brand for Millennials.”

Kids meals bring parents into fast food places.  The article is full of interesting facts:

  • The industry sells more than 1.2 billion kids’s meal annually in the U.S.
  • Fast-food chains spend about $580 million annually marketing to children under age 12.
  • Of the $580 million, about $340 million is spent on producing and licensing toys.

Why is Taco Bell doing this?  Pressures about childhood obesity, of course, but also:

  • Kids meals account for only 0.05% of Taco Bell’s overall sales.
  • The non-kids’ meal will cost more.  The current meal costs about $2.84.  The a la carte meal will go to $3.17.

Will kids want to eat at Taco Bell with no toy as an incentive?  I can’t wait to find out.

Oct 18 2012

The New England Journal takes on the food industry

Last week’s New England Journal of Medicine weighs in with several commentaries and research articles.  Some of these were published earlier in online versions:

And this week, it has another on using tax strategies to promote public health.

It looks to me as though the health establishment is finally catching on to what obesity is really about and giving serious thought to what to do about it.  This is important work.

Sep 4 2012

Some reflections on Labor Day, 2012

Economists tell us that we are in a recovery period.  Jobs, yes.  But money?  No.

According to the report in the New York Times, the employment statistics reflect substantial increases in low-wage jobs but losses in better paying jobs.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Need a job?  Head for the kitchen.

But be careful.  According to another New York Times report, a new study finds that:

Low-wage workers are routinely denied proper overtime pay and are often paid less than the minimum wage…Of workers who receive tips, 12 percent said their employer had stolen some of the tips.

Wouldn’t unions help?  They might, but take a look at the Ithaca Journal’s analysis of union membership.  New York, it seems leads the nation in the percentage of its workers who belong to labor unions: 24.1% in 2011.

But, this percentage:

glosses over the fact that while union representation has increased in the state’s public sector, it has fallen off dramatically in the private sector.

Last year, according to the unionstats.com website, 72.2 percent of the state’s public work force was unionized…But in the private sector, the unionization rate last year was 13.5 percent.

The easy answer for the decline in the private sector, analysts say, is the state’s loss of job slots in the manufacturing sector — 908,400 in 1991 to 458,000 in 2011 — which has long been organized labor’s bread and butter.

But there are other reasons for the resistance to private sector unionization:

Part is based on employers’ imagined need to increase their profitability and part has to do with a tremendous growth in law firms and consultants that specialize in breaking private unions.

No wonder more than 46 million Americans qualify for and receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

The food service industry exists on low-wage jobs.  Such jobs should be entry-level, not permanent.  They are not a solution to America’s economic problems and they are not good for social stability or American democracy.

What is the solution?  Wish I knew.

Any ideas?

Sep 14 2011

Clarification of yesterday’s post on using SNAP for fast food

As many of you have pointed out, the use of SNAP benefits in fast food restaurants is a state decision but one that is supposed to be limited to the elderly, disabled, and homeless (whether those limitations are adhered to in practice is another question).

This morning I received further clarification from Aaron Lavallee, Communications Coordinator in the USDA Office of Communications. Mr. Lavallee, whom I don’t think I’ve met, writes:

Marion,

I just read your post in the Atlantic and wanted to follow up with you with some information that can clarify some of the misinformation posted and to help bring accuracy to parts that may be misleading for your readers.

You probably know most of this but Restaurant Meal Program has been an option for states – state run, state contracted, state administered – since the 1977 Food Stamp Act. The decision to establish a restaurant meal program is made entirely at the state level.

Most importantly, the ONLY people who qualify are the elderly, disabled, and homeless, as this provision is intended to assist people who are unable to prepare meals at home or in a traditional kitchen setting. This key fact and requirement of the law is mentioned nowhere in your article and we can both agree that with that clarification this story changes drastically.

Since 1977 the decision to establish a restaurant meal program has been made by only a handful of states and because of this participation is very low.

As noted in your article, California, Arizona, and Michigan are operating State administered restaurant programs serving their elderly, homeless, and disabled populations. Rhode Island began a limited pilot restaurant program on August 1, 2011. However you also mention Florida without providing the facts to your readers. In 2009, Florida began operating a pilot program in one county and has a total of only 14 restaurants participating. Furthermore in Florida this option is ONLY available to the homeless. To date Florida has not expanded that pilot.

The original emails to you from readers Robyn and Will were inaccurate – this is not an option for any SNAP beneficiary which is what they are thinking.

Additionally you close by drawing a false conclusion – “In June 2011 alone, according to USDA, 45 million Americans received an average of $133 in benefits at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $6 billion. That’s a lot of money to spend on fast food.” This can’t be spent on fast food because it is not an option for the 45 million Americans on SNAP.

Your voice has been and will continue to be an important one when it comes to nutrition in America. Your opinion continues to add to the healthy dialogue on critical issues ranging from MyPlate to the school meal programs. Your insight and knowledge on these topics is beneficial to everyone working to improve the health and wellbeing of Americans.

This is a critical opportunity for those of us with the ability to communicate to do so actively and accurately.

Because of that I ask that you add a clarifying note to your blog post highlighting the facts and clarifying for your readers you’re the truth about this program.

Please know that I am glad to help provide any information I can. Tim Laskawy at Grist hit the nail on the head with his piece.

I apologize for not making the restrictions clear in my original post and I thank all of you and Mr. Lavallee for taking the trouble to file corrections.

I also should have said that the billions of dollars in SNAP benefits could be a lot to spend on fast food. 

SNAP must look like a honey pot to fast food and other companies that cannot wait to get their hands on some of those benefits.  That’s what Yum! (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, etc) is trying to do.

But make no mistake.  Yum! is not a social service agency concerned about feeding the elderly, disabled, or homeless.  Yum! wants to attract low-income people with SNAP money to spend to its fast food restaurants.