Thursday, March 02, 2006

Free Enterprise Yes, Brainwashing and Deception No

I believe in free enterprise.....
I believe in consumer choice.....
I believe that parents are primarily responsible for decisions about what their children eat and drink.....
I am not a proponent of legislation by lawsuit.....


We cannot continue to allow food companies to brainwash our youth and poison our population peddling products promoted through pervasive advertising without challenging their blatant and all-consuming attempts at creating demand (some would say mind control) - aimed particularly at young children and calling attention to the disasterous societal consequences caused by over consumption of their products.

Talk About Disinformation
This blog entry was triggered by an "In All Fairness" 'commentarmercial' entitled, "Cartoons Spark Outrage" that appeared in the New York Times on February 27, 2006. It was written by Daniel J. Popeo, Chairman of the Washington Legal Foundation, a group advocating and lobbying for the agenda of large corporations.

You can read the full commentary on WLF's website.

The title of the piece is a not-so-subtle and rather undiplomatic comparison to the recent uproar and violence sparked by the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed published in Denmark. The author seems to be implying that food fanatics belong in the same camp as violent and crazed religious fanatics.

Popping Off At Popeo
Okay, now that I've gotten these courtesies out of the way, I'm taking the gloves off. Mr. Popeo is a professional big business lobbyist trying to portray cartoon characters used to aggressively market junk foods to kids as benign and beloved children's characters. He assails two groups in particular- The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood - as anti-business, lawsuit happy, food fascists.

I'm not in favor of making junk food illegal or banning its advertising (although some very responsible medical professionals such as the head of the World Health Organization are advocating the latter action). But anyone who has ever watched kids programming on commerical TV or looked at the packaging of food products for children knows that many large food conglomerates are irresponsible in their marketing, advertising and product formulation practices.

Mr. Popeo casts these groups confronting the big food companies for their marketing practices as loonies visciously attacking beloved and benign cartoon characters such as Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam. After all, what right-minded person could see Ronald McDonald as a threat to humanity? Well, on the surface these commerical characters certainly seem harmless - until they are gotten hold of by the marketing hype machines of the big food conglomerates. That's when they are turned into pushers.

Mr. Popeo doesn't stop at raising his alarm against attacks on allegedly innocent cartoons. He also lists several seemingly beloved products that he claims are on the food fascist's hit list such as 2% milk and whole milk, Eggo frozen waffles, and Campbell's soups. As he says, "Yes, even chicken noodle soup".

After all, what person in his right mind could ever attack something as wholesome as chicken noodle soup? Excuse me Mr. Popeo, but you are obviously in the thrall (if not the pockets) of companies like Campbells who advertise soups like tomato, chicken noodle and mushroom as some sort of `condensed maternal love in a can'. Give me a break! Have you ever looked at the ingredients in this stuff? Absolute crap - a day's worth of sodium and enough additives to keep chemical process plants running 24/7 year round. "Gee thanks Mom for going to all the trouble to open and heat up this delicious bowl of artificial ingredients. This proves you love me."

While products like canned soup and other processed foods are indeed junk, they shouldn't be made illegal. That is going way too far - if you like this stuff or don't care what's in it then have at it. And of course sadly, this kind of food is all some people can afford or have access to.

But what needs to be regulated is the food companies' deceptive marketing practices that mislead and misinform the public- and especially children - about their products. I'm not in favor of going after big companies with lawsuits simply because they have deep pockets, but in a few cases it may be the only way to get their attention and to establish some leverage against their money and power.

But according to Mr. Popeo, any attempts to put restrictions on food companies will simply kill free enterprise and limit individual choice. Well, I certainly don't want anyone - advocacy groups, government or food companies dictating what I can and cannot eat. But this country is in a terrible state - what numerous health professionals and organizations are calling a crisis - largely because many consumers are ignorant about nutrition, conditioned by pervasive and insidious advertising and confused by the conflicting information about food and health produced by the media. And kids in particular are being brainwashed - pure and simple. Something has to be done.

Out With Idealogy, In With Common Sense
This isn't an idealogical agenda - it's common sense. Look at the health care crisis that is now exploding in the US and in other parts of the developed world as a result of eating too many empty calories. Teenage type 2 diabetics - unheard of before the 1990s are now common for crying out loud! If obesity continues to grow at its current rate, health care costs will bankrupt the entire country in the next decade or so.

Okay, so maybe its going too far to heap ALL of the blame for this dire situation on food companies like McDonalds, Nabisco or Nestle's, but they are a big part of the problem. Using a drug pusher's defense - we're only selling people what they want - doesn't change that. Wouldn't it be great if we could take some of the $10 billion a year they spend on advertising junk food to kids and use it to provide nutritional education programs to kids and parents? Or start up edibile school yard projects so that kids can learn about and grow real food? Or provide more choice in school cafeterias such as organic and natural foods?


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