Tuesday, May 9, 2006

You Are What You Think You Eat

Two recent "news" articles offer concerned Americans conflicting viewpoints on what and where they should eat. Digesting the news is sometimes more difficult than digesting the food. Let's try.
On Tuesday, McDonald's announced the creation of a Global Moms Panel to provide guidance on such topics as balanced and active lifestyle initiatives, restaurant communications and children's well-being. The nine women come from six countries and include four former Olympic athletes, among them U.S. speedskater Bonnie Blair and Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo, as well as a childhood development expert, a chef, a librarian, an artist and a Parent Teacher Association president. The company said it wants their input in order to better serve the needs of moms and families worldwide.
The folks at the Golden Arches have assembled a veritable Gilligan's Island panel of experts to ensure that fat kids and fat adults get healthy choices when they visit their neighborhood restaurant. They even came up with a nice name for it, with the word "mom" in it, too. Your mom wouldn't steer you wrong, would she? Of course not, and so close to Mother's Day. If the professor and the skipper couldn't figure out a way to get off that stupid island, a bunch of winter Olympians and a PTA president don't stand a chance of getting people to change their eating habits. Yeah, I know.
Don't you think that, if people wanted healthier choices, they would find them? It isn't as if McDonald's is the only place to eat, and we are forced to go because there aren't any better choices. Here's a clue: People go to McDonald's because they like fatty foods. If they wanted fruit and fat-free French fries, they would stay home or go to Saladworks. It's a nice P.R. move, but they aren't about to turn their SS Titanic customer base into the SS Minnow.
Meanwhile ...
Supermarkets are trying to lure families back to the dinner table. "The more often kids have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink and use drugs," said Joseph Califano Jr., a former U.S. health secretary and current head of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, which did the research. Los Angeles-based Contessa Premium Foods makes frozen gourmet meals, such as sesame chicken stir fry and burgundy beef stew, that a family can heat in 10 to 12 minutes. That's nearly as fast as a TV dinner, said president and chief executive John Z. Blazevich, but is healthier and makes people feel like they actually cooked. So where does this leave restaurants? According to industry estimates, the average person eats in restaurants four times to five times a week. Supermarkets want people to stay home.
Whenever there's a problem, we go right for the kids. Driving too fast? Baby on Board signs. Too much violence? Parental warnings on CDs, movies and television shows. Want to keep your kids off drugs and cigs? Make them eat at home. So says the supermarkets of America, who coincidentially are providing the food that your kids will be eating at home. Healthy stuff like beef stew and gourmet meals with plenty of thick sauces and beef. Did I mention beef? They probably paid for the research, too. Why else would it be necessary to mention the Contessa Premium Foods Company, The Food Marketing Institute, Safeway stores, The National Restaurant Association and the Eat Smart, Grow Strong Campaign in the news article?
It's amazing to me what passes for news. Stories contain commercial and television show tie-ins, mention products by name for no apparent reason, and are often little more than commercials disguised as news. Think about the number of times, especially in your local newscast, that you see and hear products named, and sometimes they are the focus of the story. Those companies are getting two or three minutes of free air-time that they would otherwise have to pay for. Nice work if you can get it.
And speaking of slick marketing ... what is that ridiculous TV show doing on the front page of our Philadelphia Daily News? Is it supposed to sell newspapers? If so, why is the Fox Network getting a free front-page ad, along with a free article? Doesn't Delilah's Den have to pay for advertising?
Here's another clue: Eat where you want to eat. You can get healthy meals in your local restaurant just as easily as you can at home. It might cost you a bit more, but if your family is together, what difference does it make? Chances are, your kids are going to use drugs and smoke whether or not you eat dinner at home or at Applebee's. What is more important than what or where they eat is whether or not you can teach your children to think for themselves.
Don't allow a slick marketing campaign disguised as news to persuade you to change your life.

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