Coke Blinks

Once again, Coke has blinked. It famously did so in 1985, when it introduced “new” Coke, replacing its original formula with one it thought would have greater appeal with its audience. It was wrong then.

This time it might be right, but it isn’t going to do the world’s best-known brand any good. It’s hurting from decreased domestic sales and smarting from the piles of evidence that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are not only our biggest source of calories, but also among our most harmful. So it has struck back with a two-minute video whose ostensible message is that too many calories will make you fat (true), that those in Coke are no worse than any others (false), and that we’re all in this together (ridiculous).

The video is brilliantly executed. Its honeyed, heart-rending voice-over and stirring images — as American as a Chevy commercial — nearly caused me to go out and buy a case myself, as I recalled those innocent days of the ’50s and ’60s when Coke and cigarettes and Our Country and I were all (it seemed) young together, happy and happening and eating burgers and fries like there was no tomorrow. It took me back to when Coke was the real thing, it was “it,” we were teaching the world to sing together, and even Mean Joe Greene was just a cutie. There’s always been Coca-Cola.

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Posted in Food Politics

The Domino Theory, Redux

Imagine you had a multibillion-dollar industry that was (a) enormously profitable and (b) under frequent attack from public health researchers because (c) it’s demonstrably bad for the health of your customers.

This was, of course, the story of the tobacco industry, and it is – right now – the story of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry.[1] Like the cigarette makers, the peddlers of soda cannot do much about any of this: they owe it to their shareholders to maintain those profits, and the products they sell evidently cannot, no matter how hard they try, be tinkered with to change factors (b) and (c). [2]

Even if the beverage industry were composed of the nicest people in the world, it will not stop marketing to children unless it’s made to; indeed, these marketing efforts are within the rules of the game, however deadly they may be. The outcome of those rules and the marketing they allow is pandemic obesity and all the costs associated with it, which have been detailed enough elsewhere to pass over here.

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Posted in Food Politics

Last Week in Food

Thank you, Anna Lappe, for writing what so many of us non-GMO-Kool-Aid-drinkers have been thinking about Nina Fedoroff’s Times Op-Ed.

When it comes to food safety, the F.D.A. has more than ever to do – but not a lot of resources with which to operate.

The U.S. is becoming a food stamp nation. But we’re still a soda nation, and we’ll stay that way for a little while longer at least: the U.S.D.A. rejected New York’s proposal to ban the use of food stamps for sugar-sweetened beverages. The U.S.D.A. prefers healthy incentives to outright restrictions, but I have to think the U.S.D.A. could be a little more forceful in attempting to reduce soda consumption among food benefit recipients, and everyone else.

More on the most sensible basic way to change our eating habits: A Vienna University of Technology study says if you want to help the environment switching to organic is a lot less productive than just eating less meat. Different story, same ending: Tufts food economist explains why not all food price increases are bad (spoiler alert: they can lead to drastic forms of moderation like. . .gulp. . .eating a little less meat.)

I guess I can’t talk about eating less meat without including this shout out to Bill Clinton, now America’s most famous vegan. (You gotta think he cheats, though, no? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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Posted in Food Politics

Does Soda Tax Have Enough Fizz?

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This week the Wall Street Journal and James Knickman, President and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation, weighed in on a potential soda tax. WSJ cited research which suggested that while a 40% levy on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages would raise $2.5 billion annually, it would “only” result in an average weight loss of 1.3 pounds per person, per year (most of that weight being lost in middle-income households.) The article goes on to paraphrase one of the primary authors of the study:

If the goal is obesity prevention, taxing only sugary drinks may not be the most effective way to go. . . Targeting the sugary and fat-laden foods with the lowest per-calorie cost would actually suggest going after candy rather than soda, he says. A soda tax might have its biggest effect on obesity not by reducing consumption, but by raising money to put towards prevention or other anti-obesity efforts.

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Posted in Food Politics

Want Healthy Kids? Cut Soda, Not Food Stamps

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Last week Raj Patel wrote – intelligently, of course, as he does – that passing the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill must not come down to a choice between feeding children and feeding families. A current version of the bill that has been passed by the Senate plans to fund an improved (healthier) school meal program in part by cutting $2 billion in funding for SNAP –the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as food stamps.

Food stamps, of course, are often the last line of defense for Americans that don’t have consistent access to sufficiently nutritious food (according to the USDA there were over 50 million of them, including more than 17 million children, in 2009). Patel argues that the Government should expand both SNAP and school meal programs, and that robbing a family’s dinner to pay for a child’s lunch is deeply misguided economic and social policy:

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Posted in Food Politics

We all know soda isn’t food. NYC, at least, is backing that up.

No-soda

New York City is trying to ban the use of food stamps for buying soda and other sugary drinks.

What would make even more sense, of course, is to double the value of food stamps used for real food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. This isn’t that hard to figure out; we just need to get the stars to align. And some government help in fighting the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Big Food each year on marketing absolute crap.

Posted in Food Politics