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Simon Says

Michele Simon is turning into a pretty regular contributor to Food Safety News.

  

In recent weeks she has had two opinion pieces on the evil McDonald’s empire that is preying on kids by offering toys in their Happy Meals, and another piece on the cereal industry’s awful attempt to get kids to eat their product by adding sugar and using advertising catering to kids like Tony the Tiger.

Last week (Dec 19) in the opinion piece titled “Congress to Kids: Drop Dead” Michele added                     Kool-Aid to her list of “sugar atrocities.”

And in the same piece Ms. Simon attacked some Republican Presidents of the past as being an additional part of the evil empire that is in bed with “Big Food.”

I have had conversations with Michele, and I respect her right to have her own opinions, such as when I advised her that if everyone believed like she does that we should ban Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), a lot of the world’s children would not be able to afford meat.

Her reply: “And that would be a good thing.”

So I know where she is coming from, and since I write several blogs a month, I know they can stir up the masses.  But I find myself today just having to respond to try and get some facts on the table. And maybe add an opinion or two of my own.

First of all, Kool-Aid was invented by Edward Perkins in his mother’s kitchen in Hastings, NE, in 1927. I was not alive then, but I did go to school in Hastings, as did my three sisters. We “drank the Kool-Aid” and we survived. 

And by the way, Michelle did not tell us that Kool-Aid does sell a sugar-free product that comes in many different flavors. It is usually the parent’s choice what product they buy. Kraft has provided them a choice.

Sugar Frosted Flakes and its mascot, Tony the Tiger, came into being in 1951. And the company put toys in the box to entice young children at the time to beg their moms to buy them. I did, and I survived.

Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s in 1955. But I never saw one in Nebraska until much later.

Fast foods, toys in the packaging and sugary cereals are not new, but the obesity epidemic is new.

What are newer than these foods and the marketing of them to kids are things like computers in the shapes of Lightning McQueen and Dora, DVDs playing Thomas the Train movies, hand held Game Boys and Facebook.

 

Talk about marketing to children. But one could argue that children are becoming more sedentary thanks to electronics.

A person’s body fat content is almost always a simple result of the difference between calories ingested and calories spent. I ate all those “sugar atrocities” growing up (still do) but I burned off enough calories to graduate from high school weighing 165 pounds.

So now on to subject of the “attack” on Republican Presidents in the Dec. 19 Simon opinion piece.

 

Michele is lamenting the fact that a cost/benefit analysis is needed before a final report can be released that will give the food industry “science-based nutrition guidelines for marketing to children.”

In the commentary, it is strongly implied that “a nasty right-wing deregulation policy that dates back (surprise!) to the Reagan administration” is what is holding up the process. The next sentence then blames the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for killing proposed rules over the years, implying that this is all Reagan’s fault.

Reading further, “Since Ronald Reagan opened the OIRA office in 1981, Republicans have used it to particular advantage to pursue anti-regulatory agenda….”

I am not a lawyer, nor a student of politics, but OIRA came about as a part of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, passed by our 104th Congress, while Jimmy Carter was the sitting President. Reagan came into office in 1981, so he may have been there when OIRA first opened its doors, but the origination came under a Democratic administration.

OIRA is a part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is located within the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Additionally, for readers who had never heard of OIRA until reading Michele’s story, or like me went to work in D.C. having never heard of it until I bumped up against it, the Administrator of OIRA is a presidential nominee, Senate-confirmed. Cass Sunstein currently sits in that chair, and works for the President himself. 

Simply put, if you are blaming OIRA for something, then you are blaming the President. You are blaming the current President, that is, not Ronald Reagan who inherited OIRA from President Carter.

  

Opinions are usually free, so here is mine for the day. Food safety is not and should not be political. Both Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses have attempted to make our food safer. They may have differing views of how to get to the next step, but we do not slip backwards under Republican Administrations as implied in many blogs and OpEd pieces.

On Dec. 22 a Food Safety News article by D.C. correspondent Helena Bottemiller told how the White House Food Safety Working Group had released a 28-page report touting “Progress on Food Safety.”

This is what White Houses do, especially as election time nears. It is an impressive 28-page document. What it does not do, however, is note that many of the claims made are actually the result of initiatives that began during the Bush Administration.

These are initiatives like the Salmonella Improvement Plan and the Public Health Information System. PulseNet started in 1996 and changed the world of food safety by identifying outbreaks much more quickly and much more accurately than ever before. If you did not know that, you might come to the conclusion after reading the report that it was initiated by this administration.

I can only hope that the next President voted into office in November, 2012, agrees that food safety is not political, and that he proves that point by asking Dr. Hagen to continue on as the Undersecretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a Republican administration.

© Food Safety News
  • http://Google TP

    My forty plus years in food has taken me into manufacturing facilities around the globe.
    Anything you say that may bring attention: to requiring companies to spend their money on food safety is a positive.
    There are limitless numbers of products that provide us with a healthy choice, also a limitless number that do not.
    It is your health and your child.
    To point at obesity as a food problem without understanding the culture and applying aggressive education programs,no changing cereal nutritional facts is not going to change obesity issues.

  • http://edibleintelligence.blogspot.com/ Sam Vance (@samvance)

    Well, I’m a somewhat left leaning Democrat and my knowledge of food safety and food science is a real sticking point for many people online… and many of them are my friends on the left. Writings and rantings tend to be conspiratorial in nature and light on science/facts. Most of it boils down to: ‘a corporation did it, therefore, it is bad’.
    The information that these people do take in and trust comes from non-expert activists or opportunists trying to cash in on the fear and paranoia of others. It’s partly the fault of food scientists and food science academics for failing to speak up, and thus, leaving a huge vacuum that gets filled by Michael Pollan, Jamie Oliver, Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman, and the CSPI.
    Food safety should be apolitical, but on that point, we also need to properly fund the FDA/USDA so we can enforce the laws already on the books and allow accountability and fair competition in the food industry. I hope we get that regardless of who is in congress or the presidency.

  • NJF

    Dr. Raymond makes the case that since he consumed Kool-Aid, Sugar Frosted Flakes and fast food as a youth and “survived” that Ms. Simon’s arguments don’t hold water. Not so fast.
    It is true, as Dr. Raymond states that, “Fast foods, toys in the packaging and sugary cereals are not new, but the obesity epidemic is new.” So what’s different? Many things. During Dr. Raymond’s childhood, eating habits of Americans were markedly different:
    - Families ate the bulk of their meals at home and most meals were likely prepared from scratch or with far less-processed foods.
    - Fruits and vegetables were served to children with regularity.
    - People ate far fewer between meal snacks (the food industry has deftly created the concept of constant snacking); few schools had vending machines or bake sales every day.
    - Fast food was a periodic treat.
    - Sugary drinks like Kool-Aid were not consumed with every meal. Milk and water were.
    - Toys included in a cereal box were not cross-promoted on hundreds of TV channels, on the Internet, at schools, via texts, at sporting events and in dozens of other places where kids congregate. In fact, marketing to kids was limited to TV during the Saturday morning cartoons, not a 24/7 barrage that undermines parental authority and tempts kids into unhealthy diets.
    - Portion sizes were MUCH smaller. A bagel, a donut, cookies, a Coca-Cola, an ice cream cone — every one of these is at least 30% larger than what Dr. Raymond likely consumed as a kid.
    That said, of course it makes sense that Dr. Raymond managed to burn the calories he was taking in. Coupled with the fact that he likely ate a mostly balanced diet at home, plenty of fruits and vegetables and mostly milk and water and you can rest assured that his eating habits do not resemble at all the average eating habits of kid’s today.
    You may have survived, Dr. Raymond but look around you. America’s kids aren’t doing too well. It’s an apples to oranges comparison trying to equate your childhood food consumption and what kid’s consume today. Even the most conscientious parent can only control what their child eats at home once a child reaches a certain age.
    To say that industry does not bear a good portion of the responsibility for the mess we’re in is very naive. Who made portion sizes larger? Corporations, to eke out more profits. Who marketed sugary drinks to be consumed with every meal and in between? Corporations. Who spends billions annually to market junk directly to our kids and then wonders why they’re drawn to that type of food? Corporations. Whose lobbying muscle has ensured ridiculous subsidies that are fueling the glut of unhealthy, cheap (but highly profitable) processed food in our grocery stores? Corporations.
    We are human, Dr. Raymond. The food environment, government subsidies, the constant advertising, the availability of junk on every corner has an impact on every one of us.
    Finally, on a personal note, I have served my children healthy meals, packed them healthy lunches, made certain they had regular treats so they wouldn’t feel deprived and even explained to them that food marketing is manipulative. Still, my children crave the junk they see advertised, purchase it with their own money in the school cafeteria and vending machines. Increasing physical activity alone will not end the epidemic – the studies are clear on that point. The food industry is going to have to do its part to create a healthier food environment. Since they won’t do it voluntarily, legislation will be necessary.

  • doc raymond

    NJF, I wish you believed in your statements enough to sign your name. That aside, would you not agree that in my childhood, 55 years ago, most kids walked or rode their bikes to the schools, to the play grounds, to the swimming holes and fishing holes, to the golf course and even to the fast food outlet? We participated in school sports, PE and playground activities. We mowed lawns and shoveled driveways for spending money. We burned off calories. We had no TV, computers, game boys, etc. Just “food” for thought, mind you. It is way too easy to blame the food industry and let the obese parents off the hook, isn’t it?

  • Michael Bulger

    Very well said, NJF. I absolutely agree that the comparison Dr. Raymond made lacks a certain sincerity of context.

  • Not a Fossil

    NJF has a delightfully revisionist Norman Rockwellian memory.
    I was there. It wasn’t much different from today except there was much, much more physical activity as Doc Raymond points out. We had the scrapes and bruises to prove it. Want to see my scars?
    Her are my accurate first-person recollections of eating (something we were very, very good at):
    - Meals were seldom made from scratch (not since 1820, or so).
    - Kids were served fruits and vegetables. We seldom ate them.
    - Between meal snacks commonly “ruined our dinner”. We weren’t worried.
    - Fast food was fun food. McD & BK built empires on our loyal patronage.
    - Sweetened drinks were the norm. Milk not so much and water never. Coke and Pepsi were the gold standard for kid beverages.
    - Toys often came with food. Advertising built television & magazines into media powerhouses.
    - Portion sizes were HUGE! We ate meals to fuel physically active humans. Picking at your food got you scolded and a visit to the doctor if you didn’t straighten up and eat.
    It was not the dark ages. You young know-it-alls have not invented anything new. You must live in some sheltered dream world.
    Forcing you to wear bike helmets and limiting your exposure to lead paint was supposed to make you smarter than us just like you now promise us destroying our food system will make kids today live forever. Fail, fail, fail, epic fail.

  • NJF

    Dr. Raymond, I agree with your statement, “… in my childhood, 55 years ago, most kids walked or rode their bikes to the schools, to the play grounds, to the swimming holes and fishing holes, to the golf course and even to the fast food outlet? We participated in school sports, PE and playground activities. We mowed lawns and shoveled driveways for spending money. We burned off calories. We had no TV, computers, game boys, etc.”
    Kids today are far more sedentary than kids 55 years ago and, as a society, we need to change that. Regular physical activity confers certain health benefits that can last a lifetime. However, studies that I have seen, to date, all come to a remarkably similar conclusion (If you’d like links to the studies, just let me know). Physical activity is important for helping to keep kids/adults healthy but it is not a significant factor in reducing BMI or obesity. Let me put that another way– increased physical activity IS NOT the answer to our obesity epidemic. That leaves our society’s increased food intake as the culprit. And since the food industry bears great responsibility for the food intake in this nation, they must change their practices to help end our health crisis.
    I don’t think anyone set out to blame the food industry for our epidemic. I doubt that there is some nefarious corporate plot to fatten up Americans. Rather, corporations strive to increase profits and sometimes their quest for profits run counter to what is good for public health. All parents, whether obese or fit, have a responsibility to teach their children good health habits. But that’s not a reality in today’s world where marketing successfully changes perceptions, where junk is available in most schools, where many families can only afford cheap and unhealthy foods, and where every marketing message undermines what conscientious parents teach at home. I guarantee you that my kids won’t eat as healthfully while they’re raising their families. Should I feel badly because I didn’t do a good job? To the contrary, I know I did a good job. But the environment my kids have grown up in has undermined much of my good work and will continue to do so.
    Corporations cannot just be profit-making machines answering only to shareholders. They must also be good citizens (the Supreme Court says they are people) and contribute to a healthy society. Our food industry has made some wrong turns and they need to step up to the plate and make some big changes for the sake of our society. Again, since profit is their number one priority, they will not make important changes voluntarily and we will need to legislate those changes.

  • Mike Mossel

    There is no way kids today eat more than us kids did years ago, no way.
    We were physically active with ravenous appetites. We had access to sugary salty food in abundance and we ate tons of it. Frosted Flakes for breakfast and hot dogs the other two meals. Hershey bars and Oreos and soda pop for snacks. We were so well fed we didn’t have to eat parsnips and squash and soybean protein.
    How can anyone possibly believe physical activity does not impact energy nutrition in kids or adults. Fear of food and hate of corporations makes people utterly stupid. One thing about growing old, you learn through hard experience to recognize twisted nonsense when you hear it. Nonsense like exercise is an unnecessary distraction from the 21st Century business of trashing farmers and food sellers and parents.

  • Michael Bulger

    Although the nostalgic views of Dr. Raymond, “Not a Fossil”, and Mike Mossel (coincidence of alliteration?) are quaint, I feel this discussion deserves a firmer basis in reality.
    According to the USDA and DHHS, Americans are indeed consuming twice as much fast food as in the 1970s. Portion sizes have also increased dramatically. Chocolate bars get up to 1233% larger, french fries up by 196%, hamburgers are anywhere from 13% to 223% larger, and fountain sodas have increased by 71-500%.
    The National Restaurant Association says that Americans are eating more meals away from home (i.e., cooking less).
    There have also been comparisons of data collections that show children are consuming more calories than they did in the 1970s. Measuring mean caloric intake over a large population is tricky, of course. Mean calories available per capita has surely risen.
    The experts from the USDA/DHHS DGAC reviewed many, many studies and wrote:
    “Because levels of leisure time physical activity in US adults have remained stable or increased only slightly between 1990 and 2004, it is clear that an increased calorie intake has been the primary cause of the obesity problem. Hence, even though one can achieve a calorie deficit by increasing physical activity, the primary focus should be on reducing excessive calorie intake.”
    I appreciate Dr. Raymond and the other commenters trips down memory-lane, but it is important to look at the bigger picture. Physical activity should be encouraged, but it is crucial that the nutrition and the food environment be addressed.

  • jmunsell

    The real enemy here is not corporations or a political party. The enemy is ME…….and YOU. I’m 65, and as a child my primary access to sugary foods was at Christmas & birthdays. However, I’m constantly in the frig/freezer now, snacking on ice cream, cookies, etc. I’ve never met a cake or pie I didn’t like. No company is force-feeding me these nutritionless calories. i got myself hooked, because I lack discipline.
    My buddies and I played outside most the year-round, including basketball on our outdoor court in winter, unless it got below 20 above. We hiked through the Yellowstone River hills every weekend, smoked punk wood, and somehow survived. I no longer smoke, and I rarely exercise, but somehow my waist size has increased 6 inches while my chest size & muscles have atrophied. My redistribution of body mass is directly proportional to my laziness, not to corporate misbehavior or political parties’ misdirection.
    I have numerous and sizeable disagreements with USDA-style HACCP. USDA implemented this during Clinton’s reign, and continued during Bush’s 2 terms, and now Obama’s. Both parties have endorsed the agency’s HACCP Hoax. Lack of food safety policies cannot be assessed against one exclusive party.
    Admittedly, families today face pressures not faced by my family or Dr. Raymond’s. However, I had obese classmates in the 50′s, and there are slender folks of all ages today, which merely shows that each of us is responsible to maintain a sane balance between caloric intake and physical exercise. I can unilaterally choose to be as slender or as fat as I want. Neither Obama or Kellogg’s can dictate my physical shape.
    John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    The real enemy here is not corporations or a political party. The enemy is ME…….and YOU. I’m 65, and as a child my primary access to sugary foods was at Christmas & birthdays. However, I’m constantly in the frig/freezer now, snacking on ice cream, cookies, etc. I’ve never met a cake or pie I didn’t like. No company is force-feeding me these nutritionless calories. i got myself hooked, because I lack discipline.
    My buddies and I played outside most the year-round, including basketball on our outdoor court in winter, unless it got below 20 above. We hiked through the Yellowstone River hills every weekend, smoked punk wood, and somehow survived. I no longer smoke, and I rarely exercise, but somehow my waist size has increased 6 inches while my chest size & muscles have atrophied. My redistribution of body mass is directly proportional to my laziness, not to corporate misbehavior or political parties’ misdirection.
    I have numerous and sizeable disagreements with USDA-style HACCP. USDA implemented this during Clinton’s reign, and continued during Bush’s 2 terms, and now Obama’s. Both parties have endorsed the agency’s HACCP Hoax. Lack of food safety policies cannot be assessed against one exclusive party.
    Admittedly, families today face pressures not faced by my family or Dr. Raymond’s. However, I had obese classmates in the 50′s, and there are slender folks of all ages today, which merely shows that each of us is responsible to maintain a sane balance between caloric intake and physical exercise. I can unilaterally choose to be as slender or as fat as I want. Neither Obama or Kellogg’s can dictate my physical shape.
    John Munsell

  • NJF

    Thank you, Michael, for focusing the discussion on science and data. All of our anecdotal observations, though interesting, are meaningless. Numerous studies have found that increased caloric intake is the primary driver of our obesity epidemic and that physical activity, although important, plays a minor role in BMI decrease.
    Dr. Raymond is a respected expert and leader in food safety. However, I doubt he is familiar with the science and data that you presented. There is a wealth of data to support our arguments that Dr. Raymond could easily access if he did a literature search.