HOW TO EAT REAL FOOD AND TALK BACK TO THE TV
by NOHA Professional Advisory Board Member Martha H. Howard, MD, who has practiced integrative and preventive medicine since 1982 in her family practice, combining both traditional Chinese medicine and allopathic medicine. She is a member of the American Academy of Holistic Medicine and of the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine; a board member of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine; and a former board member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine; and has served on the National Committee on acupuncture certification. Dr. Howard is the medical director of the Wellness Associates of Chicago.
Nothing, or a sugary cereal, pop tart, or sweet roll for breakfast? A hamburger and fries for lunch? Pizza for dinner? And a candy bar for a snack? Not too far from the truth for too many working adults and school children here in "fast food America."
Everybody knows this is a high fat, high salt, high sugar diet that heads you straight for a heart-attack, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and maybe all of these in the form of "Metabolic Syndrome" or "Syndrome X"—a disease that features abdominal fat, (obesity); high cholesterol, (heart attack); high blood pressure, (stroke); high blood sugar and insulin resistance (diabetes). Do the math: Pop tarts for breakfast + "lunchables" for lunch + pizza for dinner = 1 unhealthy kid! And we're not even talking about lack of exercise. Add that, and you don't even want to do the math.
So what's the problem? A huge part of it is connected to the deafening roar of ads for bad food that hammer us every day from the TV set. It's all about what is profitable, and what is advertised—and that has become the majority of the food that is marketed, and therefore available. Creating a product, then advertising it and creating a desire for it in a target population, is the name of the game.
what's the problem? A huge part of it is connected to the deafening roar of ads for bad food that hammer us every day from the TV set. It's all about what is profitable, and what is advertised—and that has become the majority of the food that is marketed, and therefore available.
Successful new-product "rollouts" make big dollars for food and advertising companies and big health problems for adults and children. Direct marketing to children has been identified as being a factor in the current epidemic of childhood obesity. And how did the "food and ad" industry respond when this was pointed out recently? Not so well.
The January 26, 2005 weekly newsletter of the Institute of Food Technologists, IFT NEWS (www.ift.org), published the following web article about the aggressive response of the large food companies and advertisers to the attempt to begin to lower the level of this form of direct marketing, which takes advantage of children and parents, and has such unhealthy and often deadly results. A few companies did an 11% (!) cutback but the response of the big companies was to go on the offense:
Food companies and advertisers join forces
As many lawmakers and advocacy groups sharpen their focus on rising levels of obesity, the advertising techniques of some food companies have been questioned. Food companies and advertisers have responded by going on the offense, forming a lobbying group called the Alliance for American Advertising, which will defend the companies' right to market directly to children [emphasis mine] and promote willingness of the companies to self-police their advertising. [Author's comment: I would expect the "self policing" to be pretty useless, especially since there is little policing in the pharmaceutical industry, even with a so-called policing agency, the FDA.]
Members of the new group include the three largest food companies who advertise packaged foods (many of them cereals) directly to children: General Mills, Inc., Kellogg Co., and Kraft Foods, Inc. Other members of the alliance include the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
The alliance has formed while some food makers have cut back on products aimed at children. According to USA Today, the new-product database, Productscan, has reported an 11.4% drop in child-targeted product introductions over the last year. Nestlé, Unilever, ConAgra, and Campbell Soup all produced fewer new products for children. Kraft Foods, however, introduced 41 new products for children, an increase of nearly 100% over 2003, although late last year the company announced that it would cease advertising for products like Oreos and Chips Ahoy!, which are aimed at children. Despite its decision, Kraft maintained its commitment to join the new lobbying group.
So it looks as if we can count on dealing with even more TV marketing to children, not less! I recently saw an ad for a packaged "lunch pizza" that showed a child opening a bag lunch with a sandwich, carrots, and an apple, making a face and pushing it away as "boring," then having the advertised pizza fly into his hands with flashing lights, making him smile and cheer. What to do in the face of this kind of corporate viciousness? I think we have to counter it by making the real "inside story" of this marketing visible and understandable to our children. The old saying, about fish and water, is that the fish don't notice the water because it is such a global part of their surroundings. Unless we become "advertisers" for better food to our children, we are letting them be "fish" in the "water" of advertising, allowing them to accept it uncritically as true and as part of their world.
Here's a suggestion for a two-part "home campaign" that worked for me:
Part 1: Serve and eat real food at home (and avoid the "fake" stuff)
If you are working full time and have two, three, or more school-aged children, "cooking from scratch" just doesn't seem possible, and it is easy to fall in line and grab the packaged foods. But real food can be as easy, if you buy the right things and keep it simple.
First, what do I mean by "real food"? It's food with little or no processing—like fresh or fresh-frozen vegetables and fruits, whole grains, meats, fish, chicken, and turkey. And why is it better? Because it is "nutrient dense"—that is, it has vitamins, minerals, fiber, intact enzymes, bioflavonoids natural antioxidants—things that actually contribute to the life and health of your cells. It is also generally low in fat, and has no added sugar, corn syrup, MSG or other additives that can cause the illnesses I mentioned at the beginning of this article. One of the "fake foods" that has recently come under fire is corn syrup. Corn syrup only benefits one group: the men at the top of the big companies who make and sell it. There is no need even to have corn syrup. It has no nutrient value, and is a good example of a "fake food," whose purpose is only to market surplus corn products, and whose harmful effect is to raise blood sugar and insulin levels (part of the problem in the Metabolic Syndrome.) Check out the labels of the processed food your kids (and you) are eating, and see how many of them have corn syrup.
If you are working full time and have two, three, or more school-aged children, "cooking from scratch" just doesn't seem possible . . . . But real food can be as easy, if you buy the right things and keep it simple.
I bought a bag of potato chips without looking at the label as I usually do. It is a perfect example of an unnecessary (and harmful) fake food containing corn syrup, and a pile of combined additives and chemicals. (It's almost as if this company had entered a contest for how many items you can put on a potato chip!) I was used to getting Cape Cod chips that only contain potatoes, oil (non-hydrogenated) and salt—in other words, a real food! But what about the chips I had just bought?
I took a bite and actually spit it out, it tasted so awful. I turned over the bag, (which I should have done in the first place,) and read the following: INGREDIENTS: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Contains one or more of the following: Peanut, Canola or Cottonseed Oil), Salt, Spices, Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Modified Corn Starch, Whey, Monosodium Glutamate, Onion & Garlic Powder, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Sodium Diacetate, Citric Acid, Lactose, Sodium Caseinate, Disodium Inosinate & Disodium Guanylate, Caramel Color, and Natural Flavor. (Pretty funny as the last ingredient, don't you think?)
The moral to this story—Read the Label—leads to the most important principle of real food: If it has a long label (or mostly, if it has a label at all) it's not the real thing! Some canned or frozen foods are good, and useful "staples"—like organic canned tomatoes or pasta sauces, canned fruits in their own juice, and organic apple sauce (if your kids like it sweeter, you can sweeten it more with a little honey or cactus honey, both of which raise the blood sugar much less than sugar.) Plain yoghurt with all fruit jam is a lot better than sugary yoghurts. There are also Van's frozen wheat free or whole wheat toaster waffles (without the long "label list") and fresh frozen vegetables.
. . . the most important principle of real food: If it has a long label (or mostly, if it has a label at all) it's not the real thing! Some canned or frozen foods are good, and useful "staples"—like organic canned tomatoes or pasta sauces, canned fruits in their own juice, and organic apple sauce . . . .
What to make for dinner? Traditional "comfort foods" are easy to make in a healthy form: spaghetti sauce with ground turkey, (make your own with Muir Glen organic tomatoes, or use their prepared spaghetti sauce and just fry the meat with some extra onion. Use whole wheat or brown rice pasta, and chop up some cabbage with mayo and lime juice for cole slaw. The whole meal takes about 15 minutes to make. Or try "instant" chicken stew, with two or three cans of Shelton's free range chicken broth, a package of frozen mixed vegetables, some chopped boneless chicken, a few canned tomatoes, and some rice noodles. That's a 10-minute meal, with none of the MSG and added chemicals, or missing protein, of the prepared, packaged "ramen noodles." While you are doing that, throw a pound or two of ground beef, bread or rice cracker crumbs, and an egg into a loaf pan, put some ketchup and honey on top like a "frosting" and cook it at 350 for an hour, while you are eating the chicken soup and watching TV or helping kids with homework. You will have tomorrow's dinner almost done! And the kids can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (real peanut butter, all fruit jam, whole wheat bread) with an apple or banana (or both) to take to school. And best of all, this is great for everyone because the "mystery" goes out of cooking, the cleanup is easy with simple meals, the idea that "it's too hard" or "there's no time" to make food goes out the window, and the whole family learns how to make foods that they like. You can also get better food when you order in, by ordering a grilled entrée or sandwich, and including some veggies or a salad. Or add baby carrots and celery on pizza or burger night. You get the idea!
Part II Talking Back to the TV
You have probably already talked back to the TV! But it may not have been about food. It is worthwhile to sit and watch TV with your kids and be a "Food Critic" when it comes to the commercials. My daughter says she can still hear me when she sits down and looks at a food commercial. This is what I sounded like:
"That clown who is jumping up and down in front of the cereal box is supposed to make kids want to have that kind of cereal. They think you are just dumb little kids who will believe anything you hear, and then when we are in the store you will jump up and down like the clown and say 'Mommy, mommy, I want that cereal' and I won't be able to say, 'No.' But they don't know how smart you are, and they don't really care about you. All they care about is making money. They don't care if you get sick from all the sugar, or get cavities in your teeth, or don't get to eat any really good food. Remember when you had to go to the dentist? Well, you have to go a lot if you eat a lot of sugar, because the sugar makes holes in your teeth, called cavities. They even put chemicals in the cereal like BHT, which has the same chemical as they have in glue. Yuck!"
The kids became very interested in what was in food, who was trying to sell them something, the "creation of desire for a product," and what the whole advertising game was all about. They became TV food critics too. Again, you get the idea. Start early. . . . Once you get started, they love to do it too, and it will serve them well . . .
The kids became very interested in what was in food, who was trying to sell them something, the "creation of desire for a product," and what the whole advertising game was all about. They became TV food critics too.
Again, you get the idea. Start early.
This is absolutely the best with three through ten or eleven year olds. They
love identifying the "good guys" and "bad guys" and figuring
out what their motivations might be. We even used to make up "Mad Lib"
style ads with nonsense words to "fill in the blanks." Once you get
started, they love to do it too, and it will serve them well in our "marketplace"