Friday, August 15, 2014

Snopes post on Gatorade reads like advertising copy

As fizzy soda sales decline, top beverage manufacturers seek to convince children and parents that kids need sugary sports drinks to enhance athletic performance.

In truth, water is the best source of hydration for kids doing sports. Based on the balance of scientific evidence, the MyPlate text (.pdf) says it well: "Drink water instead of sugary drinks when you're thirsty." Plus, choosing bottled drinks instead of tap water is bad for the environment.

Early this year, Gatorade, which is owned by PepsiCo, got a pile of bad press -- including a hard-hitting Civil Eats article -- for a marketing campaign featuring Usain Bolt, which used kid-friendly games to insinuate athletic performance claims and disparage water (see below).

While reading up on that story, I came across this strange article in Snopes, which purports to fact-check a true rumor on the origins of Gatorade as a University of Florida Gators team drink, but which reads like advertising copy for the drink. The Snopes response reports as fact several marketing claims unrelated to the actual rumor at issue: "Other athletes who tried the drink soon swore by it, claiming it helped them go longer and finish stronger" and "Gatorade has since become an integral part of a number of sports."

I am writing Snopes to suggest that the site revise its article. I'll update this post if Snopes responds.
 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kellogg announces new climate change commitments

The Kellogg Company today unveiled new commitments to address actions by itself and its suppliers that affect climate change. General Mills on July 28 had announced similar initiatives.

From Kellogg's statement (.pdf) today:
As stated in our Kellogg Global Supplier Code of Conduct, we expect suppliers to support our corporate responsibility commitments by implementing sustainable operating and farming practices, and agricultural production systems. Suppliers must strive to reduce or optimize agricultural inputs; reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use; and minimize water pollution and waste, including food waste and landfill usage.
The anti-hunger organization Oxfam International had been encouraging leading food manufacturers to make such commitments. Oxfam's recent report, Standing on the Sidelines, had argued that food and beverage companies need to do more. Today, Oxfam praised Kellogg's announcement:
“We welcome Kellogg’s efforts to become an industry leader in the fight against climate change and the damage it is causing to people everywhere,” said Monique van Zijl, campaign manager for Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign. “Kellogg’s new commitments add momentum to calls on governments and the wider food and agriculture industry to recognize that climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we need to tackle it.”
In the announcement today, Kellogg says it will set targets for greenhouse gas reductions, produce a climate change adaptation strategy, take steps to limit deforestation impacts in its supply chains, and commit to disclosure of key climate change information. Oxfam said Kellogg plans to participate in the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) group and sign the Climate Declaration.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summarizing the Agricultural Act of 2014

Choices Magazine -- the outreach magazine of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) -- this spring and early summer published a special series summarizing the Agricultural Act of 2014 (also known as the Farm Bill).

Jody Campiche organized the series and presented the theme overview:
After more than three years of debate on the next farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014 was signed into law on February 7, 2014. Overall, total spending under the new bill will be reduced by $23 billion as compared to the baseline over the next 10 years. The Agricultural Act of 2014 reforms the dairy program, includes major changes to commodity programs, adds new supplemental crop insurance programs, consolidates conservation programs, expands programs for specialty crops, reauthorizes important livestock disaster assistance programs, and reduces spending under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, despite large cuts in total program spending, the Act continues to provide important programs to ensure a safe and adequate food supply and to protect our natural resources. The articles in this theme discuss new or revised provisions relating to commodities, crop insurance, dairy, conservation, nutrition, and specialty crops as included in the Agricultural Act of 2014.
The series includes articles on commodity payments, conservation programs, dairy programs, crop insurance, specialty crops, and my contribution on nutrition assistance programs.

AAEA recognizes Food Policy in the United States

In its 2014 awards program, the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) has given honorable mention to my book, Food Policy in the United States, in the category "Quality of Communication."

As publisher of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and other top-ranked periodicals, AAEA is the leading scholarly and professional association in U.S. agricultural and applied economics. Though my book is highly multi-disciplinary -- designed to engage non-traditional audiences interested in food policy debates -- AAEA's recognition shows that the book also meets the exacting standards of the mainstream of my home profession.

My department chair, Will Masters, wrote the nomination letter to AAEA:
Prof. Wilde’s book distills the instructional content of his 13-week graduate course on U.S. Food Policy into a very readable 200 pages, enlivened with anecdotes from 10 years of experience blogging on the topic at http://usfoodpolicy.blogspot.com. The quality of writing is extraordinary, making economic insights accessible by clear use of plain language, amply illustrated with well-designed charts and tables, plus sidebars with more academic material to add depth without interfering with the story line. The book is particularly innovative in its scope, spanning agricultural production and international trade, food manufacturing, grocery stores and restaurants, food safety and labeling, advertising and health claims, and nutrition assistance programs....
In summary, Prof. Parke Wilde’s Food Policy in the United States offers a big step forward in fulfillment of the AAEA’s vision and mission. This book exemplifies the highest standard of scientific communication needed by our profession, first to help students in classrooms all across the country, and then to help graduates improve food and agricultural policy in Washington and elsewhere.
I hope the AAEA's honorable mention encourages faculty to consider using this book for courses that address -- in a lively but rigorous way -- the immense student interest in food movements and food policy. Faculty members who are considering adoption may acquire a copy from the publisher.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Our attention to diets

Here is a Google Trends report of online interest in "dietary guidelines" and "paleo diet", United States, 2004 to the present. Notice the two peaks for interest in "dietary guidelines," corresponding to the release of new Dietary Guidelines for Americans once every five years.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Menus of Change

The Menus of Change -- a project of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America -- brings together industry folks, chefs, academics, and advocates to discuss private-sector and public-sector action regarding both nutrition and the environment.

The new annual report summarizes recent trends, progress, and lack of progress, topic by topic.
At the end of the day, what we as chefs and operators choose to offer as a plate of food has enormous consequences, for the health of our customers and our planet. And yet just as we embrace evidence-based guidance from the scientific community as a key reference point in decision-making, we also know that we need—nationally—something akin to a new “moonshot” program to better and more fully realize the possibilities of bringing together deliciousness with healthy, sustainable food choices. This is an issue for all of us: our families, our schools, our employees, our troops. And it needs to start with a renewed commitment to the fundamentals: what we might call “farming for flavor.”
Restaurant News published a good summary of the project's lively and engaging second annual summit, which was held this week in Boston. The article noted that three leading themes from the summit were coping with climate change, finding better ways to source protein, and increasing fruit and vegetables on menus.
The conference’s presenters tied the three topics together, presenting evidence that excessive consumption of red meat is a leading cause of heart disease and a contributor to diabetes, and that red meat — particularly beef — is a key contributor to global warming. They said foodservice operators should try to introduce other sources of protein and also replace much of that protein with vegetables and fruit, particularly since most Americans eat more protein than they need.
Menus of Change is just one of several initiatives that seem to combine sustainability and nutrition issues in higher profile ways. I am on the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee for this project. Other such efforts include the AGree agricultural policy initiative, some of the work last year of the Food Forum at the Institute of Medicine, and the current round of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (for example, see the recent presentation by Kate Clancy).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Schools really can serve healthy meals

For a child, eating a piece of fruit is not some big challenge like climbing Mount Everest.

It is realistic for us to expect school meals programs to meet the modest sensible new standards. All over the world, children are capable of eating the basic amounts of fruits and vegetables that are served under the new standards. Throughout longer-term U.S. history, I imagine children have eaten meals with these amounts. It is the recent history of fast food meals in school that are the aberration.

In a transitional year, it is not surprising to see some reports of increased plate waste. Everybody recognizes that plate waste may go up for new menu items, and then come down again as children become accustomed to them.

In this week's Congressional struggle over child nutrition programs, some folks describe the new rules in terms of a food police state run amok. This is not fair. In contrast with government restrictions on, say, advertising practices targeting adults, what we serve in schools has nothing to do with police power. Taxpayers and parents are entrusting schools with several billion dollars each year, in return for feeding our children. Surely the adults who receive these funds for this task can serve reasonably healthy meals.

I had the chance to discuss these issues with Alan Bjerga at Bloomberg, whose article was published today. He quotes both critics and supporters of the new rules. I pointed out that the new standards themselves are probably not the problem. I strongly suspect that the school food service operations would be better sports about this change if only Congress had offered them more than a measly six additional cents per meal to compensate for the potential cost increases that might result.

Other recent coverage comes from National Public Radio. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers this infographic (which I saw on the Food Politics blog).