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Striking Back at the Food Police


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The article also notes that "Mr. Berman readily acknowledges that he gets the bulk of his funds from food and restaurant companies, some of which are also clients of his lobbying firm."

While I wouldn't blame the dairly industry if someone tried to exist solely on a diet of butter and ice cream, Michael Jacobson and his Center for Science in the Public Interest, the targets of much of Berman's efforts, seem to take an extreme view in appearing to hold food manufacturers legally responsible for obesity in individual stituations by "engineering food that is full of sugar, fat and salt - and thus has an irresistible taste." I don't find Cheese Doodle irresistable.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I can happily eat anmd enjoy a bag of cheese doodles with the rest of them, and am a big fan of freedom to eat whatever I like. But this org is still pure evil. This isn't about "freedom": crap food is always available, all the time. But try finding something fresh and nutritious in a poor neighbourhood, along the highway or in most North American public spaces. The fact the the Center for Consumer Freedom started as a tobacco lobby group speaks volumes about what their trying to do with their clients' money.

I did think it was interesting, though, that both Pepsi and Kraft were quite public in wanting to dissasociate themselves from the CCF and a t least pay lip service to developing healthier brands.

Malcolm Jolley

Gremolata.com

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I can happily eat anmd enjoy a bag of cheese doodles with the rest of them, and am a big fan of freedom to eat whatever I like. But this org is still pure evil. This isn't about "freedom": crap food is always available, all the time. But try finding something fresh and nutritious in a poor neighbourhood, along the highway or in most North American public spaces.

Bingo. That's where the CCF's shibboleths of "freedom" and "personal responsibility" break down: poor folks don't have the same freedom to exercise responsibility that more well-off folks do.

Though that's not necessarily an endorsement of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And I don't see leaning on fast- and processed-food companies as a real solution to a very complex problem.

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Hey--welcome to the real world!

I for one, am glad that the food industry has a voice!

There are always two sides (and often many more) to these important issues.

There is nothing wrong with lobbying --don't forget--the Sierra Club is a lobbyist group same as the paper manufacturers and the lumber and home building industries. None are all good or conversely all evil!

And like em or not--cheese doodles should be available to any consenting adult who wants em!!!

as for the stuff about poor neighborhoods and food selection--here in NYC the hoods have some of the freshest and most interesting food products around! cuchifritos for all!!!!

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I'm with Andrew. It's a complex issue and I don't see labeling one side as purely evil. Although I recognize their escalation of moving away from looking at the problems as if they are the result of complex issues, and I see an escalation of hipocrisy in their attempts to avoid appearing as the spokesorganization of the very companies who are funding them, some attention needs to be paid to the over reaching of the otherside in placing blame at a single source group.

Whether I believe Cheese Doodles should be available to the public at all, or available to those over a certain age, might have something to do with their potential for chemical addiction, the ability to operate machinery after eating them and the honesty with which they are labeled and sold. The a food is bad for you if eaten in immoderation has not struck me as as a reason to say the manufacturer is irresponsible. Once a lobbying group steps in to defend a food using less than ethical arguments could tip the scales in terms of my ability to support the sale of the food. Thus the CCC works against its backers for me.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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This isn't about the CCF or the Center for Science (in the public interest)--by the way I know what motivation of the food industry is it is that phrase "public interest" that scares me more--but hey! that's me. Seems as though these folks are tryin to save us or sell us!

Both are advocacy groups who rely on the media to reach us.

Here is where I find the real problem.

The media should be doing its job and for the most part aren't. That is sorting out all the facts and statistics used by the interest groups and giving us fair reporting.

They aren't doing a very good job being lazy and worse.

If the public got both sides of the story we can make our decisions.

What is really disturbing is the thinly veiled attempt to "get at" the fast food industry (read deep pockets and loads of cash for trial lawyers) by creating an argument that fast food is addictive so people can't help themselves.

I for one am tired of being told I am a helpless consumer manipulated by big business and having decisions made for me by big government or big courts!

Here in New York I had no say in the ongoing attempts to eliminate tobacco use.

I also find the belief that "poor folks don't have the same freedom etc" to be well meaning but also demeaning. Poor folks are plenty capable of making good (or bad choices). --I know a lot of fat wealthy gourmands who are "addicted" to fois gras! (I could be one) Is that ok as opposed to a poor person who eats too much MacDonalds?

I believe we can all make good choices if given the correct info.

I am not a fan of the Times but at least in this instance they have attempted to do their job and present two sides of an important issue. and we can debate it!

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I also find the belief that "poor folks don't have the same freedom etc" to be well meaning but also demeaning. Poor folks are plenty capable of making good (or bad choices). --I know a lot of fat wealthy gourmands who are "addicted" to fois gras! (I could be one) Is that ok as opposed to a poor person who eats too much MacDonalds?

But this is not just a "belief." Try shopping for food in an inner-city neighborhood.

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as for the stuff about poor neighborhoods and food selection--here in NYC the hoods have some of the freshest and  most interesting food products around! cuchifritos for all!!!!

New York is a big place, and I'll concede it's possible that in the time I've spent there, I've managed to miss the mountains of farm-fresh vegetables for sale on every corner of poor neighborhoods. But for any other city in America, this is transparent bullshit. Decades of research have demonstrated that poorer sections of cities are underserved by supermarkets: people who live there have less access to fresh foods, and hence don't have the chance to make healthy choices. Come to Philadelphia; I'll give you a tour of North Philly and you can see just what choices are available for people who live there.

Again, I'm not saying that demonizing food companies is the solution. But neither is living in a fantasyland about the limitless choices available to poor folks.

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Tess--

I worked in a market here in NY that supplied inner city bodegas etc. There is plenty of good food available.

I have shopped in inner city markets.

Sure there may be lot's of situations that are different. You may have experience different than mine!

By the way "little Italy here in NY both Manhattan and the Bronx are poor inner city neighborhoods as is Chinatown--probably two examples of an abundance of fine food and fresh!

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Tess--

I worked in a market here in NY that supplied inner city bodegas etc. There is plenty of good food available.

I have shopped in inner city markets.

Sure there may be lot's of situations that are different. You may have experience different than mine!

By the way "little Italy here in NY both Manhattan and the Bronx are poor inner city neighborhoods as is Chinatown--probably two examples of an abundance of fine food and fresh!

All I can really do is echo what Andrew Fenton has said.

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Andrew--I would love to take you around.

Next time you are in NY.

For decades there have been bodegas and Korean run markets in all neighborhoods of NY.

There is a Fairway market in Harlem.

I know Philly pretty well--It is not that bad really.

Yeah you can pick out the most bombed out neighborhood--and I agree with you no choices!

Poor people have cars too! I would love to see those studies you refer to.

anyway--

I just disagree with your take on the issue at hand.

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as for the stuff about poor neighborhoods and food selection--here in NYC the hoods have some of the freshest and  most interesting food products around! cuchifritos for all!!!!

New York is a big place, and I'll concede it's possible that in the time I've spent there, I've managed to miss the mountains of farm-fresh vegetables for sale on every corner of poor neighborhoods. But for any other city in America, this is transparent bullshit. Decades of research have demonstrated that poorer sections of cities are underserved by supermarkets: people who live there have less access to fresh foods, and hence don't have the chance to make healthy choices. Come to Philadelphia; I'll give you a tour of North Philly and you can see just what choices are available for people who live there.

Again, I'm not saying that demonizing food companies is the solution. But neither is living in a fantasyland about the limitless choices available to poor folks.

I've spent most of my adult life living in "inner city" neighborhoods, often shopping for food there. Certainly the choices available -- for fresh fruit and for junk food -- are restricted compared to suburban stores and affluent urban neighborhoods. But there is more than enough reasonable food available to construct a varied and healthy diet. I'd suggest that the bigger problem is nutritional ignorance. Nobody's buying junk food because apples aren't available.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I think that's reasonable! We can argue over inner city food availability.

Frankly-I have found a number of instances where suburban markets were lacking in good choices.

I also think that there is less parent involvement among the poor and the rich in raising kids to appreciate moderation and healthy diet!

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I would love to see those studies you refer to.

Here are two recent ones:

"Neighborhood Racial Composition, Neighborhood Poverty, and the Spatial Accessibility of Supermarkets in Metropolitan Detroit" American Journal of Public Health, April 2005. From the abstract:

Results. Distance to the nearest supermarket was similar among the least impoverished neighborhoods, regardless of racial composition. Among the most impoverished neighborhoods, however, neighborhoods in which African Americans resided were, on average, 1.1 miles further from the nearest supermarket than were White neighborhoods.

Conclusions. Racial residential segregation disproportionately places African Americans in more-impoverished neighborhoods in Detroit and consequently reduces access to supermarkets. However, supermarkets have opened or remained open close to middle-income neighborhoods that have transitioned from White to African American. Development of economically disadvantaged African American neighborhoods is critical to effectively prevent diet-related diseases among this population.

"Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places" Am J of Prev Med, Jan 2002. Again, from the abstract:

RESULTS: Compared to the poorest neighborhoods, large numbers of supermarkets and gas stations with convenience stores are located in wealthier neighborhoods. There are 3 times fewer places to consume alcoholic beverages in the wealthiest compared to the poorest neighborhoods... Regarding neighborhood segregation, there are 4 times more supermarkets located in white neighborhoods compared to black neighborhoods. CONCLUSIONS: Without access to supermarkets, which offer a wide variety of foods at lower prices, poor and minority communities may not have equal access to the variety of healthy food choices available to nonminority and wealthy communities.
Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)
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I've spent most of my adult life living in "inner city" neighborhoods, often shopping for food there.  Certainly the choices available -- for fresh fruit and for junk food -- are restricted compared to suburban stores and affluent urban neighborhoods.  But there is more than enough reasonable food available to construct a varied and healthy diet. I'd suggest that the bigger problem is nutritional ignorance.  Nobody's buying junk food because apples aren't available.

On the other hand, I doubt very much whether people are buying junk food because they are so ignorant that they have no idea apples would be healthier. I mean, Americans eat like crap for all kinds of reasons. But it becomes a lot harder to eat healthy if you are (for instance) a working poor single mother with no transportation and-- as study after study of poor and/or nonwhite neighborhoods has shown-- fewer and more expensive shopping options. You can't get in the car and go to Costco and take advantage of economies of scale. Even your toilet paper is going to cost a lot. And then your income is low; your hours are often awkward with a long commute on public transportation of top of that, and then you're supposed to do creative cooking and shopping? Maybe some people can, but not being able to does not mean you are dumb.

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I'd be happier if instead of shelling out millions for lobbyists, the food industry helped pay for education in schools about proper food choices. I know a lot of well educated people who don't have a clue about proper nutrition and meal preparation, and while filling yourself up with junk food may be an adult's prerogative, sometimes obese 10-year-olds with skyhigh cholesterol are the ones who have to live with the adult's choices.

Edited by TPO (log)

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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Thanks Andrew--

The samples were interesting really!

But--I think the focus on recently "bombed" out neighborhoods (Detroit) is misleading.

And yes there are fewer choices--food--anything!

However I would still argue that poor people in more stable and mature neighborhoods are not lacking for choices.

Anyway--I think the debate is better grounded in where Busboy seemed to be going:

This isn't a poor and rich issue--it is about education and taking responsibility for our kids and ourselves. The choices issue is secondary at best. In the end though--I am on the side of more not less.

For everyone--rich and poor!

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Brava, Tess. For many folks, the availability to procure good food is exactly the hassle you describe. In this town, it's certainly not like New York. There is one bus which goes to one chain for the transportation challenged, and the prices here for the same necessities is disproportonately higher than in the same chain's stores on the car-required side of town. We have no neighborhood stores left. The big guys run em off.

For many of these mamas and parents, they are not able to go to the FB for food to supplement things, because for a lot of them, it'd mean taking time off work.

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But--I think the focus on recently "bombed" out neighborhoods (Detroit) is misleading.

I'm not sure what you mean by "recently bombed out": the Detroit riots were over thirty years ago. Anyway, the second study seems to cover a pretty wide range of places: Mississippi, North Carolina, Maryland, and Minnesota. But I'm more interested in this statement of yours:

This isn't a poor and rich issue--it is about education and taking responsibility for our kids and ourselves. The choices issue is secondary at best.

Which means, therefore, that the correlation between poverty and obesity in this country is caused by poor people's irresponsibility. Nice.

Anyway, of course education is important. Nobody is arguing against that. As I said earlier, it's a complicated situation. Without taking the wider context into account, the "consumer freedom" that hacks like Berman invoke is useless: like the "freedom" that we all have to buy a Gulfstream jet or a Caribbean island.

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John, I wonder what would happen if we brought price into the equation. How much does that good produce at a corner market in Washington Heights cost vs. the price for supermarket processed foods of lesser quality?

Also, while immigrant communities like Flushing, Chinatown, and Washington Heights indeed have loads of markets that stock both fresh and processed staples of the local "ethnic" cuisines, what about heavily African-American (NOT Caribbean-American) neighborhoods? Yes, there's a Fairway way west near the Hudson River (which is not that convenient to much of Harlem), but that opened only a few years ago. Plus, Harlem has been on the way up (and starting to gentrify) for several years. I'd like to know what the situation is like in Brownsville, East New York, and Bed-Stuy.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I've spent most of my adult life living in "inner city" neighborhoods, often shopping for food there.  Certainly the choices available -- for fresh fruit and for junk food -- are restricted compared to suburban stores and affluent urban neighborhoods.  But there is more than enough reasonable food available to construct a varied and healthy diet. I'd suggest that the bigger problem is nutritional ignorance.  Nobody's buying junk food because apples aren't available.

On the other hand, I doubt very much whether people are buying junk food because they are so ignorant that they have no idea apples would be healthier. I mean, Americans eat like crap for all kinds of reasons. But it becomes a lot harder to eat healthy if you are (for instance) a working poor single mother with no transportation and-- as study after study of poor and/or nonwhite neighborhoods has shown-- fewer and more expensive shopping options. You can't get in the car and go to Costco and take advantage of economies of scale. Even your toilet paper is going to cost a lot. And then your income is low; your hours are often awkward with a long commute on public transportation of top of that, and then you're supposed to do creative cooking and shopping? Maybe some people can, but not being able to does not mean you are dumb.

You're wandering into a parallel argument here. Yes, things are often more expensive in poor neighborhoods (though prices in my local merkados, which cater to a largely low-income immigrant population, compare favorably to the Safeway). But the added expense applies equally to healthy food and to junk, there is no economic advantage to buying high-fat foods, so other factors must be involved.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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But the added expense applies equally to healthy food and to junk,  there is no economic advantage to buying high-fat foods, so other factors must be involved.

point and match to busboy ...

Edited by Bob Musa (log)
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But the added expense applies equally to healthy food and to junk,  there is no economic advantage to buying high-fat foods, so other factors must be involved.

point and match to busboy ...

True, but until apples are manufactured with high-fructose corn syrup they aren't going to compare in price to Pop Tarts no matter where you live.

That's one thing I would call a factor in all of this -- how much of a profit margin companies can get from junk food because ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup are so cheap. Another is that we don't expect or demand that one job be enough to support a family like we did forty years ago, leaving much less time for food preparation at home. And I'm sure there are many more factors as well.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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