Sunday, June 6, 2010

Potpourri: School Food News Roundup

When does snack food become something we can have warm and fuzzy feelings about? When it's grown by local farmers, of course.

Lay's, the world's largest maker of potato chips and a division of PepsiCo, in the last year has been rolling out regional ads featuring farmers who grow potatoes. Sales of Lay's, around $2 billion annually, had slowed, especially with so much talk about obesity and people making healthier food choices.

“We had some health and wellness headwinds,” Gannon Jones, vice president for portfolio marketing at Frito-Lay in Plano, Tex., told the New York Times. So “in 2008 we started a journey of repositioning” for Lay’s. That effort paid off with “more growth in ’08,” he added, “and exceptional growth in ’09.”

“We discovered the best way to tell our story was through people,” he added. Enter the farmers, more than 80 of them from 28 states like California, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The campaign includes, in addition to its presence on, television commercials, magazine ads, signs in stores and a wooden billboard, planned to go up in San Francisco, that is being hand-carved. There are more than 150 elements of the campaign customized for local markets, Mr. Jones estimated.


Meanwhile, AlterNet takes a long look at what it says are efforts by PepsiCo to use Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign against obesity to whitewash its position as the world's largest peddler of junk food.

"In many ways, PepsiCo has been touting itself as an industry leader. The company's corporate tagline is 'Performance with Purpose,' broadly described as 'delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet.' But how can a company whose top-selling products include Mountain Dew and Doritos make such claims?" AlterNet asks.

With revenue topping $43 billion last year and 198,000 employees worldwide, PepsiCo is the largest U.S.-based food and beverage company and the second largest food company in the world, after Nestle.


Speaking of salty snack food, the Times also had an excellent takeout on how corporate food interests have for years been waging a war to keep at bay efforts to lower the salt content of processed foods. They call it "delay and divert." Cargill enlisted Food Network star Alton Brown to sing salt's praises in a video.

The Times calls this "a moment of reckoning for salt. High blood pressure is rising among adults and children. Government health experts estimate that deep cuts in salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year.

"Since processed foods account for most of the salt in the American diet, national health officials, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Michelle Obama are urging food companies to greatly reduce their use of salt. Last month, the Institute of Medicine went further, urging the government to force companies to do so."


What's in your kid's burger?

The USDA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently issued findings that much of the U.S. meat supply is tainted with veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, continues to fail at properly monitoring the safety of the nation's meat supply. So tainted meat is regularly being approved for sale and finds its way into school lunch rooms through the federal government's subsidized meals program.

“Between July 12, 2007, and March 11, 2008, FSIS found that four carcasses were adulterated with violative levels of veterinary drugs and that the plants involved had released the meat into the food supply. Although the drugs involved could result in stomach, nerve, or skin problems for consumers, FSIS requested no recall,” says the report.

AlterNet reports that contaminants include "antibiotics like penicillin, florfenicol, sulfamethazine and sulfadimethoxine, the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug flunixin and heavy metals says OIG, which oversees Department of Health and Human Services programs."


At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rodale has been running its own series of articles on school food and has these helpful tips on how parents can organize to improve the food in their schools.


In brief:

Kudos to a local television news organization in Memphis, TN, for bothering to analyze lunches served in local schools. It found that calorie counts as well as salt and fat content were "out of the acceptable range."

Meanwhile, here's a teacher in Utah who gives points, good for prizes, to students who eat healthier foods.

In Oklahoma, some are linking school food with childhood obesity. But parents are worried because the local food director says, "We have to operate like a business, like a restaurant. And we have to offer what kids want to eat. They're my customers." And apparently the kids prefer junk food.

But in Sydney, Australia, researchers recently analyzed the lunches pre-schoolers brought from home and found that 60 percent of them contained some form of junk food. Most of the pre-schools had policies banning such foods. Still, kids arrived with sugary drinks, high-fat snacks, muesli bars, cookies, cakes and chips.

Beans are a hard sell in school cafeterias. In Norfolk, VA, they're solving the legume conundrum by turning chickpeas into hummus. They serve it with raw carrots. “All of the kids love dip,” said a schools dietitian, “and they are already used to and like carrots.”


Finally, we'd like to congratulate these teens who are blogging about food. The Food News Journal recently ran a list of seven of them with brief descriptions.

Blogging is a great way to communicate about food, whether your rapping the knuckles of the local school food service director or just touting a great recipe find. Plus, it teaches kids about writing, photography, networking. Bravo.

1 comment:

  1. And how convenient that Pepsi also owns Frito Lay!