Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Real Food" Diet Dilemma: Of Michael Pollan and the California Drought

The results are in, and to no thinking-person's surprise, the best diet is no diet at all.  The best diet is real food.

The top "best diets" were tested by Dr. David Katz of Yale's Prevention Research Center, and published in  scientific journal Annual Reviews:

"In it, they compare the major diets of the day: Low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets. Despite the pervasiveness of these diets in culture and media, Katz and Meller write, 'There have been no rigorous, long-term studies comparing contenders for best diet laurels using methodology that precludes bias and confounding. For many reasons, such studies are unlikely.' 
"They conclude that no diet is clearly best, but there are common elements across eating patterns that are proven to be beneficial to health. 'A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.'" (source - The Atlantic, March 24, 2014)
Just like Michael Pollan advised when he penned simply "Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants." in slim best-seller Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

Just like New York Times columnist Mark Bittman reiterated when he recently proclaimed "Butter is back!" in response to an Annals of Internal Medicine article comparing 72 nutrition science studies:
"... the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.
"This doesn’t mean you abandon fruit for beef and cheese; you just abandon fake food for real food, and in that category of real food you can include good meat and dairy." (source - New York Times, March 25, 2014)

All well and good. Americans seem to finally be grasping that good food supports good health. And that highly processed industrial-made fake foods have a negative impact on health. 

But Houston, we still have a problem.  

Just as Americans relearn to appreciate real food, especially fruits and veggies, a profound shortage of US-grown produce is developing... and for a reason that most Americans selfishly believe doesn't affect them: the massive California drought.  

California produces the vast majority of U.S.-grown produce, including:  

  • 99% of walnuts
  • 99% of almonds
  • 99% of artichokes
  • 97% of plums
  • 97% of apricots
  • 96% of nectarines
  • 96% of olives
  • 95% of celery
  • 90% of broccoli
  • 89% of cauliflower
  • 89% of strawberries
  • 88% of lemons
  • 76% of avocados
  • 71% of spinach
  • 69% of carrots
The  U.S. Midwest mainly farms three crops... corn, soybeans, and grains... to be used for highly-processed industrial-made foods. Midwest farmers are richly rewarded by mega-corporations and subsidized by Congress for focusing on fodder for fast and processed foods manufactured in the U.S. 

So most of America is heavily dependent on California for its harvest of fruits and vegetables in order to chow-down a "real food" diet.  

"The loss of California’s output would create a dire situation for at least a decade" observed

And this week, NBC News reported, "California's severe drought is causing a drastic increase in food prices."

What's the Solution?
What's the solution to make a "real food" diet reality for all Americans?  The long-tern solutions are political, simple and painfully obvious:
  • The federal government should stop spending billions annually to subsidize crops for the processed food-like products made by mega-corporations.
  • Instead, the federal government should put its money where its health-conscious mouth is, and subsidize fruits and vegetables, and high-quality dairy and meat  intended for direct sale to U.S. consumers.
  • California farmers should receive maximum possible government support to help stay afloat and hydrated during this drought crisis. 
In the short term, what's a smart consumer to do to afford a healthier "real food" diet for her loved ones?
  • Buy real foods, rather than processed food products, as much as practicable. Prices are often lower at farmer's markets. 
  • Conserve,don't waste foods.
  • Grow a garden in your yard, in balcony and patio pots and planters,  or community patch. 
And remember: ""Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants." 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lucky Charms: Poster Child for Industrial Junk Food? Fat Profits, Fat Kids

Lucky Charms manufacturer, General Mills, is celebrating the sugar-laden cereal's 50th birthday this year. 

Well, why shouldn't mega-corporation General Mills celebrate? Lucky Charms is the 10th best selling cereal in the U.S., a stand-out milestone in a lucrative product field of hundreds upon hundreds of breakfast cereals. Very few fake foods have achieved such lofty sales volumes. 

And after half a century on supermarket shelves, Lucky Charms sales are surging.  Reported Businessweek about first quarter 2013:
"IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, estimates that Lucky Charms sales this year are up 14.5 percent to $145.9 million so far. By contrast, the company’s overall U.S. sales were up just 2 percent in the latest quarter and 1 percent in fiscal 2013."
A reason for the newest upsurge in Lucky Charms' popularity? Adults, who were targeted in clever new marketing campaigns. "The company claims more than 40 percent of Lucky Charms eaters are adults," per Businessweek.
"'We know that adults have always loved Lucky Charms and by reconnecting them with the brand, we have reignited their love of one of their favorite things from childhood,' says Carla Vernon, General Mills’ marketing director for Lucky Charms." (source - Businessweek)
Exuded another marketing guru about Lucky Charms' 50th birthday:
"For 50 years, Lucky Charms has been delighting kids and kids at heart with our wonderful combination of frosted toasted oats and magical marshmallows," Jenny Zechmeister, marketing manager for Lucky Charms, told HLN" (source - HLNTV, a Time-Warner Company)
What was General Mills thinking?
 As I pondered the appalling public health impact of this beloved "cereal" fake food comprised of 37% sugar and a plethora of artificial colors and flavors, I wondered... 
  • What was General Mills ("GM") thinking when it created Lucky Charms? 
  • Was child nutrition or public health ever seriously considered? 
  • Or is Lucky Charms the perfect poster child for industrial-made junk food aimed solely at maximum corporate profitability? 
Seems that Lucky Charms was created on a dare in 1962 by GM Research Labs to Vice-President John Holahan. A business dare to create a new product in six months, rather than the usual two to three years, and for that product to use existing manufacturing  capacity at its Cheerios or Wheaties plants.  

While perusing supermarket aisles, Holahan conjured the idea of combining Cheerios with bits of Brach's bright orange Circus Peanuts marshmallow candy.    Per Dr. Tracy Tuten, marketing professor at East Carolina University:
"The General Mills cereal scientists worked with the Kraft marshmallow scientists to develop a cereal marshmallow with the right properties. The Circus peanuts had much more water content than most cereal pieces. They had to develop a marshmallow with low water content that would last on the store shelves for months... The new extrusion process also allowed them to form shapes and different colors..." (source -, July 5, 2013)
Three enthusiastic focus groups of mothers and their young children, and GM ignored its normal product-development protocol process to rush Lucky Charms into supermarkets across the nation.  Exuded one mother, "If it keeps the kids quiet and happy at breakfast, bring it on!"

Marbits, short for marshmallow bits, are and always have been 25% of Lucky Charms cereal. But that apparently wasn't enough sugar to "keep the kids happy at breakfast."  
"The oat cereal was not originally sugar coated. After initial sales failed to meet expectations, the oats were sugar coated, and the cereal's success grew. The recipe for the cereal remained unchanged until the introduction of a new flavor: Chocolate Lucky Charms, in 2005...
"Following the product launch, the General Mills marketing department found that sales performed dramatically better if the composition of the marbits changed periodically. Various features of the marbits were modified to maximize their appeal to young consumers. In focus groups and market research, more brightly colored charms resulted in better sales than did dull or pastel colors. Holahan called Lucky Charms a 'lesson in creative marketing.'" (source - Wikipedia)
The answers to my three questions appear to be... 
What was General Mills ("GM") thinking when it created Lucky Charms? 
  • Cut product development time by 70%
  • Not incur additional manufacturing facilities costs
  • Long store shelf life
  • Something super-sugary to please the palate
  • Something fun to attract and amuse kids
  • "Creative marketing" to spur sales
Was child nutrition or public health ever seriously considered?  No, apparently neither played any role whatsoever in GM's creation of Lucky Charms cereal.

Is Lucky Charms the perfect poster child for industrial-made junk food aimed solely at maximum corporate profitability? That's the logical conclusion

What is General Mills celebrating?
So what, exactly, is General Mills celebrating when it joyously marks the 50th birthday of its Lucky Charms cereal product line?    

Clever marketing, especially to children. Very long sales life. Addictively sugary taste, ensuring repeat buyers. Fast-track product development. Hefty profits for mega-corporation General Mills.  

Nutrition for kids be damned. Public health be damned. Mere impediments to corporate profits from Lucky Charms, perfect poster child for industrial-made junk food.  

Happy Birthday to Lucky Charms for 50 years of fat profits and fat kids!