Mrs. Obama -- can I call you Michelle? -- do you have a minute? I know you’re on tour right now, but I think you and I need to have a little chat.
First off, childhood obesity is a major crisis, and your Let’s Move! anti-obesity campaign is an important initiative. The report your Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity produced was a landmark document, and you’ve brought new and essential attention to the ways the nation must address the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
But your latest move? Expecting the processed-food companies and retail giants to spearhead the move to healthy eating? It’s just not going to happen. I hope that’s not too harsh, but I wanted to be straight with you after reading your recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “The Business Case for Healthier Food.” In it, you declare that:
Every day, great American companies are achieving greater and greater success by creating and selling healthy products. In doing so, they are showing that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business.
And then you laud Walmart and Walgreens for expanding their selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and Disney for “eliminating ads for junk foods from its children’s programming.”
Kudos to them, but that’s all about “selling.” What about “creating”? You give a nod to restaurants “cutting calories, fat and sodium from menus and offering healthier kids' meals.” Now, that’s not nothing: Americans spend 40 percent of our food budgets eating out. But the rest goes to food we eat at home, and of that, we spend over 20 percent on processed food, and about 8 percent on soda and other sweetened beverages. That’s a big chunk of our daily caloric intake, not to mention our paychecks. And it’s not something you can ignore when you’re talking about any business case involving food.
You did once call on food companies to improve their products. Do you remember that time you went in front of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and said this?
We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children. ...
While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t. And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones — for example, adding a little bit of Vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids ... This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy. As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy — products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation.
Except that was three years ago, and you’ve said not a peep on that subject since then. Instead we get empty platitudes on how healthy food is good for business. Well, the processed-food industry knows that what’s really good for business is engineering food products that hit consumers’ “bliss point” of flavor and texture.