October 26, 2009

Scrapin' Up A Few Bits... Policy Style

Serious food issues actually in the news. It's not just health care reform and Jon & Kate. Who knew?

Cracker Jacks, which I'll admit I enjoy, would be hard to characterize as a nutritionally "smart choice." But that didn't stop Frito Lay from smacking a "Smart Choice" label on it, as part of the larger, snack-food industry backed Smart Choices Program. [UPDATE: Per a note from a Cathy, who purports to be a Frito Lay employee, Cracker Jack was not included in the Smart Choices program. My bad. And, more importantly, the Associated Press's bad. Which, in turn, means the bad of about a gazillion news outlets, including little ones like the Washington Post, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal...] I guess it's decisions like the Cracker Jack's Froot Loops one that led to the program's voluntary termination.

Industry leaders launched the program this year to highlight foods that meet certain nutritional standards with a green label on package fronts.

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that such programs may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods, and it told manufacturers it will crack down on inaccurate labeling. It did not criticize specific products or label programs or give a timeline for enforcement.

Froot Loops were also considered to be a smart choice. 'Nuff said, I guess.

And the Obama administration, despite its many challenges on many fronts, appears to be -- with an extra emphasis on "appears" -- getting serious about improving nutrition in schools.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack challenged the nation’s middle schools and high schools on Wednesday to provide healthier meals and more time for exercise and physical activity for their students.

My understanding is that schools often have their hands tied as to what they can serve, where they can procure the food they serve, and, of course, having the kitchen staff who can do anything more than reheat frozen food items.

I mean, don't get me wrong, the "taco in a bag" on the menu at my son's elementary school sounds great. His description is that it's taco meat in a bag with tortilla chips and some cheese. Also called nachos, I suppose. And I would suspect made with the finest factory-farm ground beef -- "slaughterhouse trimmings and mash-like product" and all.

In other words, the very definition of nowhere to go but up.

And speaking of healthy school lunches, Baltimore City schools have implemented "meatless Mondays." ABC News covered it the other evening. And the Center for a Livable Future puts the kaibosh (sp?) on questions about whether these meatless meals are depriving children of much-needed protein.

The United States is among the very few wealthy nations in the world where people derive the majority of their dietary protein from animal sources. The global average is 30% of dietary protein from animal sources, including dairy and eggs, and 70% from grains, vegetables, and fruit.

If Mr. Riter had bothered to contact the Baltimore City Schools he would have found that each meat-free meal contains more than the amount of protein required by the USDA. My guess is that Mr. Riter jumped to his mistaken conclusion after reading misleading quotes from a meat lobby organization, or he really needs to brush up on his basic biochemistry.


Cathy said...

Hello! I'm with Frito-Lay and Cracker Jack is one of our brands. I just wanted to clarify that Cracker Jack did not carry the Smart Choice label. I'd be curious as to where you obtained the information that it did carry the Smart Choice label. Hope this is helpful. Thanks, Cathy

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

Thanks for the clarification, Cathy. The Washington Post article to which this part of the "Digest" linked reported that Cracker Jack did have a Smart Choices label:

"Smart Choices, which includes Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and General Mills Inc., has been criticized for including processed foods that are high in sugar, such as Froot Loops cereal and Cracker Jack snack food."

My apologies for passing on this error. You might also want to notify the Post. In the meantime, I'll update this post.

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

Just to follow-up, Cathy, had I looked closer, I would have seen that this was an AP wire story, which, with a quick Google search, turns out to have not only picked up by the Post, but also the WSJ, LA Times, and numerous other news outlets. So the AP needs to hear from you, not the Post.