Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Truth Inside the Box

Has anyone else ever heard of the Center for Science in the Public Interest? I haven't but they are kind of awesome.

They are fighting the battle against misleading or untruthful nutritional labeling. My kind of people. Here's a list from their website with some of the biggest name brand offenders:

Kellogg: On labels for Smart Start Strawberry Oat Bites cereal, the company deliberately misreads a report from the Institute of Medicine to claim, falsely, that consumers can eat 125 grams—more than half a cup—of added sugars per day.

NestlĂ©: Labels for the company's Carnation Instant Breakfast misleadingly claim that its antioxidants "help support the immune system." While it is true that serious deficiencies in vitamins A, C, and E and other antioxidants can lead to serious health problems, consuming this or other products that make this common claim won’t help ward off colds, the flu, or other maladies.

Glacéau: The Coca-Cola-owned product bears a confusing double-column Nutrition Facts label that gives the impression that a 20-ounce bottle of VitaminWater contains multiple servings. Yet the company knows full well that the product is typically consumed by one person on a single occasion, delivering 125 calories, not the 50 in a "serving." CSPI says the dual-column format should be barred.

Edy's: Labels for Dibs Bite Sized Snacks boast "0g trans fat!"—giving the impression that the product is heart-healthy. Yet a serving of this ice cream snack has 16 grams of saturated fat—80 percent of the daily value. CSPI says the FDA should prohibit companies from boasting of "0 grams trans" on foods with more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving. FDA already has similar limits on "cholesterol free" and "healthy" claims.

Gerber: Labels for Gerber Graduates Juice Treats—a product intended for pre-schoolers—picture an abundance of fruit: oranges, grapes, peaches, cherries, pineapple, and raspberries. Yet there is no cherry, orange, or pineapple in the product, and less than 2 percent is raspberry and apple juice concentrate. The main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar, providing 17 grams—or about four teaspoons—of refined sugars per serving.

It's okay to highlight the positives, but not if it misrepresents the reality of the product.

Things Are Looking Up

Been doing real good on the thesis. Nilda sent me this law article written in December about the legal battle surround the food labeling bonanza currently going on. You know, the Pepsi Smart Spot, Kraft Sensible Solution, Kellog's Nutrition Highlights, stuff like that. Thank you, Nilda!

It laid out some of the legal cases going on in this world and the major players. That article, and the reference listed within, have opened up a lot of doors for me. Lots of recent studies and articles and legal papers and juicy stuff that makes my bibiliographi feel nice and fat.

One woman that keweps coming up again and again is Marion Nestle, who wrote a big and keeps a connected blog called Food Politics. It lists the major things and places I need to go. Awesome.It's like mana from heaven! I've been looking in empty caves and digging pointless holes, but I finally found a nugget of info to get me started.

AND - she's an NYU professor. I'm going to (try to) set up a meeting with her, pick her brain and try to make something important of this. At least as important as I can do. Thank god football is over because it's hard to find the time.

Without getting too deep into this


Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Did I Ever Go to Grad School?

Hey guys,

I'm still having trouble with this thesis. I know the issue I want to focus on: nutrition, the industrial food chain, and how the food supply is hidden from the average consumer. I just can't get my head wrapped around what I want to focus on.

My professor liked the idea of the global comparison. She felt I should focus not just on the nutritional information but also the front panel. We discussed a case study on breakfast cereals. Take one or two brands that exist around the world and do a comparative study of the information there.
- Break down the information on the front panel.
- Look at what nutritional messages are there, and how they differ by region.
- Are there changes in content (e.g. do different countries call out different grams of whole grain?)
- How do the nutritional labeling rules for each country play a role?

Could be really cool. She knows a lot about the category, even though I know squat. It started with health gurus, like Kellogg's and Post, that ran health spas where they focused on eating grains. Apparently, people ate lots of meat for breakfast before the 19th century, and adding grains to your diet helped people's digestions and improved health. This was a revelation for the world.

Breakfast cereals were marketed as health tonics, even though they often contained many bad ingredients (like saw dust). In 1904, the FDA was established and started demanding that these products be safe. So the manufacturers had to take out the bad stuff and the "tonic" stuff (like when Coca-Cola removed the cocaine) and had to go for a more straight forward marketing plan.

This was a turning point in American advertising. The government was monitoring the companies, so people could now trust the ads. Side note: some of the biggest cereal manufacturers were the big mill companies (i.e. General Mills). They had a grain surplus and needed to find other ways to sell the same products.

These companies changed our culture. We suddenly had "breakfast foods" that aren't appropriate for dinner. Why not? Because, that's why. (I guess that's why Mom and Dad always give me shit for having eggs for dinner when I visit.)

Cool stuff, right?!? Cool enough to spend the next 4 months of my slaving away? I don't know. Thoughts? Anyone know of cereals that exist around the world? Cheerios, Wheaties, Captain Crunch?

I have another, more disturbing idea. I just finished The Omnivore's Dilemma, where Michael Polan (my newest hero) goes behind the veil of the food industry to show where the food really comes from. Free-range chickens don't always range free. Chickens just need to have access to the outdoors to get that claim. And they don't get that access until they are 3 months old. They are so used to be indoors, that they never venture outside once they have that option. They are killed after 4 months, so most never see the sun. Free-range my ass.

Anyway, I'm sort of obsessed with slaughterhouses. Hundreds of thousands of animals are systematically killed everyday and no one knows anything about it, besides what we read in Fast Food Nation or on YouTube. The more I think about this, the less into it I am. Forget I mentioned it.

From my experience, the hardest part about these big academic exercises is designing the study. Once, I get that done, I'll be cool. Gathering the data is the next hardest (how do I find a Cheerios box from Germany?!?). The analysis is the easy part. Cannot wait till this is over.

God Damn, I'm Thirsty

Jesus Christ, this water is delicious!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some Cool Links

Just to share a few interesting sites:

Jwoww from the Jersey Shore is a Graphic Designer
- I should just give up now. She'll own the market in 6 months.

Best and Worst Logo Redesigns of 2009
- Not sure I agree with everything, but it's cool to see all the changes.
- I especially love that Kraft is on the Worst list twice.
- Great, great site. Check out the blog. I'll be using this a lot for the thesis.
- Check out their suggestions for nutritional label changes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why Have Kids

Another great site with pictures of parents who should not be parents:

A few examples:

The Beatles Visual Overview

Here's a cool site that lays out every Beatles song chronologically by release displaying who wrote it and how much they contributed.

A few things to note:
- Paul had more hits, but I didn't realize how prolific John was!
- The only person missing is George Martin, their producer. No of the Beatles could read or write music, and those strings in Yesterday didn’t write themselves.
- These don't have every Beatles song ever (Hello, Little Girl), but who's counting?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My Thesis Topic

I’ve found my thesis topic – nutritional labeling on food packaging. It’s everywhere and is an increasingly critical part of how people evaluate the foods they eat. How it's presented is critical in the perception of foods and nutrition in general. For such an important part of packaging, it is usually taken for granted.

I would like to do a comparative study of nutritional labeling design systems in 3-4 regions. I am hoping to have Prof. Benson help me set up the study; I took a class with him and got a good understanding of how I can make this work. I am thinking of selecting a country to represent the standards of the major global regions (these may change):
- North America: US
- Europe: Germany
- Asia: China
- Russia?, Australia? (not sure I need a fourth)

For each region, I will need to summarize the history of nutritional labeling to understand how the current systems came into being. From there, we can see where the differences are and what the implications may be. From there, I may need to do a review of some consumer campaigns that use this information to market foods.

I’m really excited about it! It channels my passion for the subject (i care about what I feed my kids, not myself) into something that can work in an academic setting. It is also relevant to my professional life in food packaging.

The best part about it is that I came up with it while sitting in a coffee shop in Amsterdam, staring at a bottle of soda, realizing that everything was just a little different. It was one of those rare ideas that is still good when sober.

I'm going to try to use the blog to capture ideas and information on the topic because, in reality, I've lost my passion for the blog. Brian is doing a good job keeping up, better than me. I'll keep trying, loyal readers.

Wish me luck.