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.


Mary said...

Michael Pollan is my favorite author. I have all of his books. Have you watched Food Inc. yet? I've read practically everything Michael Pollan has written, plus Animal Vegetable Miracle and Fast Food Nation, and that movie still enraged and shocked me. And one of the main themes of that documentary is everything that industrial food does to hide the truth from the consumer -- how secretive everything has become, with the companies using trade secret/unfair competition laws as a shield to keep the public from seeing what's going on behind those close doors. They do this obviously on food labeling, too. That might give you some more ideas and/or enthusiasm? I think it's a great topic, and I think that anything that can be done to investigate how other countries are so much more forward thinking than the US when it comes to protecting its citizenry instead of its corporations is incredibly worthwhile. You go!

mary's husband said...

Definitely watch Food Inc. - if this is the road you're headed down, it should inspire enough anger to spend 4 months on a thesis.

TheMediaDude said...

I did watch Food Inc. It was great, though I did feel like I had seen. read all this before. I especially loved see the Salatin's Farm, which Pollan goes on and on about in Omnivore's Dilemna.

Mary, agree with everything you just said! The trick is to approach the problem without rewriting a book some one else wrote.

This response has turned into another blog post...

Rachael Taylor said...

You really had a great thesis topic. Did you stick with what you wanted, or decided to follow your professor comment? I think it was a good thesis ideas that you need better know what your topic first before dealing with it. That way, you have a full grasp of the topic.