Monday, March 07, 2005

It's The Calories, Stupid!

Salon has a feature article on the food industry and the USDA's fears over trans fat. But again, the problem isn't what Americans are eating (the French love fatty foods and liters of red wine), but how much they are eating. Next time you order that burger and fries, remember that when your parents were young the "regular" size fries and drinks they consumed are now labeled "small," implying "less filling" and "less cost efficient," putting customers on the road to super-sized meals and waistlines.

However, nutritionists are not really worried about lesser levels of trans fat. "It's a bizarre labeling quirk," Nestle says. "If you don't eat too much of it, it doesn't matter much. It's not a poison." I guess I can put the Quaker Oats Chewy Granola bars back in my cupboard.

More troubling to Nestle is the twisted way that the fight against trans fat gives food companies something to do in the obesity epidemic that won't interfere with their bottom line, while the American waistline only grows bigger. She maintains that in a business that depends on cheap government-subsidized staples such as corn and soybeans, the food companies are under constant pressure to get customers to stuff more and more into their mouths.

"The real root of the problem is Wall Street," Nestle says. "You've got a situation in which every company is trying to grow and there's only so much people can eat." While valiantly working to take trans fat out of their food products -- and advertise that fact -- companies can look as though they're doing their part to improve Americans' health without cutting into profits: "In a sense, it's a bone thrown to the food industry: Here's something you can do to clean up your act that won't put you out of business," she says.

And the government neatly avoids antagonizing the food industry by never saying you shouldn't eat what they're selling. Imagine federal dietary standards that said, "Stop eating Big Macs, Doritos and Oreos," Simon, of the Center for Informed Food Choices, has written. "Those are recommendations that most Americans could understand, but not ones we are likely to hear."

No comments: