If you gain weight, it’s YOUR fault, not ours

In 2008, I took a class as part of my Master’s degree called Food Policy. If you were sitting in the room with me, you’d remember me getting fired up about nearly every issue we discussed, from the fortification of flour with folic acid to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), sometimes to the point where I couldn’t sit still in my seat. That class planted the seed for this blog, and it was my first window into the “real world” of nutrition, instead of the idealized one (where people make decisions as isolated individuals, uninfluenced by factors like government regulations, marketing, or lobbying) presented in my previous classes.

I still don’t understand why all nutrition professionals aren’t outraged at this “real world”, but that’s a story for another day.

Clover Leaf Tuna Package with dietary advice "eat fish twice a week"

That same school year, I attended a panel discussion in downtown Toronto. It was my first exposure to author Michelle Simon, who sat with Centre for the Science in the Public Interest’s Bill Jeffries and other agricultural and food experts for a moderated discussion hosted by CBC’s Mary Ito. Aside from one angry audience participant asking why we don’t use human manure on our farmers’ fields, the highlight of my evening was picking up a copy of Simon’s book Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back.

I didn’t crack it open until my schoolwork was done and I had started working. It took a summer’s worth of lunch hours to get through it, but its powerful messages have stayed with me. I don’t need to go back to my scribbled notes in the margins to remember the crux of it: we can’t trust food companies to make the best decisions for our health.

As for-profit companies, they must make money. I can’t blame them – that’s business. But I do blame them when they try to lead us to believe otherwise. That’s deception.

Every time I see PR-heavy ad campaigns, like the latest from Coke, my hackles go up.

Coca-Cola is framing itself as “part of the solution”. The commercials are convincing – my dad (who I would say is health-conscious but certainly not a foodie or zealot) told me recently “You watch those commercials and want a Coke. You think “’hey, it’s ok’” I’m glad he’s savvy enough to recognize when he’s being manipulated, at least on the surface. I’m more concerned that, subconsciously, he’ll start to think “Coke’s on my side”. He might even begin to trust them.

Food companies only make money when they sell food – and to increase profits, people have to eat more of it, not less. While suggesting a diet of moderation, they are continually devising ways to get your to consume more. Then they remind you that if you get fat, it’s your fault, not theirs.

That’s the reason I agree with Michael Pollans food rule “Avoid food products that make health claims”.  Or, as Michelle Simon puts it, we can’t let foxes guard henhouses.

Here’s the CSPI’s translation of the Coke commercial, which (in my opinion) is dead-on.

References and further reading


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