Mark Bittman’s latest New York Times op-ed — titled “Parasites, Killing Their Host” — touches on why waiting for the food industry to fix the very problems it created (and thrives on) is misguided.
As we have expressed on several occasions, Bittman acknowledges that we “can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: it’s their nature.”
Over and over, we have come across the strawman argument that without sponsorships, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics would have to charge ridiculous membership fees. Yet, at no point have we called for an elimination of sponsorships. Rather, we are asking for more responsible and ethical sponsorships for a nutrition organization. Coca-Cola has every right to exist as a company; however, we do not think it makes any logical sense for a national nutrition organization to accept its money.
Back to Bittman:
- “A new paper in the journal Social Currents by Ivy Ken, an associate professor of sociology at George Washington University, discusses Big Food’s strategy of “working together” with communities to fight the obesity crisis. The goal is threefold, according to Ken: Corporations want us to focus on the importance of their role in “solving” childhood obesity and presenting themselves as part of the solution. “Their part of working together is re-engineering their products; our part of working together is to buy more and more of this food that’s not real,” Ken said to me.”
- “The food industry also wants us to ignore its use of that strategy to increase its market share and profits; and it wants to maintain legitimacy at a time when community groups and public health officials are, writes Ken, “demanding limits to their involvement” in supplying food to children.”
Bingo. The “working together” model comes with an unspoken clause — that the health organizations involved will not do anything to hurt their partners’ profits. If Coca-Cola is at the table, the message will never be: “Drink more tap water.” At the very least, the usual “choose diet drinks and bottled water” (both of which line Big Soda’s pockets) messaging will come into play.
Bittman wraps up his piece thusly:
“Government’s rightful role is not to form partnerships with industry so that the latter can voluntarily “solve” the problem, but to oversee and regulate industry. Its mandate is to protect public health, and one good step toward fulfilling that right now would be to regulate the marketing of junk to children. Anything short of that is a failure.”
We agree one hundred percent. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics should be at the forefront of health promotion and not be afraid to step up as a leader. The “but other organizations take money from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo” stock answer does not inspire confidence or trust; it comes across as a complacent excuse that doesn’t attempt to shake up the status quo.
And, given the public health crisis on our hands, the status quo apple cart needs an upset.