Friday, November 4, 2011

When High Nutrition Equals Cookies

As a foodie and someone who is going to be a parent shortly (very shortly), I've been following a few blogs related to child nutrition and specifically, the hot topic of school lunch nutrition.  Yeah, I know it'll be awhile till I have to worry about that, but it's an interesting subject.  One of the best blogs out there on the topic is The Lunch Tray.

In any event, today's post was about a rather controversial bag of animal crackers (read: animal cookies) and how that bag of cookies happened to end-up back on the breakfast trays of students at the Houston school department after a big parental intervention during which they were removed.  When queried, part of the response by the food services director really jumped out at me as yet another example of what's wrong with our approach to food today in general.  That was:

"In our current 'Select Items' bid, we are seeking additional breakfast items that are high in iron and meet calorie requirements.  Bid responses will be tabulated in December and we could see these new items on menus as early as February, replacing the need for a cracker item."

That's right folks.  When it comes to institutionalized (and Government-sponsored) food nutrition programs, menu planning, or in this case, the options offered at the a-la-carte line, comes down to purely a numbers game.  Nothing more, nothing less.  An RFP goes out for something like, "A breakfast food item with approximately 100 calories and N miligrams of iron."  If the only qualifying item that comes back in the bids is a package of cookies, those end up on the tray.  Plain and the numbers and by the book.  Little or no thought goes into whether it's an appropriate choice to offer.

The really sad part is that the same attitude is making its way into the grocery stores and into our cupboards.  Wait.  Who am I kidding?  It's been there in various forms for's just worse now than ever.  Want proof?  How about the "one serving of whole grain" Froot Loops?  How about the new WhoNu? Cookies, claiming, "As much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal.  As much Vitamin C as a cup of blueberries," and so on?  How about Kashi with their, "As much protein as an egg," campaign?  Is fortification of food really justification to eat dessert as your breakfast or lunch?

Why am I reminded of the scene in Wall-e with the people loafing around on mobile carts plugged into multimedia all day sipping away on "nutritious" slurpees?

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