In This Issue

Chutzpah Award: Fighting for the Right to Advertise to Kids


Big Food Dominates Marketing Panel


More States Would Bar Obesity Lawsuits


Appeal Gives McDonald's Lawsuit New Life


State Bills Address Junk Food in Schools


States Want Nutrition Labeling in Restaurants


In My Opinion


Guest Commentary

  Upcoming Classes

Seeking Local Stories

Quote, Unquote

“Ronald does not promote food, but fun and activity—the McDonald's experience.”


– Walt Riker, McDonald’s spokesman, defending the company’s new school-based campaign.













































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February 2005


Brief News from big food

Chutzpah Award: Fighting for the Right to Advertise to Kids

In response to a growing chorus of calls for curbs on the marketing of junk food to kids, food companies and ad agencies have combined forces to create a new lobbying group, the Alliance for American Advertising. Members include General Mills, Kellogg, and Kraft Foods, the top three advertisers of packaged food to kids, with combined annual spending on kids' ads of close to $380 million in the U.S. alone. Other alliance members include the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, two powerful trade associations in their own right. The alliance's stated purpose is to defend the industry's First Amendment rights to advertise to children and to promote self-regulation as an alternative to government restrictions, which many nutrition advocates prefer. (Editor’s note: With this move, Kraft wins a special prize for least trustworthy corporation; just one week earlier, the company promised to scale back junk food ads to children, a move that earned them much free positive media.)

Source: Wall Street Journal, 01/26/05

Big Food Dominates Marketing Panel

Last month, the Institutes of Medicine (a U.S. government advisory body) hosted a “Workshop on Marketing Strategies that Foster Healthy Food and Beverage Choices in Children and Youth.” Featured speakers included executives from Kraft, General Mills, Pepsico, and McDonalds, as well as television and advertising representatives. Only one of the workshop's ten participants (from the Kaiser Foundation) had been publicly critical of the food industry's marketing practices. "It is disappointing that a prestigious and influential medical organization would rely so heavily on industry perspectives," said Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint of the Judge Baker Children's Center. "A panel on which the majority of participants earn their livelihood from child-directed advertising is going to start with the assumption that marketers have the right to target children.” While the event was open to the public, workshop organizers had to turn away many disappointed would-be attendees due to a full capacity of 200; even the 2,000 live webcast slots were quickly filled (much to the chagrin of this editor).

Food executives were eager to tout their responsible business practices. For example, McDonald’s is sending mascot Ronald McDonald into elementary schools to push fitness, as an “ambassador for an active, balanced lifestyle.” But this announcement may have backfired, as Malena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald’s chief creative officer said that some of McDonald’s Happy Meals advertising is aimed at children at young as age four and uses “Sesame Street-like” characters. “I thought it hurt them more than it helped,” said Margo Wootan, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Institute’s congressionally-mandated study is due out in September.

Sources: Press release, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, 01/26/05
Washington Post, 01/28/05

Workshop PowerPoint presentations and audio will be archived at:

More States Would Bar Obesity Lawsuits

A new legislative session has brought a stepped-up effort by the restaurant industry to shield itself from legal liability. At least 19 state legislatures will introduce bills this year to bar obesity-related lawsuits. Fourteen states have already passed such bills while the federal version (passed by the House last March) remains pending in the Senate. In states all across the country including North Dakota, Wyoming, Virginia, and Maryland, bills are pending that could soon become law. Even in states such as California, where a similar bill was defeated last year, industry is trying again. Late last month in Virginia, the House passed (73-23) the “Litigation Reduction and Consumer Personal Responsibility Act.” Paula Grosinger, director of the North Dakota Trial Lawyers Association says the legislation introduced in her state, which also shields farmers and ranchers, is unnecessary. "It's been grossly overstated that we have a rash of frivolous lawsuits. This is a solution searching for a problem,” she said.

Sources: Washington Times, 01/27/95
Associated Press, 01/08/05

National Restaurant Association website

Fighting Back: Policy Victories and Other Good News

Appeal Gives McDonald’s Lawsuit New Life

The lawsuit filed in New York in 2002 on behalf of two teenagers against McDonald’s that set off a rash of legislation to ban similar litigation has been sent back to trial court. The Second Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals said the lower court judge erred in dismissing parts of a lawsuit because the plaintiffs failed to show a link between their health problems and McDonald’s products. The appellate court said that such evidence wasn’t needed to file the case, but instead should be allowed to be produced as part of the pre-trial discovery process. In a statement, McDonald's called the ruling "strictly procedural" and said: "The key issue remains personal responsibility, and making informed choices. We are confident this frivolous suit will once again be dismissed." Richard Daynard, of the Public Health Advocacy Institute and Northeastern University, said the court’s ruling shows that these cases should be taken seriously and are anything but frivolous. He told Informed Eating: “The court understood that the legal process needed to be given a chance to operate and discover whether or not this particular case has merit.”

Source: Wall Street Journal, 01/26/05

State Bills Address Junk Food in Schools

Showing admirable determination, state legislatures all over the country are gearing up to once again battle the mighty food and beverage industries to rid schools of unhealthy products such as soda, candy, and chips. States with school nutrition bills currently pending, or that may re-introduce bills that failed last year, include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Massachusetts. Arizona’s bill would ban candy, gum and soft drinks during the school day, but got watered down in committee with an amendment to exempt high schools. (That should sound familiar to those of us in California.) Even with the compromise, the bill faces strong opposition from the beverage and vending-machine companies. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is backing the legislation, although he wants to see it changed back to include high schools. "Right now, the field is dominated by people who sell candy and soda," he said.

In Kentucky, both high schools and middle schools would be exempt from legislation to ban sodas there. For the fourth straight year, state lawmakers are trying to pass a bill to improve school nutrition standards. This year's bill would bar school vending machines and cafeterias from selling products with more than 40 percent sugar, and foods, such as potato chips, that contain more than 6 grams of fat per serving. Water, 100-percent fruit juice, and lowfat milk would have to comprise at least 75 percent of drinks offered in middle and high school vending machines. This time, health advocates say they see a glimmer of hope, despite the compromises. Dietitian Carolyn Dennis, legislative co-chair of Kentucky Action for Healthy Kids is realistic. She told Informed Eating: “After four years of fighting this battle, I'd be thrilled to get the ban on sodas in elementary schools through, but we're certainly going to fight for other regulations as well.”

Sources: The Arizona Republic, 02/10/05
Lexington Herald-Leader, 02/04/05

States Want Nutrition Labeling in Restaurants

Adding to the flurry of legislative activity at the state level, eight states have introduced bills this session to require nutrition labeling by chain restaurants. (Those states are: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.) New Jersey’s bill would require all eateries with more than 20 locations to list the calorie count, sodium content, and amount of fat in all regular dishes. Those numbers would be posted on menus or displayed next to prices on menu boards. The New Jersey Restaurant Association, which is lobbying hard against the measure, called the proposed rules unnecessary. But Claudia Malloy, director of grass-roots advocacy for Center for Science in the Public Interest, the group pushing for such bills around the nation, says that most chains don’t provide the information or make it too difficult to find. "Without nutritional information it's difficult to compare your options and make an informed choice," she said.

A similar bill in Maine is facing strong opposition by restaurant chains such as Applebee's, Denny's, McDonald's, and Subway. They testified that the regulations would be expensive and onerous, and would put their businesses at a competitive disadvantage because it requires only chain restaurants to comply. (Editor’s note: this is ironic, because the main purpose of restricting the bill to large chains is so it won’t hurt small businesses.) State Rep. Sean Faircloth first introduced a bill on menu labeling two years ago. In testimony, Faircloth likened the measure to a freedom-of-information request from consumers. They should have an easy way to find out how many calories are in the food they order at restaurants, he said. "Sometimes, the salad has more calories than the cheeseburger.”

Sources: Today’s Sunbeam, 02/03/05
Morning Sentinel, 02/11/05
National Restaurant Association website

IN MY OPINION, By Michele Simon

Why Uncle Sam Won’t Tell You What Not to Eat
Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2022

In January, the federal government released its Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Updated once every five years based on the latest science, the 70-page document purports to tell us which foods are best to eat to stay healthy. While touted as the strongest nutrition recommendations yet, what went unsaid speaks volumes about why Americans continue to be left in the dark when it comes to eating right. Most media reports focused on the guidelines' emphasis on weight loss, especially the recommendation to exercise daily. But why is a document that's supposed to be about food talking about exercise? Yes, exercise is important to good health, but so are a number of other lifestyle factors, such as sufficient sleep and not smoking, yet those aren't mentioned.

Emphasizing weight loss conveniently puts the onus for dietary change on the individual and avoids talk of reining in the food industry's multibillion-dollar marketing budget for unhealthy foods. "It's just common sense," explained outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. "Eat less, exercise more," he cheerfully instructed Americans. Stressing weight loss also avoids the much harder job of telling Americans the truth about specifically what not to eat. The government's recommendations only tell part of the story; the politically expedient part.

Read full article:


Doritos v. Snails: A Generational Food Story, by Johnny Steele

For years I’ve wondered why my parents were so unhealthy.  Now, after looking more closely at what they eat, I wonder how they're still alive. My father is not in good health and hasn’t been for many years. Now in their mid 70’s, he and my mother have been gobbling handfuls of pills for a variety of ailments for well over a decade. Every week brings new prescriptions, visits to yet another doctor, and the latest diagnosis. On the other hand, my grandfather, who as a young man emigrated from Naples, was healthy his entire life. Gennaro Nuzzo never filled a prescription, was seldom ill, and never saw the inside of a hospital until just before his death at 81.

Certainly there could be many reasons for the disparity in health between my parents and my grandfather, but for me one factor stands out above the rest: Unlike my parents, my grandfather never ate anything processed or packaged. Okay, maybe a Stella Doro cookie at Christmas, but that was it. He started each day by cracking a raw egg into a glass of homemade wine and slurping it down, a sort of Italian version of the Instant Breakfast. Much of what he ate came from his garden (he even ate the snails) and the rest he purchased from Mr. Inzarrelo’s produce truck. My parents on the other hand, subsist largely on packaged food. Occasionally they may have healthy fare, but for the most part it’s partially hydrogenated this and disodium guanylate that. The list of ingredients on one frankensnack (3D-Jalapeno Popper Chips, or some such) I recently caught them eating was 37 lines long and bore no relation to anything found in nature.

Moreover, my grandfather never saw the inside of a fast food joint, or few restaurants of any kind; but my parents regularly dine at fast food eateries. (Perhaps ‘dine’ is too grand a word to describe the depressing act of eating out of waxed paper under florescent lights to the strains of 'Would you like fries with that?') If my parents don’t see the inside of a fast food restaurant it’s only because they are sitting at the drive up window instead. I must admit my diet falls somewhere between that of my parents and grandfather. But I hope to move gradually towards my grandfather’s healthier lifestyle. Although I believe I’ll skip the snails, thank you.

Johnny Steele is a humorist, speaker, and broadcast personality. Visit him at, predictably enough: (Check out his Valentine's Day show in the Bay Area.)

Upcoming Classes: Series on the Politics of Food

If you’re at least 50 years old and live near Berkeley, California, you can sign up for a series of seven interactive classes this spring on the politics of food. Taught by CIFC’s Michele Simon and hosted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, topics include the politics of nutrition advice and genetically-engineered food. For details, visit: 

Michele Simon is available for lectures and workshops in your community and can speak on a variety of food policy topics. For more information, visit:

Seeking Local Stories of Battling Big Food

CIFC is currently gathering stories at the state and local levels where the food industry is attempting to block nutrition advocacy efforts. Many states, cities, and counties around the country are trying to pass nutrition-related legislation (e.g., limiting junk food in schools or imposing soda taxes), but the food industry is lobbying hard to either stop or curtail these efforts. If you know about any specific fights, we want to hear about them. We are especially interested in stories related to soda contracts in schools. Please contact Michele Simon at: or (510) 465-0322. Thank you!

The Center for Informed Food Choices in a nonprofit organization that advocates for a whole foods, plant-based diet and educates about the politics of food.

CIFC is proud to make Informed Eating available as a free public service. Unlike industry publications, it is not underwritten by corporate sponsors. We would greatly appreciate your support for this newsletter and our other important policy work. For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit or call (510) 465-0322.

Informed Eating is written and edited by Michele Simon. You may contact her at Michele Simon is available for lectures and workshops in your community and can speak on a variety of food policy topics. For more information, visit:


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