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Eating well, eating to survive

September 7, 2011
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Last week, I came across two food stories that made me stop and think about what role confectioners have in the “grand scheme” of things. The great “candy’s role in the diet and nutrition” question came about as a result of seeing Time magazine’s cover story (Sept. 12, 2011 issue) on “What to Eat Now” as well as watching a news clip on Plumpy’Nut being produced by Edesia in Providence, R.I.



By Bernie Pacyniak
Editor-in-Chief

Last week, I came across two food stories that made me stop and think about what role confectioners have in the “grand scheme” of things. I know, there’s probably a group of you thinking, “Where in the hell does he have time to wax philosophically?”

I would argue that we all do ponder a la Socrates, Plato and Aristotle occasionally, be it stuck in traffic or in the shower, but that’s an argument for another day.

The great “candy’s role in the diet and nutrition” question came about as a result of seeing Time magazine’s cover story (Sept. 12, 2011 issue) on “What to Eat Now” as well as watching a news clip on Plumpy’Nut being produced by Edesia in Providence, R.I.

First, the Time piece (forgive the pun, I just couldn’t resist). The article, written by no other that famed cardiothoracic surgeon, author, talk show host and commentator Dr. Mehmet Oz, singles out various foods as critical to a healthy diet.

“Want to get healthy?” Oz writes. “Then forget about diet soda and low-fat foods. Instead, tuck into some eggs, whole milk, salt, fat, nuts, wine, chocolate and coffee.”

Shocking. Certainly not to me. Excluding milk, all of those ranked high on my favorite foods list.

What’s shocking is that ― until recently ― many have been labeled by leading nutritionists and physicians as foods one should stay away from. As Oz goes on to point out, “Despite conventional wisdom, all of those foods and many more can be beneficial to your body.”

Personally, I’ve actually never seen any of the doc’s shows or read his books. But anyone who applies common sense to food, health and diet gets a star in my book. In the article, Oz goes on to tout the antioxidant benefits of chocolate as well as the cholesterol-lowering characteristics of nuts.

I realize that for many of you, this is neither revelational nor revolutionary. But it’s important that chocolate and its frequent sidekick, nuts, get a nationally known physician’s blessings.

That brings me to the second story that got my juices flowing: Plumpy’Nut

Perhaps some of you had already read about this minor miracle earlier; it was featured in the Sept. 2, 2010 edition of the New York Times and has received airtime from all of the major networks.

I first heard of this edible paste made of peanuts and fortified with vitamins and calories designed to save the lives of malnourished children last Tuesday. Invented by French pediatrician Andre Briend in the 1990s ―legend has it he was inspired one day by a jar of Nutella ― the product was then jointly patented by him and Michel Lescanne, a French food scientist who has founded Nutriset, the current manufacturers and licensers of Plumpy’Nut.

This rather unassuming paste packed in a foil has enabled doctors throughout famine-stricken areas to rescue starving children from near death remarkably easily and cheaply. Because children can easily squeeze the paste out of the packet, they can literally feed themselves. The product doesn’t need water or refrigeration and can transform a child from skin and bones to survival in just four to six weeks.

The Aug. 30 news report on NBCNightly focused on Edesia, a nonprofit company based in Providence, R.I., which was founded by Navyn Salem. After several years of travel, research and interviews with global health leaders, she formed the company in 2009. That same year, USAID put out a call for domestic manufacturers of food aid, which prompted Salem to establish a manufacturing operation in Providence.

Since then, the company has produced about 15 million pounds of Plumpy’Nut and three other similar products to aid malnutrition.

It would be difficult to peg a number on how many lives this product has saved; suffice it to say a case could be made for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands..

How does this relate to confectionery? Well, this anti-starvation paste mimics production and taste profiles associated with confectionery pastes. Its ingredient makeup ― peanuts, sugar, vegetable fat, skimmed milk powder ― can be found on the labels of many confections.

Mind you, I’m not saying it’s candy. Nor is this a backdoor way of promoting candy on Plumpy’Nut and Edesia’s coattails. Rather, it did make me think about what other possibilities await this industry regarding food and health.

It also made me think about confections being a treat, and their use as a treatment. Dangerous territory? No doubt, but I have a feeling we’ll see more trailblazers venturing into this landscape in the years to come.

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