By Bernie Pacyniak
Editor in Chief
It was one of those days at the office, you know, a grind. Anyway, when I typically arrive home from work, after battling ninnies who drive while speaking on their cell phones ― or worse yet ― texting as opposed to concentrating on the road, I’m looking for some down time.
Thus, no internet, no phone calls, just some soothing jazz, a glass of wine (or two) and preparations for a lovely meal. You can imagine how agreeable I am on the phone when a fundraiser (no matter how noble their cause) tries to disturb my peace. Or worse yet, those earnest college students trying to sell subscriptions who knock on my door.
As it so happened the other day, I hear a knock on my door. Immediately, the steam began to build within me, just like those classic cartoon characters. As I approached the door, I nearly did a double take. At first
glance, it looked like a younger version of my son, who’s 32.
Alright, so I’ll try to be nice, I told myself.
Seconds after I opened the door, thinking I’m letting hot and humid air into my house listening to this young man, I caught the words “Stop subsidizing child obesity.”
Okay, this is a subject I’m familiar, so I listened to his spiel. He began throwing out some names, names I’m also familiar with, such as Cargill, ADM, Monsanto.
Well, the gist of his argument was that the government is subsidizing these agricultural giants, thus allowing them to produce “corn syrup and trans fats” cheaper than real food. According to Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)’s pamphlet (I asked the lad to give it to me so I could ponder this issue more; see, I was nice), “since 1985, the federal government has spent more than $245 billion on subsidies that artificially lower the cost of high-calorie, high-fat foods.”
The pamphlet included a chart that illustrated how fresh fruits and vegetables had risen 40% during the past 15 years while soft drinks had dropped more than 20%.
There are so many things wrong with this campaign I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with agricultural subsidies, which can be both beneficial as well as self-servicing, as in our subsidized sugar policies.
But to lump all government agricultural subsidies as a part of a conspiracy to fatten up our youngsters is not only a stretch, it’s downright ludicrous. Illinois PIRG goes on to say “taxpayers would save $26 billion over the next five years” if those subsidies were eliminated.
The group then poses the question, “Why are Twinkies cheaper than carrots?” Well, could be that through the years, through innovation, automation and lean manufacturing, the baking community has squeezed costs of the process.
Moreover, as I recall, food costs in America as part of a household budget rank as one of the lowest in the world. It saddens me that such simplistic arguments are coming from what is probably a bona fide public interest group.
Nevertheless, it serves as a warning to our industry, which has encountered criticisms about its efforts with child labor issues in cocoa-growing countries as well as consumption of sweets by children and obesity.
I sense that confectionery companies, large and small, will be subject to more attacks in the future. Most likely, these attacks will be from organizations that have only the best intentions.
But as we all know, the road to perdition is paved with good intentions. It’s critical that we who work in the industry have a firm handle on a broad range of issues, from child labor efforts to agricultural programs, from nutritional labeling to marketing to children, from artificial colors to traceability.
Moreover, transparency must reign supreme on how companies and individuals conduct themselves. In this manner, we can ― through enlightened discussion ― remind those attacking us that conspiracy theories best work in Hollywood films and not complex and serious issues.
By the way, the movie JFK happened to be on the tube that night. Saw only the first part, so I can’t say Oliver Stone has yet convinced me about the government conspiracy. Good flick, though.