as surprised as I was to learn that Del Monte Foods, which was by taken over by private equity firms led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, has nothing to do with fresh fruit and produce (that's a company
called Fresh Del Monte)? KKR, which is as savvy as they come when it comes to cash flow, is putting its $4 billion bet on canned and processed foods for man and beast.
Del Monte Foods derives more than 50% of its revenue from the booming business of what can only be described as junk food for pets -- Milk Bone dog biscuits, Meow Mix, something called Snausages. If
you don't want to know what goes into a sausage, I'm betting you really don't want to know what goes into a Snausage.
Then I passed a TV that was running a repeat
episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." A defense attorney grilled a morbidly obese African American teenager about how and what he ate growing up. I bet you can predict the responses: Sugary
cereal in boxes made enticing by the toys inside. Fast food because mom, exhausted from working two jobs, didn't have time to cook. Soda pop. Pizza. The teenager's murder charge may or may not have
been ripped from the headlines, but the larger crime was. We are eating and drinking ourselves to debilitating diseases and early deaths.
A study released earlier in the week
finds that about 27 million people in the U.S. -- about 8% of the population -- have diabetes. It projects that more than 50% of all Americans will have diabetes or pre-diabetes by 2020 if we don't
radically alter the way we eat and exercise. About 95% of the cases will be Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented by what we eat and how we live, according to the report prepared by the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization. The cost to
society is estimated to be $3.35 trillion over the next decade.
I was soon heartened by a story about the ascendancy of the nutritious sweet potato in the New York Times. But my good feeling that consumers were driving the likes of ConAgra to ramp
up yam production was mitigated somewhat when I read that sweet potato fries were driving most of the demand. Any joint that's cooking sweet potatoes in a deep fryer isn't doing any favors for its
customers' arteries. Let's hope that someone out there starts spreading a "roasted not fried" message with the same zeal usually devoted to how much ground meat is stuffed between two white-bread
On Saturday, a copy of Mizzou, the alumni magazine for the
University of Missouri, where my wife went to journalism school, arrived. On the cover is an old-fashioned milk bottle that reeks of wholesomeness simply because, I'm thinking, glass had mostly given
way to waxed-paper cartons by the time the phrase bovine somatotrophin (bST) started getting kicked around. A
headline where the label for Elsie the Cow might have gone promotes a package on "The Future of Food."
first story, "Pasture-izing Milk," profiles a recent Mizzou grad who is building a daily operation the
old-fashioned way. He's feeding his cows primarily by moving them from pasture to pasture rather than serving up some grain cocktail no bovine has ever encountered in nature.
"Tackling Obesity" is a moving tale about an overweight 15-year-old's determined battle to avoid
the fates of her father, who died of a heart attack at 46, or older sister, who had gastric bypass surgery when she approached 400 pounds. With humor and grit, Teyonna Ruppert stays away from
favorites like pepperoni pizza rolls and sugar-laden ice cream and instead eats healthy foods like whole-wheat pasta, which she nonetheless describes as tasting like "rocks inside a noodle."
Which takes us to the "Healthy Ice Cream" story. Missouri University food chemist Ingolf Gruen and his colleague are trying to add things that are good for us -- such as probiotics -- to
the foods that we already crave. As James Thurber would aver, you can add all the good stuff you want to something like broccoli or spinach, but
what good does it do if nobody eats it?
Missouri scientists warn that consumers must beware of marketers' slogans that just make things sound good, however, like Activia's
Bifidus regularis. No doubt, the Wonder Bread School of Inflated Promises is alive and well and somewhat working.
But I wonder if marketers can just sprinkle crackers
with olive oil and sea salt and tell us the trans fats are gone for much longer. Truth is, for the past 150 years, the big marketing bucks have disproportionately gone to products that haven't proved
to be very good for our bodies or our planet in the long run, however much they gratify in the short term. Tobacco. Beer and booze. Fast and prepared food. Cars and planes running on internal
I think the days of that kind of advertising is headed to a rapid decline. Not because it's not still very enticing, clever and effective. Not because digital media
are stealing eyeballs from mass media. But because we're finally facing the reality, to riff on Neal
Postman, that we're abusing ourselves to death. Teenagers should be worrying about what to wear to the prom, not about whether they'll need gastric bypass surgery.
What do you think?