Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Food Fight: Anyone who works in public relations for a food and/or beverage company needs to take a look at Bill Saletan’s recent article at Slate: Junk-Food Jihad. (My favorite line: “It’s not our dependence on foreign oil that’s killing us. It’s our dependence on vegetable oil.”)

The first lawsuits against fast-food companies drew howls of derision from even liberal commentators, but Saletan makes a pretty convincing case that any complacency on the part of companies responsible for “unhealthy” foods would be a mistake, and lays out a pretty convincing scenario under which such companies could see their marketing activities and their sales pretty seriously constrained.

Saletan says the junk food police should make three arguments: “First, we should protect kids. Second, fat people are burdening the rest of us. Third, junk food isn't really food.”

The first stage of the war on unhealthy food will be “a rout,” he says. “Targeting kids is a familiar way to impose morals without threatening liberties. You can have a beer or an abortion, but your daughter can’t. The conservative aspect of this argument is that you’re entitled, as a parent, to decide what your kids can do or buy…. The liberal half of the argument is that kids are too young to make informed choices. In this case, it’s true.”

The next stage of the argument will be tougher for the industry’s critics, but success is not unthinkable. “To keep junk food away from adults, fat-fighters will have to explain why obesity is the government’s business…. Their main argument is that obesity inflates health-care costs and hurts the economy through disability and lost productivity.”

And finally: “If the fat-fighters win that argument, they'll reach the final obstacle: the sanctity of food. Food is a basic need and a human right. Marlboros won’t keep you alive on a desert island, but Fritos will. To lower junk food to the level of cigarettes, its opponents must persuade you that it isn’t really food. They’re certainly trying. Soda isn't sustenance, they argue; it's “liquid candy.” Crackers aren't baked; they're “engineered,” like illegal drugs, to addict people.”

If health advocates can convince people that some products as unnatural chemical compounds rather than natural foods, all bets are off.

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