Promoting Food Industry Interests at the Expense of Public Health, Cultural Sensitivity, and Historical Accuracy

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune really caught my eye. It then struck a nerve, a big nerve. So much so that I decided to write a letter to the editor of the paper about the article. Sadly, it wasn’t published, but hopefully it offers a few things to think about that you find useful.

I was appalled by the Star Tribune’s misrepresentation of a food-industry PR piece as business news (“Teaching the World to Love Cereal”), which sacrificed impartial reporting on several fronts to favorably portray major food corporations. The article highlights the aspirations of a General Mills-Nestle partnership that hopes to make “Cheerios a global staple.” Sadly, the article is accompanied by a bright picture of five Nestle cereal offerings, all of which list sugar as their second ingredient and contain almost 15 grams of sugar for every 30-gram serving. There is no mention of the more than 8,000 scientific papers that find sugar culpable in one’s risk for developing chronic diseases, nor does the article mention any public health ramification to the ever-greater global consumption of sugar, which, according to the US Department of Agriculture, has increased every year since 2009.Boxes_of_General_Mills_Cereals_lg.ashx_

Beyond the irresponsibleness of helping promote unhealthy, sugary food products, the article’s paternalistic tone demeans those in other countries, especially those living in developing countries. To think that US-based companies have the solution to the world’s problems, which must then be exported, and taken up by other countries is patronizing and counter-productive. Ask any international development professional about this approach (i.e. I know best and you must adopt this approach) and they’ll likely say what actually works is the complete opposite. The most effective and sustainable solutions are those rooted in and led by local communities.

Forgoing this approach only leads to more problems. The displacement of traditional diets in many developing countries with highly processed, “Western” food “solutions” is helping fuel an unprecedented wave of chronic disease. A joint study by Harvard and the World Economic Forum placed a $41 trillion price tag on the lost economic productivity over the coming decades as a result of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Lastly, to suggest that major food corporations need to “teach” anyone in many developing countries about consuming cereals shows a total lack of understanding of what comprises most diets around the world. Cereals, which aren’t just those engineered, sugary substances in a package, but rice, sorghum, and millet to name a few, were first domesticated in Asia and Africa and currently form the foundation of diets in both regions. If anything, these cultures taught us a thing or two about cereals.

In the future, Star Tribune readers will be better served when news articles represent the entirety of an issue not the opinion of select interests.


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