Leading the Way

I’m an old hippie. And I’m proud.
There, that’s my disclaimer.

I’ve been mulling something over and decided to do a little poking around on the Internet. Here is what’s been bugging me: Kraft Foods was a sponsor of the IACP conference.  They sent a representative to sit on a panel that discussed sustainable, local and organic food sources.  Why Kraft Foods? When I think organic, Kraft is not the first company that comes to mind. I literally cry when I see Kraft single slice processed cheese being advertised on Italian TV. 
But, I wanted to get beyond the knee jerk, “big corporation-bad” mentality. Maybe they were trying to change their tune. I wanted to be unbiased, but the memory of the lunch they served at the conference is still giving me nightmares. South Beach Diet Pasta with Chicken (no one ate it) Caesar Salad with Chicken (I haven’t tasted something so distinctly chemically flavored in a very long time) and my personal favorite: Cherry Flavored Jell-O Shots with Cool Whip.  They were cool, they bounced. You know when you are in a situation that is so bad, there is nothing left to do but laugh. We laughed all through lunch.

I found out why Kraft is so gung-ho on organic. On April 19, Kraft announced their first quarter profits, and guess who the shining star was: organic foods! The organic net revenue grew 3.6%, led by North American Snacks and Cereals and Convenient Meals. So snack bars are the $$ maker.  I’m not naïve enough to think that Kraft has the slightest interest in my eating healthy; one look at their product line is enough to convince me of that. Kraft Foods is a major, public company and they have a responsibility to their shareholders to make money.

Here’s a quote from a BusinessWeek article from March 2006: “And large companies have tried to use their muscle in Washington to their advantage. Last fall, the Organic Trade Assn., which represents corporations like Kraft, Dole, and Dean Foods, lobbied to attach a rider to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that would weaken the nation’s organic food standards by allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing, and packaging of organic foods. That sparked outrage from organic activists. Nevertheless, the bill passed into law in November, and the new standards will go into effect later this year.”

To be fair, the Organic Trade Association also represents some very grassroots, classically organic (read old hippie) companies. But synthetic food substances in my organic Balance Bar?? Hmmmm.

Organic started its marketing life as meaning healthy, whole grained and tasteless, eaten by braless women wearing Birkenstocks. Then concerned mothers, wearing Victoria Secret and Jimmy Choos starting worrying about what they were putting into their babies’ mouths. Now, large corporations are paying lip service to the principals of organic foods, so that they can cash in on the latest trend.

It’s not right. I’m worried about where my food comes from. I’m worried about how far it travels. I’m worried that all this bombardment with ‘organic’ as a marketing tool will lull people into thinking that they are eating healthy.  I’m worried that people won’t remember how to cook fresh vegetables.

And instead of compounding the confusion, wouldn’t it be nice if Kraft took a position that it genuinely wanted to promote healthy food choices and food sources?  If they took a principled stand and eliminated some of those very unhealthy, convenience snacks.  Right. I bet you want to know what I’ve been smoking.

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