On the way to becoming socially reprehensible

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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June 7, 2004: Whatever happened to hitchhiking? As a young man I enjoyed hitchhiking. High school basketball and volleyball games and practices were followed by “thumbing” the 21 kilometers home. For two years I hitchhiked from the family farm in northern Huron County to the college of my choice some 500 kilometres away in the United States. Was I caught up in a passing fad?

Last week at a conference in Ottawa, a talk by pollster Allan Gregg quelled that notion. Hitchhiking fell victim to North America’s growing aversion to risk. Gregg’s examples were smoking and drinking while driving. Over a quarter century a public consensus has emerged censoring these behaviors.

Gregg sees a pattern. First we label a behavior risky. Second, we study the risky behavior and propose solutions. Third, the media over-reports the risk. Finally, a public consensus emerges that brands the risky behavior socially reprehensible. There are lots of examples: driving without a seatbelt, cycling without a helmet, hockey without a face mask.

The food chain, too, has its examples. Cholesterol and trans fats expose consumers to involuntary risks – risks that are invisible and ingested. Studies are being done. Solutions are being proposed. Some media frenzy has bubbled up. And branding has begun with the emergence of cholesterol-free cooking and trans fat free snacks.

The food chain is on the cusp of a whopper of public censure. First we label a behavior risky. The promotion of junk food and fast food has been cited as a cause of obesity. Second we study the risky behavior and propose solutions. A World Health Organization report links junk food to obesity. The Ontario government calls for pop-free schools. Third, a media feeding frenzy starts, and be forewarned, it is coming to a movie theatre near you!

But wait. Let me be clear -- the emerging public censure will not be aimed at those who eat junk food. The promotion of fast food is about to become a reprehensible behavior. Morgan Spurlock’s documentary: “Super Size Me,” in theatres since early May, is a biting critique of the behavior of fast food companies.

On the surface, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary tells the story of a 30-day binge on McDonald's burgers and fries. His rules: a) eat three meals a day at McDonald's; b) eat every item on the menu at least once; and c) if asked to super-size the meal, say yes. Spurlock becomes lethargic, moody, and beefs up 25 more pounds while his doctors warn him of liver and kidney damage.

The real story is McDonald's life-long marketing strategy –- get them while they are young with clowns, toys, playgrounds to top off every fun-filled day. A promotion strategy that hooks our kids on foods linked to obesity – a reprehensible behavior.


Morgan Spurlock writes a daily blog about his experience promoting his documentary and the message that those promoting junk food are responsible for obesity: http://blogs.indiewire.com/morganspurlock/.

The World Health Organization and UN Food and Agriculture Organization report which links junk food to obesity can be found at www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/en/.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency report "Does Food Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence" can be found at www.foodstandards.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/



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