LaDonna Redmond, senior program associate for the Food and Justice Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which favors solutions such as local farmers markets and community gardens, didn’t mince words in an interview with the Nation: “Wal-Mart is using the term ‘food desert’ as a Trojan horse to get into our communities and bring about more corporate control of our food system.”
Getting Healthier Fare at Red Lobster and Beyond
Another corner of the food sector to heed the first lady’s call is the world of chain restaurants, which are changing how they approach their youngest customers. Mrs. Obama met with members of the National Restaurant Association in 2010, pleading with them to provide healthier options. Since last July, 68 restaurant companies — including Burger King, McDonald’s, Chili’s, Friendly’s, Chevys, Outback Steakhouse and IHOP — have started offering healthier kids’ options.
Last fall, Darden restaurants — parent company of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse, the Capital Grille and Seasons 52 chains — also committed to doing better nutritionwise. Across its entire restaurant line, the company made a fruit or vegetable the default side dish, and 1 percent milk the default beverage (french fries, soda and other drinks by request only) for all children’s meals. Darden also pledged to reduce the calories and sodium in its entire menu by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over a 10-year period.
The promise to adjust its menus at an unspecified date in five and 10 years, however, seems like an awfully long lead time. Meyer suggests that restaurants are trying to balance pressure to change with holding on to the high-calorie fare that’s most popular. “I think the food industry’s been trying for a while to respond to the advocates who say that this needs to happen,” said Meyer, “and yet still keep their profits high.”
Putting Food Facts Up Front
Last year the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, which represent about 70 percent of food and beverage products — launched a new front-of-package nutrition-labeling system. The change, which lists the basics of calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars per serving, hit the marketplace in late 2011 and will continue to grow through 2012.
Yet while the GMI and FMI insist that they acted in response to the Let’s Move! campaign’s call to help consumers make healthier choices, the White House distanced itself from the move. In a statement, the Obama administration vaguely echoed the concerns of critics who say that the label’s context-free numbers are still confusing, and who suspect that the food industry is trying to bypass the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing work to develop consumer-friendly guidelines for food and beverage labels: