American Foodways: Is the soft drink industry ‘schizophrenic’?

Soda_Politics__Taking_on_Big_Soda__and_Winning___9780190263430__Medicine___Health_Science_Books___Amazon_com

CLICK on the cover to visit the Amazon book page.

Marketing by for-profit corporations plays a big role in American foodways, influencing what we eat and what we drink—and the state of public health. The giant soft drink industry is a prime example, where millions are spent to promote the consumption of sugary beverages despite the correlation with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. At the same time, soft drink companies promote and support public health.

It’s a “schizophrenic industry”? That’s the question raised by nutrition expert Marion Nestle.

Do you agree?

Nestle’s new book Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (And Winning). She was interviewed yesterday on The Diane Rehm show. Nestle is a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. This is her view of the industry:

“It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all rolled into one. The wonderful Dr. Jekyll is interested in public health, is interested in making products that will reduce the problems … of obesity and so forth and help things in schools, while the Mr. Hyde is working behind the scenes to lobby against any public health measure that suggests drinking less soda or anything else that’s going to improve health.”

For example, the soft-drink industry funds research on public health, but this research links the obesity epidemic to the lack of exercise, not to the consumption of soft drinks. A systematic review of scientific articles on soda consumption and obesity documented a strong bias in the conclusions of these articles, based on whether the research was funded by the soft drink industry or not.

Meanwhile, we know that Americans are changing their consumption patterns when it comes to soda. As I mentioned Monday, soda tops the list of foods that Americans now try to avoid. A dozen years ago, only 41% of Americans tried to avoid soda in their diets. Now, reports Gallup, that figure is up twenty percentage points to 61%. That’s a big change in a short time.

Does advertising and marketing influence your food and beverage choices?

Do you support restrictions on soft drink advertising?

How about a tax to reduce consumption?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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American Foodways: Is sugar in EVERYTHING?

USDA report on US food consumption

Click on this image from the USDA to download a PDF of the report on food consumption in the U.S. over a 35-year period.

For the past 30 days, I conducted a personal experiment: I eliminated all sugar from my diet, except sugar that occurs naturally in fruit. Eliminating all sugar proved to be much harder than I expected, but not because I lacked the will to avoid sugar. Rather, I learned that sugar is in so many products on the supermarket shelves that I had to radically change my diet to avoid it.

Is sugar in everything?

Case in point: My son is allergic to peanuts so we don’t have the legume or the butter made from it in our home. Instead, we eat nut and seed butters. Our local supermarket features 20 kinds of butter—different nuts, different seeds—creamy or crunchy. Every single one has added sugar. Only in a specialty store did I find a seed butter that was, well, only seeds. No sugar at all.

How about ketchup? Sugar in all varieties in the supermarket. The specialty store carried one item without added sugar.

Eliminating sugar meant I could skip entire aisles in the supermarket. Generally, only the aisles around the store’s perimeter offered foods without added sugar (vegetables and fruits, meats, fish, chicken, diary, etc.)

All this got me wondering: If sugar is added to so many foods, what’s happened to our food habits?

Americans are consuming more sugars in 2005 than in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the consumption of refined cane and beet sugars actually has decreased. During the same time, the availability and consumption of corn sweeteners has skyrocketed: a 387% per capita increase. High-fructose corn syrup is the main sugar additive that accounts for the increase. And, the biggest user of high-fructose corn syrup is the soft drink industry. Why? Because it’s cheaper than other sugars.

I don’t drink soda, so I didn’t have to eliminate this source of sugar from my diet. Nonetheless, my sugar-free regime taught me that sugar isn’t in everything—just almost everything.

Want the skinny on sugar? This Harvard report might help.

Has your sugar consumption increased over time?
Do you regulate your sugar intake?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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American Foodways—Try a Quiz? Ever bribe someone for a table at a restaurant?

How_Much_Do_You_Know_About_National_Dining_Habits__Take_Our_Quiz_-_Zagat

CLICK THIS ZAGAT IMAGE to visit the Zagat site and test your knowledge in this quick quiz.

Foodways are about a lot more than just food. Foodways include what we eat but also why we eat it, where we eat it, and, yes, even the practice of bribing to get a table at an exclusive restaurant.

DO YOU KNOW: In which major city are diners most likely to bribe for a table?
(Spoiler alert: I give the answer below.)

We know the answer from Zagat’s 2015 national survey of American dining habits. Zagat is the well-known guide to restaurant and hospitality ratings.

How good is your knowledge of American dining habits? Zagat offers a short online quiz to test your knowledge. The questions are about major cities and the dining habits of people living in them, such as which city’s residents eat out the most, which city’s residents are the stingiest tippers (and which are the most generous), and the bribe question. You’ll have to take the quiz to get all the answers, but I will tell you which city’s residents are most likely to use bribes to get a table.

A SAMPLE QUESTION

Here are 8 major cities. Which is the one with residents mostly likely to bribe someone to get a table at a restaurant?

Atlanta
Austin
Boston
Houston
Los Angeles
Miami
New York City
Portland

Answer: The Magic City, also known as The Gateway of the Americas and The Capital of Latin America. That is, Miami.

Are you surprised to learn that Miami leads major U.S. cities as most likely to bribe one’s way to a table at a restaurant?

Have you ever seen this practice?

Ever bribe someone for a table at a restaurant?

Ask friends to take the quiz …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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American Foodways: Is fat OK now? How about salt?

The_truth_about_fats__the_good__the_bad__and_the_in-between_-_Harvard_Health

GOOD, BAD AND UGLY: In this week’s series on American Foodways, I’m reporting on our attitudes as Americans; I’m not pushing any particular medical conclusion. Nevertheless, if you click on this image, you can read a recent Harvard report on fat.

Our foodways are influenced by scientific studies and government reports, as well as the latest dietary fads and fashions.

Sometimes food scientists change their minds, or seem to. Lately, we’ve heard that fat is OK in our diets. Have American foodways been changing as a result?

Are you less likely to avoid fat? (Care to start a lively discussion about this week’s OurValues series? Simply ask that kind of question and you’ll be off and running.)

Just to be clear, I’m not making any assertions about fats. I’m interested in the attitudes and behaviors Americans have about food, consumption, and the values people bring to bear on their choices. (For the good, bad, and ugly truths about fats, see this recent Harvard report. )

So, what about fat? Are we eating more, less, or about the same?

Today, 25% of Americans say they include fat in their diets, according to Gallup’s 2015 survey. To put this figure into perspective, that’s the highest percentage Gallup has seen since it first asked diet in 2002. Then, 16% said they included fat in their diets.

Similarly, fewer than half of all Americans (47%) say they try to exclude fat from their diets. This is the lowest try-to-exclude percentage that Gallup has seen since 2002.

Sodium__How_to_tame_your_salt_habit_-_Mayo_Clinic

AND JUST TO BE BALANCED: If you care to read more about salt, here is a Mayo Clinic overview of the levels of salt in our diets. As above, click on the image to visit the Mayo site.

What about sodium chloride?

Over a third of Americans today (35%) say they include salt in their diets, says Gallup. That’s the highest percentage since 2002. About four of ten (39%) try to exclude it; this is the lowest try-to-exclude figure since 2002. (About 25% don’t think about the salt in their diets.)

This change in salt consumption is interesting because the scientific consensus on salt has not changed over the years.

Have you changed your dietary habits about fat and salt?

Are you influenced by scientific reports about food?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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American Foodways: Which of these 15 foods do you avoid?

Ballard_Farmers'_Market_-_vegetables (1)

“WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR DINNER?” At a Seattle farmers’ market, a grower talks about the value of her vegetables with customers strolling among the booths. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons.)

HOW DO we choose what to eat? What values shape our choices? What are our collective “foodways,” these days?

Foodways are “the eating habits and culinary practices of a people, region, or historical period,” says the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Foodways reside at the intersection of culture, history, and economics—and they reveal at lot about a people. What do trends in our foodways tell us about America?

Our foodways relate to one of the 10 Core Values Americans hold dear: the pursuit of happiness. Eating is pleasurable, but sometimes we eat to manage our emotions. Indeed, “Hedonism in America: Eating ourselves to death?” is one of the all-time most popular columns to appear on Ourvalues.org since I began these columns in 2008.

So, WHICH DO YOU AVOID?

One insight into foodways is the choices people make about what to eat and what not to eat. Consider this list of 15 foods. Which of these is #1 on your list of foods to avoid? (Spoiler alert: Below I tell you what Gallup learned in a survey conducted this summer so you can compare your choices with the rest of the country.)

Beef and other red meat
Carbohydrates
Chicken and other poultry
Dairy products
Fat
Fish and other seafood
Fruits
Gluten-free foods
Grains such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice
Organic foods
Salt
Soda or pop, diet
Soda or pop, regular
Sugar
Vegetables

What did Gallup’s survey reveal about what we’d like to be eating? So, first, here’s what’s at the bottom of the avoidance list—in other words, these are the foods most Americans try to include in their diets: Fruits and Vegetables. Over 90% of Americans actively try to eat these foods. Chicken and other poultry are also in the must-eat category. More than 8 of 10 (83%) try to eat these foods.

What’s #1 on the avoidance list? Soda or pop. Type doesn’t matter. Sixty-two percent of Americans avoid diet soda or pop, and 61% avoid the regular type.

American foodways about soda or pop have been changing. Back in 2002, only 41% of Americans said they tried to avoid these beverages. Since then, increasing numbers of Americans have been avoiding soda or pop.

Many Americans also try to avoid sugar and fat, according to Gallup. But in this instance—it’s not a majority of Americans. Avoiding soda or pop is the only food that a majority of Americans say they try to exclude from their diets.

What’s at the top of your avoidance list?
Have your food choices changed over time?
What do Americans’ declining interests in soda or pop tell us about America?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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Fear of Missing Out: How about JOMO? (Joy of Missing Out!)

StayFocusd_-_Chrome_Web_Store

The StayFocusd app doesn’t mess around! There’s even a “Nuclear Option” to “NUKE” your online distractions. Click this image to learn more about the app.

Fear of missing out has always been a concern. What’s new is social media, which enables and fuels this fear. This technology-infused elevated level of fear of missing out has also given us a new acronym: FOMO.

Have you heard a related term—JOMO? It’s the joy of missing out, and it’s arisen as an antidote to FOMO. Check out this Guardian column on JOMO as just one example.

The core value of JOMO is self determination. Instead of focusing on what you’re missing, it means focusing on what you choose to do—and being present when you are doing it, whatever that may be. It’s the recognition that saying “no” to one thing is saying “yes” to something else. And, it means limiting the influence of social comparisons and what everyone else appears to be doing. JOMO is inner directed rather than outer directed.

And … There’s an App for that!

Ironically, there are apps that can help you manage your fear of missing out and find more joy in what you are doing. Among the 10 apps featured in this article, here are 3 that stood out for me:

Self-control makes your browser appear to be offline for a period of time. You can blacklist certain distracting web sites, or whitelist a few you let through.

Tracking Time is time tracking software. It a record of all your activities on the computer and produces a report that reveals what you are actually doing. You may think you spend only 15 minutes a day on Facebook, but learn that you actually spend much more!

Stay Focusd (and, no, that’s not a typo—there’s no “e” in the name) sets a time budget for using social media. Once you hit your time limit, you can’t use social media for the rest of the day. Sort of like a parent who lets you play videogames for an hour, but then homework time!

Do you find joy in missing out?

How do you manage the fear of missing out?

Would apps like these help?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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Fear of Missing Out: Are we infecting our kids with FOMO?

WikiWorld Greg Williams cartoon Helicopter Parent

Interested in the problems posed by Helicopter Parents? I wrote an earlier series about parenting that you can see by clicking on this image.

incessant fear of missing out is usually considered a problem of the young. There’s no doubt that Millennials suffer FOMO, especially those who are hyperactive users of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But many people fear missing out and parents are chief among them. In fact, futurist Faith Popcorn predicts that FOMO will become the “disorder du jour for helicopter parents.”

I may be Exhibit #1.

Last year, my son was involved in an overwhelming mix of extracurricular activities. In addition to his schoolwork, his weekly schedule included travel soccer (practices and games), martial arts, music (lessons, recitals, auditions), multiple Science Olympiad practices, and more. He had two or three events a day after school. My wife and I were continually driving him here and there. It was stressful for all of us.

We never intended for him to be over-committed. He was interested in each activity. But it was fear of missing out that created the overwhelming situation. He shouldn’t miss out, we thought, on any activity he wanted to try. What if Science Olympiad kindled an interest in science as a career? We can’t have him miss that opportunity. What if he demonstrated athletic talent and skill in soccer? He should have the opportunity to give it a shot. And music—can’t have him miss all the opportunities there. His interest in music might blossom into a career.

Social comparison fueled the fear of missing out. Other parents had their kids in many after-school activities. Wouldn’t we be remiss as parents if we didn’t do the same? We had to make sure he didn’t miss out.

Never again.

We learned our lesson. He can’t do everything. Choices have to be made. Hard as it is, he’ll have to miss out on some things.

Does FOMO influence your family decisions?
Are your kids overcommitted?
What are your guidelines for making good choices?

Start a conversation …

That’s the purpose of the OurValues project. We encourage civil discussion on important topics of the day. You are free to print out, repost and share these columns with friends. You can use them in your small group or class. Enjoy this week’s series!

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