President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Effete Elites Believe the Rest of us Aren't Neat

Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, Mitt Romney's recent comments that 47% of the nation are "victims" demanding ENTITLEMENTS, such as Medicare, college Pell grants (I knew Senator Pell from Rhode Island), closing the donut hole for seniors, Medicare, or nutrition programs for the poor to name just a few, either outraged you or amused you.

It seems to me that the GOP political strategy folks have divided the country between the "makers" (of goods and services) and the "takers," people like my 84 year old mother who is on Medicare and receives my deceased father's social security benefits and the poor kids from the western North Carolina mountains whose only hot meal is the one they get at school.

Nevertheless, we are as of September 1, a nation of 314,440,000 people. 82% reside in cities and suburbs. There were 155.6 million females and 151.4 million males. People under 20 years of age made up 27.3% of the U.S. population, and people age 65 and over made up 12.8%.

In Washington, D.C., a city that was designed to run in circles (for military defense), nutrition politics, in my view, have become a place where the "effete elites" do not think the rest of us are so neat. Ivory tower academicians pontificate what we should not eat or drink. Activist organizations and Trusts are a multi, multi-million dollar businesses of fear mongering marketing and fund raising. These ideologues actually believe what is right for them must be right for everyone else. NYC has a mayor hell bent to cure obesity by executive order. First soda, then politically correct  hospital food. What's next - bacon, desserts?

But what does the 47% want in terms of food? Recent consumer research from the International Food Information Council underscores what every food marketing study has been saying for the past 25  years. Consumers want their food to taste good. Ya think? Price is second and healthfulness comes in distant third.

And, just who are the "1%" of consumers who "get it" on health and wellness? They are more affluent, better educated, women.

In terms of obesity, all sides decry the present situation. That is the only point of common ground.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, consumers make 2.2 trips to the supermarket per week; spend $26.78 per transaction at a store which stocks, on average, 38,718 items.

Production agriculture and food manufacturers have long maintained that they do respond to the needs of the marketplace. There are more "better for you" products on every aisle of the store than ever before. But when you take out everything the purists want to eliminate or severely reduce like sodium, fat, sugars, including high calorie fruit juice, you either have to eat at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe or the food will be, how can I put it, less tasteful or not meeting consumer expectations or just plain lousy. Even family restaurants have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon and introduced mini deserts at a reduced price. They are a hit -- consumers now order three to four smaller offerings which add up to more calories than one normal dessert. Remember, people want their food to taste good and according to the National Cancer Institute, grain based desserts are the major source of calories in our diets.

One of the most important and basic rules of issue management is "when you find yourself in a hole. STOP DIGGING!" We are in this enormous hole of how to manage obesity.

The IFIC data suggest education plays a powerful role, but I hope most people would agree, perhaps for very different reasons, that federal efforts have failed to do decrease the number of people who are obese or overweight. Patients who see RDs for counseling, tell them in no uncertain terms, they do not want government, at any level, telling them what they can and cannot eat with their families. Yet this is exactly the course of action the purists pursue.

As a former Chief of Staff to a very progressive U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, the dairy state, I know Farm Bill and nutrition politics well. And, I am aghast to suggest the following -- maybe we should outsource a real nutrition education program, not to China, but create a large block grant for local nutrition education. Eliminate the jobs at the FNS that all the "lefties" occupy. Forget about the brand new calorie counter App USDA just announced with great fanfare. The iTunes store is filled with them. Why did USDA need to create another toy? Because their pr firm told them they needed to have one.  Forget about the Dietary Guidelines that no one but RDs understand. In addition, the RDs don't need to have the food establishments refight the same issues every five years. They know now what needs to be done. Pore the money into state efforts and let the lobbyists, educators, health care professionals, pontificators, et al, fight it out with the parents in urban warfare, state by state. It would be hard for this approach to have a worse outcome that current efforts.


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