Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Burger King rules in New Brunswick schools

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago it hit the news that Burger King has the contract to provide hot lunches for the Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick. Some people were upset that a fast food restaurant is being paid to provide children with lunches. Others defended the program by stating that the foods provided meet the provincial school nutrition policy.

Without knowing exactly what foods are being provided through this program, I would be remiss in dismissing the program as unhealthy. The article simply states that burgers can’t be served more than twice a week, fries aren’t served at all, and they also offer salads and apple sauce. I admit that these claims don’t instil me with much confidence that the offerings are truly healthy, balanced, varied choices. After all, a healthy diet isn’t the absence of the least healthy foods. Offering burgers “only” twice a week isn’t exactly a paradigm of health. Nor is apple sauce and what I’m speculating would be an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad. But that’s just speculation. Perhaps BK is offering a variety of nutritious salad options.

I do think that it’s unfortunate that the decision as to which company receives the RFP to provide schools with lunches is made based on what company can meet the guidelines for the lowest price. Instead of looking at what other hot lunch providers can offer by way of variety and nutrition above and beyond foods permitted, it’s all about the money. Far be it for schools to consider the import of good nutrition on health, behaviour, and the ability of students to learn.

The issue goes beyond the nutritional value of the food being served. Having Burger King provide the hot lunches also allows them to advertise within the schools and build life-long customers out of young children. BK may be providing the food at a lower cost than other providers could but that’s because they’re a huge corporation that sells relatively inexpensive mass-produced food products. They’re also getting more than their money’s worth by being allowed to advertise in schools in this manner, and don’t think for a second that this isn’t exactly why they’re doing it.

In an ideal world, schools would have their own cafeterias with staff and nutritious food prepared for all students at lunch. Unfortunately, our world isn’t ideal. At the very least, school boards could be ensuring that RFPs give preference to local companies rather than large multinational fast food conglomerates.

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Should food packaging take a cue from Australian tobacco?

An Australian court recently upheld a law banning logos and company advertising directly on cigarette packages. Instead, packages must now feature only graphic images of the terrible things that smoking can do to a person. Brand names must all adhere to the same font, location, and colour.

Nutrition has recently been taking cues from progress made in the tobacco industry. I wonder what would happen if branding and nutrition claims were removed from all food packages. I know that it seems a little hard to fathom but imagine going to the grocery store and not being inundated by branded food products with a myriad of nutrition claims. Imagine simple packaging with ingredients and nutrition facts, or even new and improved simplified nutrition information panels. How much easier would it be to make choices? You could still be loyal to your favourite brands but your decision would no longer be affected by claims to lower your cholesterol or boost your antioxidants.

Just to play devil’s advocate… Maybe it could even be taken a step further. There could be gruesome images of the negative effects of excess sodium for foods containing more than a certain percentage of your recommended daily sodium consumption, the same for foods high in saturated or trans-fat, nitrates, and the list goes on. I bet seeing photos of colostomy bags would drive down sales of hot dogs.