Who are you calling stupid?

The Center for Consumer Freedom ran a full page ad in The New York Times last Thursday which said in huge type, “You are too stupid . . . to make good personal decisions about foods and beverages.” The ad then goes on to complain about the fact that the New York Department of “Hype” (actually the Department of Health) “has used your tax dollars to launch an advertising campaign to demonize soda,” continuing, “Food cops and politicians are attacking food and soda choices they don’t like. Have they gone too far?” It ends with the statement, “It’s your food. It’s your drink. It’s your freedom.” The group ran a similar ad in the New York Post, asking, “Big Apple or Big Brother?” and again referring to the city’s Department of Health as the Department of “Hype” for its warnings that soda leads to obesity.

So my question is, does the Center for Consumer Freedom really expect us to believes that this ad was placed by a group of citizens with grave concerns about the state of our democracy and our freedom of choice, that this is some kind of grass-roots effort to protect our basic civil rights?  I don’t think so. In fact, CCF was founded as the Guest Choice Network in 1995 by Richard Berman, executive director of the public affairs firm, Berman and Company, with $600,000 from Philip Morris to fight smoking bans. More recent donors have included Coca Cola, Tyson’s, Monsanto and Wendy’s.

Of course, Richard Berman goes to great lengths to conceal the names of the Center for Consumer Freedom’s donors. According to the Center’s website,  “Many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as contributors. They are reasonably apprehensive about privacy and safety in light of the violence and other forms of aggression some activists have adopted as a “game plan” to impose their views, so we respect their wishes.” Really? Coca Cola and Wendy’s are worried about privacy? For more information about CCF and Richard Berman, take a look at this article The New York Times ran in 2005, or even better take a look at this interview Steven Colbert did with Richard Berman on The Colbert Report.

Even more condescending is a program backed by most of America’s largest food manufacturers called “Smart Choices.” The Smart Choices program is an independent ratings system designed “to help guide consumers in making smarter food and beverage choices,” according to the Smart Choices website. These companies, like Pepsico, Kellogs, Kraft, and many others, each pay up to $100,000 a year to participate and enjoy the green check mark on some of their foods. They hope to earn their foods the status of “better than” other foods. Among the “smarter food and beverage choices” are cereals such as Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies and my daughter’s favorite “breakfast at Grammy’s house treat,” Lucky Charms. Fudgsicles also make the list as do Lunchables.  A spokeswoman for the Smart Choices program justified the inclusion of cereals such as Froot Loops with the comment that they are a better choice than doughnuts for breakfast. However, nutritionist Marion Nestle is not so sure. In her blog, Food Politics, she wrote,

Whether Froot Loops really is a better choice than a doughnut as the Smart Choices program contends, seems debatable.

If I read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list correctly, Froot Loops cereal contains:

  • No fruit
  • Sugar as the first ingredient (meaning the highest in weight–41%)
  • Sugar as 44% of the calories
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and, therefore, trans fat (although less than half a gram per serving so the label can read zero)

But with an implied endorsement from the American Society of Nutrition, which is managing the Smart Choices program, I guess none of that matters.

Okay, believe it or not, I have spent hours writing this post and must now fall back on one of my favorite quick dinners, spinach quesadillas. This recipe makes two large quesadillas enough for 2 or three people:

1 T. olive oil

1 small onion

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

a pinch of oregano

1/2 lb. spinach leaves,washed and trimmed (8 cups)

chopped cilantro

4 whole wheat tortillas

1/3 cup grated cheese

sour cream or salsa

1. Heat the oil in a wide skillet and add the onion, chile and oregano. Cook about four minutes then add the spinach. Sprinkle with a little salt and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add the cilantro. If the spinach is very wet, put it in a strainer and squeeze out the excess moisture.

2. Place a tortilla in a dry skillet, preferably cast iron or non-stick. Warm on one side, then flip. Sprinkle half the cheese on top the cover with the spinach and a second tortilla. Cook until the bottom tortilla is a little crisp then flip and cook the second side. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Cut the quesadillas into quarters and serve with salsa and sour cream if desired.

One problem I had with this recipe is that I found it very difficult to find commercially packaged wheat tortillas that complied with my rules. All of them had preservatives or partially hydrogenated something or other, so I’ve been making my own. Of course that makes this not such a quick dinner, but it the homemade tortillas do make a huge difference. Here’s my tortilla recipe:

2 C. flour

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1t. salt

2t. vegetable oil

3/4 cups lukewarm milk

Mix the flour with the salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl mix the salt, oil and milk. Add the milk to the flour and knead for about two minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Divide into 8 balls and allow to rest for another 20 minutes. One at a time, roll each ball into an 7-8″ circle and cook in a dry skillet until it starts to brown, about 30 seconds to one minute. Flip and cook the other side. Keep warm in a bowl covered in aluminum foil.

Foods with the Smart Choices checkmark include sugar-laden cereals like Froot Loops, mayonnaise and Fudgsicle bars
G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times

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