Junk Food Four Meals a Day – Yum!

Now we’re being told by Taco Bell that everyone needs to start eating a fourth meal after dinner

OPINION – June 20, 2012 -- You may not know the Yum! Corporation, but you know its subsidiaries – Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. These franchises also have a lifetime contract to serve Pepsi drinks at almost all their restaurants.

You also know the results of their products, along with the other junk food and soft drink sellers – an obesity problem in the U.S. that has reached crisis proportions. Americans are now gobbling and guzzling an average of 2,700 calories a day (individual needs vary, but a rough average for optimal health should be around 2,000 a day for adults) and obesity rates are approaching a mind-boggling 40%. It’s no wonder, when Pizza Hut comes out with a cheeseburger-stuffed pizza and KFC peddles its “Double Down,” a sandwich that has bacon, cheese and instead of bread, slabs of deep-fried chicken. My arteries ache just
thinking about it.

Health be damned, Yum! has also dreamed up an ingenious way to fatten its bank account while fattening our waistlines even further – the Fourthmeal from Taco Bell. All over TV, we’re being told that “Everyone is a fourth mealer – some just don’t know it yet” and “Sometimes the best dinner is after dinner.”

For David Sirota’s excellent article on Yum’s attempts to make a bad situation worse, click here.

Unfortunately for world health, the targeting of kids for fast food doesn’t stop at U.S. borders. PBS, which had a recent series on junk food and obesity, filed this report on the extra pounds Coke, Pepsi, McDonald’s, etc. have been adding in El Salvador.

This story has an additional twist – the increase in tooth decay caused by the sugar and starches in junk food and soft drinks. Already, many El Salvadorans don’t practice basic tooth care and lack access to dentists. But the food has made it worse – much worse. Dr. Karen Sokal Gutierrez, a veteran of working in El Salvador had pictures of kids from 30 years ago with healthy teeth. Now, she noted, “Years later, when I go into a village and the kids would come flock around us and hug us and smile, that’s when I saw, oh, my God, their teeth are all black and rotten. I have never seen this before. What happened?”

What happened is the upside-down effects of globalization, where processed tortilla chips from the U.S. actually cost less than a locally-cooked tortilla. This isn’t a “free market.” This is a direct effect of corporate welfare in the form of corn subsidies to American agribusiness.

And Speaking of Agribusiness . . .

It’s gearing up for the mother of all genetically engineered (GE) food labeling battles in California where labeling proponents have qualified an initiative for the November ballot. It’s difficult to over-estimate the significance of this one vote. If Kraft, Duncan Hines, Pepsi, Coke and all the other companies that use GE food produced by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, etc. are required to label their foods, it could cause a minor revolution in food-buying in the U.S. GE soy, corn and canola are in about 75% of all processed foods. Once people realize they’re buying GE foods, many of them would opt not to, creating an enormous consumer demand for non-GE products. Just think of what that would do to Monsanto’s bottom line.

I have a fair amount of personal experience in ballot initiatives, and I was on the executive committee of the unsuccessful initiative to label GE foods in Oregon in 2002. Here’s a prediction for California – the food industry will come out with a “study” showing that passage of the labeling initiative would significantly increase costs for every Californian. They pulled this little number in Oregon, saying if labeling won every family would spend another $500 a year on food. It was total b.s., of course, as an economics professor at Oregon State pointed out, but his analysis didn’t come close to counter-acting hundreds of thousands of their slick brochures mailed to voters.

For the latest update on the campaign, click here.

Rick North is the former CEO of the Oregon American Cancer Society (1994-99) and former Project Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food (2003-2011). He retired in February 2011 to become a volunteer confronting undue corporate influence in elections and the government.

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