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Food Industry Commercialism: Junk Food for our Culture

Today is the first ever Food Day, a national event created by our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Food Day presents a great opportunity for us to think about what we’re consuming, whether it is food itself or the Food Day Logomassive commercial culture that shapes our food choices. Because food is central to meeting our basic needs and sustaining life, we sometimes lose track of the constellation of powerful interests that surround the economics and politics of food. But food and powerful corporate interests are all too intertwined today. Moreover, the massive, profit-hungry, food industry fuels the ever-growing commercialism that afflicts our society. In pursuit of sales, food industry commercialism encroaches on our children, schools, family lives and public spaces.

Food can be a crucial source of community, health and pleasure. However, powerful marketing campaigns teach us to associate it with nothing more than brands, logos and slogans. Perhaps the most devastating results of food marketing are its insidious effects on children. Confronted with advertising for highly processed and unhealthful foods at every turn, children grow up to see food not as nutritional sustenance derived primarily from nature, but as a series of status-conferring products with flashy packaging. Indeed, the food industry has a lot riding on children’s induction into the world of food marketing. This is more obvious than ever as we watch industry lobbyists scramble to resist proposed guidelines by the Interagency Work Group on Food Marketed to Children – and, unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seems to be heeding its calls for leniency.

As we so often hear, America faces an obesity epidemic – an epidemic that includes children. Food marketing is clearly central to this devastating public health problem. A recent study shows the significant effects of junk food advertising on kids, even when their parents attempt to intervene by countering messages in ads. And the products food manufacturers are targeting kids with, from highly caffeinated energy drinks to candy masquerading as fruit, are a plague on their health and their futures.

But it is not just children’s health that is at stake when it comes to food marketing. The issue raises broader concerns about the commercial culture we live in – a culture where, increasingly, everything is for sale. Because food marketing is so pervasive, it is perhaps one of the greatest contributors to our rapid decline into a society where consumers replace citizens and citizenship is embodied by buying instead of taking action for the public good. Excessive food marketing, particularly marketing for unhealthy food that targets children or invades our public spaces, is damaging to not only our physical health but our health as a culture. In the face of ubiquitous food and other marketing, Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen, aims to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

For the past 40 years, Public Citizen has been reining in corporate power, advocating for consumer protection, curbing the spread of commercialism and ensuring that citizens have a voice in the halls of power. Most recently, as co-chair of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, Public Citizen has highlighted the importance of resisting regulatory roll back that threatens our safety – including food safety. These are all tasks that are crucial to advancing the goals of Food Day. CSPI lists the goals of Food Day as to:

  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Check out the Food Day website to find a Food Day event near you. To help resist industry’s attempts to kill healthy food marketing guidelines visit CSPI’s action page.