Produce should claim its day of the week

08/02/2013 11:17:00 AM
Tom Karst

There are two competing impulses in the world, often wrapped in the same person. We at one time like to indulge our appetites, while in another season we forswear anything that takes us off the straight and narrow path.

In this case, I speak of the desire for decadent or unhealthy food and the urge to cleanse the diet of added sugar and “heart attack in a sack” fast food.

Given the fact that most of all of us struggle with these contrary attractions, I think the produce industry should make it easy for consumers.

I asked the question in The Packer Market this way:

Should the industry put more collective resources/marketing behind the concept of meatless Monday?

What would be the pros and cons of being more aggressive about promoting an exclusively fruit and veggie “day of the week”?

While often perceived as a recent parry from anti-meat forces, it is surprising to note that the origin of “Meatless Monday” was actually during World War I. According to a history of the movement on the website www.meatlessmonday.com, the Food and Drug Administration at the time urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort.

In particular, “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesday” were introduced to encourage Americans to do their part. The administration advertised the effort and created recipes booklets and menus in newspapers and magazines.

In time, more than 13 million families signed a pledge to observe the FDA’s national meatless and wheatless conservation days. The concept was revived in World War II, when federal officials used rationing to help feed war-torn Europe.

In 2003, Meatless Monday was reintroduced by Sid Lerner, former advertising executive turned health advocate, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. The public health awareness campaign addressed “the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption,” according to the website.

Campaigns now apply the Monday concept to a range of health behaviors including nutrition, physical activity, tobacco cessation, screenings and overall wellness, according to the website.

Schools have recently been coming on board with the concept, according to a report in the online Education Week journal.

From the story:

“The two largest school districts in California — Los Angeles Unified and San Diego — have banished meat from their elementary school lunch menus for one day each week, part of a growing trend nationwide among school districts to adopt ‘Meatless Mondays.’”

While the produce industry likely wants to stay away from the negative terminology of “Meatless Monday,” the Produce for Better Health Foundation should embrace the concept that consumers can meet all of their dietary needs from fruits and vegetables for at least one day of the week.

Given the deficit in actual consumption levels of fresh produce compared with recommended levels, the advice is well-grounded in nutritional common sense.

The industry should pick a day of the week and start to hammer the message of “all produce, around the clock” for that day.

———

Taking the concept of limiting (or encouraging) the intake of certain foods for a certain day of the week, there is new momentum afoot to put a blanket ban on the purchase of junk food with food stamp benefits.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said in a recent news release that state and local governments should be able to test pilot programs designed to promote healthier food and beverage purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

CSPI said 54 national and local health groups, as well as 19 prominent physicians and nutrition experts, called on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to allow such pilot programs, which might include curbs on purchases of soda and other sugary drinks or unhealthy foods.

The public health group noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture turned down a 2004 request from the state of Minnesota and a 2011 request from New York City to conduct pilot programs that would have excluded sugary drinks from SNAP.

Some may sigh and exclaim, “When will the nanny state end?”

The nanny state should end as soon as the government stops spending $78 billion per year on food stamp benefits for nearly 50 million people. Until then, the public health interest of taxpayers trumps notions of “anything goes.”

Given both competitive and public health criteria, produce industry advocates like the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association should actively support the ability for states to restrict the purchase of sugared soda pop (and perhaps other junk food) with food stamp benefits.

tkarst@thepacker.com

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Kristie Middleton    
Washington, DC  |  August, 02, 2013 at 04:22 PM

Thanks for the great piece about this important issue. With 50 percent of Americans saying they've heard of Meatless Monday and 18 percent saying they're participating, Meatless Monday is a great way to market eating more fruits and vegetables. From Green Giant to Campbell's Soup to Burger King, major companies have used the term to drive meat reducers to their products. If you're interested in marketing ideas, please contact The Humane Society of the U.S. at meatlessmonday@humanesociety.org.

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