Maia's post below has a go at both my food blog post "Not Fit to Eat" and the Child Poverty Action Group's Facebook page response to it. There's some serious wire-crossing going on in what she and some of the commenters say.
I hadn't seen the CPAG promo for my post and I think the wording isn't the best, because it can seem to shift the focus away from the main point. But a group that works so hard just to get a better deal for kids doesn’t deserve condemnation over this either.
The problem that I and the woman who sent me the info have with a dairy marketing the pack of food shown as a "school lunch" has nothing to do with "promoting a diet mentality", nor with “seeing food in terms of morality”.
The point here is how commercial interests - from giant Coke Inc to the corner dairy - make it so easy and (apparently) cheap to buy food and drink which does not meet kids' needs even on one school day (as Maia agrees), let alone lots of days. And how even the very modest moves by the previous government to do something useful and non-parent-blaming about school lunches have now been scrapped. (Read Carol’s comment on Maia’s post – thanks, Carol.)
It was in that context that I headed my post, "Not fit to eat", and I stand by it: as a school lunch, this pack is not fit for kids to eat.
There’s plenty of useful debate to be had around this issue, but the trouble with the “diet mentality” and “food morality” labels is that they rule out even raising it. And that’s exactly what those who profit from making and selling such packs want. I hope no astute marketeers have found Maia’s post or some of the comments below it, because it's a textbook example of the best way to silence any objection whatsoever to what they're doing.
It’s brilliant PR. Just tell people that there's absolutely nothing wrong with any kind of food, ever. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is either a foolish tool of the meddling nanny state, or an anti-feminist diet freak hellbent on taking all the fun of food away and insisting that no one should ever eat Oreos, only oranges.
Yes, cheap calories are better than no calories. But this is New Zealand, and no or not enough calories is not the main problem. Coke is cheap because it’s incredibly cheap to make – the main cost is making sure as many people as possible keep drinking more of it. And don’t tell me that this insults consumers, by seeing them as helpless sheep at the mercy of advertisers. The campaigns run because they work – but only because they’re combined with cheapness, especially where food money is scarce.
Reading Maia’s post, I kept seeing an odd parallel with the arguments against hiking the price of “liquor” (there’s no catchall word that doesn’t sound wowserish, is there – why is that?). It’s one of the main things the recent commission recommended, along with curbs on promotion. But the industry has lobbied tooth and nail to stop those two things happening, just as Coke and Co lobby tooth and nail to stop anything effective being done about kids’ food. And the government has fallen obediently into line.
Something is at least being done about strongly alcoholic, ready-to-drink lolly-water. Or is this move too, as I’m sure the industry wants us to think, just another dreadful example of finger-wagging do-gooders intent on “seeing food in terms of morality”?