Much of what was presented at this year's Newspaper Food Editors Conference was controversial, with many of the food companies on the program taking the opportunity to present their side of the arguments that continue to plague their industry.
Others preferred to steer clear of confrontation, however, presenting noncontroversial subjects such as cooking demonstration, metric conversion or kitchen aids for the disabled.
Possibly the most interesting information imparted in a week-long series of morning afternoon and evening meetings in Chicago was found in statistics dealing with women in the work force. While 51 per cent of all women in this country work, the figure jumps to 75 per cent for those under 35. This has a far-reaching impact on the food industry, because it means an increasing number of women have more money than time. Their families eat out more and buy more ready-to-eat food.
Perhpas the most startling information came from Kellogg's, one of the largest manufacturers of sugar-coated breakfast cereals. Gary Costley, the company's vice president for public affairs, was asked how a cereal that contained more than 50 per cent sugar could be called a cereal.
Costley said: "The candid answer is - to meet a lifestyle. Maybe we should quit calling them breakfast cereals and call them breakfast foods. These are mini-meal replacements. We don't care whether it's grain or not. Really, cornflakes aren't grain; they cannot be substituted for other grains such as macaroni and bread."
Costley also said, "Reducing the amount of sugar in these products is a very tricky business."
Consumer activists have been complaining that foods containing grain and substantial amounts of sugar should not be called cereals. Dr. Jean Mayer has suggested that they be called "candy-coated vitamin pills."
Costley went on to say that the company would like to take BHT, a preservative used to prevent rancidity of fats and oils, out of the cereals, "because of what people think about it, not because we think it is dangerous."
For meat eaters, there was encouraging news from the National Live Stock and Meat Board: an abundant supply of beef and pork is predicted at least into the first few months of 1978. This should translate into little or no increase in prices.
However, most of the Meat Board's program was taken up with an explanation of why there is no proof that reducing the consumption of beef would improve the health of the population.
The speaker of the Kraft program said the public is "incorrect" in its suspicions that "supermarket chains (are) price gougers." General Mills had a speaker who told the audience that nutrition cannot be taught through advertising.
Other companies, however, offered information that consumer activists, who are often their antagonists, might find quite cheering. The president of Beech-Nut Baby Foods, Frank Nicholas, said his company has been "working on taking the sugar out of its baby food for three years." Questioned about when Beech-Nut would eliminate sugar from all its products, Nicholas said "in less than three years." He said the company has "dropped cookies, teething biscuits and meat sticks," because they contain sugar.
Another baby-food company on the program, Gerber, said it would start to "open date" its products soon. John Suerth; the chairman of the company, told a reporter that, under pressure from consumer activists, the company had removed two highly-sugared products from its line: Blueberry Buckle and Raspberry Cobbler.Suerth said: "We never said they were particularly nutritious or that they were had for you, either. We just said they tasted good."
Campbell's Soup devoted its time on the program to the disabled and how they can learn to manage alone in a kitchen. Campbell's is publishing a revised edition of "Mealtime Manual for People With Disabilities and the Aging." It was prepared by the Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine in New York. Liberally illustrated, the manual describes hundreds of ways to perform various kitchen tasks for people with many different infirmities, from confinement in a wheelchair to the use of only one hand.
The mannual will be available in December, at which time it may be ordered from: Mealtime Manual, Box 38, Ronks, Pa. 17572. The cost is $3.25.
Kitchen aids and appliances were on other programs as well. For small families, of which there are an increasing number, and for the energy conscious, this year there is a table-top baker large enough to hold a small casserole or a loaf cake. These appliances are being sold not only as useful for the small family but as an alternative to lighting the overn for just one dish.
Small, in another sense, was the subject of a presentation by Sara Lee. It is following the trend to light beer by marketing "light" cakes. The frozen cakes contain one-third less calories than a traditional single-layer frosted cake and are cholesterol-free. The calorie reduction has been achieved through the use of fructose, a new sweetening agent that has approximately the same number of calories as sugar but is much sweeter. Therefore less of it needs to be used. Tasters' opinions of the "light" cakes varied sharply.