Angel food cake with ice cream. Balls of cream cheese softened with cream or fruit juice, rolled in chopped nuts and served with fruit.
Is it appropriate to recommend these to school children as low-calorie desserts?
The executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition activist, was telling a congressional committee last week that he doesn't think so even though the National Dairy Council offers them as such. Dr. Michael Jacobson said he believes the reason they are included in one of the Dairy Council's many publications used in the schools is simply because they contain dairy products.
He was using the National Dairy Council as an example of his claim that much of the nutrition education offered in classrooms comes from biased sources. "Many school systems have basically turned over the job of nutrition education to the Dairy Council Teachers take its workshops, use its materials and echo its messages." Jacobson said the "industry-subsidized" organization has "contributed to nutritional ignorance, nutritional misinformation, and nutrition-related diseases."
The council's emphasis on dairy products, Jacobson said, "has something to do with the fact the Dairy Council's multimillion-dollar project is funded in large part by the dairy industry."
The Dairy Council is a trade association whose products were generally assumed to be good for everyone. That is, until recently, when many health experts began to recommend a decrease in the consumption of fat. Despite their acknowledged nutritional value, many dairy products are high in fat. But Jacobson might have chosen from dozens of other sources with more obvious direct commercial interests to make his point.
Material from Kraft's consumer relations department tells students that additives put into food are "beneficial" and "essential", and specifically that: "Safe human tolerances can be established for some substances that have induced cancer in experimental animals which have been submitted to questionable tests."
Many additives are used in Kraft products.
A Sugar Association brochure used in home economics classes says: "The Association has not found concentrated opposition to sugar in responsible medical circles, but it has detected concern among many individual doctors and dentists unfamiliar with the facts. This, unfortunately, seems to influence the thinking and actions of national and local politicians."
Isolated examples of companies or trade associations pushing their products and their point of view to the nation's student population? Not at all. These are just a smattering from the material, most of it free for the asking, available to school teachers all over the country. Much of it can be seen every year at the annual convention of the American Home Economics Association attended by many home economics teachers.
This year's exhibit in New Orleans had 240 booths. All but a very few of them were distributing information from people who have something to sell - whether sewing machines, microwave ovens, carpet sweepers, baby products, soft drinks, sugar-coated cereals, jams, jellies, marmalades, fish and cheese.
Only four government agencies had displays: the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the National Bureau of Standards and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institue.
According to Sheila Harty, who has made a study of corporate advertising in schools, most teachers are delighted to have this material and are not critical of it. The slick, highly professional films, bright workbooks and recipe guides with four-color illustrations and photos are not available from other sources.
One Florida high school teacher told Harty, an education media specialist for Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law: "Materials disseminated by private industry couldn't be perceived as anything else but a sales pitch. But who cares? The federal government couldn't do as well."
The material is divided into two categories; that which is specifically geared to teaching and that which is informational and used both in classrooms and as promotional material to fill requests from the public. Some of the advertising is fairly subtle: the company's name is mentioned only occasionally. But the majority are like a recipe booklet from Dr. Pepper.
"Cooking with Dr Pepper" offers a history of soft drinks, informational on kitchen technology, nutrition information on the soft drink and about 40 recipes, all of which use Dr. Pepper as an ingredient. There is one for corn bread (1 package of cornbread mix and Dr Pepper), another for Sugar Free Gazpacho Salad for which sugar-free Dr Pepper is recommended.
In Campbell Soup Company's "Nutrition" pamphlet, under the headings of the well-known four food groups, the company lists its products. The nutrition information tables contain only the items the company sells - from canned soups and beans to frozen TV dinners.
Betty Crocker offers a filmstrip extolling the virtues of convenience foods - its convenience foods. Each recipe suggestion calls for a General Mills product.
Sometimes a company is quite direct in counterattacking suggestions that its products might not be the most nutritious in the world. At the convention, Hershey's offered home ec teachers: the story of chocolate and cocoa, including how Hershey's came into being; 48 of Hershey's favorite recipes; answers to some questions about Hershey Foods Corp., and a 28 minute film. "The Great American Chocolate Factory." In addition the company's literature includes a statement to consumers.
In essence it says that the company "shall stand firmly in our position that Hershey's products are mixtures of ingredients which inherently have nutritional value," despite charges to the contrary that they and other confectionery products are "empty calorie" or so called 'junk' foods."
The brochure includes excerpts from a speech made by the company's director of research. Questioning the FTC's proposal to regulate children's advertising, Dr. Barry Zoumas says: ". . . is an apple consumed between meals more or less cariogenic than a candy bar? Since apples contain a greater percentage of their calories from sugar than most candy bars, this is an important question to have answered before one bans the advertising of candy on television and attempts to encourage the consumption of apples."
The catalogue of educational publications and audio-visual aids from the National Livestock and Meat Board includes a pamphlet explaining "beef role in feeding a hungry world": "With millions of lives at stake, decisions must be based on facts, not slogans. Anti-beef critics have seized on the world food situation to strengthen their arguments - often using misleading, unfactual statements. This folder sets the record straight . . .. ."
The Cereal Institute has "facts and perspectives" to correct "confusing and misleading" impressions about the nutritional value of sugar-coated cereals.
Filmstrips on microwave cooking cover safety questions: "Myths concerning microwave ovens are scientifically dispelled."
The National Soft Drink Association puts in a pitch for education rather than "punitive or restrictive container laws," (bans on nonreturnable bottles and cans) to control litter.
Critics of this kind of nutrition education material are asking the government to provide the material instead. Some attempts are being made. The Department of Agriculture has just made $26 million available to the states to develop classroom materials, instruct teachers in nutrition principles and educate both students and school food-service workers about the relationship between diet and health.
The critics, for the most part nutrition activists inside and out of government, have a curiously ally in their belief that business should not be in the business of educating the nation's children. What the president of the Association of National Advertisers, Peter Allport, has to say about the role of television advertising as a vehicle for educating children applies to education in the schools as well. In a letter to the editor of Advertising Age, Allport wrote:
". . . Education (as well as other things 'of the spirit') does not fall within society's mandate to business or, indeed, within its competence. Accordingly, I can think of few things which would be more inevitable than a rightful public outcry against an intrusion by business into areas such as education where it has neither competence nor a publicly legitimized role."