Happy Mother’s Day … Love, Big Food

Big Food Companies love Moms...But Should Moms Love them back?Big Food companies adore moms. If you don’t believe me, just look at their advertising. Moms are almost always the target, and no matter what the problem or situation, Big Food is there with a helping hand. This attention makes your typical mom believe food companies are on her side to help solve her three, major food struggles:

    1. Feeding the family
    2. Raising healthy kids
    3. Helping her lose weight

But when you take a closer look at what’s going on, are food companies really being helpful? Or are they merely pretending to be a “friend” while pushing their own, self-serving agenda? Let’s take a look at several examples and see:

Feeding the Family:

Feeding the family is one of mom’s biggest chores. Even as dads have gotten more involved in raising their kids, a recent gallup poll shows only 16% of husbands are the primary grocery shopper, and even less prepare most meals.  Yes, the burden of getting kids breakfast, packing lunches, and cooking a hot dinner still falls in women’s laps.

Food manufacturers spend millions of dollars researching how different women react to this chore, and in turn use this knowledge to create products and advertising that convince them to buy their processed food. Here’s a recent example that Kraft aired in support of Velveeta Cheesy Skillets.

Now while some may laugh-out-loud at this commercial’s “cheesiness,” it’s not some random idea. Born from the insight that many moms feel guilty simply microwaving dinner, this ad plays off that emotion and tells moms to use their stoves. The Hugh Jackman look-alike blacksmith then goes on to present mom his prized solution, Velveeta Cheesy Skillets, and claims the cheese sauce is “liquid gold.”

And what exactly is in this liquid gold concoction?  One, 1-cup serving of Ultimate Cheeseburger Mac contains 350 calories, 25g of fat, 0.5g of trans fats, and 850 mg of sodium. When you consider real-life servings are going to be at least 50%-100% larger, this liquid gold literally will be blocking your arteries, raising your blood pressure, and packing on some pounds. And if that isn’t enough, that special, liquid gold gets its true colors from yellow 5 and yellow 6, two controversial food colorings that have been linked to allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and possibly even cancer. So what’s lesson #1 for moms?: Big Food is happy to provide “convenient” solutions, but they aren’t necessarily healthy.

Raising Healthy and Happy Kids:

Raising healthy and happy kids is another of moms’ top concerns, and once again, Big Food is at the ready. For decades cereal companies have been trying to convince mom that their sugar-laden, pre-sweetened varieties are a good choice. I think we’ve all heard the “it’s part of a nutritious breakfast” line a billion times. But over the past several years, cereal companies have gotten even bolder by leanwashing the truth and portraying their sugared cereals as a healthy choice. Check out this Frosted Mini Wheats ad to see how Kellogg’s is ready to help moms out:

Now while Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats contains whole grains and 6g of fiber, some varieties weigh in with as much as 12g of sugar in a 55g serving. That’s the equivalent of 3 sugar cubes and almost as much sugar as is in a blueberry muffin. Let’s be honest…a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats is more like a breakfast dessert than a truly healthy start to your morning.

And what about Kellogg’s clinical study that showed kids are 20% more attentive after eating a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini Wheats? Well moms, the little detail Kellogg’s failed to mention was that they were comparing kids who ate Frosted Mini Wheats to kids who ate NO breakfast at all. Hmm…it’s amazing how when you feed your kids something for breakfast they do better than a kid who has eaten absolutely nothing. Lesson #2 for Moms: Big Food is more than happy to manipulate and mislead you into thinking their food is healthier for you and your kids than it really is.

Helping Moms Lose Weight:

Last but not least, Big Food loves to help moms lose weight, and diet drinks have been one of the biggest tools in their arsenal. Here’s one of Diet Pepsi’s latest efforts:

Isn’t it amazing how sex sells? What woman doesn’t want to be Sofia Vergara as she dances around turning heads. But hidden beneath all the sexy, slim stars and the low calorie claims is a dirty secret that the beverage giants don’t like to discuss–there is very little evidence that proves consumption of diet drinks leads to weight loss.

As nutrition researcher David L. Katz, MD (the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center) concludes, “the research as a whole suggests sugar substitutes and other non-nutritive food substitutes have little impact on weight one way or the other.” If that’s not enough to make you reconsider, diet drinks also can be extremely addictive and quickly crowd out healthier habits like drinking water. Lesson #3: Big Food may talk a big game when it comes to weight loss, but there’s little substance to their highly processed, artificially sweetened solutions. If you want to learn more on this, read my post, Big Food’s Insane Weight Loss Program.

So what do you think? Does Big Food really care about moms? Unfortunately, my answer is “no.” The fact is, Big Food isn’t mom’s friend. It’s not even mom’s helper. Despite all the attention it showers upon mothers, the only thing that really matters to Big Food and Ag companies is their fat profits. As my mom always told me, “actions speak louder than words,” and Big Food’s actions are pretty damning.

Personally, I think moms deserve better, so don’t forget you have a chance to make the women in your life smile for Mother’s Day. If you’re looking for some ideas for now or any occasion, here are some tried and true ones I’ve used:

  1. What mom doesn’t love family photos? Surprise her this year with a gift certificate to get a family portrait taken by a local photographer.
  2. Playing off the theme of photos, help Mom enjoy the photos she has by giving her a photo album, scrapbook, a digital photo frame, or maybe even an Apple TV to help her stream them.
  3. Books are a gift that many moms enjoy. Last year I gave my mom a book entitled A Hundred Lives Since Then: Essays on Motherhood, Marriage, Mortality and More by Gail Rosenblum. My mom loved it so much, she gave over 20 copies to her friends for holiday gifts.

Whatever you do, the most special gift you can give the mothers in your life is to say “I love you.” So call her, write her, or fix her a special dinner made with REAL food.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it by pasting a link on your Facebook wall, liking it, or emailing it to a special mom you care about. And for more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe to my blog.

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One thought on “Happy Mother’s Day … Love, Big Food

  1. Great post! Thanks for continuing to write awesome posts! Very timely subject too. I was just pondering similar issues with the ‘typical’ mothersday gift commercials everywhere I turn.