Here’s the beef

Examining the morality, legality and long-term impact of fast food marketing to kids has been a huge theme in the news this week. Seems people are really starting to put all the pieces together—it’s about more than “choice,” it’s about our environment, health, and the messages we send kids about food and about power. Here’s a round-up of some highlights:

•There’s a must-read piece in Grist by Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, arguing that marketing to children under 8  is inherently “deceptive” and “unfair” and therefore not just immoral but illegal.

•In Toronto, the public school board has caused a ruckus with its announcement that 70 big screens will go up in Toronto high schools offering school info with a smattering of ads. The board claims it will only allow healthy food products to be promoted (to its very captive audience), but education advocates are worried this is a slippery slope—especially given the revenue possibilities.

•But the most vivid and compelling story to come across my, uh, plate on the fast food marketing front was the claim —in a class action law suit launched in Alabama—that the “seasoned beef” in Taco Bell’s products is hardly beef at all. More binder and extender (oats, wheat, etc.) than meat, the tacos and burritos, the lawsuit suggests, would fail the minimum USDA labeling requirements for beef (at less than 35%). Check out the ingredients’ list here. In what looks to me to be a clever and strategic move, the suit isn’t seeking money, just that Taco Bell stop calling its concoction “beef.”

This morning, Taco Bell fired back with an aggressive campaign—ads in USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other newspapers, as well as online—questioning the accuracy of the suit’s claims. But given the changing public attitude when it comes to fast food marketing, the fact that the company came out so forcefully may just prove how vulnerable they are.


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