Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Food Marketing: We Shall Overcome

So, what can we do about all this?

As I finished the book, Food Marketing to Children and Youth, the recommendations section largely dealt with the need for government regulations and national social marketing campaigns to help educate our children on nutrition and physical activity.

This is great, but I don't think we can wait for private industry to stop wanting to make more money from selling crap to all of us. I don’t think we can even afford to wait on the government to tell private industry not to make so much money off selling crap to our kids and us. Definitely not under the current administration.

So, since hell is not going to freeze over anytime soon, we have to worry about our kids in the meantime. These are my recommendations after spending a solid month plowing through all this research. Call it my Manifesto. Take it with a grain or two, or a shaker, of salt. Apply liberally, or create your own recipe for change.

1. Turn off the TV.
When I read statistics like an average of four hours of television per day for each child, it makes me cringe. I don’t think about the 15,000 to 20,000 junk food ads this child sees per year. I think about the value of that time lost for good. The loss of life to an empty void. Think about it. When you turn off the TV at the end of the evening, what lasting value have you gained in your life? Exactly. None.

Four hours is half a workday. Four hours can explore whole new worlds, read several books, go to a museum, walk in the woods, play a game or two of baseball. Four hours every day. One third of a child’s waking hours. It’s like losing a third of their lives, for nothing. It’s not worth it. For them or you.

2. Eat a Family Dinner. Often.
With the TV OFF. Families who eat dinner together, at home, eat healthier meals and have healthier relationships. Kids who eat dinner with their families tend to make better grades and avoid drug and alcohol use. Do you need any more reasons than that?

3. Teach Your Kids Not to Listen to Strangers.
One of the most insidious facts about marketing to kids is that so much of it is targeted to children too young to understand the difference between a commercial and the regular program. They simply absorb this message along with everything else. Parents need to teach their children to identify marketing messages and why these messages are often not serving a child’s best interest. We have to arm our children with defenses against marketing just as we have to teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, and not to talk to strangers.

4. Voice Your Dissent. Loudly and Often.
Tell your school to get marketers out of your child’s classroom. Tell them to get junk foods out of the lunchroom. Tell other parents your concerns. Tell your family, tell your friends. Blog it. Email it. Comment it. Post it. Tell the marketers you don't agree with what they are doing and you will not buy their products.

Advertisers are listening to your blogs, to what we say online in our communities. If you think they cannot hear you, then comment often and loudly on their sites. Disney is starting a new parenting community site. Go tell Disney how you feel about their marketing.

Say thanks to marketers who have voluntarily reduced marketing to kids, but in the same message, tell them you will be watching to make sure they keep their promise. Keep watching. Tell their competitors you won’t buy their products until they reduce their marketing to kids. Use this whole Internet thing to do your own anti-food-marketing marketing. Tell your state and national representatives your concerns. Don’t hold your breath, but tell them.

5. Educate yourself and your kids on nutrition.
Learn how to prepare healthy meals. You can do it on a busy schedule. It can be quick, good and good for you. When you eat right, you set an example for your kids. You’ll feel better. They will eat better. You will all benefit. Plant a garden. Visit a local farm. Go to the Farmers Market or the U-Pick Berry Farm. Teach your kids to cook. Make healthy, fresh food a family experience. Teach them how to make good food decisions.

Remember, some people have fewer choices. They work two jobs to survive. They struggle. There are limited options near their homes. Ask yourself, are you really that busy in comparison? Change your life and make healthy choices a priority. Demand better choices for everyone else, too.

6. Choose the Form of the Destructor.
We can’t escape marketing and character licensing. There are going to be movies and books, toys and games, and some TV in our lives. Choose wisely. Choose those who are giving your kids the right messages and not selling crap on the side. We have to filter all this noise and find the few decent things in the mess.

7. Say No.
Even when it wears you out. Stay the course. If the trip to the grocery store is too much pain, divide and conquer. Let your spouse take the kids, you take the cereal aisle.

8. Stay Out of the Drive-Thru Lane
There are meals you can prepare in less time than it takes you to order a Biggie with Fries. You can make a sandwich on wholegrain bread, slice some fruit and heat a few frozen veggies in five minutes flat. Need some incentive? Read Fast Food Nation or Omnivore’s Dilemma. You’ll be happy to go cold turkey — on wheat with canola mayo.

9. Know What Your Kids are Watching and Doing Online
It’s not just the perverts in MySpace to look out for. Talk to your kids about all the messages they are seeing on the TV screen and the computer screen. Make sure they understand what a healthy body image is and that who you are has nothing to do with what soda you drink.

10. Go Play.
Kids learn an active lifestyle from active parents. C’mon, you WANT to go down the slide, too, don’t you? You want to play catch, run and kick a ball or two. Who doesn’t? From the time a child is born, he focuses a ton of energy on learning to roll over, crawl, stand and walk. Don’t waste that achievement. Go play.

Okay. End of manifesto. Nobody likes a nag.

Your turn. Tell me how you plan on facing down the crush of food marketing and how you will overcome the busy life syndrome to start really living. We can do this together. For our kids. For ourselves.

The final post in this series will be links and resources for more information. I hope you have found this useful and helpful. I wish all of you and your children a healthy life.


Frugal Mom said...

Bravo!!! I am in awe of you and of this post. Thank you so much for doing all the research on this and then making all your entries on it. I have been on facing this issue face on in my home, as well. I don't know if you saw my post on the commercials or not, but it is very similar to some of the things you mentioned.(Just in my own lingo!) My kids get an hour of television per day and to me that is still too much. And it is all the commercials that make me want to turn the TV off more than the actual program itself.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks! I did see your post! We are all dealing with it, there is just so much marketing, we can't escape! I am glad to wrap it up and get back to cooking. The facts and figures are bleak. But, we can change it. We really can. Thanks for reading!

Katje said...

Well done!

We turned off our TV almost 20 years ago, and to this day I think it is probably the single best decision I have made as a parent. We also homeschool, so it's much easier to avoid quite a number of the pitfalls other parents are forced to navigate when they choose public schools.

We do a CSA, grow our own teensy garden, and include the kids in making decisions about meals. One child is vegetarian and another vegan by choice, so it's always fun (ha ha) to plan meals that everyone likes and can eat.

We also try to explore the food and cuisine of other cultures (although this makes local eating a challenge... can't do a Thai curry without the coconut milk). It brings the world to our table, and opens up discussions of how others live.

Thanks again!

Tifani said...

Great stuff! Thank you for the tips. I am a new mom and love to cook fresh, healthy foods for my family. I also grew up running around outside and believe very strongly that children should spend less time in front of the TV/computer/video game, and MORE time exploring. It's nice to know there are other moms out there passionate about raising their kids to have healthy lifestyles.

Bucket Trucks USA said...

Do you have any healthy recipe ideas to share? I am constantly trying to find new things to feed my active two year old. I do let her watch TV in the evenings...it's the only opportunity I have to actually make a meal or bathe my seven month old. Otherwise, it's, "Come play with me, mommy." And my husband is no help. After Dora and Diego, we do play for a little while, then bathe, then have about 25 minutes of uninterrupted reading time. She's two and already she can say her ABC's, count to 20 in English and 10 in Spanish. She's very outgoing socially and always uses "please," "thank you," "you're welcome," and "Bless you." So she's very much ahead developmentally. I just can't seem to get her to eat much in the evenings, but daycare says she eats really well while there during the day. So I'm open to all suggestions for recipes! I'll try whatever I can!