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Busting Food Myths for Two Generations | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Busting Food Myths for Two Generations

There may be no family in the history of the republic which has done more to promote culinary awareness, sustainability and food justice than the indefatigable Lappé clan.

Frances Moore Lappé’s seminal and best-selling 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, launched one of the first substantive critiques of the industrial food industry and was groundbreaking for arguing that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by an unfair system of resource allocation.

Lappé’s husband, the late toxicologist Marc Lappé, was an early, persistent and perceptive critic of the agrichemical industry and what its products do to human beings.

In 1975, Lappé and Joseph Collins launched the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) with a mission to end the injustices that cause hunger, poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world. Having evolved into the country’s leading food think tank, Food First currently sponsors countless projects coast to coast aimed at building local agri-food systems.

Building on the success of Food First, Lappé later founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 with her daughter Anna Lappé to reveal how people on every continent are creating living democratic models to establish their own food security and power to remake societal rules and norms to serve widely shared values.

Then, in 2006, Anna Lappé took Small Planet a step further with her book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, in which she revealed the disturbing connection between food production and climate change and outlined how we can eat food that’s better for both people and the planet.

Delving deeper into the myths that lead so many people to eat against their own interests, as it were, the younger Lappé’s latest campaign and series of short movies, Food Myths, seeks to unpack the often stealth marketing of junk food to kids and counter the billion-dollar annual investment by the fast-food industry in shaping the public conversation about our food system.

In the second and most recent movie, Lappé debunks one of the most pervasive myths propagated by the junk food industry—the myth of personal choice—and calls into question the industry’s defense of its marketing: that parental authority is the sole factor in deciding what kids eat. Citing a range of studies and reports, Lappé explaines how junk food industry marketing is designed to undermine parental authority and exploit children’s vulnerabilities.

Lappé explains how children like her daughter, Ida (and my daughter, Claudia!), are inundated with marketing throughout their lives—from the Internet to the classroom to the sports field—despite the best efforts of their supposedly enlightened parents. Today, the food industry reaches our children far beyond commercials during Saturday morning cartoons. Big Food marketing pops up in the classroom and lunchroom; on sports leagues jerseys and playground equipment; on branded websites and social media platforms. This constant onslaught shapes our childrens’ habits and preferences, undermines parental guidance and helps drive the nation’s growing epidemic of diet-related disease.

“For decades, McDonald’s and its junk food cohorts have worked to convince Americans that bad parenting, not aggressive marketing, is the reason for exploding rates of diet-related disease,” said Lappé. “It’s time we stood with parents to end the tsunami of marketing that targets kids and creates an environment devoid of healthy choices.”

In conjunction with the campaign launch, Lappé cobbled together a Food MythBusters coalition and, as its first campaign, its members are calling on McDonald’s to shut down its flagship website for kids, HappyMeal.com.

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Happy Meals are a staple of McDonald’s youth-targeted playbook, featuring toys from children’s movies and cartoons. To reach young people, McDonald’s has enlisted role models like Olympic Champion Gabby Douglas and cartoon characters like Shrek. As parents and health professionals become increasingly critical of such tactics, the fast-food giant has moved to digital marketing aimed at reaching kids in spaces where parents often exercise less vigilance.

Join the call for McDonald’s to turn off the lights on HappyMeal.com and find out how to watch and share the films and help support the project.

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