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Hack foods

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

Food Network chef Rachael Ray and her beaming smile cover my cracker box. Pop diva Mariah Carey shills for PepsiCo. Even television comedian Stephen Colbert, of the nothing-sacred “The Colbert Report,” has his own Americone Dream ice cream, courtesy of Ben and Jerry’s. 

Athletes have been happy to appear on boxes of breakfast cereal for decades; Joe DiMaggio endorsed Wheaties cereal back way back in the 1930s. Since the 1970s, Bill Cosby and Jell-O have gone together like pudding and spoons. Famous spokespeople, so the marketing mantra goes, both enhance product familiarity and bestow value. 

But sponsorship becomes particularly problematic when it involves undiscerning kids who believe superhero-sponsored cereal is better than any other brand. As nutritionist and author Marion Nestle told PBS, food companies want kids to eat cartoon-branded "kid’s food," which is almost always less healthy than other options. 

A major study of children's advertising recently concluded, not surprisingly, that kids soak up gallons of junk-food touting every day. The study found that "50 percent of ad time on children’s shows is devoted to food. Among the ads aimed at children and teenagers, 72 percent are for candy, snacks, sugary cereals, or fast food." It added, "Children age 8 to 12 view 21 television ads for food products every day, adding up to more than 7,600 ads a year." 

But, as Nestle has pointed out in her book What to Eat, all that advertising — paid for by corporations to the tune of billions of dollars a year — is highly profitable. Junk food is cheap to make, lasts practically forever, and the profits are such that the advertising costs are considered worth it.

So get over Rachael Ray’s teeth, or Stephen Colbert’s wisecracks. Turn off Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger. Don't take your kids down the cereal and snack aisles at the store. Complain to your Congressperson, already. And read the endorsements that really matter: the federally mandated nutrition information on all packaged food.