Except, something went wrong along the way. For if the program was meant to direct people towards healthy food items (either healthy or, and this is parsing things a bit, the ambiguous "healthful" designation), wary consumers and nutrition groups quickly realized that the "Smart Choices" label was being randomly slapped onto any old box or container of artificial sludge and sugar-steepened rot that fills up most aisles in any respectable grocery store. Outrage and ridicule spread across the Internet as bloggers and advocacy groups reported on some of the inanities sporting the healthy green label - Froot Loops, Coco Crispies, boxes of Cracker Jack, Fudgsicles and jars of Hellman's Mayonaise and Peter Pan Peanut Butter. Of course, one need merely scan these and other "healthy" items to note that there was nothing random at all in the designation - all represent food items designed, packaged and distributed by the giants of the corporate food industry, such as ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft, PepsiCo and Tyson. Furthermore, a little investigating reveals that the "Smart Choices" sticker is not simply awarded to those food items which are positioned at the top of the dietary chain. Rather, as the folks at Sincerely Sustainable point out, "the main prerequisite for inclusion into the program is $100,000 per year paid by the companies who produce the foods seeking inclusion". Hence the presence of such nutrient-rich and life-sustaining food items as Froot Loops and mayonnaise.
When pressed on such matters, Tufts researcher and Smart Choices board member Ellen T. Kennedy noted that sugar cereals such as Froot Loops and Coco Crispies were given the Smart Choices nod because they were better choices than donuts. On this matter, Ms. Kennedy may very well be correct. As a matter of fact, aside from spoonfuls of lard stuffed with egg yolks and deep fried, I can't think of many food items that would not be considered better for one than donuts. As the chatter concerning inappropriate food concoctions suddenly deemed healthful rose to a fever pitch, the chagrined FDA stepped in, firing off a mildly accusatory letter to the program, and it was shortly thereafter that Smart Choices made the announcement that they were voluntarily suspending the program (or "postponing active operations," as no doubt their legal representation suggested). The boxes of Froot Loops festooned with green check marks would remain on the shelves, but no further releases would be forthcoming. The FDA is said to have begun some sort of investigation into how products consisting of over 50% sugar ever achieved the green stamp of approval.
This entire debacle should not come as a surprise if one is aware of the almost complete dominance of ConAgra, Kraft, Tyson and others in the global food industry. Many of these companies long ago ceased selling food and began pushing the mantra of processed goods. Truth be known, these businesses have little to no interest in steering American diets away from preservatives, sugars, and artificial ingredients, because these unhealthy and unnatural elements are their very life blood. The author Michael Pollan has pointed out that large agribusinesses shield themselves from accusations of contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic by appearing to support healthy eating and dietary changes. These corporations don't recommend what nearly any dietitian or nutritionist knows, however, which is that diets rich in plants and low in meats, oils and additives are best. Instead, Pollan argues, agribusinesses throw vocal support behind trendy diets and fads that focus upon one or two specific "macronutrients". One can rattle off such high-profile Oprah-approved dietary movements, from low-carb and low-fat to gluten-free and Master Cleanse detox diets. What all these diets have in common is the disturbing notion that the key to healthy eating is to identify one specific bad dietary agent and remove it from one's diet. Of course, nothing in any of these fads and trends need keep any practitioner from continuing to purchase the processed products that glut both our nation's supermarket aisles and our waistlines. Any true movement towards healthy eating would necessarily involve completely shutting out the entire output of such agribusiness organizations as ConAgra and Kraft.
I went about compiling some of my favorite examples of the Bizarro World Smart Choices selections. Aside from the aforementioned sugar cereals, I came across such staples of naturally balanced diets as Kraft's Strawberry Bagel-Fuls, Ritz Bits Peanut Butter Chocolatey Blast Crackers, Fruit Roll-Ups Crazy Pix, Chocolate Teddy Grahams and "Healthy Choice" Beef Tips and Portobello TV Dinners. While many commentators have chosen to focus on the often outrageous amounts of sugar present in such supposedly healthy choices, I've been more closely examining the total ingredients present in some of the designated foods, specifically those aimed at children. While the notion of something like Froot Loops being healthy in any way, shape or form is transparently ludicrous, the branding of children-marketed TV Dinners as "Smart Choices" is even more insidious.
Now, I would argue that this is not food. This is a chemistry experiment or a soil sample taken from a decades-old landfill. What is outrageous about a list of dozens upon dozens of ingredients assembled inside a single serving of processed food is not that it has been dubbed a "Smart Choice," but that it exists at all.
We've never before tried to make our own pasta from scratch, and with a little elbow work from Jane, our kitchen was soon filled with long strips of moist pasta dough.
...and sat down to an amazingly flavorful meal that was even tastier than the bottle of malbec we popped open.