No one can shed light on a current topic like a dedicated researcher of the past. Nutritionists love to hate the long-standing federal government ruling that ketchup, pizza and french fries could count as vegetables, for the purposes of school lunch programs.
That standard came into being in 1981. It remained due to the lobbying power of giant corporations, which in 2011 spent $5.6 million to make sure that fried potatoes and pizza sauce could still be defined as vegetables. No matter what the Department of Agriculture might want to do, its hands were tied by the congressional action of passing an agriculture appropriations bill that forbade spending any money to enforce anti-ketchup policies.
Priceonomics staff writer Alex Mayyasi writes:
Thanks in part to outdated and politically-expedient agricultural policy, farms’ lobbying power protects french fries, Big Macs, and soda rather than leafy greens.
The agribusiness corporations that grow crops that are processed into food have all the power. They were granted this power by “misguided” government policies. In 2015, for example, processed food manufacturers spent $32 million to buy influence, while the fruit and vegetable industry’s lobbying budget was only $3.7 million.
The sad irony is, the growers of potatoes and tomatoes (french fries and ketchup) are “the enemy within.” Technically, they belong to the fruit and vegetable industry, but they fight on the wrong side, with no interest in protecting school kids from either malnutrition or obesity.
Branding is a huge part of the reason for what Mayyasi calls a “self-inflicted wound.” Kellogg’s sells its name recognition and makes 35 cents of gross profit out of every dollar that consumers spend on its products. Even the most profitable vegetable farms only make 24 cents per consumer dollar.
Branding just doesn’t work on products that are sold by the bunch, like fresh spinach. The author says:
Companies do market veggies, but brand recognition is low. Brands need a year-round presence in supermarkets so consumers can purchase it routinely, but produce is seasonal. Efforts to link recognized brands with a certain quality level and a higher price point are hindered by the influence of weather on quality and prices.
The coupon strategy doesn’t work for fresh vegetables. When consumers receive coupons by direct mail, or cut them out of newspapers, the coupons are for boxes of cereal, not bunches of spinach. The vegetable industry can do a certain number of things, like offer a snack-size package of already-peeled baby carrots, but one of the downsides is an enormous amount of waste.
Fresh food has a very short shelf life, and when a retail store disposes of the unsold units, the waste doesn’t even go to good a cause, like composting. It’s just garbage.
The growth of a vegetable’s coolness quotient carries a built-in penalty. It only takes one celebrity with a large following to popularize a vegetable, like Joe Rogan did with kale, but the result has been a 25% increase in the price of kale over just three years.
“Organic” has become a strong selling point, but the problem with that is, it depends on taking somebody’s word. Organic inspectors can be bribed or threatened, and in the end, the consumer really has no way of knowing what’s what.
Another huge problem is that consumers have been conditioned into believing that every unit of produce must be identical, shiny, and unblemished, and nature just doesn’t work that way. We have been taught to eat with our eyes, with indescribably damaging results.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!