Shedding the villain image

by Jeff Gelski
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CHICAGO – A photo of the “Wicked Witch of the West” appeared on the screen.

“That would be you,” David Freeman said in a Westin Chicago River North hotel ballroom full of food scientists and food-product developers.

The food industry may follow a product development path to rid itself of this villain image, Freeman said March 20th at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 14. An article he wrote appeared last summer in The Atlantic and argued that solving the obesity issue will require food-industry professionals to develop healthier products.

“The article was very controversial,” he said. “It got me a lot of enemies.”

At the IFT meeting, he said Satisfries from Burger King represent a healthier processed food product. The fries have 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than traditional french fries.

Freeman said he was not against people eating local whole foods. He shops at Whole Foods, but he said he recognizes feeding the nation will require processed foods.

“Not everybody can possibly eat from local farms,” he said.

Yet, learned people, such as economists and recent college graduates, have joined the whole-food movement and demonized processed foods.

“The public, an amazingly smart segment of the public, has absolutely run off the rails when it comes to understanding the relationship between food and health,” Freeman said.

He used an acronym to describe the situation: SNAP, or sustainability, new age, anarchist and “Pollan-ites.”
Freeman said sustainability makes sense.

“If you’re against planet Earth, raise your hand,” he said. (No one did.)

Sustainability efforts, however, should consider feasibility and practicality, he said.

New age refers to people believing in “pseudo science” instead of thinking critically and considering more valid science.

Anarchist, instead of chaos, in this instance refers to people that rebel against control, such as a big central government or a big industry. Many people distrust the food industry, he said.

“Food corporations have been really singled out as just the embodiment of evil,” he said.

“Pollan-ites” refer to people who follow the writings of Michael Pollan, a believer of whole foods and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

While Freeman has written in defense of processed foods, he does not consider himself an industry mouthpiece. He declined to be paid for speaking at Wellness 14 and instead told the IFT to donate his fee to Autism Speaks. He paid his own expenses for the trip to Chicago.

“I am not a corrupt tool of the food industry,” he said.

Freeman said the whole food movement has told its story well. People love a story, especially one with a villain, be it a witch or a food corporation, he said.

To respond to the whole food movement, the food industry might counter with science, but that story may fail to interest people, he said. Instead, industry may develop healthier products, such as Satisfries. Keep working at reducing fat, sugar, sodium and calories while keeping in taste, he said.

It won’t be as easy as clicking one’s heels three times. The products may not sell well at first, he said. People might be skeptical of a food corporation’s actions. Still, industry should stay committed to this direction, Freeman said.

“Give us those products,” he said. “This is what you have the power to do.”
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