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Archive for November, 2012

Just Desserts

© 2012 Nancy Appleton PhD & G.N. Jacobs

From my point of view, we are on the cusp of a major advance forward in nutrition as seen in the public sphere. Hostess Baked Goods may decide to completely liquidate. Yes, you heard me – Twinkies and Wonder Bread may disappear into brand oblivion. Please give me a moment while I do the same goofy dance I did when I heard about New York Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to fight for, pass and enforce a city ordinance banning sugary drinks over 16 ounces.

In neither case can I even pretend to be objective about my opposition to people who make money selling sugar, even in the face of mounting evidence that sugar will make you fat, clog your arteries and give you diabetes. If a car company knowingly sells a defective vehicle, I might say nice things about the company if they fix the car and pay out the damages that they honestly owe in order that a company that employs many people doesn’t go splat on the kitchen floor. I can’t do this for any sugar merchant; your products hurt people with no discernable upside, so get used to oblivion and/or increased regulatory scrutiny that artfully treads the line between corporate and personal responsibility.

Yes, the consumer really must take responsibility for what goes into their mouths, but at some point companies like Hostess must show the same corporate responsibility forced upon the cigarette companies by a landmark class action suit that perhaps if the products kill people then it isn’t good to sell them. Ironically, current anti-tobacco ads depict tobacco as killing a third of its customers in any given year mostly with the effects of long term usage catching up to the unfortunate. But, I maintain that Big Sugar kills nearly as many of its customers with the effects of sugar lurking to shorten lifespans. Except for the few at the cutting edge, we didn’t know about sugar in 1950 so you can make an excuse then, but we can’t make that excuse now. We need to see the same types of ads dealing with Big Sugar’s death rate, but…

Hostess is teetering on the brink of insolvency because of a vicious labor dispute. I must admit a lifelong general support for organized labor as defending workers from management who want to grind wages, conditions and benefits in their favor. I had always assumed that if both parties acted as rationally as possible in their own best interests and weren’t interested in going nuclear then both sides would compromise so that everyone gets their half-loaf victory. And sometimes, I’m said to say, workers do have to take a pay cut, especially if they are already well paid under previous union deals to keep the company competitive. I have no idea if this concept applies to Hostess.

The greatest irony during the countdown to the November 16, 2012 decision to liquidate the whole company to avoid the wage concessions is that ultimately both sides want to win in the game of chicken so that the company will continue to sell sugar to the public. The bakery unions want their higher wages and benefits so that they can feel valued for their work and get paid appropriately. The company wants more profit. However, this means that nutritionally speaking both sides earn the nastiest words my ghostwriter can think up to put ink to paper. Obviously, unlike for companies that sell a better class of products, I’m hoping that both sides will demonstrate the most arrogant intransigence forcing Hostess to implode in a puff of smoke.

Will we see less Twinkies or Wonder Bread bleached so white it really shouldn’t even be called bread? Probably not. It is still my job as a health researcher to keep publicizing why many aspects of our modern diet are bad for all of us. If a market still exists for the Twinkie, Ding Dong and Ho-Ho after the liquidation decision then Hostess can simply sell the brands and recipes to another company with a different labor agreement and the dance begins again. But, if we start getting our sugar from natural sources like whole fruits and vegetables and buy less sweets, maybe we’ll see the previously impossible: a failed sugary food company.

There is some hope that may happen. Buried in the articles explaining why labor and management are seemingly even more bitterly divided than Republicans and Democrats was this statement that sales of Hostess products are on a slow decline in part due to people making healthier eating choices. Imagine that.

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