VIP co-editor Reuben Allen has caught the web blog disease. Instead of the usual News from the Nest report, VIP offers his personal reaction to corporate America's efforts to change our diets and lifestyles.
Thank goodness General Mills is at last focusing on the health of the nation's citizens. After years of loading the shelves of supermarkets with sugar-laden cereals made with refined grains, the company has gone "whole hog" or should we say whole grain. No more pasty white flour. Their cereals are now totally whole grain, but morning starters Shrek II, Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry are still just candy in a bowl.
At the end of 2004 the company that produces more than just breakfast cereals took a giant step toward convincing the public its products are essential in a weight loss program. Prior to the "Brand New You" campaign, General Mills tried its newly conceived diet plan on its own employees who took the "10/10 Challenge" that promised a 10-pound weight loss in 10 weeks.
Diane in the company's food science department lost 30 pounds. Mark in marketing shed 22 pounds in a little more than two months while Renee in the law department achieved her 10-pound quota. Their smiling faces and their stories are found on http://www.brandnewyou.com/ They were only a few of the 500 employees that participated in the program before it was offered to the general public. The 500 workers lost a total of 2990 pounds
Reading these inspiring tales, I was determined to lose the avoirdupois (French for those extra pounds) that never disappeared after last year's holiday meals. What better way than "Brand New You," General Mills "new weight management program that incorporates foods already found in most pantries, as well as foods that can be found in virtually every aisle of the grocery store."
The company emphasizes, "The program is easy to follow, offers great tasting foods and fits every life style." Where have I heard those phrases before?
But General Mills really hooks you with the word, "free." The diet is free, but not really. Read on.
So I logged onto the "Brand New You" website and answered questions about my gender, age, weight, activity level, how many children in the family, and eating and shopping habits. The questionnaire asked me to check off what types of information I was interested in and included categories like healthy dinner menus, low-cost dinner ideas, meals for one or two, and more.
After noting my responses, the "Brand New You" program calculated my body mass index that was above normal and concluded that I should be on an 1800-calorie-a-day diet. I must confess that I added a few pounds to my stats so that my body mass index would be above normal and would make me an obvious weight-loss candidate.
The real bonus of the plan was that I received customized menus for ten weeks so that I wouldn't have to think about planning meals. They would even send me weekly email reminders and information about the program. I was now in this "practical weight management program" that guaranteed me "a balanced diet" that was developed by dieticians at General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition and the Betty Crocker Kitchens.
I would have information about "grab-and-go snacks" and access to "delicious recipes the whole family will enjoy." So I cranked up my printer and rolled out my week-by-week plan that contained everything I was supposed to eat including meals, snacks, and recipes as well as the daily nutritional information.
Eager and ready to begin, I started looking through my daily plans. Each day's regimen would include three cups of fat-free milk and one Yoplait Light Fat Free Yogurt. Of course, Yoplait is a General Mills product. Breakfast on most days featured cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios, Raisin Nut Bran, and Fiber One, all General Mills products. Lunches featured Progresso soups. No need to guess who makes Progresso products.
As I looked through the meals, I found numerous products I didn't even know were in the General Mills stable. The light went on in my head. This was a diet designed to sell me General Mills products. All I needed was a pickup truck or a giant van that I could drive to the supermarket and load up General Mills cereals, Yoplait yogurt, Totino's pizza, Progresso soups, Green Giant frozen and canned foods, Betty Crocker mixes, El Paso Salsa, Pillsbury biscuits and pastries, Nature Valley Granola, Hamburger Helper, and Bugle's Original Corn Snacks.
Not only did I need to go back to consuming milk, but I would also have load my refrigerator with eggs. I would need butter, cheese, and 8 eggs for that Pizza Frittata breakfast recipe for that Sunday morning breakfast. One serving has only 210 calories, but it's replete with 15 grams of fat, 6 saturated, and 355 mg of cholesterol. Aha! Now I get it! Lose weight and clog the arteries at the same time.
The Roasted Vegetable Lasagna would give me a 330 calorie dinner entrée that contains 13 g of fat, 8 saturated and an amazing 1070 g of sodium, almost half of what a person should have in an entire day. This was a main dish that would have me licking my chops, but would encourage my doctor to frown during my next visit.
Sprinkled throughout the Daily Plans are Healthy Living Tips. One notable tip says, "Today's pork is leaner than ever, thanks to improved breeding methods. If you're on the lookout for the leanest of the lean, look for 'leg' or 'loin' in the name." Knowing this I could feel good about having Carmelized Pork Slices with my dinner that included 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice; 1/2 cup of Green Giant Frozen Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, and Cheese Sauce; 1 Pillsbury Oven Baked Frozen Crusty Wheat Dinner Roll; a medium pear; and a cup of Fat-Free (skim) Milk.
In order for me to plunge into this diet I would need to perform radical surgery on my lifestyle. I would search for that other white meat, fatty Omega 3 fish, and campylobacter chicken. I would have to cut back on my daily numerous servings of fruits and vegetables to make room in my stomach for a multitude of General Mills highly processed foods. My freezer would be packed with all those Green giant frozen vegetables and frozen Totino pizzas.
My pantry would be lined with whole grain, highly processed breakfast cereals like Oatmeal Crisp, Total Raisin Bran, Corn Chex, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Any additional pantry space would be filled with cans of high-sodium Progresso soups, sugary snacks like Chex Milk 'n Cereal Bars and Nature Valley Granola Bars, and boxes of Hamburger and Tuna Helper. My dairy-deprived body would be refilled with three cholesterol-laden cups of nonfat milk three times daily, a daily fix of Yoplait yogurt, and a variety of low fat cheeses.
Most of all, I would be burdened by the guilt for what I was doing to support factory farming and the destruction of the environment. And my body would react in protest over being fed all that General Mills junk food.
Thanks, but no thanks. General Mills. I won't swallow the bait. But I do get it. The Brand in "Brand New You" really stands for General Mills.
Once again, corporate America has fashioned the perfect diet for you and me. But I see through the sham and I'm not buying.