PLASTICS, POTATOES AND BLUE VELVET.
I have fondness for Mr. Potato Head. Beyond the obvious Irish connections and affection for all things spudlike, Mr. P, later joined by Mrs. P, Brother Spud and Sister Yam, was born in the USA in 1952. The original version was a plastic set of accessories that could be stuck into an actual (wow) potato. He was also the first toy to be advertised on television, and directly aimed at children as opposed to pitched at parents. A little bit of our advertising heritage potato. However, and as is always the case, the green-eyed Mr. Health & Safety (who had no Equity Card of his own) decided that the pieces were too sharp for children, and hence a plastic body was added. In 1975 Mr. P became the man he is today, doubled in size to comply with new US child safety regulations. Mr. P’s film career finally topped-out, when he landed a starring role in the blockbuster franchise, Toy Story. And you all shed a tear there Mums and Dads. The rest as they say is Frites.
And so to the headlines: ‘Why potatoes could be fuelling the nation's obesity crisis: A baked spud contains the equivalent of 19 lumps of sugar - almost three times the amount in a can of Coca-Cola’.
Yup, and you heard this from me years ago on my Soapbox. Just to be clear: "Potatoes are botanically classified as a vegetable, but they are classified nutritionally as a starchy food," says a Department of Health spokesperson. 'This is because when eaten as part of a meal, they are generally used in place of other starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta or rice’.
And crucially, the NHS does NOT define a potato as one of your ‘5 A Day’. Are we clear here? Not really. My children are told in school that potatoes are vegetables and healthy, and Baked Potatoes have long been considered a ‘Healthy Lunch’ for Mac jockeys dining al desco. However as ever, the headlines are for dramatic effect, not really for nutritional or healthy guidance. So, keep on at the spuds, but just enough, not too much. And speaking of too much, I am reminded of a legendary (in my family) Easter Sunday lunch that featured ‘potatoes 5 ways’; Roast, Mash, Dauphinoise, Salad, and Chips!! The joy. Oh the salt & butter & garlic.
PLASTIC NOT SO FANTASTIC
The material of the 20th century. Having trained as a Product Designer (a noble profession that is bookended by Raymond Lowey and Jony Ive), plastic was an integral material in the creative process but that ran in parallel with a sound education and understanding of the environmental impact of materials. Plastic as an engineering material has saved lives through among other things innovation in medicine, distribution of clean water, and the increased lifespan and portability of foods and beverages. It has added to and increased the quality and length of our lives. It is with great sadness that we now face a growing threat, in particular to our marine life and the life of our seas and great oceans. Positive signs are coming in the control of single-use plastic and it is encouraging to see some Brands taking the initiative. We live in an aspiring transparent world thankfully, so traditional CSR messaging and Corporate Green Wash have no traction and in fact are even more toxic that doing nothing and sitting on your hands (a traditional Corporate Communication Position). And as consumers who have good recycling habits, we are sending our recycling to cash starved Cities and Public Authorities’ who do not have the money, time or will to manage the reprocessing. We are all in this together, although as in the story of a Bacon and Eggs Breakfast where the Pig is ‘Committed’ and the chicken ‘Involved’, we need to be as committed as the creatures of the sea.
Better for Brands and our Creative Industry to start the dialogue debate and action, rather than to sit passively waiting for Teacher to keep us back after school for not doing our homework and being naughty. Reassuring to hear that McDonalds have committed to replacing plastic straws with paper in the UK and Ireland initially. More and faster, grasp the nettle, make a plan.
GLOBAL PACKAGING DESIGN HACKATHON
Under a marine biodegradable wrapper for now, but will be in the media soon. Keep an eye or two out and please get involved, sponsor or create.
ENDANGERED SPECIES BOOK CLUB
Finally, as we are all now not dreaming of, but actually packing the cases (unless you have peeps that do that for you) for our summer holidays, here is a reading suggestion to add to your list. ‘Room to Dream’ by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna. Lynch had a profound impact on my visual cortex and literally gripped my imagination in his creative fists with his first film Eraserhead in 1977, followed by The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart, and the global mania that was Twin Peaks. As a creative maverick this is not your standard menu du jour, rather it was written as a person having a conversation with his own biography, achieved through a form of written response in collaboration with the critic and journalist Kristine McKenna. I am just reading about his childhood in the 50s, before TV and the Internet, when kids ran care free outdoors like packs of wild dogs outside an England team base in Russia. And before homogenization. Perhaps the rise of Craft Brands is a subconscious response from our DNA that creates our desire to be different and unique. Just thinking.
There is also an audio adaptation for those of us who go full sun lounger and headphones. I’m actually thinking of adopting his iconic hairstyle in homage, at least whilst I am out of this country!
Happy reading, happy holidays.
CRAVEN MP'S KNOW THAT KILLING OFF TONY THE TIGER AND THE MILKY BAR KID WILL NOT WIN THE BATTLE AGAINST CHILDHOOD OBESITY.
You do not have to read the stark statistics to be aware Britain’s childhood obesity epidemic is worsening, and badly so. You only have to walk down any British high street, or see children coming out of state school or stand near a fast food outlet to witness with your own eyes the obvious truth: our kids are getting fatter younger and staying so longer.
Inevitably then, our craven MPs have just ignored the root causes of obesity and looked for someone to blame; an easy target that will win them cheap headlines and potentially, votes. Nobody, as we have said before on Endangered Species, believes they will lose votes taking on the forces of the giant food, drink or alcohol manufacturers. They are easy targets for the lazy or simply misguided.
There is little surprise then, that the members of the parliamentary health select committee this week latched on to cartoon characters such as Tony The Tiger (Frosties), the Honey Monster (Sugar Puffs) and the eponymous Milky Bar Kid and demonized them, proposing a ban on such animated characters and other superheroes in the service of promoting what they deem “unhealthy food”.
It was one of a series of proposals they made including a ban on junk food ads before the 9pm watershed; supermarkets removing sweets, chocolates and other “unhealthy” snacks from the end of check-out aisles; a restriction on multi-buy packs; a potential ban of sports clubs and tournaments being sponsored by “unhealthy” brands; a restriction by local authorities on the number of junk food outlets in their areas and putting pressure on social media giants to restrict the amount of “unhealthy” food adverts that young children can see.
Not that all animated characters faced a ban, however. The Jolly Green Giant would be safe because he promoted healthy sweet corn for example – no matter that there are some well documented downsides to eating too much of the stuff. And that – as ever - is the point: who is to decide what we should and should not eat, and how it can and cannot be advertised and otherwise marketed at us: MP’s? The NHS? Public Health England? Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and other celebrity chefs? Our schools? Or do we, the public, take responsibility for the nutrition and health of our children and ourselves?
To be clear, we do have a problem. Perhaps not on the same scale as Houston, long regarded as America’s fattest city, a place where one-in-five residents is expected to be suffering from diabetes by the year 2040. Nevertheless, one in 25 children in England and Wales aged ten or 11 are now classified as “severely obese”, with one in 40 at reception class (aged four or five) so regarded. It is worth noting that it is not the same measurement as for adults – which requires a BMI (Body Mass Index) of over 40 – but is calculated on reference growth charts instead.
However childhood obesity is calculated, the evidence of its epidemic status is clear and the future health implications for this generation and its impact on the NHS and the wider economy are nothing short of terrifying. We are eating ourselves to death at an enormous cost on an unprecedented scale. But is it really Tony The Tiger and the Honey Monster’s fault?
Both Frosties and Sugar Puffs are in serious sales declines. Kellogg’s has reduced the sugar content in the latter and its other iconic brand, Coco Pops by up to 40 per cent. For Frosties, which are essentially Corn Flakes covered in sugar, this is much harder to do. Indeed, a lower sugar (30 per cent less) variant of Frosties failed with consumers and instead Kellogg’s has tried to promote Frosties as an “adult cereal” - a bit of a stretch with a cartoon Tony The Tiger on the packet.
It would be foolish to the point of obtuse to argue that the advertising doesn’t work. But, as with so many of our politicians’ easy targets, the real culprit is a much bigger issue that is hiding in plain sight and far too politically difficult for them to tackle: poverty and its intrinsic relationship with bad education, particularly among certain poorer demographics like immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean or working class white families. After all, Tony, the Milky Bar Kid and the Honey Monster were around long before the obesity epidemic.
Why do so may parents prefer serving up a bowl of sugar-coated cereal rather than say the millennials’ favourites, avocado on toast with poached eggs? Where do we begin in terms of cost of acquisition, length of time to make in the busy morning and then educating uneducated palates into the joys of the avocado?
The likes of Jamie Oliver are much maligned and perhaps guilty of lapsing into sanctimony born of privilege, but we all know that his heart is in the right place – should any government care to take notice. His real argument is based on a need for improved education primarily, and a greater degree of personal responsibility to be taken by parents with regards to what their children are putting inside them.
Spend money on advertising campaigns showing parents how to make a healthier breakfast at speed might be a start. Why not introduce price incentives on healthier foods and beverages rather than tax penalties on the unhealthy; educate parents, and then educate them some more on what the positive and negative effects of the food products we feed our children are. We need to make allowing our young children to become obese as socially unacceptable as drink-driving is.
How about starting with re-introducing home economics and nutrition as a compulsory subject at school from years four to nine? And how about trying to involve as many parents in possible in those lessons and extra-curricular activities in the subject? Let’s make physical education more directly linked to health too – rather than the easy to avoid chore that it is for so many of our non-sporty children.
Perhaps if the government was to stop withdrawing funding for public health education programmes both at school and beyond, put a halt to the selling-off of school playing field land to property developers and introduce price incentives on healthy foods, not the above-mentioned tax penalties on what’s “unhealthy” – then, and only then, might we all be a little less cynical. This would be the nanny state put to positive use – not making arbitrary judgments about our freedom of choice and what we choose to eat. Not to mention punishing the poor – yet again!
But in this case, cynicism is not the only reason for doubting the new proposals. On the one hand, they won’t actually work as they are not the primary driver to purchase (cost and convenience are); and on the other, as the Department of Health has pointed out, Britain already has a childhood obesity plan “which is among the most comprehensive in the world”. Perhaps a little less finger pointing at manufacturers and a little more educating and even fat-shaming of parents might be the politically incorrect, more effective solution.
BBC News, 11 May 2018: London Mayor Sadiq Khan plans TfL 'junk food' advert ban
Drinks Industry Ireland (Ron Cregan), 24 May 2018: Disproportionate ‘solutions’
BBC News, 30 May 2018: 'Ban cartoon characters' on unhealthy food, MPs say
The Jakarta Post, 31 May 2018: Plain packaging halts creative efforts, hurts economy
The Times, 01 June 2018: Jamie Oliver accused of having his cake and eating it after using animated monster in video
Reuters, 01 June 2018: WHO panel split on soft drink sugar tax to cut obesity
The Guardian, 05 June 2018: Channel 4 tells Jamie Oliver he's wrong on junk food ad ban campaign
Le Figaro (France), 06 June 2018: Medicines: the course of « neutral » packaging is controversial
New Zealand Herald, 10 June 2018: Growing support for 'cigarette-style' warnings on fizzy drinks
Daily Mail, 11 June 2018: Activists push for COFFEE CUPS to be plastered with grotesque cigarette-packaging warnings to highlight environmental damage
Morning Advertiser, 14 June 2018: Minimum unit pricing on trade sales would breach EU law
The Irish Times, 15 June 2018: Labour accused of ‘stunning U-turn’ on alcohol health warnings
Daily Mail, 20 June 2018: Watchdog calls for mandatory traffic light food labelling after Brexit
World Trademark Review, 20 June 2018: As Canada legalises marijuana, research finds majority of Canadians want branded packaging for cannabis products
The Irish Sun, 26 June 2018: New health warning label to be plastered over booze bottles is enough to drive you to drink
BBC News, 29 June 2018: WTO backs Australia over plain cigarette packets