The Associated Press produced an article that focused on “pay at the table” — an innovation that has achieved some traction in Europe but is virtually unknown in the United States:
It’s become routine for customers to swipe their credit or debit cards at consoles in fast-food joints, gas stations and grocery stores. So why do we still hand over the plastic at sit-down restaurants?
Pay-at-the-table systems are popular in Europe and other parts of the world, but they haven’t yet caught on in the U.S., largely because equipment makers haven’t been able to point to a reason why restaurateurs should invest in the gear.
Manufacturers now see an opportunity. A rise in the number of "skimming" scams in which waiters use hand-held computers to quietly record customers’ credit card information and sell it is creating a sense of urgency. So is an increased push by managers to speed the flow of diners during peak hours.
"Restaurants are the last holdout where you still give up your credit card. That’s why we think this is the next logical step," said Paul Rasori, VeriFone Inc.’s vice president of marketing.
Basically the idea is that when the waiter brings a check, he also brings a machine where the customer can scan his own card and pay the bill.
The future is clearly going this way. It is more secure, turns tables faster and is in line with the way consumers pay for other things.
Perhaps of greater interest, though, is whether equipping restaurants with Wi-Fi networks necessary to use these systems won’t open the door for other tableside uses. Why couldn’t menus be on computer and be able to deliver much deeper nutritional information?
Why couldn’t consumers explain their situation — diabetic, looking to lose weight, etc., mention favorite foods and ask the computer to suggest a menu for tonight?
Remember the Internet was built to help the defense department. All the innovations since are a byproduct. No reason to think we can’t have a similar experience in restaurants across the country.
The world’s newspapers and television news programs have been filled with articles touting the health benefits of organic. As far away as Kenya, they are running articles with titles such as Research Shows Organic Foods Are Healthier:
Organic fruits and vegetables may be healthier than conventionally grown crops, US researchers say.
A 10-year study comparing organic tomatoes with standard tomatoes found that they had almost double the quantity of flavonoids, antioxidant compounds said to help prevent disease such as heart disease and cancer.
The new research could fuel further demand for organic fruits and vegetables which is already under strain in some parts of the world.
The US scientists studied dried tomato samples taken between 1994 and 2004 and measured the amount of quercetin and kaempferol. Average levels in organic tomatoes over the ten years were 79 per cent higher for kaempferol and 97 per cent higher for quercetin.
“The levels of flavonoids increased over time in samples from organic treatments, whereas the levels of flavonoids did not vary significantly in conventional treatments,” said the researchers in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Alyson Mitchell, from the University of California, and her co-authors say this is because of ‘over-fertilisation’ by conventional farmers. Flavonoids are produced by plants when they lack nutrients so for those crops given a large supply of nutrients in the form of fertiliser, there is little need for the natural production.
Many consumers already purchase organic foods because they believe the products to be better for them than those grown using pesticides. In recent months, other studies have found organic produce to contain higher levels of nutrients than their conventionally grown counterparts.
In another US study, organic kiwis were found to have significantly higher levels of vitamin C, while a French study has found that organic peaches have a higher content of polyphenols — also antioxidant compounds — at harvest.
Peter Melchett, policy director of the UK organic body, the Soil Association, says: “There is clear evidence that a range of organic foods contain more beneficial nutrients and vitamins and less of things known to have a detrimental health effect such as saturated fats and nitrates.”
But some scientists say that there is not yet enough evidence to support such a claim while others say higher levels of nutrients does not automatically translate into direct benefits for every consumer.
Nevertheless, European consumers are known to be strongly influenced by scientific studies. The UK’s health foods sector has boomed in recent years thanks to increasing media attention to ‘superfoods’ and the health benefits of vitamins and other dietary nutrients.
And the organic food industry is already growing at a hefty pace. Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, said its organic food sales increased by 40 per cent last year. About 10 per cent of all fruit and vegetables sold in its stores are now organic.
And fresh produce, one of Kenya’s major exports, is the leading organic product category, comprising a third of global revenues, according to UK-based consultancy, OrganicMonitor.
“Fruit and vegetables like apples, oranges, carrots and potatoes are typical entry points for consumers buying organic products. Their fresh nature appeals to consumers seeking healthy and nutritious foods,” says a recent report.
About reports such as this, one should always start with the same phrase: “Interesting, if true.”
The problem is that these studies rarely compare two items grown in identical growing conditions. As such they tell us little or nothing about the merits of organic cultivation. Particularly if what we are interested in is finding out whether we should expand organic consumption.
Since organic is very difficult to grow, let’s assume we have a 1,000-acre farmer who sets aside his 25 best acres, in a unique microclimate, to devote to his organic production. The fact that produce grown on this quality soil may have different attributes than some other product grown elsewhere, may tell us a lot about different soils and microclimates and nothing about organic production.
When we are done being skeptical on this point and have controlled the studies so that we are confident that some nutritional element shows up as superior in organic, we still have to ask if that means anything for human health.
An indication that organic peaches have higher values of polyphenols only matters if A) People are deficient in polyphenols and B) We have established that maintaining adequate amounts of polyphenols enhances health or longevity .
Additionally, we also have to ascertain that the test was not of the “silver bullet” variety. If you only test for, say, vitamin C — you may find that A is superior to B — but that could come at the cost of less of another vitamin. So broad-range testing is always required if we are to find anything useful.
ABC News published an opinion piece by Keith-Thomas Ayoob, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, entitled Is Going Organic Really Better For You?
The best thing about the story is that he avoids answering the title question. He does say this:
Organic or Not, Any Veggies Will Do
If you’re like most people, you’re not eating much in the way of produce either way.
We need about 4½ cups of produce daily, and we’re only getting about half that much. Leave out the fries (the feds count them as a veggie, even if I don’t) and our vegetable intake plummets.
If you really want to go organic, great — but understand what you’re getting into.
First, if you’re a stickler for your fruit and vegetables having to look perfect — symmetrical, apples and pears, evenly colored oranges — let it go. Organic produce is imperfect looking. That’s OK — you’re eating it, not bonding with it.
Second, organic food may not last as long, so buy a little less at a time but buy a little more often. If you are the type to go to the store only once every 10 days to two weeks, you’re probably better off with traditional produce.
One option is frozen organic produce. It’s picked and frozen usually on the same day, and the nutrients really hold. Just remember to forget the stuff that’s packed in “butter sauce” and like that. It runs up your calories and your food bill — those “enhancements” take labor and costly packaging.
Budget accordingly. Organic produce, milk and meat are usually much more expensive. It’s getting a little better, though. Even Wal-Mart now sells organic produce, so that tells you that organic is no longer a fringe movement and is now part of mainstream America. Even most large supermarkets have an organic section.
Organic for All?
Should all of America go organic? Well, we couldn’t, even if we all wanted to.
We probably wouldn’t be able to feed as many people as we do if we limited ourselves to growing only organic food because organic farming often yields less per acre and it’s labor intensive. Farm land is shrinking (not really, but it’s becoming land for condominiums), and we have to get more out of every acre.
From the scientific perspective, here’s what I tell my patients, most of whom have neither access to organic food nor the money to purchase it: There is a mountain of support for eating more fruit and vegetables. The benefits are very clear, and the solid science is absolutely overwhelming.
Diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with better heart health, lower risk of diabetes, several cancers and stroke, lower blood pressure, the list goes on and on.
The research that demonstrated these benefits looked at consumption of conventional produce, not organic. So relax; traditionally grown fruits and vegetables are quite healthful, and there’s plenty of research to prove it.
Your biggest risk? Avoiding eating fruits and vegetables just because you can’t get organic. That would be a mistake, and down the road it could cost you big.
True, this latest study on the higher flavonoid level of organic tomatoes is important.
Then again, we’re eating only about half the fruit and vegetables we should, so if we ate nonorganic produce but ate the amounts we should, we’d be getting a whole lot more antioxidants and other good stuff than we do now, for sure
It is actually not clear that the latest study on organic tomato flavonoid levels is important at all. It is not clear if it is true, and even it was true it is not clear what it would mean for human health and longevity.
Although this story is filled with the biases of today’s elite toward locally grown and organic, it comes to the proper conclusion by urging more consumption of produce of any type.
ABC News also ran an interview with a clinical dietician specialist from Johns Hopkins. It is interesting to watch Dr. Tim Johnson try and get some enthusiasm from him for organics. He seemed more concerned with sub-par nutrition and saw the difference between organic and conventional as splitting hairs — in a nutritional sense. After being pushed, he announced that people should try and buy organic if they are going to eat the skin — although he mentioned no evidence for this opinion. He also decided to hold forth on the environmental advantages of local although clinical dieticians are not known to have any expertise in this area. You can watch the interview here.
For many parents, including the Pundit, word of the E. coli outbreak last fall on bagged spinach didn’t ring too many personal alarms. After all, kids — at least ours — rarely touch the stuff.
But word that Salmonella had been found on Veggie Booty, a snack food popular with children, struck horror in the heart. The Jr. Pundits live on the stuff. Robert’s American Gourmet Food, based in Sea Cliff, New York, issued a recall of both Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks.
We were all fine in the Pundit household but others were not so fortunate. And the whole outbreak raised several troubling questions. The CDC for example, published this Q & A related to the Veggie Booty outbreak:
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS RELATED TO THE OUTBREAK
OF SALMONELLA INFECTIONS FROM VEGGIE BOOTY
I have a bag of Robert’s American Gourmet Veggie Booty &/or Super Veggie Tings and I/my children ate some of it, but no one is sick. What should I do?
Do not eat any more of the Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings. Throw away the bag(s). If anyone in your family develops diarrheal illness with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, he or she should consult a healthcare provider.
I/my household member ate Robert’s American Gourmet Veggie Booty &/or Super Veggie Tings and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?
Do not eat any more of the Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings. If the diarrheal illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider. Salmonella infection is diagnosed by culture of a stool specimen. Call your local health department as well, as they may wish to investigate your case further.
What about Robert’s American Gourmet Super Veggie Tings Crunch Corn Sticks?
Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc expanded its product recall on July 2, 2007 to include all lots and sizes of Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks due to the company’s concern that Veggie Booty and Super Veggie Tings share ingredients that could be contaminated. Persons should discard any bags of either product in their possession.
Has Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks been associated with illness?
CDC is not aware of any human illness associated with Super Veggie Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks. The voluntary recall by the company was a precautionary measure.
I/my household member ate another snack product from the Robert’s American Gourmet brand that is not Veggie Booty or Super Veggie Tings, and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?
There is no evidence that this illness has been caused by the snack food you are describing. If the illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider.
I/my household member ate a snack food that is not the Robert’s American Gourmet brand, and I/my household member is ill with diarrhea. I still have the bag. What should I do?
There is no evidence that your illness has been caused by the snack food you are describing. If the illness is severe, with bloody diarrhea, fever, or symptoms lasting more than three days, you should consult a healthcare provider.
It is a helpful enough guide for consumers. Yet in reading the FAQ we were struck by several things:
- Three of the questions contained the words, "I still have the bag." The point was mostly ignored in the answers. Why are people not being instructed to save the bags, advised how to save them so as to best preserve them for testing and advised what types of tests they might want to have done on the bags?
- The one time CDC mentions the bag, it actually advises consumers to “throw away the bag,” which is shocking both from a traceability standpoint and from a legal liability standpoint.
- There is no mention of requesting that your physician perform any particular test on excrement to ascertain if it is part of this outbreak or not. Why isn’t this mentioned?
- There seems to be a recommendation to wait until the diarrhea is bloody, a fever, etc. If we knew our child had eaten a product that was implicated in a foodborne illness and the child suddenly got diarrhea, we would rush our child to a doctor for immediate testing and, at least, discuss prophylactic treatment prior to an actual diagnosis. This seems a recommendation focused on reducing health care expenditures, not a recommendation to parents concerned with the health of a toddler.
- There is no recommendation of asking one’s doctor to forward any positive test results to state health labs, the CDC, etc. We realize technically this may be a doctor’s responsibility, but more broadly informing the public couldn’t help but increase compliance.
Beyond the CDC’s questions, this food safety problem is very troubling.
First, it has been traced to seasoning imported from China. So this tells us that food manufacturers are not being extra vigilant about purchasing food from China.
Second, salmonella is a standard screen in both ingredient testing and finished product testing in food manufacturing facilities. How did this go by unnoticed?
The shocking thing is that the FDA closed down the entire spinach industry because it was uncertain about the safety of the product. Are they really so certain that all the processed food with ingredients from China is safer than the spinach was last year? Or is this a double standard?
One of the more interesting subjects that has arisen as communications technology has evolved is the issue of how policy gets discussed and who sets the agenda.
On broad public issues we have seen this most recently with the immigration bill. It was obvious from the beginning that it was the plethora of new media, such as multiple cable channels and radio talk shows, that had been driving opposition to the bill. We even published a piece here at the Pundit that named a cable host by name: Pundit’s Mailbag — AgJOBS vs. Lou Dobbs.
Yet by the time Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, pulled the immigration compromise from the floor, the “experts” felt that the opposition to the bill had also peaked. Yet, in fact, during the time the bill was off the floor, opposition mushroomed, and this was principally due to the Internet. Chat rooms, bloggers, e-mail lists — you name it — were interested in the issue and kept it a focus of attention.
In journalism, the agenda has typically been set by those with a “bully pulpit,” such as the President of the United States or by a few lead newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, that have the financial resources to maintain teams of investigative journalists. What was promoted by these people and institutions was soon the subject of newscasts and local headlines all around the country.
It is worth remembering that the “grand compromise” between the luminaries of the Senate was supposed to quickly pass through the Senate within days, before opposition would have a chance to build. The demise of that plan, in the face of a public outcry welling up from the blogosphere, symbolized a new reality. That the old days of secret deals in smoked-filled rooms, really are, if not dead, very difficult to pull off anymore.
Within our own industry we’ve seen the same phenomenon. We ran a piece entitled Imagination Farms/Disney Garden Score Big Points With PBH And Pixar, which was a sort of celebratory article pointing out that Imagination Farms had done some deals that would be big wins for Imagination Farms. The deals were with, separately, the Produce for Better Health Foundation and Disney Studios/Pixar.
We were focused completely on the angle of this being good for Imagination Farms. However, our readership was quickly focused on how the deal with PBH might affect them and PBH. We started hearing from readers as in Pundit’s Mailbag — PBH/Imagination Farms Alliance Questioned, and the powers that be at PBH started hearing from its own board members. Next thing you know the “deal” between Imagination Farms and PBH was no longer the same “deal”.
What both the immigration issue on the national policy side and the Imagination Farms/PBH “alliance” on the produce industry side illustrate is that the day when secret deals could be expected to be kept shrouded is now past and that the elites thus have lost a certain power that comes from controlling information.
We mention all this because it changes the way business is done. Top players now recognize that they need to preemptively influence those who are in position to influence their constituencies.
As a result, here at the Pundit we receive a lot of calls and e-mails. Some of this is people suggesting stories for us to write about. Another big chunk is people seriously looking to discuss industry issues. A big portion, however, is people calling neither to feed us stories nor because they really want to discuss any industry issues but, rather, to try to defuse future problems by discussing issues with us and, in doing so, giving us additional perspective.
Often these callers, visitors and e-mailers hope we won’t write about something at all or, if we do, they hope that the event in question will be viewed within a particular context.
Our recent piece urging people to attend United’s Washington, D.C. event, entitled Washington Public Policy Conference — Action Plan For Government Relations, brought lots of publicity to the conference. United was so pleased with the piece, the association linked to it in the United weekly newsletter.
It is a great program and we do urge people to attend it if they can.
There is something about this year’s program, however, that we didn’t write about and we were called on it by quite a few readers. We heard from board members, former board members, former staff, current staff at a Congressional office and several longtime United members. This note from a long-time United member was fairly representative:
Your editorial about United’s Washington Conference motivated me to register, but when I looked at the calendar, I realized that the date of the conference conflicts with the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
This is both insulting and foolish. Insulting because as a small business I have struggled for over 30 years to pay my United dues. I think it is reasonable that United would schedule its major events to allow Jewish members to participate.
It is foolish because a decent number of Congressional staff and Congress people are also Jewish and probably won’t be in Congress to meet with the United members.
This is very bad management and I hope you will call them on it.
Tom Stenzel, President of United Fresh, had called the Pundit over this issue more than a month ago. The first words out of Tom’s mouth were: “We made a terrible mistake and scheduled the Washington Public Policy Congress to conflict with Rosh Hashanah. Obviously it was unintentional, and we have already taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Knowing that the Pundit is Jewish, Tom asked for what help or advice we could provide.
We appreciated the call and tried our best to be helpful, sending along a Jewish calendar for future years and identifying the top Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues in Washington, plus one hosting a community dinner so that United Fresh could prepare a “fact sheet” for anyone who came to the event and was looking for a place to go for services or to participate in other aspects of Jewish communal life.
Although we did all this, we knew this was more a matter of form than helpful. Nobody who is observant is going to be attending the United conference as the day is spent almost completely in synagogue. The liturgy is substantially expanded for the day and the highlight is the sounding of a ram’s horn, called a shofar, which is blown as one would a trumpet.
Even many Jewish people who barely know the inside of a synagogue may attend twice a year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Even those who do not attend synagogue identify the holiday as an important family event and are unlikely to attend.
Rosh Hashanah is technically the Jewish New Year — the term translates as “head of the year” or “first of the year” — but the term is deceptive because it is among the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, and its celebration has little to do with late night drinking, wild parties or watching football games.
We didn’t write about all this because — contrary to the belief of some that our purpose here at the Pundit is to stir up controversy — we actually try to be extremely responsible about the subjects we raise. We look for opportunities to improve the industry.
Since Tom saw the problem and called both acknowledging the problem and pledging to avoid it in the future, we didn’t see any way that promoting the problem would improve the industry. So we focused on the positive, knowing that anyone affected directly by this issue would be given an appropriate response by United when they called or wrote United.
Yet, after hearing from people following our piece, it was clear that we have a broader role and a greater responsibility than we may have realized. First, as we followed up on the e-mails and phone calls, many wanted us to speak out precisely because they did not feel they could speak to United about the issue. They felt their businesses would be at risk if they got the reputation of being a troublemaker. Or they felt their employer would object to their making a fuss.
Second, many made the point that the issue was one that actually will affect all attendees — Jewish and non-Jewish. To put an extreme case on it, nobody will be getting to meet with Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut on that day; he is an Orthodox Jew. In general, although United doubtless has gotten many commitments and will still have a highly successful event, many of the offices will be short-staffed. This means both that Jewish staffers will not be available for meetings and the non-Jewish staff will be scrambling to cover the open vacancies.
Third, nobody doubts that it was a simple error, an error done without malice or intent of any kind. But it was such a basic error — the Pundit’s wife is a member of Junior League and they wouldn’t book a committee meeting for five people without consulting a community calendar — that it brings to the fore issues regarding management procedures that shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.
Rosh Hashanah is not an obscure holiday. The Pundit has on his wall the completely non-religious “At-A-Glance” wall calendar and it notes the holiday. A quick glance at several industry calendars, sent out by major firms in the trade, show that the holiday is on all of them. There was obviously a procedure missing in the setting of the date. Every event date has to be checked for conflicts — with other industry events, with holidays, etc.
Finally, although Tom was clearly 100% sincere in saying that this would not be allowed to happen again, Tom is mortal. One day he will leave United and his promises and commitments may not all be remembered by his successors. By putting things on the record, those promises and commitments are memorialized to be shown to some future United CEO to remind him or her of the obligations undertaken.
We take Tom at his word. It was a mistake. He and all the team at United regret it. It won’t happen again. That is good enough for us.
United does a lot of good for the industry. It serves no purpose to malign an organization because of a management slip-up, even on a very sensitive issue such as religion.
Tom joined United as its death was considered imminent by many. It is 10-plus years later, and United was strong enough to be there for the industry when it needed help during the food safety issues of last fall. That is a record built on management success, not a record built on management slip-ups.
Too much can be made of things sometimes. To paraphrase a lesson from another religion: Let he who has never made a mistake cast the first stone.
Besides, Rosh Hashanah is really about introspection. It is a time to review the mistakes of past years and develop a plan to make changes for a better future. Intrinsic in the holiday is the notion that mistakes will be made and that with repentance, prayer and good deeds, we can build a better future.
Rosh Hashanah has a produce edge to it as well. The common practice is to eat apples dipped in honey, which symbolizes our wish that the year ahead should be as sweet.
This year, many Jewish members won’t be able to attend United’s Washington Public Policy Conference. This makes it even more important that those in the industry who can make it should go and support the program.
The rest of us, wherever we may be, can dip an apple in honey and wish the attendees the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem, which roughly translates as “May you be inscribed and sealed (in the Book of life) for a good year.”
For those able to attend, The Washington Public Policy Conference is going to be a great event; you can only gain by registering. You can do so here.
Our article, Pundit’s Mailbag — Sunkist’s Missed Opportunities, brought forth a variety of input. Interestingly enough, it fell on two sides of the fence: Former employees, academics and consultants who have studied Sunkist, and business partners in the trade who admire Sunkist, think it has potential and are looking for Sunkist to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, simply loved the piece. On the other side of the fence, there were many — though not all — of those still at Sunkist who just seemed quizzical as to why Delos Walton bothered to write the letter at all.
Which provides a reasonable explanation of the two different mindsets at work.
A person long associated with Sunkist sent this note, along with a memo that has been circulated at Sunkist:
To be up front with the axe I have to grind, I believe that Sunkist could be a great brand and company if the current management and board were comprised of more highly skilled people with greater vision.
I side with Jeff Garguilo in wanting global product supply available 52 weeks a year and having the growers involved with Sunkist, rather than the packing-house managers.
I want the current Sunkist management to get booted out and some actual business people to take over the company and run it properly.
You may know that at the last Board meeting, Tim Lindgren (CEO) had to eat humble pie and accept that the post freeze financial plan he, Russ Hanlin (Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing) and Richard French (CFO) put together was off by more than 35% forecasting year end sales and grower returns. Very embarrassing. He then had to announce signing up Monitor to help with finances and setting strategy. Take a look at the memo Sunkist sent out:
At the heart of Sunkist’s new vision is the opportunity to restructure ourselves to provide better service — to member-growers as well as customers — at a significantly reduced cost.
One of the key projects we will undertake towards that end is the revitalization of our fresh fruit sales process. Russ Hanlin, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, is leading the team working to simplify our sales process and gain efficiencies through best demonstrated practices.
In addition to calling on the expertise of Sunkist’s fresh fruit sales and marketing staff, Russ has engaged an outside consultant, the Monitor Group, to help in what is envisioned to be a four-month assignment involving fact gathering, analysis, design and implementation.
Monitor is a global strategy and management consulting firm with the knowledge, analytic ability and expertise to create customized solutions which help its clients compete and win in the marketplace. We are impressed with their experience and expertise, finding them to be among the “best and brightest” in their field.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Monitor’s roots are traced back to the Harvard Business School where many of its founders studied and taught. Founded in 1984, the company has more than 1,000 consultant-employees in 28 offices in 18 countries. The two leaders dedicated to Sunkist’s project are in Monitor’s Los Angeles office and, given the intensity of the work, they will have office space at Sherman Oaks.
Together we will undertake a comprehensive review of our current structure with all operating procedures falling within the scope of the project. The results will help make our sales structure become even more effective, competitive and efficient and will help us move forward to where we, as a company, want to be in the future.
Monitor is well known; it also has its work cut out for it. The problem is that if it is not given a broader, strategic assignment to look at all of Sunkist, Monitor should resign its assignment. To confine its inquiry to the “fresh fruit sales process” is a way for board members who are heavy into the packing house business but light on growing to avoid having Monitor look at issues of governance.
Yet governance is key. Tim Lindgren’s appointment as President and CEO has not been a disappointment to the board — the board got exactly what it wanted. The board did not like having a Jeff Garguilo thinking big plans, looking to Wall Street for capital, looking to liberate the value of the co-op owner’s shares.
The board wanted a kind of general manager, more than a CEO, with no grand strategic plans. That is what they have.
The ability to sell fresh fruit cannot properly be analyzed without looking at supply, by-product and general management issues.
As all roads led to Rome, so every critique of Sunkist leads to a critique of its unusual federated co-op structure.
There is still an opportunity to preserve for the growers a chance to realize the equity in the Sunkist name. It is, however, a chance that dissipates with each passing day.
Our piece, ‘Nutrition-Education Doesn’t Work’ Says Associated Press Review Of Literature, brought a spirited response. That response included several correspondents whose work we’ve mentioned before in our coverage of the Food Dudes program. This program, after lengthy testing in the U.K. and Ireland, is now being rolled out across Ireland and there have been discussions about rolling it out across Europe.
We published an interview, which we ran under the title pundit Pulse of The Industry: Fyffes’ Dr. Laurence Swan, in which we discussed how and why Dr. Swan and Fyffe’s had gotten so involved in the Food Dudes program. Now Dr. Swan sent along this pithy note about our nutrition-education article:
Dear Perishable Pundit,
I have just one word for this piece:
— Dr. L Swan
Managing Director for R&D
Our main review of the Food Dudes program, entitled Food Dudes Beat Junk Punks And Kids Eat More Produce, included an interview with Fergus Lowe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales Bangor and co-founder of the Food Dude Programme. Our piece on the failures of nutrition education brought this substantive response:
You make some very valuable points in your piece on the Associated Press review of literature dealing with attempts to change children’s eating habits. It certainly never ceases to surprise me that huge sums of government money are spent on schemes for which there is, at best, no evidence or even negative indicators of effectiveness.
Take, as an illustration of this, the schemes, covered in the Associated Press Review, that do no more than make fruit and vegetables available to children and leave it at that. In several studies we have conducted (see, for example, Increasing Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: AA Peer-Modelling And Rewards-Based Intervention, Horne et al., 2004; and http://www.Fooddudes.co.uk), making fruit and vegetables available to school kids over several months did not lead to any increase in consumption of these foods.
Indeed, consumption levels remained very low. The UK has carried out one of the largest and costliest free-fruit-in-school schemes in the world, but evaluations of it (by NFER) have shown that it has been wholly unsuccessful in bringing about changes in eating habits.
As your article makes clear, what is needed is not simply to make these foods available, nor more dull education, which may in fact turn kids off, but instead programs that really change eating habits. We need to motivate children to learn to like the taste of fruit and vegetables. These are great foods that previous generations of kids have eaten, and we must now help this generation to enjoy them too.
The bottom line in this regard is actual consumption of fruit and vegetables and this should be the key behavioral measure. It has been the main focus of the Food Dudes program that we have been developing over past 15 years or so, and which has been subject to controlled experimental evaluation in the UK, with the findings published in peer-reviewed journals.
This is a program that has now been piloted in Ireland (funded by the European Union, Irish Government, and the Fresh Produce Industry), and evaluated by University College, Dublin. Such was its effectiveness in bringing about large and long-lasting changes in children’s eating habits that the Irish Government has decided to make the program available to all primary schools in Ireland.
The Irish project seems to offer an appropriate paradigm that can be followed in other countries such as the US. It entails, as you have proposed, an evaluation of the evidence and an effective trial of the Food Dudes program to see whether it really can change the behavior of US kids (can they be that different from their European counterparts?).
This is not rocket science and it does not require a great deal of resources to establish whether a program can change what children eat and whether these changes can be sustained over time. If a fraction of the money currently spent on the implementation of untested governmental and other schemes were to be spent instead on the establishing what really does change behavior, then we might begin to make progress. The cost of not doing so will be the continued rapid growth of the obesity problem.
— Fergus Lowe
Professor of Psychology and
Director of the Food Dudes
When people do not do things that are eminently sensible, we would be flattering ourselves to think it is because we and only we see the good sense of it. One has to confront the horrible truth that these types of programs become self-perpetuating industries.
It is good that Dr. Lowe is a professor of psychology as he could doubtless speak to the powerful ability of human beings to persuade themselves of whatever they want to do. In the piece we wrote regarding the Associated Press review of the literature education, we included two quotes from the AP article that lay this out so perfectly:
Kate Houston, deputy under secretary of the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, oversees most federal funds, $696 million this year, spent on childhood nutrition education in this country. Funding has steadily increased in recent years, up from $535 million in 2003. Houston insists the programs are successful.
“I think the question here is how are we measuring success and there are certainly many ways in which you can do so and the ways in which we’ve been able to measure have shown success,” she said.
But isn’t the goal of these programs to change the way kids eat?
“Absolutely that’s the goal,” she said.
And they’re successfully reaching that goal?
“We’re finding success in things in which we have been able to measure, which are more related to knowledge and skill. It is more difficult for us to identify success in changing children’s eating patterns.”
When asked about the many studies that don’t show improvement, Houston asked for copies of the research. And she said the USDA doesn’t have the resources to undertake “long term, controlled, medical modeled studies” necessary to determine the impact of its programs.
At least she acknowledges the goal — changing consumption patterns. But how ridiculous is it for her to say that “…the USDA doesn’t have the resources to undertake long term, controlled, medical modeled studies necessary to determine the impact of its programs”?
She should be before Congress every week demanding that no program ever be done without a mechanism set up to determine if it is achieving its goal. If there is no more money available, better to do half as many programs and study them for efficacy than to do a bunch of random programs and spend billions and billions over the years with not the foggiest idea of whether the goal is being accomplished.
Some of the contractors have talked themselves into forgetting the goal of changing consumption patterns:
Their teacher, Jenkins, offers fact-filled and engaging nutrition lessons as part of a $7 million USDA program which reaches about 388,000 students a year in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The most recent evaluation of the 8-year-old program was disheartening: no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by kids participating in the program and those who weren’t. Teachers who spent more hours on nutrition education had no greater impact than those who didn’t. And parent behavior didn’t change either.
“It’s true, it didn’t change what they actually eat. But the program really made a difference in how kids were feeling about fruits and vegetables. They really had a more positive attitude toward fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Mike Prelip, a UCLA researcher who headed up the evaluation.
Is it possible that Dr. Prelip thinks the taxpayers care about how children are “feeling” about fruits and vegetables? The children have a more ‘positive attitude’ towards fruit and vegetables? Who is this guy, the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale of produce? It would be nice to hear him say something scientific, such as that he has an ongoing study that he believes will show that thinking positively about produce at age 9 correlates to higher consumption at age 12.
What is revealing about these quotes is that the people who taxpayers would hope would stop ineffective programs — the government, in the person of Kate Houston, deputy under secretary of the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and the private contractor hired by the taxpayer’s representatives to evaluate the program, in this caseDr. Mike Prelip, a UCLA researcher who headed up the evaluation — did not attack the programs. Instead they conveniently changed the criteria from those that matter — are children healthier, has this changed their diet, etc. — to completely irrelevant ones — do children have a more “positive attitude” toward produce items?
In fairness, this is a cultural problem that goes far beyond nutrition education. In the recent immigration bill, there were “triggers” put in by which certain policies would not be implemented until the border had been secured. How would we ascertain when the border had been secured? Would someone, such as the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the President, be required to certify that illegal border crossings had fallen to a set level?
No, not at all, the certification required was simply that money had been spent on border security. This may or may not have been effective in securing the border.
Beyond nutrition education, education in general suffers from a desire to be evaluated based on inputs. So all those accreditation bodies go in and measure things such as the number of teachers per pupil, the number of books in the library per student, the percentage of the faculty with PhDs… they measure everything except what the students actually learn. And when some propose to pay teachers based not on their number of years standing there but based on the actual improvement of their students on test score — in other words, paying them based on what they were hired to accomplish — the teacher’s unions wail in outrage.
Within our own industry, we are equally guilty. We so desperately want to believe that if we contribute money to the Produce for Better Health Foundation we will increase produce consumption. Yet we continue to contribute without any evidence that we are achieving our goals.
In fact, we do the same thing these government people do. If we have no data to indicate our programs increase consumption, we convince ourselves that other questions are important — What percentage of people know how many servings they ought to eat? These questions are typically nothing more than diversions.
And, in fact, we set up our own programs, intentionally or unintentionally, with the effect of avoiding testing for effectiveness.
The Pundit must have been asked a thousand times what do we think about the new Fruits & Veggies — More Matters! campaign that has replaced the old 5 a Day program. The answer is that it sounds pretty good to us, but so what? Who cares? Why is our opinion important? Why is anyone’s opinion important?
The goal of adopting Fruit & Veggies — More Matters! was to increase consumption — an eminently testable proposition.
You go to one little city and adopt Fruits & Veggies — More Matters! Then, in the control city you test it against whatever you want to test it against. For example, the continuation of the national 5 a Day program.
You do rigorous measurements of the things you are looking to measure. The obvious one is produce consumption. Although we question if that really is the goal as opposed to say, decreased obesity. In any case, you test what you want to test, then you compare results.
It would have been a relatively easy matter to ascertain if Fruits & Veggies — More Matters! will obtain our goals. But we had to test it.
By just rolling it out nationally, we lose the ability to easily do comparative studies. As a result we just have no idea and will never have an idea if the More Matters! program helps or hurts or is a neutral.
We simply must get away from doing stuff because it “feels good.” Our piece, School Nutrition Success Cries For Research, told the story of Nurse Abodeely and her school. The nurse received an award from the Produce for Better Health Foundation for instituting a whirlwind of activity to help her school and her students.
Yet the award was in some sense curious, as the activity left us lacking in two things: First, we cannot go to the federal government and say “Mr. President, look how effective Nurse Abodeely’s program was in reducing childhood obesity. This merits being rolled out on an expanded 50-state trial.” We cannot do this because no statistics have been kept to ascertain the effect of the program on the health of children..
And, secondly, we have absolutely no factual basis to judge whether Nurse Abodeely is doing important work or just wasting her time. Without research, we just don’t know.
Now our letter-writer today must be frustrated. With the Food Dudes program, they have at least tried to do the right thing. Yet, so far, nobody in the U.S. has leapt to try the program in America. That is a shame.
The research we have seen is encouraging, but more is needed. As Professor Lowe acknowledges, we certainly need research cross-culturally. A program might work in Ireland and fail in New Zealand. So a U.S. pilot is needed.
Additionally, longer term research is required. We have learned from programs such as “Head Start” in the U.S. that sometimes a program can show “results” — a Head Start graduate will be ahead of control groups in reading at completion of the program and for several years thereafter — but students revert to the level of the control group prior to high school graduation.
Even if Food Dudes does “work” in the short run, we have, as of yet, no research telling us what, if any, is its long-term effect.
Still, the research is sufficiently compelling to think that we should try a model program here in the U.S. Getting one funded should be a top priority for the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the government relations efforts of United Fresh and others.
And insuring that all our efforts — by government, non-profits and private industry — are subjected to proper evaluation for effectiveness is a requirement for progress in the 21st century.
Many thanks to Fergus Lowe for fighting hard to do the right thing and for sharing his findings with us in America.