Jim, while you are correct in having questions about Ellen’s commitment to this new diet, I have no question about this industry’s commitment to each other. I am so impressed with how Dan’l’s idea came to be a reality because so many of us have a strong desire to work together in spreading our positive messaging about our products.
I love the passion in this industry and how that passion comes together to do great things. We have already succeeded — a big thanks to everyone joining in this campaign and having fun with it.
Ellen’s commitment to the “sugar free” diet is indeed questionable.. She started off with much enthusiasm, posting a “video diary” of her “sugar free journey,” which she updated twice a day initially. By February 16th, just two weeks after she announced the program to big fanfare, she made what was, at the time of this writing, her last video diary post. So she hasn’t bothered to do an update in over a month.
Maybe she fell off the wagon and doesn’t want to deal with it… maybe she is busy with American Idol… or maybe she started getting real nutritional input from experts who pointed out that her message was incoherent and hostile to real science and so she decided to skip the whole matter. We certainly suspect it was the latter because Ellen had started backtracking on the show almost immediately.
After declaring that she was going to give up “everything” — including wine and vodka — as part of her decision to give up sugar, Ellen declared that she was really giving up “cake” and endorsed supposedly more natural sugar substitutes such as agave nectar.
We share with Cindy a joy at the effusive enthusiasm of this industry. What Dan’l actually did was both inspire industry members (and a few consumers) to give away produce to the needy and help chronicle the giving that was already going on.
This is the Lord’s work and Dan’l deserves much credit for undertaking the task.
There are still, however, three obvious areas that, if addressed, could help the industry even more:
The first is that tying it all into Ellen and her ‘journey” may have helped with initial publicity, but what the produce industry has is the endorsement of the most prestigious health and science organizations in the country for the idea that consumers should eat more produce — we don’t want to mess that up by aligning ourselves with the kind of junk science that Ellen espoused.
One suspects that Dan’l and company are also seeking a way to distance themselves a bit from Ellen, whether because of doubts about the accuracy of her nutritional advice or doubts about her commitment to the sugar-free diet. In their current headline video, the organization declares that Fresh for Ellen, which started out as a “fan club,” is now a “movement” with a “mission” to “share fresh produce.” You can see how the message is evolving here:
The second issue is whether identifying produce as “Nature’s Candy” is the best idea. Without a doubt, many fresh fruits have a lot of sugar, which is why they taste like candy. But a lot of the health benefits of increasing produce consumption come from eating vegetables. Indeed we once had a spirited exchange with Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association, on this very topic. The Pundit referenced an important report:
In the National Cancer Institute’s 5-A-Day for Better Health Program Evaluation Report, the following dilemma was identified: “… the potentially undesirable sensory qualities of some vegetables and fruit (e.g., bitterness, sourness, pungency, astringency) may act as significant barriers to the adoption of a diet that is high in vegetables and fruit, especially among children. The dilemma here is that the strong-tasting compounds as a group overlap extensively with the compounds that are potentially protective against cancer; therefore, removing strong-tasting compounds may reduce the protective effect.”
Put another way, all produce is not created equal when it comes to health effects, and the produce items that may be easiest to get people to increase consumption of, namely sweet-tasting fruits, are probably the least valuable health-wise. That is why the USDA’s latest food pyramid for kids urges the consumption of 1 1⁄2 cups of fruit each day and 2 1⁄2 cups of vegetables — 67 percent more vegetables than fruit.
In other words, many fruits piggyback on the good nutritional value of vegetables. This is especially true today when the focus is on obesity and thus avoiding calories. A cup of spinach has 7 calories, a cup of orange sections 85 calories — or more than 12 times as much!
Now oranges are rich in Vitamin C, have quite a bit of fiber and their calorie count certainly compares favorably to, say, a rich ice cream (312 calories in a cup), which is rich in not only calories but saturated fats and cholesterol. So it is a very good idea to eat an orange rather than ice cream or chocolate cake for dessert or instead of many snack foods.
And we need sweet fruits because human beings yearn for sweetness and this gives a great way to satisfy that yearning. So most people could significantly improve their diets by eating more fruit and less of other things.
Still, the identification of fruit as “Nature’s Candy” may lead the public health community to emphasize the consumption of low sugar produce items rather than just more fruits and vegetables — that probably would not be a win for fruit producers.
Finally, giving away produce — or other valuable things — to poor people is a kindness and should be praised. It can also generate good publicity for the donors and show the passion and sincerity with which those who produce a product wish to share it with the world.
The goal of the industry, though, is to sell more produce, not give it away. So the best donations should be strategic. You want to give away produce items that people are not familiar with so the donation serves as a kind of sampling program. You also want to give it to the young, whose tastes and buying patterns are not as well established and thus are susceptible to being influenced.
Over the years, we have seen many people in this industry so anxious to do the right thing. We think it important that there be a strategic approach to giving, so that the industry can do well while doing good.
Many thanks to Cindy Jewell and California Giant Berry Farms for helping us think through such an important issue.