Whistle Blowing on the Food & Beverage Industry…Tales from the Crypt

Until about 8 months ago, The Health Junction was employed by one of Canada’s largest media conglomerates.  Each day, I would wake up, eat my oatmeal (flax-seed enhanced, thank you very much) and hop on my bicycle for the daily commute to work.  Riding my bike was the often the best part of my day as it started with Toronto’s beautiful High Park and continued along the lake for a total of 12 delicious kilometers.

High Park

Lake Shore Cycling Path

In my personal life, I was trying to keep myself physically and mentally healthy by swimming, cycling, yoga, reading, meditating, spending time with friends and family, etc.  All of those efforts were seriously compromised upon arriving at work everyday – to say that my job was “stressful” doesn’t really capture the essence of life as a Marketing Project Manager at this particular media conglomerate.  It was a job where there was a lot of responsibility, very little decision-making  control, and the type of role where we had to put up with egomaniacal clients who truly believed that their wish was our command no matter who ridiculously outrageous their request was.

On top of this all, I was often working on absolutely rubbish products that to this day, I believe are contributing to unhealthy eating habits in our society; frozen pizza’s, microwave popcorn, yogurt claiming probiotic advantages (by the way, all yogurts have probiotic), sugary drinks and breakfast cereals, atrocious after school snacks,  “healthy” soup laden with sodium and uninspiring plastic toys.  Creating commercials for Dora The Explorer underpants, jam, and furniture is not how I envisioned my life turning out.

There came a point where I could no longer reconcile what I knew to be true about food and health from my job and the products I was pushing out to the universe via TV so I decided to take a chance and quit my job to study nutrition full-time and teach children healthy eating habits and cooking at a middle school here in Toronto.  While in the kitchen, I try to teach kids that you can eat real whole food that tastes good without all the added sugar, fats, and additives.  We also focus on media literacy which  brings me to the crux of this post.

In Canada, in order to get a commercial to air, it must be submitted to a regulatory body called Advertising Standards Canada.  I truly believe that the staff at ASC are careful in screening, reviewing, and approving or providing comments to advertisers.  The staff that review commercials for on-air suitability are basing their approval on The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

The issue is that ASC is a self-regulating body that is funded by the membership from advertisers who submit their commercials for clearance.  Have a look at the Board of Directors, and you’ll see that it is made up of big wigs from major consumer packaged goods companies.  When a consumer has a complaint, it may ultimately go to these folks who will determine what, if any, action should be taken (note: of the 45 members of this council, only 16 are public representatives – the rest for from the advertisers).

Is there a huge pink elephant in the room or is it just me?  The fact is that the advertising industry both funds, and has a majority stake in decision-making of ad suitability.  Regardless of the best intentions of the council members, I believe that one cannot be unbias when they are embedded in their own best interests.  This, in my opionion, leads to less that accurate commercials with questionable claims as to the products impact on our health.

Want to become a more informed television viewer?  Come back tomorrow to learn how to decipher tricky advertising and make sure you really understand what you’re putting in your mouth.

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7 thoughts on “Whistle Blowing on the Food & Beverage Industry…Tales from the Crypt

  1. Did you ever secretly complain about the adverts that aired? Danone in the UK had to remove health claims from their yoghurts a couple of years ago, I think, as they couldn’t back it up with evidence.

    • Hey Alicia! No, I haven’t ever filed a complaint but there are A LOT of commercials that I have either worked on or viewed on TV that cause me to roll my eyes because the information is quite misleading (in my opinion). Have you ever filed a complaint? Is there a commerical that you’ve seen and been really put off? Let me know so I can YouTube it! xo

  2. Please write an article about good and bad yogurts… I know in general you should buy plain and add fruit or other ingredients on your own (apparently even adding sugar it will still be less sweet) but I would like to know if 1) there are some fruit ones better than others (i.e. are the zero sugar added good?) 2) everyone is talking about greek yogurt and lebanese yogurt… What kind should I buy and can i purchase it in a regular grocery store? Thanks Food Boss!

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