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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2006 / 23 Shevat 5766

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

The latest food fad is being created | And we thought fashion fads were just for the clothing industry.

Well there are food fashions, too. Most particularly, diet food fashions. Only, until now the food industry has typically been way too late to spot them, reports the Wall Street Journal this week. From the Atkins diet to the low-carb craze, the food industry has always gotten on board way after the latest diet fad bubbled up through books, magazines, or television shows.

And that means they've lost out on huge profits.

According to Journal writers Sarah Ellison and Deborah Ball, food sales have been increasing by 2 percent a year, whereas foods related to the latest diet fad can spike far higher. Unfortunately, they can also fall faster. Sales for low-carb stuff went through the roof between 2002 and '04, but then last year fell by 10 percent.

Before that, the food industry was caught asleep at the wheel when they poured tons of money into low-fat products just as the Atkins boom was taking off. Apparently, food-honchos thought the "eat all the fat you want" craze would be short-lived. That cost them billions.

Now, the food industry has decided to take something out of the playbook of the fashion industry. They are determined to CREATE the next fad.

Just as fashionistas send what they've decided WILL BE the latest "look" down the runways several seasons before the styles hit the showroom floors, the food meisters have decided it's time to take control and determine the newest food craze, too.

Apparently, what they are focusing on is that people don't like to feel hungry. Duh. So, scientists at Unilever in Europe, for instance, worked for years on a technology that has something to do with the small intestine and the "ileal brake mechanism" and, bottom line, might be able to "convince the body that it has consumed 500 calories — the equivalent of a ham an cheese sandwich — when it really had consumed only 190, which is the amount contained in a SlimFast shake." This new product has just hit store shelves.

Other food makers are exploring similar options. From "satiety" inducing fibers to "gastric emptying" something or other and long-lasting starches, the focus now is on making people think they are full when they are not. Because then, of course, people will stop eating and lose weight, right?

Wrong. Just as I can never figure out who actually buys and wears the ridiculous looking stuff coming down those runways, I can't believe people buy into this nonsense. Hello! Two-thirds of Americans are not overweight or obese because our "hunger mechanisms" are off. Our hunger mechanisms are just fine. If we stopped eating when we were full, we would have very few weight problems. We Americans are literally killing ourselves with food precisely because we eat even when we are NOT hungry.

All the trick-food in the world is not going to fix that problem. And in fact, some of the experts consulted for the Journal piece finally said exactly that.

But, there's just not a whole lot of money for the food industry in telling people they have to eat less, often a lot less, than they think they do, whether they "feel" like it or not.

So, the food industry will keep putting out these fad-food products, maybe they'll even determine the fads, people will buy the products by the billions-dollars worth, and if history is our guide, we Americans will just continue to get fatter. But there will be fat profits for the food industry, which is why this trend makes sense for them, just as variations of the goofy fashions on the runways make it to stores two seasons later and people buy that stuff too.

Personally I refuse to ever buy anything low-fat, low-carb, sugarfree or otherwise silly. I'd much rather have a little bit of the real thing than a lot of nothin'.

But, I am, in a way, sympathetic to those who buy into all that "silly" food stuff. Personally, I can't walk past a pair of Donald "Donny" Pliner shoes without being convinced they will somehow change my life for the better.

Yeah, the food industry isn't so dumb. They know their consumers — and they'll make billions on this stuff.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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