I’ve spent the past few nights riveted by Bernie Madoff. I can certainly say that it wasn’t his boyish good looks, charisma or honesty that drew me into the documentary of his life, now defined solely by his historically proportioned Ponzi scheme. Rather, it was the lies that he perpetuated over the span of 40 years. He didn’t discriminate. He lied to widows, royals, those who had much and those who had little. I was glued to the television screen, dumbfounded by his ability to do what he did: win people over, gain their trust and lead them nowhere, ultimately to their demise without them even knowing what was happening.
Sadly, the personification of this monster on Wall Street doesn’t dwell only in the financial district. There are two-faced people everywhere, on every corner. Some are willing to tell you whatever you want to hear and others tell you only what you need to know. Some things are too good to be true. And those that seem so … just may be. Too good to be true.
Take Pop Tarts, for instance. These are considered delicious and tantalizingly colorful in some circles (especially circles of those under 10). The majority of ingredients are human-made or human-tainted and have been proven to lead to health problems and chronic disease. Still, they’re marketed to us as plausible breakfast options and are placed on shelves right at the height of the kid compartment in shopping carts. They’re dressed in bright colored packaging, beckoning at children with cartoon characters on their labels. If products like these have been proven to be unhealthy options for us, why is this still allowed? Aren’t they too good to be true?
With all the conspiracy theories and secrets covered up by the food companies and oversight organizations upon whom we rely, it should come as no surprise that it has come to light in recent months that the Academy of Nutritionists and Dietetics accepted donations from the very companies whose products we should be avoiding. In 2011 and from 2013 to 2017, the organization accepted more than $15 million in donations from key players in Big Food such as companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Hershey, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Conagra as well as some of the largest producers of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Monsanto and the dairy industry were also contributors. Aside from accepting large donations, documents reflect that the Academy purchased more than a million dollars of stock in some of the same companies, sharing in profits generated by J.M. Smucker and Nestlé.
A paper trail of emails evidenced symbiotic agreements between the Academy and their donors and the proof is in the chia pudding. In 2015, then treasurer of the Academy, Donna Martin, agreed to endorse Kraft singles, a cheese slice that contains way more non-cheese ingredients than any true cheese should. After an uproar from the public, Martin canceled the partnership with Kraft.
While it’s not against the law to take part in the stock market or to turn a profit, it certainly is a conflict of interest to profit by investing in the very products that undermine the mission of your organization. Though the Academy is no stranger to public scrutiny and its ties to Big Food, it is a private organization whose financial records are kept confidential from the public. The aforementioned Donna Martin now works for a public school district. It wasn’t until she used her school email to discuss Academy matters, releasing the communications into the public domain, that the Academy’s financial records, donor lists (and amounts) and emails were made public.
This may come as no surprise to you. Sadly, it’s confirmation of what most of us expected: it’s too good to be true. Money can suddenly sway opinions. Deep pockets find willing hands in the oddest places and sadly, some of these hands are those mapping our foodscape. Some of these hands pick our crops and choose our seeds. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. In addition to helping to structure eating habits and recommendations, it shapes national food policy. It trains thousands of dieticians to advise Americans on how and what to eat. Yet, we are the fattest and sickest we have ever been.
On the dole
While it feels wrong to bash food companies too much because I am just as dependent on the grocery store as the rest of us (maybe more so without a summer garden to fortify my larder), there is some other funny business happening in our national agricultural system.
Our government often subsidizes crops that we just can’t go without. Although pivotal crops like meat, hay, fruits, veggies and tree nuts are the healthiest and most nourishing around, they receive nominal governmental support. Instead, the U.S. spends billions subsidizing all the ingredients used to make ultra-processed foods. While grains like corn, soy, wheat and rice, oils, cotton, sugar and dairy find themselves key players in the theatrics of our national obesity epidemic, these are the crops that the government deems we can’t live without?
Something’s fishy and it’s not just at the factory fish farms. The line between the straight truth and its bent version is slight and right now, it’s blurry. More than blurry. It’s time we start reading between the lines and I don’t only mean our ingredients labels. We must read between the lines that we’re fed by Big Food and the corporations charged with protecting, guiding and educating us. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s possible. After all, it was no surprise that it was too good to be true.
‘No-need-to-knead’ whole wheat bread
With four simple ingredients, this easy recipe eliminates added sugars and preservatives found in most store-bought bread. Pre-slice and keep in freezer to maintain freshness.
4 cups organic whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon dried activated yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups warm water
Place flour, yeast and salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine.
Add water and mix with a wooden spoon or hands to combine.
Form into a rough ball and leave in bowl, covering it with plastic wrap.
Let rise on counter for 12 hours without removing plastic wrap.
Before forming dough, preheat oven to 475°F.
Place a Dutch oven into oven to heat.
Remove plastic wrap, placing dough on a wooden board sprinkled with additional flour.
No need to knead — form dough into a ball, lightly scoring the top in an X formation.
Place dough into hot Dutch oven on parchment paper.
Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove cover and bake for 15 minutes more.
Allow to rest before cutting.