Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where did you hear that?

A text message from my mother (sorry mom): "New report says car accidents are increasing. I'm worried."  
My first response to such a claim: Oh yea? Where did you hear that?

Just as I like to question the fact sources coming from friends or family members, I like to validate news articles I hear in the media as well.  Information that gathers readership can sometimes be more important to a media outlet than validating the source, and its important to validate it before you start spreading the findings to the world.

“Do Parents Really Know What Their Kids Are Eating?” is the title of an NPR youth radio segment I listened to today.  It is based on a poll conducted by a collaboration of NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health.  As far as credibility, I felt certain that NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health would give accurate validity, and be very holistic in their research methods approach.  What was most interesting about reading a Harvard School of Public Health article was that I was able to analyze their article using the recommendations they made on how to read research findings in the media. 

It is not uncommon for news media to attempt to diffuse information about a new study or finding in the science world, and misrepresent the data for readership.  We have seen this in many cases such as the “Organic food is not healthier” food issue, which was based on one study that in the end was not the most reliable study to provide such a claim.  These outbreaks of information could have quite severe consequences for the general public if you are not questioning the study's validity and reliability.
Unlike many other media outlets attempting to spread information about a new study or research topic, this NPR segment seemed to be in collaboration with the research it was discussing.  While the segment did not necessarily state the numbers and methodologies of the poll conducted, it was able to shed light on some of the survey questions asked, and represent the sample well – choosing answers that were representative of the original findings. 

After listening to the radio segment, I was interested in finding out more about how they gathered this data, and what the numerical findings were.  I clicked the link to the summery of the poll, which was the closest I could come to the original article.  From reading the summary I was able to gather that the media source was utilizing real data.  Besides the fact that reliable research was put in to find this information, I felt more confident in this data because it was not necessarily pressuring viewers to change their behaviors.  It was simply bringing light to an idea that could potentially improve the health and diet among children... I can't argue with that.

WP 3/1

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ALERT! ALERT! Kellogg Special K with berries...

A title like this can be quite the eye catcher.  One may be thinking:  WHAT ABOUT SPECIAL K BERRIES?  As a regular consumer and Special K with berries fanatic, this headline made me stop what I was doing and read.  In fact, the alert was referring to the recall of this quite popular Kellogg Product:

for full alert click the link:

After confirming that I was not a victim of this recall, I sighed in relief and ate a bowl of cereal.  The funny thing is, I probably would not have eaten a bowl of cereal that morning if I had not heard about this recall.  Kind of a weird reaction to a recall, but I can imagine I am not the only one with this reaction.  Did other people react to this as a subliminal message as I did? 

Recall announcements can be interpreted in many ways.  I feel it is more typical to have a negative reaction to a recall, seeing a product as unsafe, and further associating a producer as untrustworthy.  As a critical ad observer, I often dislike ad's and tend to discount the persuasive nature of ad's.  Though, something about the recall announcement blocked those critical thoughts because I originally saw it as truly informational and sincere. 

As I read deeper into the announcement I began to see some of the marketing, and customer loyalty tactics that were in many ways able to combat the negative reactions that could come with a recall. 
For instance, in the Consumer Alert Kellogg's choice of words such as "voluntary recall" could give the impression that they are truly putting the consumers safety first.  Another method they used was the pledge to give a replacement coupon for those customers who may have received a product described in the recall.  Repeat customer coupons are tactic #1 to gaining customer loyalty in any business class I have ever taken.  And finally, there are "no reports of associated injuries", unlike other recalls that have had very negative effects. 

Oh, I almost forgot to mention how viral this recall was!  It was reported on many of the major news stations across the nation such as CBS, ABC, and FOX, on the Huffington Post, and it was the top news item on Yahoo!.

I now see where the common phrase "all publicity is good publicity" comes from.
Do you agree with this phrase?  What was your initial reaction?

NP 2/26

Monday, February 18, 2013

Never Judge a Food by its Label

The seemingly simple image to the right is much more loaded with information and value than meets the eye.  When you step into a grocery store and pick out your food, the label often holds great power in your purchasing decisions.  But just like a book, you can't always judge a food by its label. 
This label is only used on products certified by the Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), which is a branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT).  The message that this label holds is sometimes underestimated by consumers, and the criteria behind it sometimes takes research that can often be unappealing to a buyer. 
While speaking with a NOFA-VT staff member at their annual Winter Conference: Generations of Innovation this weekend, I was able to get a sense of the importance of this message, and the effort behind it.

There are two motivating factors addressed in the creation of this label: as a source of information for consumers, and as a marketing tool for farmers.  Both factors are meant to be mutually beneficial for those supporting the organic movement.  It seems quite impossible to serve both purposes evenly, but I think this labeling is quite holistic in its approach.  For instance, it is important for consumers to know what is going into their food product, and to trust the information on the label is not manipulative against their liking.  On the other end of the spectrum comes the organic practicing farmers who deserve to earn benefits for their trustworthy practices.  The labeling process is a way for the farmer to communicate with their customers that they are growing food with the best practices possible.

Unlike the Whole Trade Guarantee from my previous post which was created by a profit driven company, Vermont Organic Certification is created by VOF and NOFA-VT non-profit organizations.  As an independent third-party certifying agency, I feel there is less of a bias in their practices.  As stated on the NOFA-VT website:
VOF’s purpose is to provide a highly credible program for independent third-party verification of organic food production, and to assist Vermont farmers and processors of all types to achieve the highest possible organic standards.
Though, for this labeling system to work, consumers must understand their benefits to purchasing Vermont Organic Certified products.  One benefit that can be appealing to customers of organic products is that they are required to be GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)-free.  With the recent buzz about the denied GMO food labeling law in California, non-GMO labeling is becoming a hotter topic.  Since there has yet to be a mandated labeling system for GMO products in the U.S., purchasing organic certified products ensures no GMO's were used in the process.  If you are interested in some of the other benefits of Organic Certification, I recommend you check out the standards and guidelines required for Organic Certification. 

NP 2/19

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Beyond a Pepsi Deal

It's almost impossible not to hear about Beyonce in the past few weeks.  She has been gaining attention even more than before with her performance of the national anthem at President Obama's Inauguration, The Superbowl Halftime show, and of course it was inevitable to have her presence be known at The Grammys.
There could not be a better time for Pepsi to hop on a $50 billion deal with Beyonce to promote their product.  If there was one single thing I would choose to shake my head at Beyonce's publicist(s) for it would be this deal.  Personally, I am not a fan of the Pepsi Corporation and the snowball of negative effects it has had on the beverage industry.  Though, even I am a victim of the Beyonce trance.  Luckily, as an educated student learning media literacy, I am able to separate Beyonce's performance in a commercial with that of a sip of Pepsi soda.  What I am not able to say, is that the rest of the U.S. is going to make that same differentiation.

Little does Beyonce know, but her promotion of Pepsi comes with a promotion of sugar sweetened beverages, and even more cynical (and possibly extreme) obesity and diabetes.   If Beyonce and her publicist's knew what types of health effects would directly hit her fans, they might find out that $50 billion dollars in healthcare bills would only be a fraction of the costs.  I am not the first to backlash Beyonce's Pepsi deal, though instead I intend to put some perspective on the matter, and perhaps some suggestions.  Perhaps Beyonce should do as large corporations disturbing the environment should do, which is pay for the external harms caused by their business.
I will forever be loyal to Beyonce for her talent, beauty, and woman empowerment.  My only hope is that she learns to use her power to support a healthier more sustainable livelihood for Blue Ivy Carter, and the rest of America (her other children).

NP 2/12

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Loving Consumer

As Valentine’s day is fast approaching, what better way to show your love than using your purchasing power to spread your love (money) to the world, and send someone flowers!  The most well-known natural food store in the U.S. Whole Foods  launched their Whole Trade® Guarantee in 2007.  This certification program supposedly requires products to meet the four key criteria required by Whole Trade® Guarantee: quality, premium price to the producer, better wages and working conditions, and the environment.

This label is wonderful right?  It takes away the guilt that could come from being a consumer, and leaves you feeling great about your purchase!  But what is the purpose of this guarantee?  Who benefits most from this stamp of approval? 

There are three stakeholders involved to compare: us (as consumers), them (third world countries), and The Whole Foods Market . 

We as consumers like to feel that we hold purchasing power, and can vote through what we buy - of course, this too has its problems when dealing with socio-economic power – and sometimes will spend extra money to create change.  Our consumer power in fact has shaped the growing demand for socially responsible goods. 

Then there are the “third world countries”, which I prefer to reference as the global south.  Are they truly benefitting from our flower purchase?  According to the Whole Trade® Guarantee, the purchase of a certified product contributes to building schools, better worker wages, and 1% of profits goes towards Whole Planet® Foundation, a foundation meant to help give micro-loans in third world countries.  (Micro-loans in fact have an ethical debate attached to them as well). 

So the quest continues, who holds the real benefit here?  I would argue that the greatest benefit is going to Whole Foods Market.  This seems like the ultimate marketing tactic to reach their target market of health and wellbeing conscious upper-class consumers.  Notice how every single aspect of this certification involves Trademark symbols, and whole foods branding recognition.  It seems to me that if they were serious about benefitting the consumer, third world countries, and the planet, they would use third parties such as Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, and other tools to certify that they are truly being as socially conscious as can be.  With their own certification they hold the power to set the criteria for themselves within lines of their bottom line.

There are endless debates about labeling, and whether it should be governed publically, privately, or through a third party.  I think the Whole Trade® Guarantee is a great example that brings fourth some of these integral questions.  

MLW 2/5

The Sustainable Food System Blogosphere

There is a whole spectrum of issues within the food system that are slowly surfacing to the public through social movements.  Many of the supporters of the food movements aim to encourage new ways of thinking about food, and the processing of food.  The goal of the food movement blogosphere is to make public the information that is not shown otherwise about the harsh realities that go into the production of the food U.S. citizens eat.  In this attempt to inform, also comes the aim to grow a movement, and empower a shift in paradigm to a more sustainable food system.  Through different ideas in how we can shift this food system model, and actions that can be taken by individuals, the messages of this blogosphere has the potential to truly change the food system we see today into a more sustainable, healthy, and affordable food system.  This blogosphere attempts to do this by informing, educating, and consulting their audience, by spreading knowledge and experiences they may have in an entertaining and engaging manner.  It can provide an academic standpoint, yet in a non-condescending manner, or too academic in nature so that many people can understand it.  This blogosphere is a references for like-minded affiliates of the local food movement to discuss and forum about sustainable food movements.  Most likely this is not a blog that is meant to bring people into the movement, but it is for people already supporting it and looking for current information or ways to engage more in the movement as a consumer, parent, or professional.

To give you a very brief preview of some of the issues food movements are targeting, here is a short video made by the Roots of Change Network:

MLW 1/29