So. Campbell's soup might be facing a class-action lawsuit now. They've marked some cans of tomato soup "Low Sodium," even writing on the can that it contains 25% less sodium. But then, after paying .39¢ more for the low sodium version, let's look at the nutrtional information. Not only do they contain the same amount of sodium, but the reduced sodium version has almost identical nutritional facts, except it contains less potassium (wat). Now, I don't know about you guys, but to me, this is the exact same thing as something mentioned in Upton Sinclair's classis, The Jungle.
In his masterpiece, Sinclair investigates the horrors that were the pre-regulatory meat packing industry. He writes: "All of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it "special," and for this they would charge two cents more a pound."
Hey. Campbell's. This is the exact same damn thing. Only instead of charging 2¢ more a pound, you're charging 39¢ more for 10 oz.
In defense, Campbell's claims that when they say "25% less sodium," they actually mean 25% less than their average soup. In that case, it makes perfect sense. In that case, you're just paying 39¢ for the bright green and yellow indication on the label, as well as the mysterious extraction of 330mg of potassium...
 
 
Okay, read this. Or at least skim it. Or you could probably get away with just reading the headline. I'll probably inadvertently summarize the rest.

The first thing that strikes me as odd about this strange alliance is the fact that, as mentioned in the article, First Ladies aren't exactly known for their direct praises of corporations. As I've written before, I rather like Michelle Obama's work with Let's Move. It's level-headed, logical, and well-run. This Wal-Mart thing... sort of rubs me the wrong way. Partly just because I have trust issues with Mega-Corporations like Wal-Mart. Actually, pretty much all that. I don't trust Wal-Mart to do this right.

On this subject, Bill Simon, President and CEO of Wal-Mart and a man who makes more money in on hour than most  his 2.1 million employees do in a year, very rightly said that "Wal-Mart is uniquely positioned to make a difference." The retailer has, after all, 60,000 different suppliers worldwide and generates more than $20,000 in PROFIT every MINUTE! It sells more food than any other business in the world. If Mr. Simon willed it so, the hyperstore could easily improve the health of at least one country.

For more fun numbers and facts about Wal-Mart, go here or here.

What I worry about this deal is not Michelle Obama's involvement, and it's not even Wal-Marts capitalistic intentions. It's Wal-Mart's food suppliers. When said suppliers are asked to supply healthier foods, they aren't going to do what they really need to do, which is sell fresh fruits and vegetables and unprocessed foods. If anything, they'll end up adding yet another middleman between farm and table. Adding some Metamucil to a can of soup isn't nearly as healthful as eating whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, but if the only steps involved in producing a food are to grow it and to sell it, then far fewer people stand to capitalize on it, which makes the benefit of the people very corporation-unfriendly, as if that's anything new.
 
 
It's times like this that I love my deliberate omission of punctuation and capitalization in my titles. This one could be interpreted as the following:
Campaign (for "A"), Commercial: Free Childhood!
Campaign for a commercial-free child! Hood?
Campaign for: (a) Commercial, (free) Childhood
(c) Amp AIG 'n' fo' RACOM 'mercial-free chil (d) Hood
Camp a IGN for a commercial. Free child-ho. Od.
Campaign for a .com! Merci, Alf. Reechil, dhood!

But alas, I will herein discuss the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), which can be found, and can thus explain itself and its mission at http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/. It's a relief, too, because most of those options I presented would be hard to write about, and the rest didn't make any sense.

I spent a grand total of 6 years in public schools myself (kindergarten notwithstanding), and I turned out fine (I think). Granted, that makes 6 years in 2 public schools to 5 years among 4 private/boarding schools, so it's anyone's guess what messed me up the most. I often unintentionally advocate public schools, saying that at least a year or two of public school is a necessary social experience. Not to say that I have anything against public schools as an entity, but the fact of the matter is simply that if all other variables are the same, the sheer class sizes and school populations in public schools are likely to be detrimental to one's education. I know I certainly functioned better in smaller classes in high school, and many of my peers who were in a similar situation would surely testify identically.
Picture
The CCFC's creepy logo
That being said, my gut instinct is to agree with the CCFC. I mean, who wants corporations running and funding our schools? They've got a pretty mean stronghold on our society as it is (the corporations, that is, although the line is fuzzy at best...), and it seems unusual to "sell out" our kids to the discretion of fat cats and ad agencies. But after some circumstantial introspection, the idea of the CCFC seems a bit... silly. Granted, I'm no psychologist, nor am I a child life expert, but this is my blog, dammit! Hear me out. I may not have a degree that says so, but I'm pretty smart.

The first, and most obvious, reason one might find to derail the CCFC's mission is that public schooling is miserably underfunded, and that all that juicy cash from Kraft helps pay for football teams and art supplies. To be honest, I don't really like this argument. Sure, it's true, but it's a bit like offering someone a jewel-studded tiara to wear at their sweet sixteen, and then muttering about how you can't wait to see it on them at the party to which you don't have to be invited, but you sure would like to go... And the tiara also happens to be laden with blood diamonds. Regardless of this corporate scumbaggery, it is nice that the public school system is getting money from somewhere... I suppose.

What's really, as I said, silly about the CCFC is the sweet-'n'-innocent utopia as which it seems to imagine childhood. Sure, there's childhood obesity. Sure, there's violence in the world. And sure, there are huge, devilish corporations perched over your shoulder, waiting to wrest you allegiance, money, and innocence! But what makes us think that the longer we shelter our kids from learning about this kind of thing the better off they'll be? If you think there are a lot of ads in schools, have you seen a newspaper? A train? The Internet? And if we were to abolish all of those ads, what experience would we have when dealing with actual, real-life corporations? I say, the sooner kids can learn to call "bullshit," the better, and practice makes perfect in such an art. Where can we find ample bullshit? Ads! Rather than allowing our money-minded corporate overlords to strangle our intellectual capacity, why not use the tools they are giving us to expand it?
 
 
Scholastic and Sunny D recently embarked on a symbiotic campaign, called the Sunny D Book Spree, which gave children "free" books in exchange for a certain number of Sunny D labels. The stunt lasted from August 2nd 2010 to November 30th 2010, and in that time forced a 382-kid California school, with perhaps the assistance of their friends and families, to guzzle thirty thousand Sunny Ds within that 121-day period! That does not stop baffling me! (http://www.sunnyd.com/contest-martina-mcbride-book-spree/, http://www.city-data.com/school/ridge-crest-elementary-ca.html)

A friend of mine once suggested to me that Sunny D is perhaps named so because it is made from just about everything under the sun. If you look at the ingredients of Sunny D, which the corporation tries pretty hard to hide on its flashy website, you will doubtlessly notice that the swill contains less than 2% of anything derived from a fruit, and NOTHING derived from an orange, the fruit of which the lucrative libation claims to be the juice! One will also observe that the other 98% of this scatological solution is water and sugar. But not real sugar, that's far too expensive for such an avaricious association as Proctor & Gamble, the owners of Sunny D.  No, they've chosen to use the kind of sugar that is actually worse-for-you-than-sugar sugar. The kind that will fatten you like swine and is cheaper to produce than foot fungus. Perhaps most alarmingly, the dreary drink also contains cornstarch and canola oil. Now, I don't know if anyone else thinks the way I do (I don't think this world could stand two of me), but I'm rather uncomfortable with the idea of someone putting oil in my beverage (no lipids in my liquids!). Sunny D's slogan is "Sunshine in a Bottle." I hope they realize that too much sunshine gives you cancer.

That being said, do we, as a country, really want to encourage, nay, require our children to drink this unnatural amalgam in order to get their hands on some books? What part of that makes sense? I'm certainly not advocating children abstaining from any form of junk food, I could even bear to promote a trip to Wendy's now and then, or a Dr. Pepper here and there. but the Sunny D Book Spree made schools across the country sell out their students to a corporation which already preys on children, but is now using two perfectly innocent entities as vehicles for advertisement! In the dying realm of print, Scholastic certainly isn't excelling, putting more focus lately on audiobooks, ebooks, and a smorgasbord of other software, but altogether struggling in a downtrodden economy. And schools, although palliatively highlighted in Obama's 2012 budget, are desperately underfunded, and have been for decades. Slyly seeing this missed opportunity, Sunny D decided to take advantage of these weakened organizations, fully knowing that they would take whatever they could get from such a begrudging benefactor. Evil? That's a question for Aristotle. Of whom I'm not particularly fond either.
 
 
            Thispast Tuesday, I heard an NPR piece about the Beasley-Allen Class Action lawsuitagainst Taco Bell for referring to its greasy beeflike taco filling as “beef.”The representative of the Alabama-based firm, whose name eludes me, contends thatfor it to be called beef, it should contain at least 80% beef, and for it to becalled “meat,” it would have to contain 40% meat, a threshold which the Californiachain’s taco innards does not apparently pass. According to the plaintiff, TacoBell’s vermillion gruel contains only 36% beef, listing other ingredients asincluding gluten extender, sodium phosphate, water, maltodextrin, “isolated oat product,” and,perhaps most notably, silicon dioxide, which happens to be the primary ingredientin sand and many varieties of makeup.

            Idid a bit of fact checking on the issue, starting with the beef levelrequirements, which FDA.gov quickly confirmed. So that just left Taco Bell.Almost needless to say, in their statement, easily available on their website(in fact, it’s a sponsored Google search result for the phrase “taco bell classaction lawsuit”), they deny everything they can. They stand firm in theirattempt to capitalize on the stupidity of the average American, using wordslike “authentic” and “all-natural,” which have absolutely no meaning in legalstanding. Taco Bell claims that their beef is 88% beef and 12% “seasonings,spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture.”Notice the lack of Oxford commas, which should pretty concisely summarize my personalfaith in the education levels of Taco Bell’s lawyers.

Nonetheless, withsuch a large gap between the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s claims, this caseshould be easy to resolve by simple measurement and experimentation. But foranyone who’s had an ungodly Taco Bell taco, it is certainly not a stretch toimagine what might be in that cockamamie concoction claimed to be beef.