I’m postponing the recipe I had scheduled for today to respond to the recent partnership announced between Kids Eat Right (of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and Kraft. You can read the New York Times article here and the Academy’s statement here.
I think it’s important to begin this post by stating how much I love being a dietitian. I’m proud to be part of a profession that helps change lives, and I am constantly humbled by my incredible colleagues who bring so much wisdom and credibility to the RD credential. While the majority of the public sees Nutritionist and Dietitian as equal, there is a difference, and I am proud to call myself a dietitian first, nutritionist second. Dietitian means education and licensing; nutritionist doesn’t guarantee anything.
So, it’s rather disheartening to see your profession dragged through the mud again and again over misaligned partnerships and sponsorships. I’m not naive to the fact that sponsorships are a great way to offset costs to your members. Developing synergistic relationships is an essential component of running a professional organization and can help lower membership and conference fees. On this blog, I accept sponsored posts by vetted companies to help offset the costs of providing you healthy, vegetarian recipes. It’s a win-win in the sense that I am compensated for my time, and you are rewarded with recipes. However, I will only consider a partnership/sponsorship if the company aligns with my brand, and I would in good-faith recommend the product without compensation. Any and all of my partnerships are put forth with full transparency.
So while I’m not summarily opposed to partnerships, it seems like the Academy has found itself in muddy waters yet again. I’ve opposed partnerships with Coca Cola and McDonald’s previously and this Kraft ordeal has me seeing red again. The only defense I will make of the decision to partner with Kraft is that according to the Academy, this is a partnership and not a sponsorship. A misnomer that may help clarify the decision to fellow dietitians but not to the general public. Allowing a company to put your logo on their product implies endorsement, even if that wasn’t the overall intention. It’s confusing and suggests that Kraft Singles are a healthy, acceptable choice for kids when in fact, they are not.
As opposed to regular cheese slices, there’s no grey matter in my eyes. Kraft singles are so overly processed they’re not allowed by the FDA to be labeled as “cheese”. It’s a pasteurized cheese “product” that has more in common with Velveeta than cheddar cheese. Sure, it contains calcium and vitamin D- two nutrients that are needed in a kid’s diet, but that’s like saying fruit snacks are a nutritious snack because they contain vitamin C. It’s a thinly veiled argument that corporate spinsters use to make their products seem healthier.
I think it’s important to speak out against these types of partnerships to show that while the Academy represents 75,000 RDs, it does not speak for us. Out of all the processed foods out there, Kraft singles are one of the last foods I would ever put my “stamp of approval” on. I think this also gets back to the core tenet of this space and my passion that focuses on whole food, mostly plant-based recipes. Healthy eating seems overly complicated because of confusing nutrition bedfellows, abhorrent Dr. Oz television segments, and the sensationalism over every conflicting study. It doesn’t have to be this way, and when I work with my clients, I tend to revert back to the advice of Michael Pollan- eat whole foods, not too much. Mostly plants.
When evaluating food for “health” claims, I think it’s important to look at the whole picture. Yes, chicken nuggets contain protein, but I would never recommend chicken nuggets just because they contain protein. I wouldn’t recommend them because they also contain countless additives, fillers and too many calories for too small of a portion. The broader picture is much more important than individual nutrients. In the same breath, I also advocate eating mostly healthy foods- but still enjoying food, even if that means the occasional milkshake, chocolate chip cookie or yes, slice of Kraft ‘cheese’ singles. I just would never put my stamp of approval on them.
To my fellow dietitians, I encourage you to head over to Regan’s blog to read the Open Letter, sign the petition, and participate in the #RepealtheSeal campaign.