As usual now, I start this column by stimulating our taste-buds with some traditional culinary delights, this time from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.Then I'll show you how the Ronald McDonald clown is recruiting Brazilian children to become McDonald's followers. I also bring you some more news on what the Brazilian industry is doing to block regulation of its advertising and marketing. My joke of this month is all about a very bright idea of future food, dreamed up by a female Brazilian entrepreneur. .
A taste of Minas
Located in the Southeast region of Brazil, Minas, as people here refer to the state of Minas Gerais, became powerful as a result of the abundant gold once found in its backlands. In the mid 18th century the population of the gold-rush city Ouro Preto was higher than that of any city in North America. Many crowded towns sprang up around the mines, whose houses had small gardens and orchards. The people harvested easily cultivated fruit and vegetables such as kale, mustard, taioba, beans, corn, inhame, cará, pumpkin, bananas, oranges and other fruits, which made up much of their daily diets.
In March I spent a weekend filling my lungs and heart with the freshness from the hilly and wild Minas state park of Ibitipoca. My days inevitably started with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee coming from the kitchen, and the taste of fresh homemade corn bread as seen above. This is a simple yet rich heritage of the combination of indigenous, African and Portuguese customs, and Brazilian agribiodiversity (1) that is still alive and tasty.
That's not only my opinion. Check what the Capixaba (born in the State of Espírito Santo) writer Rubem Braga, one of the greatest chroniclers of Brazil since Machado de Assis, has to say about the preparation of couve (our type of kale, in the picture below) and his experience with the culinary delights of Minas.
And from the entire plate, a soft combination of colours whose most vivid note was the wet green of the kale – from the whole plate, steaming gently, there rose to our soul the blessed enchantment of simple good things. The enchantment of Minas.
(E do prato inteiro, onde havia um ameno jogo de cores cuja nota mais viva era o verde molhado da couve – do prato inteiro, que fumegava suavemente, subia para nossa alma um encanto abençoado de coisas simples e boas. Era o encanto de Minas.)
- Silva PP. Farinha, feijão e carne-seca. São Paulo: Senac São Paulo, 2005.
Product marketing (1)
Children are getting burgered
McDonald's, along with other Big Snack companies, reckon that if they have a child to the age of 7 or so, they have them foe life.. In my column last July I mentioned the 'Retire Ronald' campaign, and the work led by Corporate Accountability International (1, 2), who now challenge global food corporations, as they have done and still do with Big Tobacco. McDonald's have no intention to confine their clown to a rocking chair – or a hammock. Ronald is bait for children to bite.
Here above are scenes from visits from Ronald McDonald to Brazilian schools. This practice accompanies the opening of new McDonald's jointly, especially in small cities where McDonald's stores have landed more recently. In case parents have any feelings against burgers, the clown is sent to schools to build an image of responsible and friendly partnership in the community. The shows are part of the project 'Ronald McDonald in Schools'. It is positioned as community work everywhere in the world where McDonald's is in business. According to the manager of a McDonald's outlet in Brazil, the activity 'is a way to give a return to the community and mainly to children, for giving the chain the success it has'.
It's all much the same in other countries. In the US, McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker says 'Ronald does not promote food, but fun and activity – the McDonald's experience'. The McDonald's experience... Wait a moment! With no food? What does that mean? That burger joints are gyms? With burgers used as dumb-bells? With tables and chairs set aside for swimming pools and running tracks?
This kind of marketing is beyond the scope of regulations, and is much more difficult to be monitored. Effective opposition requires denunciation by parents, and refusal of schools to let the clown in. But see how it is in the US. If you Google 'invite Ronald McDonald to your school' you get not only one website encouraging schools to invite the clown, you will get state-specific websites.
Once again, do please support Corporate Accountability International's 'Retire Ronald' campaign. Access http://www.retireronald.org (3). It's time for him to join the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, as shown above.
Product marketing (2)
Open word or bottom line?
Here above is the swimming pool at the Grand Hyatt São Paulo, one of the fanciest hotels in Brazil. Nice, eh? Last month I told you a bit about the meeting being held there in February, organised by the Open Word Institute (Instituto Palavra Aberta), a fancy name for a bunch of ultra-processed product marketeers. I wasn't able to go, so here is some news from colleagues who turned up, from children's and consumer defence civil society organisations based in São Paulo. And just fancy this! They had a real struggle to join in the 'Open Word' conversation. 'So sorry, this is a closed meeting, restricted to invited participants'. Or: 'We are already overbooked, so sorry'. After much persistence, representatives of the Communication and Advocacy division of the Child and Consumption project of Instituto Alana in São Paulo got into the meeting, and shared their report with colleagues of the Brazilian Front for the Regulation of Food Marketing (Frente pela Regulação da Publicidade de Alimentos).
The president of the Open Word Institute, Patrícia Blanco, had some memorable things to say. She explained that the Institute 'values the individual, as someone capable of taking their own decisions, without the guardianship of the State.' Ah yes. We seem to have heard this one before. What about 5-7 year-old kids at some schools where the only choices are ultra-processed products, or who are exposed to Ronald McDonald? Or, come to that, adolescents exposed to advertisements such as the one shown below, with a picture of two teenagers heavily petting. This is selling a sugary soft drink. Posted in a taxi in Rio, it says: 'This flavour takes you'. I can think of a lot of things that phrase suggests, but I cannot think of a decent one.
The Open Word Institute has also proposed that ANVISA, the Brazilian federal statutory agency of health surveillance, should hire a private company that works with products and marketing certification. Processed food companies would then, if they chose to do so, hire this company to guide them to secure their certificate as a socially responsible and 'good' company. Open Word thinks this would be an intelligent scheme that would serve the market. By 'market' I have a feeling that they do not mean public health, but their bottom lines.
Joke of the month
Shampoo? No, eat it!
Cristiana Arcangeli, a Brazilian socialite and entrepreneur, has come up with a cracking new product idea, and here it is, above: Beauty In®. Are they not lovely? The range is initially composed of two lines of products. These are the Beauty Candy® (candies), in four versions (picture above), and the Beauty Drink® (drinks), in eight versions (picture below).
The products' website says that they 'contain vitamins, minerals, collagen and bioactive compounds extracted from organic fruits. They have cosmetic and wellness functionality that help in health, beauty and in disposition and good mood. Beauty In® makes the inside good and cares for the outside.' (1)
After VitaminWater™, this is such a genius concept. After my week in the mountains of Minas I went to the greatest Brazilian city of São Paulo, and this is what I found: the cosmetic snack. And how well advertised it is, by the hot white girls below, smiling at me and at you, while holding the product. Drink me and I'm yours? Remember, this all came from Brazil! Mrs. Arcangeli owns the term Alimético®, invented to describe her products, a combination of the word alimento (food) with the word cosmético (cosmetic). Clever lady. We will hear more of her and her products.
Acknowledgement and request
You are invited please to respond, comment, disagree, as you wish. Please use the response facility below. You are free to make use of the material in this column, provided you acknowledge the Association, and me please, and cite the Association’s website.
Please cite as: Gomes F. A taste of Minas, and other items. [Column] Website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, April 2011. Obtainable at www.wphna.org
The opinions expressed in all contributions to the website of the World Public Health Nutrition Association (the Association) including its journal World Nutrition, are those of their authors. They should not be taken to be the view or policy of the Association, or of any of its affiliated or associated bodies, unless this is explicitly stated.
This column is reviewed by Geoffrey Cannon. Thanks to my hosts in Minas Gerais for the great company, talk, and excellent meals that inspired the first item. I also thank readers who have provided ideas for Ronald McDonald coverage but who prefer not to be identified. My special thanks to the Alana Institute for sharing the information I used for the Open Word item.