Assault on the Great American Cookout

     What’s on your menu this Memorial Day weekend?


     If you thought about grilled steaks, barbequed chicken, burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, chips, cake, soda or beer, think again.


     “We can’t broil and grill anymore?” replied “Today” co-host Ann Curry after a nutritionist said grilling is dangerous. She was talking to Joy Bauer, who said people need to avoid salty foods, grilling, frying and whole milk dairy products.


     If the media had their way, Americans would be dodging apples and oranges at holiday parades instead of catching candy, and roasting tofu over the campfire instead of making s’mores. Cookouts would be out of the question.


     “[Y]ou want to avoid having meats that are cooked at high temperatures, and that’s because when you grill or broil, we create these dangerous compounds called heterocyclic amines,” Bauer told Curry on NBC’s “Today” April 5.


     “You’re kidding,” responded Curry.


     Bauer warned that at the very least for would-be grillers, “[y]ou don’t want to have this charring on here,” and should scrape it off. Bauer did not advocate moderation in her segment, just avoidance of foods that could “increase the risk” of cancer. No industry representatives or opposing views were included.


     Journalists constantly attack the foods Americans eat and the companies that make them – Oscar Mayer, Tyson, Spence & Co. Ltd. and others. Reporters hype food dangers, complaining about the obesity “epidemic” and bringing on “consumer” experts who try to scare viewers from eating just about everything. They also rarely include any comments from the very companies or industries they attack.


     But unlike Bauer’s statement about the dangers of heterocyclic amines, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has urged consumers to put such studies and statements into perspective.


     “As far as dangers from consuming meats – or, indeed, any other foods – are concerned, consumers should keep in mind that the risk of bacterial illness is considerably higher than the risk posed by heterocyclic amines,” said ACSH.


     Even the media have warned about food poisoning, specifically cautioning against rare burgers, but “Today” did not include that perspective on April 5.

Just One Cookout?


     Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember those who died to protect the freedoms we enjoy. With freedom comes responsibility, of course, and that includes personal responsibility for what we put in our bodies. Americans have countless options. But the media don’t seem to want you using your freedom of choice when it comes to food – even for just one meal.


     “[Y]ou should think twice about going on an occasional binge, because even one bad meal can hurt your body,” warned CBS’s Harry Smith on the Aug. 9, 2006, “Early Show.” “Researchers say that by eating one high-fat meal, it can actually start you on the way to clogged arteries and heart disease,” he added.


     The “Early Show” Healthwatch story was one-sided, with Dr. Emily Senay talking about one study of the dangers of saturated fat. No counter argument was made by a physician or industry.


     But the “Early Show” host is not the only food scaremonger in the media. Newsweek’s latest cover story is all about food safety, and networks have recently attacked food marketing to children, and promoted allocating more money to the FDA for food safety.


     Rarely do the media provide a perspective like that of Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of ACSH and an adviser to the Business & Media Institute. Whelan has said, “There are no good or bad foods, only good or bad diets.”

Carnivores, Beware


     The media clearly have a beef with red meat.


     Even though she wasn’t reporting any study that linked red meat to cancer, Ann Curry  said, “oh, red meat – that’s an issue, isn’t it, for cancer” in the same April 5 “Today” segment that said grilling is dangerous.


     Time magazine has also attacked steak and burgers for having a bigger impact on global warming than a BMW.


     In a list of 51 ways to “make a difference” for the planet, Time listed “Skip the steak” and claimed “a 16-oz. T-bone is like a Hummer on a plate.”


     If you decide to cut out the red meat from a summer cookout, that leaves chicken, but the media haven’t been big fans of the bird either.


     “CBS Evening News” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi warned viewers on Dec. 4, 2006, that the chicken on your dinner table is “dirtier than ever,” according to Consumer Reports magazine.


     Alfonsi said in her one-sided story that scientists want “more testing” on poultry, but didn’t contact the National Chicken Council or government experts for more information.


     Barbequed chicken also presents another danger according to NBC: fat and calories.


     “[T]he problem is you’ve got the skin on it,” said “Today” show host Matt Lauer on June 12, 2006. Although the segment was all about how to cut calories at the barbeque, the featured expert advocated making “good choices” instead of avoiding foods completely.


     Ironically, Madelyn Fernstrom of the University of Pittsburgh showed “Today” show viewers plates of good food choices including many with the same grill “charring” that came under attack by “Today” less that a year later.


     And let’s not forget the bird flu scare the media continued to hype despite the relatively low number of human deaths. “We’ve fanned the flames of fear about this stuff,” admitted CNN’s Jack Cafferty on “In the Money” March 18, 2006.


     In a discussion of how the scare depressed Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) stock, co-host Jennifer Westhoven still couldn’t believe how calm the American public was: “I’m amazed that Americans at this point are really fairly unconcerned” about bird flu and mad cow disease, Westhoven confessed.


     The National Chicken Council has stressed that American poultry is safe to eat, despite the media’s uneasy coverage.

There Goes the Rest of the Picnic


     Red meat or chicken is just the main course. But your side dishes aren’t safe, either. From baked beans and potato salad to chips, desserts, soda and beer, media reports have said we shouldn’t eat and drink.


     “And, you know, it would be bad enough at a barbeque if we just ate the main course and a little side dishes in here. But, you know we also have drinks and we have desserts,” added Lauer on June 12, 2006.


     Drinks have been under attack for keeping children overweight, potentially causing cancer, and for using funny advertising.


·         CBS “Early Show” warned on April 24 that aspartame, used in diet soda and other foods, may cause cancer. A January 4 segment also reported diet soda may cause weight gain.

·         The New York Times stacked a March 2006 story full of anti-alcohol industry experts complaining about a “Rooftop” Bud Light ad that aired during the Super Bowl. The Beer Institute president was the only pro-alcohol industry spokesman in the article


     The media campaign against snacks has taken the form of commending schools that ban “junk foods” and glowing profiles of nutritionists changing school lunch menus, like Juju Chang’s “Nightline” report.


    “She is an unlikely general waging a daily war against junk food,” Chang declared on ABC “Nightline” Nov. 28, 2006. Chang was talking about Ann Cooper, a celebrity chef turned lunch lady who is changing cafeteria food in Berkeley, Calif.


     But the Center for Consumer Freedom showed this animosity toward junk food may not be entirely correct. The group cited a Harvard study that found snack food and soda did not contribute to childhood obesity.


     “They found ‘no statistical significant relationship between the percentage of calories from ice cream, baked goods, candy or chips and BMI [Body Mass Index] score’ for adolescent girls,” wrote CCF back in 2004.


     BMI has also exposed the media’s love for the food police group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is a left-wing, pro-tax and regulation group that says it “takes more than willpower” to make healthy eating decisions.


     ACSH president and BMI adviser Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan explained that CSPI’s solution to the “obesity crisis” is to “Tax soda, ban its sale in schools, mandates that restaurants carry detailed nutrition labels on menus, and sue McDonald’s for luring children …”


     It’s clear that when it comes to personal responsibility and food freedom, the media won’t leave us alone in our own backyards.