In a little-noticed report released last week, the agency moved the Coca-Cola Company’s cherry-flavored soda from the “sugar-sweetened beverages” list to the one containing apples, oranges, bananas, pears and other whole fruits.
The change means the beverage can now be served in government-funded schools, hospitals and nursing homes in place of these more wholesome options. Many elementary schools have already begun replacing fruit with 12-oz cans of Cherry Coke.
“The kids love it,” says Armin Tamzarian, an elementary school principal in Springfield, Ore. “Cherries are so cumbersome. You have to pick them up, and put them in your mouth. Now kids can have the same nutritional benefits simply by slurping liquid out of a straw.
“According to the government, it’s healthy. So I don’t really see the problem.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible both for food safety and promoting the commercial sale of American agricultural products. Throughout most of its history the department has been staffed by food industry insiders, and most of its leaders have been politicians from agrarian states with interests in boosting food sales at the expense of waistlines.
Critics blame the agency’s poor dietary advice for exacerbating America’s obesity epidemic. But according to one beverage industry insider, promoting weight gain may not be such a bad policy.
“I fully admit that drinking soda makes you fat, which raises your risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes, “ says Antony Gras, president of the American Soda Association. “But why don’t people talk more about the positive effects of obesity?
“For example, car accidents are a leading cause of death in this country. Now who do you think would be more likely to survive head-on collision: Mila Kunis or Chris Christie? Fat offers our bodies invaluable protection from blunt force trauma. It’s like an extra seat belt for you and your loved ones.
“Everyone seems so concerned about how many people these companies have killed though diabetes. But how many lives has our industry saved by providing the extra padding needed to withstand traffic collisions, bungee jumping accidents and falls from rooftops? We need to keep things in perspective.”
The USDA has also defended its decision. In a statement this morning, the department’s lead scientist explained that, “Cherries are good for you, so anything that tastes like cherries is probably good for you. That was our thought process.”