Anna Lappé

School Lunches Across the U.S. May Be Moving Towards Healthy Organic Food

When you picture school lunch what comes to mind? Gooey pizza and floppy French fries, or fresh organic produce and chicken raised without routine antibiotics? My guess is the former. But thanks to advocates around the country, someday it may just be the latter. 

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5 Amazing Things I Learned from the World's Leaders of the Organic Food Movement

A few weeks ago, at an international summit of the global network for organic agriculture, delegates from Fiji were excited to share the news that one of the islands in the tiny archipelago nation had gone 100 percent organic. The community had kicked out all toxic pesticides and imported, synthetic fertilizer. The impetus for the decision was clear: Surviving on an island makes living in balance with nature more than just a nice idea; it makes it an imperative for survival. The Fijian tale of a 100 percent organic island was just one of many stories of the spread of organic agriculture I heard at the Organic World Congress, a gathering of the world’s largest organic agriculture and advocacy network, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM).

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McTeacher Nights? Uncovering the Horrible Ways Food Corporations Infiltrate Kids' Lives

Did you know that Nabisco touts a preschool-age “Oreo Cookie Counting Book” and Hershey’s publishes a “Hershey’s Kisses Multiplication Book”? Did you know that these books are just one of the countless tactics Big Food uses to market to our kids throughout their lives — even in school?

For more than a decade, I’ve been investigating, tracking and analyzing how the food industry spins the story of food. But when I became a mom, now with two young girls, I became increasingly interested in how the food industry targets children and teens with marketing that runs the gamut from explicit kid-oriented advertising to the duplicitous infiltration of the classroom under the guise of education.

The more I learned, the more I was shocked by the prevalence of this marketing. Nearly $2 billion is spent by the food and beverage industries every year on advertising trained specifically on children and teens. (And many billions more are spent on marketing not specifically targeted at young people, but reaching them nonetheless. Take Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of American Idol: I have a feeling grown-ups aren’t the only ones tuning into see Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. hash it out).

That’s why I teamed up with Corporate Accountability International and a broad coalition of Food MythBusters to produce the latest movie in our mythbusting series. This time, we’re taking on the myth of parental choice in the face of Big Food’s pervasive marketing. Our movie pulls back the curtain on junk-food marketing aimed at young people, explains its harmful impact, and shows what we can do about it.

A tidal wave of junk-food marketing

Now, when some people hear me talk about marketing to kids, they shrug their shoulders and say: If you don’t like it, then turn off the TV! If only it were that easy.

You could unplug your set, lock it in your closet, hey, even toss it out your window —  and your kids might be no less protected from unwanted marketing. Today, the food industry reaches our children far beyond commercials during Saturday morning cartoons.

Big Food marketing pops up in the classroom and lunchroom; on sports leagues jersey’s and playground equipment; on dedicated websites and social media platforms. So today, even the most diligent parent can’t guarantee their kids aren’t touched by it at the most impressionable stages in their development.

Every food and beverage company does it, but McDonald’s leads the pack. The corporation spends nearly $1 billion in advertising in the U.S. alone every year. And the corporation’s reach extends beyond traditional advertising. For example, it has developed a number of ways to reach kids in schools. Its “McTeacher’s nights,” for instance, invite local schools to use fast-food joints to fundraise. Teachers and administrators are invited to flip burgers for a night in exchange for a percentage of that evening’s profits, which sometimes don’t add up to much more than a couple of hundred dollars. Talk about building brand “goodwill.” What could be better than aligning a transnational corporate brand with trusted teachers? Great for McDonald’s — not so great for the schools.

One of the corporation’s most insidious way to promote its brand to kids is its flagship website for children:  The website targets kids with every pixel. The site is geared to look like a place for fun and educational interaction. Games and activities highlight familiar characters like Power Rangers and loveable cartoon characters. Downloadable, branded PDFs encourage kids to continue engaging with the site and brand offline.

Standing up to Big Food

As a mom, I shouldn’t have my already tough job made harder by a billion-dollar industry aimed at undermining the health of my kids. If, as the food industry likes to say, it’s a parent’s responsibility to make the right choices for our kids, then Big Food should be advertising to us, not our children.

With the launch of our newest movie, the Food MythBusters and Corporate Accountability International, along with dozens of organizations around the country, are raising awareness about the harmful impact of this rampant marketing and sharing the stories of what people are doing about it.

You can be part of this growing movement. Please watch our movie here and share it with friends.

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Selfish Giving: How Pepsi and Coke are the Champs of Faux Charity

In the summer of 2010, Robert DuBois and Aaron Zueck headed out on a 100 day bike trip across the country to document the thriving local foods movement. In the YouTube video of this “potluck across America,” the two seem genuinely passionate about farmers and healthy food—and the movement they’re documenting. As the screen goes black, a voiceover says: “Every time you drink Pepsi you support the Pepsi Refresh project. Every Pepsi refreshes the world.”

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Food MythBusters Take on Big Ag's Worst Lies

This article was published in collaboration with

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3 Things We Need for a Food Revolution

A few years ago, I stumbled on a United Nations study that transformed how I think about the climate crisis. In the report, researchers pegged greenhouse gases from the livestock sector at 18 percent of total global emissions. Combine this with other aspects of our food chain—from agricultural chemical production to agribusiness driven deforestation to food waste rotting in landfills—and food and agriculture sector is responsible for nearly one third of the planet’s manmade emissions. Move over Hummer; it’s time to say hello to the hamburger.

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Happy Holidays!