A teacher friend recently told me about an interesting project from his ag class. He told students to develop a unique food product that didn’t already exist. He gave them time to make and perfect it. He even asked them to come up with nutrition information and a marketing plan.
So what did they come up with? Did they develop shrink-wrapped carrot sticks or already-peeled tomato snacks for healthy eating? Or maybe a variation on fat-free ice cream or a baked dessert instead of something loaded with calories?
As it turns out, there were no carrot sticks, no other healthy vegetables and no broiled or baked low-calorie products. Instead, well over half of the products could vie for a spot as the new featured fried food at the Indiana State Fair this year.
The more fat, the better
From french fries infused with nacho cheese to deep-fried tacos, the food dishes had one thing in common: They were not healthy. They were long on taste, high in calories, often very sugary, and quite often fried or cooked with saturated oils. The health food craze seemed to have derailed in this class.
One of the criteria for the project was sharing what they invented with classmates. The teacher says the more sugar or fat in a new product, the more students said they liked it. They still said they would buy it, even after seeing the calorie report on the nutrition label. If all the talk about healthy eating and avoiding fatty foods is making a difference somewhere, it certainly isn’t in this class in this school.
One of the students prepared a snack-type dessert that favored a durum-wheat-derived product. That sounds healthy enough. But then she wrapped it in dark chocolate and peanut butter. In fact, when her first trial didn’t work so well, she ditched the dark chocolate, usually thought to have some health benefits, for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Her classmates couldn’t eat them fast enough!
The students’ choices prompted a discussion. Why were they so into foods with fat or sugar? Many people would label at least some of the concoctions they invented as junk food.
The students blame it somewhat on what they don’t get at lunch. Schools have been pushed by federal guidelines to offer only healthy food products at lunches. Some schools have even removed salt from the cafeteria.
How are some students reacting? They don’t eat lunch, or at least not much of it. One student reported that there was a feeding frenzy every afternoon at 3:30 when the school turned on vending machines with chips and snack crackers.
Is it possible that the effort to force healthy foods on a younger population that doesn’t want it is having an unintended consequence? Is it increasing their demand of sugary and deep-fried foods when they have the opportunity to choose them?
What it means for agriculture might be that while all the talk is about going organic and eating healthy foods, consumer demand for those products may be lagging behind. People still vote with their pocketbooks when it comes to food. Look for the lines at the vendors serving deep-fried foods at the state fair to be just as long this year as any other year.