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My Generation

HSUS: Perception as Reality

If you believe everything you hear, you might just think HSUS is for shelters, Kashi is natural and Nutella is healthy. Wait. They're not?

Have you heard the one about the lawyer in a cage? 'Cause if not, you need to.

There's a video floating around social media that squarely pegs HSUS for what it is: a lobbyist organization with a $32 million hedge fund that gives less than 1% of its donations to animal shelters. If you haven't watched it, please do; it's embedded below and it is well worth the 2 minutes and 19 seconds it takes to watch it.

The thing is – and this comes to mind each time I think of HSUS – they are successful because people don't pay attention. People assume. People hear "Humane Society" and figure they must help animals. And people like animals. So people give HSUS money. A lot of money, to the tune of $130 million a year. I seriously don't know how that can happen. Maybe we should ask Carrie Underwood; she gave HSUS $200,000.

But if the news of the past few days is any indication, folks' misperceptions are starting to catch up with them. First with Kashi, the "natural" cereal that's heavily marketed to health and foodie types. The Cornucopia Institute released a report last fall showing the cereal uses genetically modified soybeans in their products. The news gained momentum last week, and Kashi earned heated backlash from folks who didn't bother to read the label but rather assumed that "natural" meant GM-free. Not so. Natural, for what it's worth, means minimally processed. Whatever that means. (Is homemade bread processed? I like to make bread from scratch. But I don't grind my own wheat into flour. So I'm using – gasp – processed ingredients!)

This is a further aside, but in its defense, Kashi, which is owned by Kellogg's, released a video saying, in part:

"While it's likely that some of our foods contain GMOs, the main reason for that is because in North America, well over 80% of any crops, including soybeans, are grown using GMOs. Factors outside our control such as pollen drift from nearby crops, and current practices in agricultural storage, handling and shipping have led to an environment where GMOS are not sufficiently controlled."

Right. Any farmer who's ever delivered and collected a premium for non-GM soybeans should be sufficiently puzzled and simultaneously outraged at that ridiculous bit of spin. My esteemed colleague to the east, Tom Bechman, talks occasionally of throwing the male bovine manure flag. In this case, there should be flags all over the place.

But, oh the outrage. As it turns out, just because a commercial says a product is healthy doesn't mean it really is. Maybe folks should actually, like, read the label.

Take Nutella, product number two that's not exactly as advertised but is exactly what its label says. The commercials show friendly moms dishing up toast with Nutella for their kids' breakfasts, gushing that it's a healthy start to the day. The marketing worked so well, hardly anyone bothered to look at the nutritional label, which clearly states that one serving of two tablespoons offers up 200 calories, 21 grams of sugar and 11 grams of fat. Um, yeah. Nutella? About as healthy as a Snickers bar. And now a woman in California has filed a class action lawsuit against Ferrero, maker of Nutella, who will now be refunding money right and left. I love the Forbes headline: "$3 million For Americans Too Stupid To Know Nutella Is Not The Healthiest Breakfast."

I'm not going to lie; we kind of love Nutella in our house. My kids would put it on everything, if I let them. But, because I read the label, moderation. So, occasionally, they get bananas with Nutella for a snack, and occasionally, they get whole wheat toast with Nutella for breakfast. There are better things they could eat, and there are worse things.

Certainly, there are folks who will herald each of these news flashes as a victory in the battle against unhealthy food, whatever definition they may use. But it strikes me differently. If our own perception is reality and if it's always someone else's fault, then we have sadly shifted all responsibility for our food choices to someone else.

Fire up the lawsuits. Send in a little more money to that shelter group.

But when you figure out the truth, be sure to blame someone else.

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