In 2016 in the United States, most parents have no reason to worry that their children will be malnourished; in fact, obesity is more of a problem than undernourishment. Our grandparents grew up in a time of war, and with that mindset, they raised their own kids with a healthy sense of perspective. But the current generation of parents, raised without knowing real deprivation, lacks that perspective. In this climate, having a child who is a picky eater has gone from mild annoyance to potential health crisis in need of a solution. Kids aren’t sent to bed hungry anymore, nor can they be allowed to eat their chosen limited diet; instead something has to be done. And since we live in a society that would never miss a marketing opportunity, a company that occupies an entire toddler food group—Cheerios—has discovered a way to play to those fears with a new product: “Cheerios Protein.”
Cheerios Protein is marketed as “fuel” in a new ad campaign. This isn’t the standard parenting trick of tossing some vegetables into baked ziti or pureeing butternut squash and slipping it into the mac & cheese. Cheerios Protein has put more protein into its cereal in the production stage, evidently to combat the supposed problem that some kids eat Cheerios as their major food source. The problem is that the company also ended up adding far more sugar than protein into the final product (seventeen times as much as the original version) with very little added actual protein to show for it.
This is a familiar story for anyone familiar with how food companies have engineered our food from its more natural state into one that is supposedly more “healthy” according to the sensibilities of current food fads. The unintended consequence of altering food in order to make it fit with our current ideas of health is that food engineers often end up accomplishing the opposite of what they intended. The war on fat led companies to take real fat and butter out of our food, replacing them with carbohydrates, sugar and trans fats.