Game On!

Game On: Super Bowl Quarterback Goes on the Offensive Against Junk Food

October 19, 2015 | Katherine Paul

Organic Consumers Association

There’s big money in celebrity endorsements of brand-name products. So what’s an anti-endorsement worth?

Priceless, if you’re the parent (or grandparent) of an aspiring young athlete who prefers junk food over fresh veggies and green smoothies.

Imagine this dialogue taking place in grocery store aisles across America:

Kid: “Can we get the Frosted Flakes?”

Mom: “If you want to grow up to be a star athlete, Tom Brady says you shouldn’t eat Frosted Flakes or drink Coca-Cola.”

Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing the National Football League here. And I believe people like Tom Brady are highly skilled, more-than-well-compensated athletes, not “heroes.”
I also live in New England, where the media hangs on Brady’s every word. I seldom pay much attention because I’ve never been too interested in what the players have to say (no offense).

Until last week.

You’ve seen the headlines by now. Wall Street Journal:   “Tom Brady Calls Coca-Cola ‘Poison for Kids’” Forbes:  “Tom Brady Wants To Deflate Us All In His War On Coca-Cola And Frosted Flakes.” Time magazine:  “Tom Brady Says Frosted Flakes and Coca-Cola Are ‘Poison.’”

Brady attacked Coke and (Kellogg’s) Frosted Flakes during an interview in which he defended his friend, advisor and trainer, Alex Guerrero, against an unflattering Boston magazine report.  

Were Brady’s remarks part of a calculated attack on Big Food? Or just the off-the-cuff remarks of a guy speaking his mind in the heat of debate?

I don’t know. But either way, Brady’s anti-junk food comments went viral. And the attack couldn’t have come at a worse time for two companies suffering from tarnished images and sagging sales.

Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola wasted no time in sending out their best defensive teams to try to deflect the criticism.

Here’s what Coke had to say, in its carefully crafted statement:

All of our beverages are safe and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle. We offer more than 200 low and no-calorie beverages in the U.S. and Canada and a wide variety of smaller portion sizes of our regular drinks. As a responsible beverage provider and marketer, we prominently provide calorie and sugar information for our beverages so people can choose what makes sense for them and their families.

Here’s what Coke didn’t say—that Coca-Cola has spent millions of dollars to hide the fact that its high fructose corn syrup is made with genetically engineered corn. The soda giant also didn’t mention that its cousin, Diet Coke, contains aspartame, an ingredient nefariously slipped  into the food supply despite 83 independent studies citing potential health risks.

Meanwhile, over at Kellogg’s, spokesperson, Kris Charles told Time magazine:

Cereal is a delicious and nutritious breakfast. Numerous studies show that a cereal breakfast is associated with lower BMIs (body mass index) in both children and adults. As a matter of fact, a serving of Frosted Flakes with skim milk has just 150 calories and delivers valuable nutrients including calcium, B vitamins and iron.

Wanting to see for myself exactly what’s in a box of Frosted Flakes, I suspended my boycott of Big Grocery Stores long enough to check out the ingredients panel. It says: Milled corn, sugar, contains 2% or less of malt flavor, salt, BHT for freshness.

No mention that the corn is genetically engineered—because Kellogg’s also has spent millions to hide that information from consumers. And no excuses for the fact that the second ingredient is sugar. A serving of Frosted Flakes may only be 150 calories—but they’re mostly empty calories.

Brady’s Coke and Frosted Flakes comments drew most of the media attention, with quarterback calling Coke “poison for kids,” and saying that thanks to the lies we’re fed by food companies, “We believe that Frosted Flakes is a food.”

But a few media outlets provided more context, and in so doing, showed not only how savvy Brady is when it comes to marketing and corporate influence on federal food policy, but also painted the athlete as someone who believes in prevention, natural health, and taking charge of one’s own health. From the Washington Post:

“That’s not the way our food system in America is set up. It’s very different. They have a food pyramid. I disagree with that. I disagree with a lot of things that people tell you to do . . .  You need to be outside the box, you need to think differently if you want to sustain what for me is my peak performance, the very best that I can achieve as an athlete every day.”

As a consumer, you already know that your choices, your willingness to boycott corporations like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s make a difference. You also know that it takes hundreds of thousands of us “regular folks” to make the same impact one super-athlete can make during one impromptu interview.

But that’s O.K. We’re all in this together, even though some of us get more glory. We need all the help we can get to bring down Big Food. And Brady may have just done more good for kids, and more damage to Big Food, than we could accomplish in months.

I may even start watching more football.

In the meantime, if you’d like to thank Tom Brady for taking on Big Food, please sign this letter.