Published on: December 9, 2010Now available on iTunes…
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So, I was reading a piece on a natural foods website the other day in which the writer took to task, of all things, “Sesame Street.” It seems that he was offended by the fact that the long-running and influential TV series has introduced four new Muppet characters called “the Superfoods.”
The goal of these new characters is to teach little kids about nutrition, but the writer was offended by the fact that three of the four characters aren’t what are generally identified as “superfoods” among those people who are “in the know.”
The four “Sesame Street” superfoods are a banana, a block of cheese, a whole wheat hamburger bun, and a stalk of broccoli. Only broccoli qualifies as a superfood.
But wait a minute. This isn’t ignorance. At least, not completely. There also seems to be a conspiracy at work here.
The writer notes that “not coincidentally, this muppet selection looks a lot like the USDA's food pyramid which has nothing to do with promoting health and everything to do with promoting the financial interests of the meat, dairy and grain producers. But hey, at least ‘Sesame Street’ didn't feature any processed meat in their superfood muppets. Not yet anyway.”
In fact, pharmaceutical giant Merck is underwriting the project, and the CEO of Merck was scheduled to be at the press conference announcing the initiative. The writer goes on: “We have the CEO of one of the largest drug companies in the world telling a non-profit children's education show how to teach nutrition to kids... What's wrong with this picture?”
He continues: “It really makes me question the Sesame Street agenda. Are they trying to teach children, or are they working more to manipulate them to become future customers of the sick-care giants like drug companies and health insurance companies?
Now, I’m sure this fellow is well-intentioned, and he certainly is within his rights to question both the motivations and implementations taking place on “Sesame Street.” Everybody is; heaven knows I’ve gotten on my high horse about less important subjects than children’s nutritional education.
But...can I also suggest that we calm down a little bit?
I would agree that the folks at “Sesame Street” probably should have found a different moniker for the characters that “super foods.” The phrase is just too specific, and was bound to create some controversy in certain communities. But the choice of the word may have been entirely innocent - they were referring to these foods in a casual, informal, lower case way....not using the formal phrase.
While I know that the purist definition of “Super Foods” does not include bananas, cheese, and a whole wheat hamburger bun, there are lot of people out there would be thrilled if their kids ate a rounded diet that included fruits and vegetables dairy, and whole grains. It may not be optimal, but if “Sesame Street” can get little people to eat broccoli, they can call it whatever they want. And don’t forget, to some extent “Sesame Street” is aimed at kids who may not have parents who have much money, and who may little if any understanding of nutrition. Sometimes, you have to take baby steps.
Maybe I’m naive, but while I am skeptical of most people and things, I tend to be a little less so of the folks at the Children’s Television Workshop. It is dogmatic attacks like the one issued by the health magazine writer that, I think, are counter-productive. They cast everything as black and white, and leave no room for the possibility that a) “Sesame Street” knows more about the limits and opportunities when educating kids than most other people, and b) its intentions are honorable rather than crass and craven.
I’m not saying they couldn’t have done a better job on this one. But I don’t think the folks at “Sesame Street” are evil, nor do I think that the next logical step, as suggested by the health foods writer, will be to have Bert and Ernie waxing rhapsodic about the benefits of genetically engineered food.
One can only imagine what conspiracy theories will fly if some morning the show is brought to us by the letters G, M, and O.
For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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