Remember in the ’80s when we were told that low-fat and nonfat foods were the secrets to good health? Well, now science says that fat isn’t bad, instead, we should avoid sugar. And there was a time when we were told that eggs were bad — too much cholesterol. Now the humble egg is at the center of many low-carb diets.
The point is, health trends are always changing.
That’s a point Kurt Beecher Dammeier is making when he says Gatorade is now being marketed to kids the way cigarettes used to be. And food is something he knows about. Dammeier is the owner and founder of Seattle’s Beecher’s Handmade Cheese as well as a range of restaurants.
“Originally, cigarettes were sold with health claims,” Dammeier said. “Cigarettes were good for you and they were endorsed by doctors, by athletes, by Santa. Gatorade is really just colored sugar water. It is wholly unnecessary. It is entirely Coca-Cola with a different skin. It’s Coca Cola being sold to us with health claims — just like cigarettes, in the beginning, were sold.”
Dammeier says many kids and adults buy Gatorade thinking they need to replenish what they’ve lost after exercising.
“The great electrolyte myth was the original thing for Gatorade,” he said. “What their message is about now is energy and that you need Gatorade for performance energy. And that it’s better than water because water doesn’t give you energy. It’s just an incredible amount of sugar with a bunch of food coloring.”
A decade ago, Dammeier created the non-profit Pure Food Kids Foundation. They go into fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, with absolutely no commercial message related to Beecher’s, to teach kids about eating healthy and reading labels. The hope is they will go home and teach their parents.
“There’re four messages in the class,” he said. “The first message is we teach them that food marketers lie to them. We try to contrast people who have authentic messages, like Kettle potato chips, with people who have inauthentic messages, like a lot of the granola cereal bars.”
“Second part of the class is we show them how to use food labeling to determine what’s really in the package,” Dammeier said. “The third thing we do is we help them understand what all those funny names of ingredients are and why they might want to avoid them. We very clearly never tell them what to do. We just give them some background and some context. The last thing they do is come together and cook a vegetarian chili, which may be the most powerful part of the class.”
Dammeier says their data shows that kids are learning and retaining this information. Pure Food Kids has reached 90,000 kids in the Seattle and New York City areas so far.
He says he wants to change the way America eats through education and clear labeling. He doesn’t believe in using legislation, like a soda tax, to get people to eat better.
“I really don’t believe in telling people what to eat,” Dammeier said. “As Americans, we really don’t respond well to that message. My core philosophy is if only people know what they are eating, and what those things are, then they’ll change their own behavior.”
Americans do need to change their eating habits, and back away from ultra-processed, chemical laden foods if they want to survive.
“Diet-related disease is already triple what lung cancer is and double what it ever was. But worse than that, it’s accelerating at an incredibly rapid rate.”
One percent of sales from all of Dammeier’s companies go to funding Pure Food Kids Foundation.