ChicagoBusiness.com, a unit of Crain Communications, Inc., is reporting that Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson, authors of Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food, a popular screed that is targeted for kids, are upset because McDonald’s is, allegedly, using “front groups” to attack their book. The web site quotes Wilson: “We don’t mind people attacking our book as long as it is not through front groups.”
Schlosser gained widespread fame as the author of the New York Times Best Seller, Fast Food Nation, from which much of this book is derived. The criticism he and Wilson are making is partly targeted at the launch of BestFoodNation.com, a web site launched by almost 20 food industry groups:
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Meat Institute
Cattlemen’s Beef Board
Corn Refiners Association
Food Products Association
International Franchise Association
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
National Chicken Council
National Council of Chain Restaurants
National Milk Producers Federation
National Pork Board
National Pork Producers Council
National Potato Council
National Restaurant Association
National Retail Federation
National Turkey Federation
Snack Food Association
U.S. Potato Board
United Egg Producers
The web site bills itself as “A Celebration of Our Safe, Abundant, Affordable Food System” and is focused on presenting a positive message and to rebutting critics of the food industry. There is some question as to whether it does either very effectively. The site is so relentlessly upbeat that it tends to lose credibility.
Still it seems to be gaining momentum. Most recently, the Produce Marketing Association announced that it would start providing information to the web site.
As far as Schlosser and Wilson go, likening this array of food organizations to a “front group” is non-sensical. These organizations all represent very discrete segments of the food business so it makes perfect sense for them to combine to address the issue of the overall characteristics of the food supply.
More substantively, the criticism is beside the point and makes you feel Schlosser and Wilson’s aim is selling books more than improving society. After all, public policy discussions are advanced by the substance of debate, not by who is making the argument.
McDonald’s denies putting pressure on or paying any organization to refute Chew on This. But even if it did, Schlosser and Wilson have an obligation to respond to the reasoning, logic and evidence presented. To launch attacks on the messenger, as opposed to the message, is self-serving and promotional.