YOU WIN a few. You lose a few.
1990 has had its share of ups and down on the food news front. A box of golden apples (preferably unwaxed) to the folks responsible for the pluses below.
And a can of ersatz cheese spread to those involved with the minuses.
HURRAY: Congress finally managed to pass a law making nutritional labeling mandatory for all packaged foods. What's more, the label format has been cleaned up to make it more understandable. The FDA also has been empowered to develop (and police) a definition for so-called "lite" foods (see below).
Yes, critics are already carping -- it's not a perfect law, by any means -- but it's a good step in the right direction.
BOO: To Upstate Milk Cooperative, which is introducing a new milk product and calling it "Light Milk." It turns out this is 1 percent low-fat milk. The company says it has more protein and calcium than the 2 percent and whole varieties. What timing!
In an era when we are, one hopes, trying to work ourselves out of a labeling morass, this is simply adding confusion.
HURRAY: To the recycling programs being implemented in Western New York supermarkets. Customers bring their clean plastic (and, in some cases, paper) bags back to the store, where they will be collected and refurbished.
BOO: To Del Monte Foods of San Francisco, which signed an agreement with Bagdasarian Productions Inc. to use Alvin and the Chipmunks to promote Snack Cups -- a line of single-serve pudding, yogurt and fruit items meant for kids.
"Marketing to children makes sense," said a company vice president, "because children increasingly influence buying decisions made by adults. Alvin and the Chipmunks appeal to children . . . "
This isn't right. Kids are just too vulnerable and can't make rational choices.
HURRAY: To the restaurant no-smoking law that took effect one minute after midnight Jan. 1. Depending on customer demand, up to 70 percent of the seating in most restaurants must be declared smoke-free -- admittedly a hassle for some restaurateurs.
But we customers sure appreciate the development.
BOO: To the proliferating number of special diet foods marketed to an unsuspecting public. Everything from terrible-looking chocolate-flavored pellets (you don't want to know what they really look like) to liquid diet supplements. Come one, come all.
Expect a blizzard of ads and commercials for these things after the holidays, when 99.46 percent of America feels fat. But it has been proved time and time again that drastic diet regimens seldom work in the long haul. Some may even be harmful.
Point of information: Food guru Phil Lempert points out that no references to dieting are allowed in TV commercials in Belgium.
HURRAY: To the Hershey Food Corp., now issuing Desert Bars for the troops in the Mideast. The bars contain a mystery ingredient that keeps them from melting in 100-degree-plus temperatures. If the ingredient turns out to be wax, our enthusiasm will wane.
Special candy for military use has a successful history, of course. Mars Inc.'s magnificent M & Ms first were made for soldiers during World War II.
"They melt in your mouth, not in your hand." What a noble sentiment.
BOO: To all the scary food-health studies we've seen in the past year. Everyone seems to have an ax to grind. Butter? Margarine? Undercooked eggs? Decaffeinated coffee? They've all taken a licking.
The trouble is, more heat than light is being produced these days. Our advice: Don't change your diet on the basis of a single study.
Too many reported results seem to be based on research conducted on very specialized and very small groups. A sample of 25 males between ages 30 and 35, living north of the Arctic Circle?
In today's world, that's only a mild exaggeration.