Chew on This was published in May 2006. During the first two weeks the book was for sale, a couple of good things happened. On May 3, former president Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and Mike Huckabee, the Republican governor of Arkansas, held a press conference to make an important announcement about the marketing of soda in schools. Clinton and Huckabee had persuaded the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo to remove all their sugary soft drinks from elementary, middle, and high schools by 2010. These unhealthy drinks would be replaced by fruit juice, water, and sugar-free soft drinks. Both men had recently battled health problems linked to being overweight. Clinton had undergone heart surgery, and Huckabee had developed diabetes. "We are eating more fast food and got into this supersize culture," Clinton said. "I used to be part of it." For Clinton and Huckabee, the agreement with the manufacturers of Coke and Pepsi was a bold step toward improving the health of American children. When Democrats and Republicans start to agree on an issue, big problems become a lot easier to solve.
Four days after that announcement, the Walt Disney Corporation and the McDonald's Corporation let it be known that their exclusive marketing deal was about to end. For ten years the arrangement had required McDonald's to promote every children's film that Disney released. Although the deal had provided about $1 billion in free advertising for Disney, an article in the Los Angeles Times suggested that Disney no longer wanted to be associated with the unhealthy food sold at McDonald's. "There is value in fast-food tie-ins," said Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computer and a major investor in Disney. "But there are also some concerns, as our society becomes more conscious of some of the implications of fast food." In October 2006, Disney announced that it would no longer allow characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to be used in most advertisements for unhealthy foods and that foods containing trans fats would no longer be served at its theme parks by the end of 2007.
We can't claim that the publication of Chew on This was responsible for these changes, but we're delighted to see them take place. By telling kids and their parents how the fast-food industry operates, we hoped that readers would start to think for themselves and take better care of themselves. On the whole, the response to the book has been encouraging. Chew on This received many kind reviews, and our publisher has included quotes from some of them in this paperback edition. But some people really haven't liked the book.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) accused Chew on This of being "fiction masquerading as fact." The NRA created a packet for schools that might want to buy the book, claiming that Chew on This was full of mistakes. (Don't worry, it's not.) The president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said that "it's easy for urban intellectuals to decry a packing plant as a terrible place" and that our real aim was "turning youths and adults away from beef." (Don't worry, it's not.) Eighteen large food-industry groups including the National Pork Producers Council, the American Meat Institute, and the National Restaurant Association also set up a Web site at www.bestfoodnation.com to defend their business practices and criticize Chew on This. "If Upton Sinclair were alive today, he'd be AMAZED by the U.S. meat industry!" the site says. The sponsors at BestFoodNation argue that Sinclair, the author of The Jungle, would be pleased with how good the working conditions are at meatpacking plants today. We think Sinclair would be amazed and saddened and outraged by how little has changed in the past hundred years and by how many slaughterhouse workers are needlessly injured every day.
McDonald's public response to Chew on This was rather polite, stressing that the company did "not agree with some of [our] conclusions" but that it welcomed an "objective and fair discussion" of the issues. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, McDonald's had a secret plan to encourage attacks on us in the media. By making us seem like untrustworthy people, the company hoped to make people distrust our work. In May 2006, just as the book was being published, a Web site called Fast Talk Nation suddenly appeared. It was run by a Washington, D.C., public relations firm that works for McDonald's. Among other things, Fast Talk Nation included a form letter that parents could send to schools, claiming that the authors of Chew on This are not the sort of people who should be allowed to speak to schoolchildren. The public relations firm worked with a number of groups that seemed to be independent of one another, which criticized our work in language that seemed remarkably similar. At schools where we were scheduled to speak, headmasters and principals received e-mails, letters, and phone calls urging them to cancel our visits. None were canceled, but it felt strange to be personally attacked by people whom we'd never met. And it seemed incredible that companies selling junk food in schools were trying to prevent us simply from speaking in schools.
Overseas, McDonald's launched Web sites featuring a marketing campaign called "Make Up Your Own Mind." Although we disagree with McDonald's about many things, we do agree with the title of this campaign. Everyone should be allowed to make up his or her mind. But in order to make up your own mind, you need to get more than one point of view. Chew on This was written to give a different point of view from the one presented every single day in hundreds of fast-food ads. A great deal of time and money and energy has been spent trying to prevent people from hearing our point of view. The attacks on us, however, have proved completely unsuccessful. We have been able to visit schools, discuss our book on television, and travel around the country encouraging kids to think for themselves. And we've done that without spending billions of dollars on marketing. The entire marketing budget for Chew on This which took us two years to write was a small fraction of the money that the fast-food and soda companies spend on marketing in a single day.
In the year since Chew on This was published, we've seen changes for the better. Big corporations are changing some of their policies, and ordinary people are changing their lives. Sam Fabrikant is now a freshman at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. He hasn't stepped onto a scale for months but thinks his weight is now about 150 pounds. "I feel the best I've ever felt," Sam says. "I feel good about myself mentally and physically." His asthma has virtually disappeared. He rarely eats fast food, hardly ever gets sick, and frequently plays basketball. He has decided to become an elementary school teacher. It seems like a good way to help people. Now that his struggle with obesity is over, Sam vows, "I'm going to try to make a difference."