The American Heart Association (AHA) waged a war on fat, and won. As late as 1999, AHA was recommending that Americans grab “soft drinks” instead of fatty foods (like milk). Until 2001, “gum-drops” and “hard candies made primarily with sugar” were advised for snacking to avoid fat in the diet.
Does this sound like elite nutrition advice from one of the country’s supreme medical associations? If your answer was “no,” you may want to pick up a book I just finished, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet,” by Nina Teicholz.
I first heard about the book through an article in The Wall Street Journal by the book’s author, and immediately did a fist-pump and high-fived anyone I could when I read the sub-headline – “Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade.” Obviously, I’m vested from a business perspective, but it’s nice when science tastes good, too.
Raging against a marketing machine
To solve the above riddle of soft drinks and sugar, would it help if I told you the American Heart Association was launched, in-part, by Proctor and Gamble? Yes, P&G, the brilliant marketing group behind brands like Tide, Gillette, and Duracell. The top 25 P&G brands reach over $1 billion in annual sales each year.
But, P&G isn’t known well as a food company. It started as a candle and soap maker in 1837, with William Procter and James Gamble joining up as experts in the respective fields. The pair married sisters and started P&G at the urging of their father-in-law.
These American icons marketed lard in 1870, a by-product of the animal processing industry. But in 1911, P&G launched Crisco as a substitute to animal fats. The hydrogenated oil product was the first vegetable oil that would stay in solid form.
Of course, Crisco was a direct attack on butter. To help convince bakers and cooks to make the switch, in 1912 the “Tested Crisco Recipes” cookbook was produced and home economics schools were conducted throughout the country. That same year, Upton Sinclair’s fictional tale, “The Jungle” gave the meatpacking industry a black eye.
Fast forward to 1948, when P&G made the AHA the recipient of a $1.7 million campaign, which is over $16 million in today’s dollars. This transformed the AHA from a small, struggling nonprofit to a fundraising machine.
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