Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Media Literacy Opp or Food Porn? Hannah Montana Drives Bloggers Bananas

JessTrev muses about trendy bananas....

A couple of the bloggers I love are pondering the most postmodern fruit of all, the Hannah Montana Banana. Ruchira (aka Arduous) is outraged that slapping a Disney logo on a conventional banana earns that company social responsibility kudos. She asks urgently, "Are we really so desperate for kids in the North to eat a frickin' apple, that we are willing to sell out poor laborers in the South?" Over at The Clean(er) Plate Club, Ali's trying to get her brain around the strangeness of what may be either a "sign of newfound corporate responsibility..." or a "sign of the apocalypse."

It is pretty mind-boggling to think that marketing muscle may begin to get behind healthy eating -- even if it's heavily packaged and processed produce. In my opinion, though, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

Sure, I'd love it if Disney went the whole nine yards and slapped their logo onto fair-trade, organic, local fruits, but what percentage of the produce sold in this country is organic anyways? The organic share of total produce sales is just 5.5%, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Fair trade? I couldn't find stats for the US, but according to TransFair USA, "in Europe, ...Fair Trade Certified™ bananas have gained as much as 50 percent market share (Switzerland) with a growth rate of over 50 percent per year." Sweeet! Sounds like this was a deliberate marketing strategy there to combat price undercutting by putting a premium on the fair trade product - and it worked!

'Course, there's the fact that, although 96% of Americans eat bananas (wowza!) there is a recession, and all of those studies saying we should gobble fruits and veggies cause it's so healthy were done with conventional produce. Americans of all income levels need to eat more fruit. So should Disney be held to a higher standard for throwing its weight behind kids eating fruit? I mean, I haven't heard about a backlash of bloggers against fruit leather companies for using conventional produce.

Here's what my gut tells me:

1)I only buy organic bananas for my house. And I'm 100% behind fair trade (chocolate and coffee, too). But if I'm at a restaurant? I'm aware that I'm not getting organic, fair trade products, and that's ok. It's a treat. Just like, I'm guessing, a logoed piece of fruit would be in our house (total field trip material).

2)I try to avoid the licensed character gear whenever I can. The big, supposedly lovable makers of children's films and 17 million tangential products? My college roommate was a semiotics major who did her thesis on a very large maker of children's entertainment products and theme parks and sheesh! I don't like layer on layer of manipulation aimed in my direction, much less my kids' direction. I could live without the stereotypes, the overly simplistic worldview, the omnipresence and the relentless cross marketing.

3)My kids don't watch television at all. Oh, wait! That's my Waldorf friend's house. My kids' tv watching is restricted to those hours of the day before sunrise when no one but the remote is available for parental duty. I will tell you that I am profoundly grateful to the WonderPets writers for having the heroes eat celery.

4)I love the new branded fruit. I don't let my kids wear branded clothes, I don't buy them branded personal care products, even their freaking little recycled plastic toothbrushes that claim to be animals? Like the tiger packaged one? Don't have a cute animal face in sight on the actual toothbrush. Probably stops the recycling process cold to have a little fun in 'em. So - although I have yet to *see* a Hannah Montana banana in person? I'd totally let my kid get one as a treat. (Then I'd explain to her that we can't have them all the time because the organic fair trade ones are better for us *and* the kids growing them. And maybe I'd have her go chat with her rockin' public school librarian, who just ripped into Ms. Montana with the kindergarten class the other day during a rant on media literacy as prep for the schoolwide book fair purchasing frenzy: "Would you buy a book called 99 Things That Are Bad For Me to Learn just because it had a picture of Hannah on it?!") But see how tricky that gets, when it's something that's actually good for us? Even if just partially? Am I going to rip the sneakers off my little girl's feet (Title Nine! Title Nine!) even though they are filled with non-recyclable materials? Not so much.

4)Should Disney be lauded as some socially responsible paragon? Probably not. But not demonized, either. Obesity rates being what they are, our country's got a long path back to the farmer's market. And the conventional produce aisle is probably one stop closer on that journey. Plus, without the existence of said branded banana? What are most American kids eating? I'm betting it's not snack products that help fund the global movement for a living wage. My two cents? Baby steps count. I'm excited that the conversation will begin with fruit.

12 comments:

JessTrev said...

Also? You gotta check out this prescient post from Mindful Momma last year about Disney apple slices. Great comments section:

http://mindfulmomma.typepad.com/mindful_momma/2008/03/nutrition-vs-en.html

Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama said...

I'm not sure where I am on this issue. When Clorox came out with its Greenworks line, it seemed the very essence of greenwashing - on the other hand, it seemed like if more people bought the green cleaning products because of the Clorox brand name, all in all that would be a good thing.

Similarly, if more kids eat healthy fruits and vegetables because of the Disney logo, that's a good thing. On the other hand, it should not mean that Disney is a good socially and environmentally conscious company. Disney won't get my vote until it does a lot more, including greening its cleaners at its parks and resorts and cruise ships.

However, I'm just annoyed that it takes such branding to get our kids to eat fruit. I'm also annoyed that my kids recognize all the brands, although we don't let them watch much TV, don't usually buy them branded products (okay, I sold out on the My Little Pony), etc.

BFine said...

I'm not thrilled with pop branding my kids fruit to get them to eat it any more than I'm happy that they suggest my kid dance like Hanna Montana at school for gym to motivate them to exercise.

I get it though, it's the same principal as if you put regular good food in McDonnald's packaging kids will love it. Take the McD's out of it's packaging and they're not as interested.

Won't be looking for the HM fruit - my daughter refuses any fruit and veg. - no matter how you brand it.

sassypackrat said...

It's so silly to "brand" natural products! We buy most of our fruits and veggies at the famers market from local farmers. Branding is for mass produced goods. But really aren't in store bananas branded by the company that grows them ie. Chiquita?

JessTrev said...

sassypackrat - excellent point - most produce being "branded" by those little stickers in the market anyways. good for you for buying mostly from the farmer's market! we buy from local farmers but hit up our supermarket plenty.

BFine - sheesh, I hadn't thought about the gym class *dancing* like HM - I thought my kid learned about pop icons from other kids, not teachers!

Jennifer T - Yes, I guess I feel about the same way about the bananas as Clorox's line - perfect analogy. I make my own cleaners but I know lots of other folks don't - so good for Greenworks if it's in fact green inside the one-use container.

Green Bean said...

Sure, it is beyond annoying that we need to brand fruit to get kids to eat them. And I too try to keep my kids away from characters on clothes and toys. The only TV they watch is PBS Kids and most of that is done before 7am. That said, there are a whole lot of kids out there who don't eat healthy and who watch a whole LOT of TV.

This line summed it up best: " our country's got a long path back to the farmer's market". If putting HM on bananas gets us headed in the right direction, then maybe its not so bad.

Terra said...

This wouldn't make ant difference in my house. PBS is the only TV watched and we home-school. Of course, we probably aren't the kind of parents that these "branded" produce items are marketed towards. Eh, if it works for others, I guess I'm SORT of okay with it.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I don't eat bananas. Haven't in years. There's so much wonderful fruit grown around here by amazing people, why would I buy such an anonymous piece of fruit?

Well I guess it's not anonymous anymore if it's from Hannah Montana. Who I despise. One more reason to skip the banana!!!

ruchi said...

Great post! See, this is the thing about the Hannah Montana Banana. I'm not a purist; I can see that they might make some kids eat 'em and I know we can't always find fair trade.

What I have an issue with is that Disney is claiming that selling Hannah Montana Bananas is CSR. To me, CSR is a different threshold. And I don't think selling branded fruit cuts it.

JessTrev said...

ruchi - totes agree, now that you put it that way. It's not like they're not going to profit from selling the fruit, and it's not like Dole gets CSR credit just for selling pineapples to begin with. Interesting stuff! Thanks for starting the convo.

Going Crunchy said...

Jeez, I might have to run out and buy one to put in my Tupperware Banana Keeper. I need a little Hannah for my Tupperware.

(yes, I'm being naughty)

deepikabhatt22 said...

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