February 05, 2009

Speaking up and offending people. My specialty.

Yesterday at work I saw a sign announcing an event for the American Heart Association's Go Red campaign. It's nice to see the company supporting heart health...supporting it so very much actually, that they are giving out FREE SUNDAES to anyone that bought a pin! Anyone catching on to the irony yet? Here's the discussion that followed:
Email from me to 2 high ranking people in my company who I thought might be involved in this event:
"I think it's great to promote awareness of heart disease. But I'm having trouble with the idea of incentivizing people to come by giving away sundaes. It sends a mixed message, don't you think, since saturated fat from animal products is a leading cause of heart disease? Are you guys the right people to talk to or is someone else managing the actual event?"

At this point I was feeling nervous about having sent this email. I anticipated a negative response, or no response at all.

First response:
"You raise an interesting point. Maybe we serve healthier food! Mau, what do you think?"

After reading that someone saw my point and had taken it under consideration, I felt great! What a win!

Then this, from a woman at the front desk. She is a long-time employee, somewhat of a grandmother figure. Someone must have forwarded my message to her. Turns out she is involved in the event:
"Ice cream – very lo-fat, strawberries – no sugar added meaning they are healthy fruit and I mashed them myself in my kitchen, the chocolate sauce is fat free - I have kept this healthy and inexpensive since money is at a premium for these events that people want us to have but put on WORKLIFE budgets.

This is a fundraiser – we want to give the American Heart Association some money – if the kids here are worried about their health – that is their personal choice – they do not have to buy a pin or eat the sundae – and personally – I would not do anything to jeopardize their health - SUNDAES ARE FUN!!!

We are also trying to save money – I am not charging for the strawberries, or the M&M peanuts (some healthy item there), I am donating all this to save money – it’s a charity that is “close to my Heart” no pun intended – "

After reading this I was extremely frustrated. Clearly she means well and seems to feel insulted by my thoughts on food. But how to explain that even though SUNDAES ARE FUN, it doesn't mean it's the responsible thing to do? I decided that I'd said enough at this point and at least had a small win with the first response.

I replied:
"I just could not live with myself if I didn’t suggest a healthy alternative for food. Ice cream is certainly the kind of processed food/animal product that causes heart disease, although I respect your attempt to keep it all low-fat and such. I’m still interested in the mixed message it sends to combine a heart-healthy event with ice cream. It’s a point that can be taken, disregarded, or simply considered next time! Thanks for responding."

Speaking my truth was exhilarating, truth be told. But what could I have done better? How could I have handled this in a way that would have made a real difference? And have you had experiences like this, speaking out about food choices in a way that maybe offends other people? Please share in the comments!


Travis Saunders, MSc said...

I agree entirely with you. Unfortunately issues like this can be very awkward to bring up - either people agree with you 100%, or they think you are a zealot for even suggesting it. Well done on bringing up the point in the first place, and for doing your best to avoid confrontation so that there is at least some hope of continuing the dialogue in the future.

Darya Pino said...

Michelle, you deserve a medal! Unfortunately, however, I think this is pretty representative of the actions of the AHA.

Ricki said...

Good for your for speaking up--I think it's appalling that they gave out sundaes in support of HEART HEALTH! Really, couldn't they promote it in a more heart-healthy way??

Nancy said...

It's the same way you eat an elephant..one bite at a time. In other words, one step at a time.
If you didn't have an effect on the office Grandmother, I must point out you did have an effect on the other woman. Taking a stand, is sometime nothing more then being an example.
My suggstion would be that intially you could have offered a suggestion of a healthy alternative "Reward" food...As you and I know, "low fat" is a marketing hype not a health indicator. Bless you for your efforts! Keep it up!

Hanlie said...

The irony here is heartbreaking (pun not intended). Our society thinks that if we buy pins and wear red we're doing something about heart disease. Similarly the whole pink ribbon breast cancer thing. Dr Joel Robbins said it best:

"Americans believe in cause and effect, except when it pertains to their eating habits."

As long as associations like the AHA pander to the food industry when it comes to their nutritional guidelines, we will have the truth obscured and people will continue dying in their hundreds of thousands.

Anonymous said...

Well the way I see it, some of us are here to shine a light on things that are not right. Yeah, we get grief and mistreated for it but speaking up is the job and you did a fine job of it!
If you didn't have the passion for health, you wouldn't do it and if you didn't do it...you belong in another field and not at IIN either!
Good for you!!

Lori said...

Ugh! This is a huge issue for me when it comes to supporting healthy causes. We have to send the right message! I see this all the time when races offer candy and sweets at the end of an event.

I think you handled it very well. While you may think you didn't have much impact on her you got others thinking about it. That is the important part. You gave them another perspective and next time they may think twice about their offerings.

BTW, in Brazil they celebrate Big Mac day at McDonald's to raise funds for childhood cancers. Good grief!!

Culinarywannabe said...

Good for you! That is a little bit ridiculous and I'm surprised (well, not really) that you are the only one to say anything. Unfortunately, healthy eating wasn't stressed during "the grandma's" time and she probably doesn't totally realize what she is doing. I know my grandparents are the same way. No matter what you tell them, they think that as long as something says "low-fat" or "natural" that it is good for you. It's thanks to people like you that so many more from this generation will become aware of what they put in their bodies!

Vered - MomGrind said...

I think it's good you spoke your mind. You did it to the point and with respect. I don't think you did anything wrong. People do get defensive when they feel their choices - good or bad - are being criticized.

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Michelle said...

Travis--thank you, I do hope the dialogue continues...I also assume my file in HR is growing thicker :-)

Darya--I never got clear whether the ice cream was the AHA's idea or my company's. But, either way...sigh...

Ricki--Thanks for the support!

Nancy--you're right, I wish I'd suggested a fruit salad or something. It really burned my bottom that she thought low-fat chocolate sauce made it all better!

Hanlie--this is why I don't usually support causes that are so, well, marketed! Like the Avon Breast Cancer walk. If you can afford TV ads and 4 color glossy brochures I'm simply not sure the money is going to the right places. It's just to make it LOOK like people are doing something good.

Anon--Shine on! Are you at IIN right now too?

Lori--candy at races is a good one! ha. or how about candy as incentives at schools? yikes. And Big Mac day...seriously??

Culinarywannabe--you're right, some people just won't understand and that's why I backed off when I saw it was her ice cream show!

Vered--Thank you! I took a lot of effort to keep sarcasm and anger out of my email's "voice" but I think it's important.

Crystalee--why don't you leave your email address and then I'll get in touch with you to learn more?

laura said...

I agree with Vered--I think you made your point succinctly and respectfully and the world would be a better place if we could all handle disagreements in that way. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

No...I attended IIN 4 years ago :)
It was a life changing experience for sure!

jesse said...

GO YOU. Not sure what else you could have done, since the person in charge seems to be taking all constructive criticisms personally... I love the fact that you spoke up though, so brave of you!

lisa (lost pezhead) said...

good for you, i agree.

couldn't they just give everyone the pin for making a donation to the fund? and it's definitely hard to define what is healthy for all people...i wouldn't eat a choc sauce w/ artificial sweetener or a low fat fudge sauce w/ hydrogenated oil...

i wouldn't be so down on tv ads and nice brochues though...if they didn't advertise people wouldn't know...esp people who aren't that into health concerns.

Anonymous said...

Some times what we have to realize is that people do not want our opinions. I always tell people who tell me they have no choice in changing their lifes, that as long as you are sucking wind and above ground you can always change. I am always amazed at how many people think that just because it says low fat it is.
This may be off topic but what always makes me laugh is instead of being a society of people that prevent things by taking life seriously (example: your eating habits, exercise habits, stress, and on and on)we wait till we have a problem and then expect a DR and pill to change everything.
Why do we not help ourselfs out??

Anonymous said...

Hello! i just found your blog and think that you're very gutsy to raise such a point. I agree with you though, and think that if I were probably in your shoes, i would do the same. The only thing I might do differently is in my email to the "high ranking officials", I might suggest ideas as to how to spin off the sundae idea. Like, suggest that next time they advertise a "free fat-free sundae!" because that's totally possible. :) Lovin' your blog! Thank you so much for sharing!

ChefBliss.com said...

I agree with you on this one. Although I find that speaking out often falls on deaf ears. Something about ignorance is bliss? I think it's sad. I donate to causes I believe in by other means. The saddest part is that people are taught to believe that low-this and low-that is healthy. My stepdaughter suffers from this and is mad that's she's overweight, but doesn't connect the dots that the foods she chooses may be part of the problem. We need to continue educating!