Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ottawa Citizen Nutrition Watch Week 4 - Progress?

So yesterday I sent a letter to the Citizen and this time I expanded the list of folks to include the Citizen's Editor-in-Chief Gerry Nott along with their publisher James Orban and their VP of Reader Sales and Service Paul Sarkozy. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, here's the letter which will help to explain,

Dear Mr. Orban,

My name is Yoni Freedhoff and I’m a Citizen subscriber here in Ottawa. I’m also a physician with a focused practice that deals with weight and nutrition. Advocacy is something I feel very strongly about and wish that more physicians and professionals would use their voices to help improve the life of their fellow Canadians. My advocacy efforts tend to focus on what I know best – nutrition.

In April I was invited by the Ontario Medical Association to help them with their launch of an initiative to have calories legislated to be posted on chain restaurant menu boards and in school cafeterias. The Citizen, in their editorial on the matter (April 10th) did not support the initiative stating that legislation would not be necessary if consumers simply mounted an “ask before you order” campaign. Soon afterwards I noticed that in the Citizen’s Food section the published recipes lacked nutritional information and I wrote a letter to the editor asking that in the spirit of the “ask before you order” campaign suggested by the editorial board for posting of menu board calories, that I was asking the Citizen to publish nutritional information for its readers.

Nothing came of that letter and so I decided to in fact go ahead and mount the campaign the editorial board suggested.

First though I’d like to explain why. It’s not to vilify specific recipes or nutrients. Certainly life should include indulgent meals from time to time, but it is about providing a level playing field to help your readers make their own decisions as to whether or not the recipes meet their needs nutritionally. The fact is there are tens of thousands of Citizen readers for whom nutritional information would be beneficial. Readers with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, kidney disease and those who simply are concerned about their nutritional health. In fact I’d go further and state that even individuals who don’t currently feel nutritional information to be important, when faced with actual numbers, might well utilize them in their decision making. In publishing this information the Citizen would be doing a great service to its readers and providing the newspaper with a value added that could be promoted both in terms of Thursday sales and in terms of the Citizen’s caring for its readers.

Three weeks ago I emailed Ron Eade with these suggestions and he kindly informed me that it wasn’t his decision to make and that instead I should contact Wendy Warburton as he was concerned regarding the cost involved. I did email Wendy and let her know that the cost would be negligible or even free as the internet has free resources to analyze recipes' nutritional content and there are programs such as the one I use that cost less than $20.

I never heard back from her.

The next week I emailed Ron privately and let him know that I was going to offer to do the work for the Citizen for free. I offered that were the Citizen to provide me with the recipes 24hrs. prior to the copy deadline that I would personally take the time to calculate calories, saturated fat, sodium and total carbs for each and every one. Ron emailed me back to let me know that he’d pass the request on up and again, I haven’t heard a peep.

The campaign to have nutritional information published in the Citizen is slowly permeating local social networks. I blog about it weekly on my blog Weighty Matters and it’s been picked up by at least two other local bloggers and multiple local Twitter users and while I’m not suggesting that the Citizen must simply acquiesce to the request I’m surprised, especially given the uniform support expressed by folks commenting on the initiative, that to date the Citizen has simply chosen to ignore it. While I can’t imagine what it would be perhaps the Citizen has a reason why they would not want to take me up on my offer to provide them with free work that would serve to both enhance their content and empower their readers and I’m writing to you today in the hopes that you, or any of the other folks I’ve included on this email, might be able to provide me with some insight as to the decision making over there at the Citizen.

Yours sincerely,
Yoni Freedhoff
So the good news?

Gerry Nott, the Editor-in-Chief wrote me back to tell me it was the first he'd heard of my concerns and offer and that he'd bring it up with Wendy on her return from vacation on June 22.

I realize you may have sent emails already, but perhaps you could drop Mr. Nott a line (and included in the email will be Wendy Warburton) and let him know how you feel about the matter. Please email them by clicking here and please consider doing so even if you've already emailed in the past (you can even cut and paste your old email from your sent messages folder).

I know this subject has started to be cross-posted on various blogs and Twitter accounts (thanks!) - please consider reposting again or for the first time.

Remember, it was the Citizen's editorial board in their piece on posting calories on menus who suggested that legislation isn't necessary to get restaurants to post calories but rather that consumer demand would do the trick. Let's see if they were right with regards to their own paper. Please consumers - make some demands.

Here's the breakdown for this week's batch of three lonely Citizen recipes (The fact that this week's recipes are supposed to be geared towards diabetics certainly highlights the need for posted nutritionals as many diabetics utilize nutritional information to help manage their treatments):

Basil Lamb Chops
(per serving with low sodium V8 and no added salt): 362 calories, 13g saturated fat, 77mg sodium, 3g total carbs (add in the regular V8 and salt and sodium rises to 551mg per serving)

Bar-B-Q Chicken/Foil Pack
(per serving assuming 4): 274 calories, 3g saturated fat, 553mg sodium, 16g total carbohydrates.

Bar-B-Q Sauce for Diabetics

(per tablespoon): 10 calories, trace fat, 146mg sodium, 3g total carbs.

[All recipes calculated using Mastercook 9.0. Today it took roughly 3 minutes per recipe]