The Reason Some Consider Kraft's Anti-Vegetable Commercials Problematic

On March 24, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a complaint to the BBB's National Programs' Children's Advertising Review Unit about an advertisement issued by Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. In the advertisement, which is available to watch on YouTube, a mother chases a child through a house with a piece of asparagus impaled on a fork (via YouTube). The child declares a lack of hunger. The mother insists on one more bite. The ad cuts to the macaroni and cheese with a somewhat unusual musical choice of Enya. The message, as the ad belabors, is that Kraft is "for the win win."

The issue the CSPI has with this advertisement is how Kraft disparages vegetables, the iconic healthy food, in favor of promoting their brand. They were especially frustrated with their choice to air the ad during children's programming. "Disparagement of healthy foods in advertising reinforces children's beliefs that healthy foods do not taste good and should be avoided," Sara Ribakove, a senior policy associate at the CSPI, said. The concern is this will create a foundational association between healthy food and a disgusting flavor that could have negative impacts on a child's later choices.

Public reaction is more mixed. If you break Youtube's number one rule and read the comments, you find a general antipathy towards the parent caving. In the comments of The Takeout's article on the Kraft ad, some commenters reflected that this is what parenting picky eaters is really like.

Kraft's advertisement reflects the American reality

Kraft's advertising framing represents the reality of many American households, both in how children respond to vegetables and how Kraft has offered itself as a solution.
Spoon University writes that the reason children hate vegetables can be explained in biological terms. Children naturally turn away from vegetables because they taste a more potent bitterness than adults, which they associate with the dangers of poison. They also naturally turn towards dishes like mac and cheese because they require a lot of energy from calories and the cheesy goodness offers a plenitude while vegetables don't. By adulthood, we have, ideally, realized that vegetables won't kill us. But by repeated exposure, and making the vegetable dishes more familiar, parents don't have to wait two decades before offering their child vegetables.

However, as a CBS report about the number of vegetables that American kids eat shows, parents cave in to the "win win" offered by Kraft too regularly. In a response to a survey, researchers discovered that 25 percent of 6 to 11-month-old infants and 20 percent of 1-year-olds have no regular exposure to vegetables. In the findings, there was a large wealth disparity, as fresh vegetables were easier to access in higher-income areas than lower-income areas. That said, the added reinforcement from Kraft, even though they will end the ad this year, only exacerbates the issue for parents.