Matt Dineen on the Beef Industry’s Newest Targets: Preadolescent Girls

At the end of January, Time magazine published an article addressing the growing
popularity of vegetarianism among American youth, particularly girls. The
article briefly describes a new website called cool-2b-real.com, that is
targeted at young girls to try to convince them that eating beef, and lots of
it, is now hip. The plan is to further manipulate the media-induced insecurities
of thousands of girls with developing bodies so they will eat more beef.

2003.02.26

At the end of January, Time magazine published an article asking: “Where’s the
Beef (In the Teenage Diet)?”¹ It cynically addresses the growing
popularity of vegetarianism among American youth, particularly girls, and also
how the beef industry is freaking out about this growing trend. Due to this
“looming vegetarian crisis,” as Time put it, they must “come up with innovative
ways to win back young salad-eaters.”

The article briefly describes a new website launched by the National Cattlemen’s
Beef Association (NCBA) called “Cool To Be Real” ( http://www.cool-2b-real.com/ ) that is targeted
at young girls to try to convince them that eating beef, and lots of it, is now
hip.

There is so much to say about the business practices of the American beef
industry and it’s wretched, deceptive marketing campaigns…“Forget about the very
real threat of Mad Cow disease honey. Beef is what’s for dinner!” Too much to
say in fact, and books like Mad Cow USA and Fast Food Nation have already covered
a great deal of this disturbing information.

The question here is: What the fuck is the beef industry doing targeting little
girls? Furthermore, what are the implications and social effects of such
marketing? This can all be traced back to a couple years ago…

In 2000, an advisory group made up of beef producers released the “Beef
Industry’s Youth Strategic Plan” in hopes of employing new methods of “reaching youth.”² But not just youth in general-they were specifically interested
in “reaching” young girls with this plan. In fact, they admit that their
“primary target audience” is “girls ages 8-12.” An NCBA memo reveals:
“Nutritional messages have been reshaped to appeal to the body motivations of
preteen girls, and new heat-and-eat beef messages were incorporated to offer
actual meal ideas that girls can make themselves.”²

The plan was to further manipulate the media-induced insecurities of thousands
of girls with developing bodies so they would eat more beef and “influence what
their moms serve for dinner.” Now all they needed was a spokesperson.

In a media kit called “Building a Champion,” sent to nearly 100 publications
targeted at children, the NCBA used 16 year-old Olympic figure skating star
Sasha Cohen to promote the consumption of beef. The idea was that girls would
now associate eating beef with being successful and maintaining a healthy
lifestyle. The press release provides a quote ostensibly from Cohen praising the
new campaign: “I want to thank the beef producers for letting me be a part of
this important campaign to help girls eat better…I love beef and have learned a
great deal about how important its nutrients are.” It goes on to exclaim that
Cohen’s “entire family enjoys beef.”²

The NCBA further incorporated the Olympic silver medallist into their crusade to
sell their beef to young girls by adding a feature on the industry’s youth
website, “Burger Town” ( http://www.burgertown.com ) called “Sasha’s Corner.” Here, carnivorous
children surfing the Net can learn about “tips on eating smart and staying fit,
and fun food ideas using beef.” There is also “a motivational diary from Sasha
and even a special chat session with her.”² Creepy…

After taking the silver medal once again in the 2002 Winter Olympics Sasha
Cohen, now 17, remained the teen spokesperson for the NCBA’s youth outreach
campaign as her name recognition increased internationally. In July of 2002,
according to a beef industry press release, Cohen was named the “hottest woman
in sports” by a FoxSports.com online poll, receiving 75 percent of over 100,000
total votes.³

Despite this success, they still needed something more to hook little girls in.
Enter: “Cool To Be Real.”

In early December 2002 the NCBA, in conjunction with the Cattleman’s Beef Board
and state beef councils, began a new campaign specifically targeting
preadolescent girls. The “Cool To Be Real” website was started on December 2nd
and a week later, dozens of children’s publications were contacted about
providing “positive messages about beef” in an attempt to dispel their
“nutritional misperceptions.” This “media tour” that kicked off the “Cool To Be
Real” campaign was done by Mary Young, R.D., the NCBA’s executive director for
nutrition and Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D., child psychologist and author of See Jane Win.
*

The “Cool To Be Real” website is an integral part of this campaign to influence
the diets of girls now that this target group increasingly uses the Internet to
learn about the world. The NCBA explains that www.cool-2B-real.com “features
important beef information in a format that appeals to tween girls [sic],” and
that it “allows beef producers to talk directly to them.”*

The website is fucking outrageous. It portrays “real girls” that are supposed to
look “just like you” surrounded by beef filled tacos and stacked hamburgers.
“Real” girls, of course, are those that eat beef-that is why it is so “cool to
be real.”

Along with games, chat rooms, a “self esteem test” and e-cards to send to “real”
friends, the site provides tips on “smart snackin’” with quick and easy recipes
for snacks like nacho beef dip, beef on bamboo, beef tacos, beef chili, meatball
and vegetable platters and roast beef and vegetable wraps. It posts nutrition
tips from, hee hee, “real girls:”

Stephanie, age 12, says: “I make sure to eat healthy, making sure I eat the
right amount of food from the food pyramid.” While Erika, age 11, proudly
cheers: “I eat vegetables and meat.” And a poll question asks “real” girls:
“What type of beef do you most like to eat with your friends?” Hmmm…”Steak,
Tacos, Burgers or Subs?”**

Although the Time article about this “Cool To Be Real” campaign is very critical
of the vegetarian lifestyle, it is also skeptical of the beef industry’s attempt
to sway young girls towards beef eating with a website that the author describes
as “a cross between a Barbie fan page and a Taco Bell ad.”

Time writes: “It’s hard to wonder if they’re going to be successful with this
pitch. As any teenager could tell you, obvious pandering is not the way to go
when you’re trying to reach this audience…Young consumers are too savvy for
old-school ads, and too steeped in irony for sincere come-ons.”¹
Nevertheless, the “Cool To Be Real” campaign forges ahead in the beef industry’s
quest to turn potential vegetarians into lifelong beefeaters while they are
still in their formative years.

What else is there to say about this bizarre phenomenon? At one level it is
pretty hysterical how out of touch with reality the beef industry is and some of
this stuff is down right funny.

But it is deadly serious too. It reveals something deeper about our culture and
the pervasive force of what ecofeminist and animal rights activist Carol Adams
calls “the sexual politics of meat.” The campaign is yet another example of the
interconnected oppression of both animals and women in this society.

Will the beef industry stop at nothing to maintain their profits? Will the
children’s entertainment industry continue their role in this insidious attempt
to manufacture the consent of impressionable American children? Let’s just hope
that the kids will be too savvy for this pro-beef propaganda and show the NCBA
that they are too cool to be fooled.

Matt Dineen is an activist, writer and student at Bard College in
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Contact him at md936@bard.edu


¹Time Online: “Where’s the Beef (In the Teenage Diet)?”
Jan. 30, 2003; http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,412343,00.html?cnn=yes

²Beef.org: “Youth Media Hear Positive Beef Message Through
Landmark New Checkoff-Funded Program: Figure Skating Star Sasha Cohen Tell Girls
to Eat Beef and Stay Fit,” June 6, 2001;

http://www.beef.org/dsp/dsp_content.cfm?locationId=216&contentId=1406&contentTyp
eId=2

³Beef.org: “Figure Skating Star Cohen Named ‘Hottest Woman
in Sports,’” August 19, 2002;

http://www.beef.org/dsp/dsp_content.cfm?locationId=855&contentId=1517&contentTyp
eId=2

*Beef.org: “New ‘Cool To Be Real’ Beef Youth Campaign Kicks
Off,” December 17, 2002;

http://www.beef.org/dsp/dsp_content.cfm?locationId=45&contentId=1779&contentType
Id=2

**Cool To Be Real: http://www.cool-2B-real.com

Author: Matt Dineen

News Service: TheExperiment

URL: http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1907