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Cereal Killer

Adam Bernstein

The Wash Post on Sunday and the NYT today had obits about Robert Choate Jr., a civil engineer-turned "citizen lobbyist" in the 1960s who played a key role attacking the "empty calories" of breakfast cereals. He died May 3 at age 84.

The low nutritional value of cereal became Choate's best-known public crusade, and he was considered on the of leading "mini-Naders" of his day -- public citizens who focus on exposing the alleged wrongdoings of a single industry while the efforts of tireless consumer advocate Ralph Nader spanned many industries.

What I found most interesting about Choate was how he came to attack the big-pocketed cereal industry. He initally was concerned with malnutrition among the poor, but he grew impatient at the rate of change fostered by congressional hearings and White House conferences that explored poverty and hunger. He said he faced great cynicism, too, mostly from Repubicans fearing that liberal Democrats would exploit the hunger issue as an election year ploy.

He said he needed to reach the middle class where it lived: its collective stomach. By pursuing the cereal industry, by creating an easy-to-understand rating system of the nutritional value of Wheaties and Count Chocula, he found a cause everyone could relate to.

His impact was significant. Within a few years, nutritional labels began appearing on cereal boxes -- a practice now common among nearly all foods.


By Adam Bernstein |  May 13, 2009; 12:21 PM ET  | Category:  Adam Bernstein
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Robert Choate was an important moderating influence in Phoenix at a time when many were entranced by the conservatism of Barry Goldwater. His Careers for Youth program assisted many underprivileged hispanic teenagers here. A significant portion of Choate's papers are preserved at Arizona State University, and description of those materials is available here:

http://azarchivesonline.org/archives/?getObject=asulib:118099

Rob Spindler
Arizona State University Libraries

Posted by: spindry1 | May 13, 2009 3:41 PM

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