Attacking Annie’s Shells and Cheddar

Annie'sAnnie tested the direction of popular culture and felt the gentle wind of organics blowing, and she created her famous purple box of mac 'n' cheese. And now Salon's Anastacia Marx de Salcedo takes her, and everyone who whips up a box of it, to task in her article comparing Annie's to Kraft. While I agree that the label "all-natural" on Annie's doesn't really mean anything in any official government-approved way, you can take a look at the ingredients in a box of Annie's and it sure seems "natural" compared to Kraft's.

Annie's Homegrown Original Shells & Cheddar ingredients:

Durum Semolina Pasta, White Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Salt, Cheese Cultures, Enzymes), Whey, Sweetcream Buttermilk.

Kraft Original Elbow Macaroni & Cheese ingredients:

Enriched Macaroni Product (Durum Wheat Flour, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Cheese Sauce Mix (Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Fat, Milk Protein Concentrate, Salt, Sodium Tripoly-Phosphate, Citric Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Calcium Phosphate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Enzymes, Cheese Culture).

The author points out that from a nutritional perspective, Kraft and Annie's are about equal (in terms of calories, sodium, protein, fat, etc.) but that misses the point. It's not that Annie's is "healthy," it's that it's less processed. It has less chemical additives. Why feed yourself or your children Yellow 5 or Milk Protein Concentrate when you can just give them cheese? It's hard enough for people to get decent food on the table these days, and while I agree it's nice to have a home-cooked meal, sometimes there isn't time for that. When I'm choosing between two instant mac 'n' cheeses, I'll take the one without Sodium Tripoly-Phosphate any day.

As for the author's assertion that "making pasta with cheese from scratch is just as easy as mixing up a pot of Annie's" (with a proper Béchamel sauce!) I say no way! She lists the steps side by side in her article, but if you actually look at the time associated with each step, it's clear Annie's is less commitment. With box mac 'n' cheese, you boil water and cook pasta. Neither task requires your attention in the kitchen, so you're free to do whatever else needs doing. (I suggest making a quick green salad to accompany your boxed delight, but let's stay on target.) When the pasta's done, you simply drain, add butter, cheese powder, milk, and stir. Total active time: less than a minute. Now think about making the same from scratch. While the pasta's boiling, you need to make your Béchamel. That requires whisking and attention. You also need to grate cheese, mix cheese in white sauce, etc. Total active time: more than one minute.

All said, I don't eat Annie's products very often, so I'm not defending them because I'm a fan. It's because this article seems dishonest to me, making false comparisons to support the author's belief. And it strikes me as a thinly-veiled critique of a certain lifestyle in the guise of nutritional analysis: the holier-than-thou-homemade crowd vs. the well-to-do Whole Foods yuppies with kids. It's a rant directed at people who actually do care what they're feeding their kids, and who are trying to do the right thing. In my opinion, that's the wrong target.

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