Hana Yohannes of Shikorina Pastries on East Union feels a warm flutter of nostalgia whenever she thinks of Pop-Tarts. She grew up sharing—and quibbling over—the confections with her siblings in Skyway, and learned how to make them herself at the Pastry Project. Shikorina’s version is a labor of love, little envelopes of tender, buttery pie crust brimming with organic, house-made strawberry jam. A few, overzealously packed with filling, explode every batch, says Yohannes, but they are necessary casualties of a noble cause.
She felt like the closest thing Seattle has to an official authority on Pop-Tarts, and thus the right person to weigh in on the lawsuit a woman in Illinois recently filed against Kellogg. The suit alleges that Kellogg’s strawberry Pop-Tarts don’t contain sufficient quantities of strawberries–and the accompanying health benefits–to deserve the label, and comes with a $5 million price tag.
Yohannes thinks the plaintiff in this case has a point. “No matter how big a business is, they should be held to a standard and be completely open about what's going into their items. If it’s a strawberry Pop-Tart, then the number one ingredient should be strawberry. Otherwise, you can't really call it a strawberry Pop-Tart.”
Apples and pears, which are the primary components of the “strawberry” filling in question, are considerably cheaper than actual strawberries, points out Yohannes. But strawberries are perceived as decadent, she says, and more desirable than apples or pears (don’t be sad, apples, we still love you!), so the food manufacturing behemoth’s dubiously accurate marketing has a clear motive.
Is the plaintiff just after some Kellogg dough? Obviously. One of the prongs of the legal argument is that the Pop-Tarts don’t confer the nutritional benefits of strawberries, given the filling’s dearth of actual strawberries. But, come on—who is actually grabbing a Pop-Tart hoping to get their daily dose of vitamin C and folic acid? “I mean, right, there’s a lot of strawberries in a real, traditional strawberry jam,” Yohannes allows. “But there’s also a lot of sugar.”
Despite the absurdity of it all, the plaintiff in this suit may actually have a compelling legal argument: NPR ran a profile last weekend on the lawyer behind the lawsuit, who has filed more than 400 cases against large food manufacturing corporations for deceptive marketing practices, garnering him the reluctant admiration of consumer advocates.
While these sorts of cases may seem merely the hideous spawn of eye roll–inducing technicalities, they reflect an ongoing reckoning with processed food and the corporations that churn it out on an industrial scale. Even if the suit is motivated by pure avarice, it’s hard to feel sympathy for a high fructose corn syrup peddler worth over $20 billion. The upside—cases like this may force food manufacturing giants like Kellogg to adopt more transparent marketing practices. Besides, being bullishly litigious over trivial matters is as American as apple Pop-Tarts (masquerading as strawberry).
Although Yohannes still feels a wistful affection for the silver-wrapped treats of her youth, she admits that she doesn’t ever buy Pop-Tarts anymore. “After trying my own pop-tarts, Kellogg’s are kind of ruined for me.” Once you’ve tasted the omitted fruit, you can’t go back.