The PepsiCo Foundation is a big outfit that does some good things, like underwriting efforts to help kids graduate from high school and putting up money for disaster relief and humanitarian support.
But when it gives money to fight childhood obesity, like its recent grants to two leading school-based health and wellness programs, it makes us queasy.
The reason is that even as PepsiCo funds this kind of stuff, it spends much bigger money lobbying to thwart regulations aimed at reducing excessive consumption of soft drinks, an important driver of high obesity rates.
Over recent years, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and the American Beverage Association have spent tens of millions of dollars to lobby against new rules and taxes proposed in various places, including New York City, that would temper America's love affair with soda. In doing do, they've often played loose with the facts and denied just how big a role soft drinks play in jacking up the calorie intake of Americans, including kids.
Maybe that's all to be expected from an industry under attack. But it's pretty unsavory to follow up by using philanthropy to address the problem it's exacerbating.
This is an old story, of course, maybe even as old as philanthropy itself. But while we're used to, say, oil companies putting up money for environmental causes or whiskey companies funding anti-drunk driving campaigns, we don't hear much about how Big Food has responded to growing regulatory pressures by stepping up philanthropic gifts that make them look like the good guys.
We've written about a few of these gifts so far, and we'll be watching for more and doing our best to place them in context.