Brett Brownell

Brett Brownell

Multimedia Producer

Brett Brownell is the Multimedia Producer at Mother Jones and has visited all 50 states. He also helped launch MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes as a video and web producer, served as new media director for the employee rights organization Workplace Fairness, and founded the annual global photography event Worldwide Moment in 2007. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-T.V. and grew up in Arlington, Texas.

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Kraft Mac & Cheese Is Nutritionally Equivalent to Cheez-Its

| Mon Mar. 25, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

We taste-tested Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Annie's Homegrown Macaroni & Cheese, Cheez-Its, and a simple, homemade pasta-and-cheese dish. Watch the video to see how they stacked up.

Perhaps you've heard about the recent outcry over the use of yellow dyes 5 and 6 in Kraft's popular Macaroni & Cheese. A couple of food bloggers have petitioned the food giant to ditch the artificial colors, calling them "unnecessary" and "potentially harmful."

The petition has already racked up more than 250,000 signatures. That isn't surprising, since Kraft's cheesy, gooey dish is a childhood staple. (I subsisted on a strict diet of it and Eggo waffles until about age 10.)

So just for fun, let's pretend that the petitioners succeed, and Kraft replaces its artificial dyes with natural coloring—or (gasp!) no coloring at all. Would the stuff then be healthier?

Well, let's consider the ingredients list for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese:

Enriched Macaroni product (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate [iron], thiamin mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid); cheese sauce mix (whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, contains less than 2% of citric acid, lactic acid, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, enzymes, cheese culture)

Now compare that to the ingredients list for Kellog's Reduced Fat Cheez-Its:

Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate [vitamin B1], roboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid); soybean and palm oil with TBHQ for freshness, skim milk cheese (skim milk, whey protein, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, annatto extract for color), salt, containst two percent or less of paprika, yeast, paprika oleoresin for color, soy lecithin

To me, the list looked pretty similar—except for one thing: Instead of yellows 5 and 6, Cheez-Its uses annato extract and paprika for color. Yes, you read that right: Cheez-Its uses natural coloring, while Kraft Macaroni & Cheese uses artificial. Indeed, agreed Jesse Jones-Smith, a nutritionist at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, "Kraft actually has a few extra additives, even compared to Cheez-its." She added, "If you gave a kid two servings of Cheez-its and a glass of milk, you would actually have more sodium in Kraft Mac & Cheese. Otherwise, the two meals are pretty nutritionally equivalent."

Nutritionist Marion Nestle isn't a fan of the stuff in the blue-and-yellow box, either. "Kraft Mac & Cheese is a delivery vehicle for salt and artificial colors and flavors," Nestle wrote in an email. "It is a non-starter on my list because it violates at least three of my semi-facetious rules: never eat anything artificial; never eat anything with more than five ingredients; and never eat anything with an ingredient you can't pronounce."

Right. But that got me wondering: What about Annie's Homegrown, the supposedly healthier brand of packaged mac and cheese? When Jones-Smith compared Annie's and Kraft's nutritional information labels and ingredients lists, she found that their dry pasta and sauce packets weren't too different:*

The real difference, she says, was in what the two manufacturers recommended adding: Kraft suggests making the dish with four tablespoons of margarine and a quarter cup of two-percent milk, while Annie's recommends two tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of lowfat milk. "Margarine often has trans fat—why would they recommend margarine?" wondered Jones-Smith. The result is that when prepared, Kraft packs substantially more calories and fat into a serving than Annie's:

So what's a healthier alternative? I asked Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, for a recommendation. She suggested a simple cheese, pasta, and cauliflower dish. Basically you mash up two cups of boiled cauliflower with a cup of parmesan, a little olive oil, and salt and pepper. Add it to a pound of pasta with a little of the pasta's cooking water, and you have a creamy, cheesy dish that Jones-Smith says is also more nutritious than both boxed versions: It's lower in sodium, fat, and calories, and slightly higher in protein. (It's slightly higher in saturated fat because of the real parmesan.)

It also tastes good. That's not to say that boxed mac and cheese tastes bad; it's hard to go wrong with cheesy, starchy comfort food. But I'm willing to guess that Adler's concoction is a few more steps removed from a bowl of Cheez-Its. Which is, well, comforting in its own way.

You can watch our taste test in the video at the top of this post.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated some of the values for Cheez-Its' nutritional information.

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Elizabeth Warren Goes After NRA, Big Banks, GOP

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 8:19 PM EDT

Since joining Congress, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been fighting to penalize bad banks, expand consumer protections, and confirm Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped create in 2011. Yesterday she took her message to the Consumer Federation of America. "I know I’m preaching to the choir," Warren told the group's members, "but it is time for Washington to stop protecting a handful of the big guys." 

Warren said the 43 Senate Republicans who sent a letter to President Obama demanding a change of structure at the CFPB were trying to weaken the agency, and she called the NRA's attempts to limit data gathering on gun violence "dangerous."

Watch a portion of the speech, and read her full prepared remarks below. 

 

 

Google Hangout: Keeping Choice Alive at the State Level

| Fri Mar. 15, 2013 4:21 PM EDT

Earlier today we hosted a live discussion with some of the people working on the front lines to "keep choice alive" at the state level. Viewers submitted questions here and tweeted them to us @MotherJones using the hashtag #KeepingChoiceAlive. Watch the discussion and read more below:

Recently, the Arkansas Legislature passed the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation. The legislation would ban abortion at 12 weeks if implemented, leading Gov. Mike Beebe to label it "blatantly unconstitutional." Meanwhile, in Mississippi, advocates of "personhood" for zygotes are attempting to ban all abortions by giving fertilized eggs the same rights as adult humans, while the state's last-remaining abortion clinic struggles to stay open. It's been 40 years since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, yet reproductive rights are being significantly restricted in numerous states across the country.

Joining us to discuss these topics and more were:

  • Dr. Willie Parker: Parker is an ob-gyn currently providing services in Chicago, Montgomery, Alabama, and the last remaining abortion care clinic in Mississippi. He serves on the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). More information on Parker can be found here.
  • Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh: As director of field operations for the National Clinic Access Project with the Feminist Majority Foundation for nearly 20 years, Kohsin-Kintigh worked with communities around the nation to protect women’s clinics through grassroots organizing, assisting with security assessments on clinics, and providing doctors and clinic staff with personal security trainings. Currently, director of programs at the ACLU of Mississippi, she is working with the last abortion clinic on repeated legislative attacks, and coordinated efforts to defeat the state’s personhood amendment in 2011. Nancy continues her grassroots activism and community organizing.
  • Michelle Movahed: Movahed is a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel in the federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi's targeted regulations aimed at shuttering the state’s last abortion clinic. Since joining the Center in 2007, she has worked on a number of other critical cases, including serving as lead counsel in a recent victory challenging an Oklahoma law restricting doctors from offering medication as a surgical alternative to abortion and treating ectopic pregnancy. Before joining the Center, Michelle clerked for the Honorable James Orenstein, a US magistrate judge in the eastern district of New York. She earned a J.D. magna cum laude from the Fordham University School of Law, where she was a Stein Scholar in public interest law & ethics and a Crowley Scholar in international human rights.
  • Kate Sheppard: Sheppard is a Mother Jones staff reporter and author of "Inside Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic."
  • Brett Brownell: Brownell is Mother Jones' multimedia producer and host of the Google+ Hangout discussion.

"I Didn't Go There With a Grudge Against Romney"

| Thu Mar. 14, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The secret is out. Six months after Mother Jones first released his video from Mitt Romney's private fundraiser, Scott Prouty has revealed his identity on MSNBC's The Ed Show. Earlier tonight, Prouty introduced himself as "a regular guy" with a "good moral compass."

In part one of the interview Prouty explained, "I didn't go there with a grudge against Romney. I was more interested as a voter." He also explained how David Corn's reporting on Mitt Romney's Chinese investments helped him conclude that Mother Jones was the right choice to release the video.

Prouty continued by recounting his decision to allow Mother Jones to release the entire recording, following Mitt Romney's press conference response to the video:

In part three, human rights activist Charlie Kernighan joined the interview to describe his influence on Prouty's decision to release the video:

Finally, Prouty joined Ed Shultz live in studio. He apologized to the company he worked for, but added "what was at stake was more important than my job."

Following the interview David Corn appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss Prouty's unveiling:

WATCH: Investigating Major League Baseball's Second-Class System in the Dominican Republic

| Mon Mar. 4, 2013 7:02 AM EST

Read the full story, "Inside Major League Baseball's Dominican Sweatshop System," here.

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