Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 30 2015

Another picture worth many words: Coca-Cola in Myanmar

Except for Cuba, Myanmar used to be the only country in the world where Coca-Cola could not be sold.  The Burmese (now Myanmar) military junta kept Coke out for more than 60 years.

No more.  In 2013, Coca-Cola opened its first bottling plant in Myanmar as part of a $200 million investment in that country.

To do that, the company had to face many challenges: unfamiliarity with cold drinks, lack of refrigeration, and substantial labor and human rights issues.

But, as Coca-Cola explains:

For the people of Myanmar, this was more than the return of a delicious, refreshing beverage. To them, Coca‑Cola embodies the bright promise of better days and better lives ahead. And we look forward to being part of their journey.

When an NYU nutrition graduate, Catherine Normile, MS, RD, told me she was working on development projects in Myanmar, I asked her to take a look and see if she could send me photos of how Coca-Cola’s incursion into that country was proceeding.

Here’s one:

IMG_4572

And here’s another:

IMG_4475

She sent many more, but these will give you the idea.

Coca-Cola seems well established in Myanmar after just under two years.

I wonder how the country’s health statistics are coming along?

Mar 27 2015

Weekend reading: Fruits of Eden

Amanda Harris.  Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters.  University Press of Florida, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

If you have ever wondered how navel oranges, figs, avocados, dates, and other such foods came to be grown in America, here’s the answer: plant explorers.  Amanda Harris tells the stories of adventurers sent out to search the world for delicious foods.  Fruits of Eden is a welcome history of these little-known plant experts who succeeded in improving the diversity and deliciousness of our daily fare.

 

 

Mar 26 2015

Is breakfast necessary?

With apologies for how silly this question might sound, Whitney Kimball of Hopes&Fears asked, “Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?”

Here’s what I told her:

The question isn’t silly at all, although I always laugh when I hear it. That is because I am publicly outed as not a breakfast eater—at least not first thing in the morning. I don’t usually start getting hungry until 11 or so and rarely eat before then. Coffee, yes. Solid food, later please. The idea that early eating is essential makes perfect sense for farm laborers and small children. Whether it matters for normal, sedentary adults is a different question.

Many—if not most—studies demonstrating that breakfast eaters are healthier and manage weight better than non-breakfast eaters were sponsored by Kellogg or other breakfast cereal companies whose businesses depend on people believing that breakfast means ready-to-eat cereal.  Independently funded studies tend to show that any eating pattern can promote health if it provides vegetables and fruits, balances calories, and does not include much junk food. For most people, when you eat matters far less than how much you eat.  If you wake up starving, by all means eat an early breakfast. If not, eat when you are hungry and don’t worry about it.   Kids who won’t have access to decent food in school may well be better off fed breakfast at home and surely will learn better if their stomachs aren’t growling.

Mar 25 2015

The Paleo diet, sigh

The Wall Street Journal, hoping to generate some controversy, got me involved in a point/counterpoint about the Paleo Diet: “Is a Paleo diet healthy?”

It can be, but this is a point/counterpoint.  Hence, I took the position “NO: You Lose Too Much Pleasure for Dubious Benefits.”  

Here’s what I said:

Nutritionist that I am, the first questions I have about any diet are: What is it? Is the rationale behind it logical? And does it promote health?

A paleo diet is based on the premise that our genes govern what’s best for us to eat. We evolved to eat whatever could be hunted or gathered. This makes it OK to eat leaves, shoots, roots, seeds, eggs, animals, birds and fish, but not OK to eat grains, legumes, dairy or processed foods.

Why do paleo proponents think the ills of modern society stem from a mismatch between our genetics and today’s typical diets? The cave men, some argue, didn’t suffer from diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

The problem with that theory is that we really don’t know what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. As I often argue, determining what people eat is the single most intellectually challenging question in nutrition science. It is extraordinarily difficult to get an accurate idea of what people ate yesterday, let alone 10,000 to a million or more years ago.

In reality, scientists are nowhere near being able to match genes to specific kinds of diets. The reason cave men didn’t have chronic diseases like diabetes is more likely because they didn’t live long enough and lacked antibiotics, rather than because they didn’t eat carbohydrates.

Variety is key

What we know for sure is that the fundamental tenets of nutrition are variety, balance and moderation. The fewer kinds of foods consumed, the greater the chance of nutrient deficiencies. So while it is certainly possible to eat healthfully on a paleo diet, restricting whole groups of relatively unprocessed foods can make this more challenging. It also can take some of the joy out of eating by forcing people to give up foods that they love or that are part of their cultural heritage.

While there is no doubt that highly processed “junk” foods are unhealthy and should be kept to a minimum, grains and legumes are hardly the enemy. Diets that vary enormously—from the traditional high carbohydrate, rice-based cuisines of Asia to those of the Mediterranean rich in grains and olive oil—have been shown to promote health and longevity.

Yes, grains contain glutens, and bread and pasta are caloric, but such foods are also delicious and part of traditional diets in nearly every culture. Yes, legumes contain unpleasant phytochemicals, but these are mostly destroyed by cooking, and beans and peas are excellent sources of vegetable protein. If you eat foods from animal sources, why restrict dairy? Cheese and yogurt are lovely foods, and I, for one, cannot imagine life without an occasional serving of ice cream.

Eating less works

Any restrictive diet helps to reduce calorie intake, so it isn’t surprising that there are studies linking paleo to weight loss, lower blood sugar and a reduced risk of cancers for which obesity is a risk factor. Eating less works every time.

So does eating a largely plant-based diet. Research suggests that we can reduce risks for today’s diseases of affluence by eating more foods from plant sources and balancing calorie intake with expenditure. To the extent the paleo diet achieves these goals, it is a reasonable choice.

But food is so much more than bundles of nutrients. What we eat also nourishes us psychologically and culturally. So while a paleo diet isn’t necessarily bad, why bother? I’d be sad to miss all those delicious forbidden foods.

Mar 24 2015

My Plate, My Planet: Support Sustainability in Dietary Guidelines

I signed an today’s ad in the New York Times to encourage support for considering sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

Screenshot 2015-03-24 09.34.08

We need health policies that consider agriculture and agricultural policies that consider health.

Here are:

Mar 23 2015

Critical Public Health: special issue on “Big Food”:

With Simon Williams, I have just co-edited a special issue of Critical Public Health: “Big Food”: Critical perspectives on the global growth of the food and beverage industry.”

Here’s what’s in it.

Editorial

Research

Commentaries

  • Big Food’ and ‘gamified’ products: promotion, packaging, and the promise of fun, by Charlene Elliott.
  • Food as pharma: marketing nutraceuticals to India’s rural poor, by Alice Street.

Thanks to Simon Williams for initiating (and doing the heavy lifting on) this project, and to all the terrific contributors.

Enjoy!

 

Mar 21 2015

WHO’s cancer working group: Roundup is “probably a human carcinogen”

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has just published a report from 17 experts from 11 countries who concluded that glyphosate (“Roundup”) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The IARC Working Group found evidence that

Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides…In male CD-1 mice, glyphosate induced a positive trend in the incidence of a rare tumour, renal tubule carcinoma. A second study reported a positive trend for haemangiosarcoma in male mice.  Glyphosate increased pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats in two studies. A glyphosate formulation promoted skin tumours in an initiation-promotion study in mice.

Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations. Bacterial mutagenesis tests were negative. Glyphosate, glyphosate formulations, and AMPA induced oxidative stress in rodents and in vitro.

Organophosphate pesticides and herbicides have long been known to be toxic to mammals, but experts have been undecided about whether they cause cancer.

Glyphosate is the herbicide used in conjunction with glyphosate-resistant genetically modified crops.  These are widely planted in the United States (HT means herbicide tolerant).

In addition to causing widespread selection of resistant weeds, glyphosate may also cause cancer.

Add this to the list of scientific reasons for concern about widespread production of GMO crops.  Roundup is used on plants other than GMOs, but GMO corn, cotton, and soybeans use the most.

Note: The FDA has just approved new varieties of GMO apples and potatoes.  These do not use Roundup.

Next: watch Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, attempt to cast doubt on IARC’s scientific judgment.

Addition, March 22:  As an example of the level of the general discussion of GMOs and glyphosate, see this short video clip from French TV (in English) with Patrick Moore.  Mr. Moore, a former director of Greenpeace, has controversial views on climate change and GMOs.

Additions, March 23:

DTN/The Progressive Farmer quotes a Biotechnology Industry Organization representative as pointing out that IARC took the Séralini study seriously, immediately casting doubt on the quality of its literature review (but I can’t find any mention of this study in the IARC report).

Center for Science in the Public Interest urges the EPA to take this seriously.

Consumer Reports is concerned about the vast amounts of glyphosate used and thinks the government should monitor it.

Mar 20 2015

Weekend reading: Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids

Kiera Butler.  Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids & How its Lessons Could Change Food & Farming Forever.  University of California Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

 

Kiera Butler usually writes for Mother Jones (her latest is about how McDonald’s markets to kids) but this time took on an investigative reporter’s immersion into the world of 4-H, the venerable youth-mentoring program aimed at “growing confident kids.”

Although the program’s website says “4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System & USDA,” you have to look hard to see how it relates to its farming origins.

Butler follows several individual 4-H members, young teenagers, who are deeply engaged in raising and showing animals at county fairs.  She follows their experiences for a year and observes their demonstrable growth in skills, confidence, and the handling of disappointment.  These are the impressive accomplishments of this program.

But she is also well aware of the many contradictions of 4-H: the high cost of participation, its lack of racial and ethnic diversity, its promotion of the values of industrial agriculture, the divide between urban and rural members, and the surprising lack of attention to what agriculture is about and its importance to the economy and society.

Her conclusion: 4-H needs to be challenged to promote critical thinking about agriculture.

Raise is a good read and is thoroughly convincing about the need for such thinking.

Page 1 of 29112345...Last »