Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 5 2015

Milan Food Expo: promotion of physical activity (unstated)

Getting to the Milan Food EXPO by subway is not for the out-of-shape.

From the subway stop at Rho Fiera, the walk to the security gates is short.  But then!

Up the escalator to the walkway over the railroad tracks:

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Then to the next overpass to the fairgrounds:

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Continue to the end of that overpass:

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Enter the fairgrounds:

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Walk all the way to the end of that section.

Counting the walk to the subway station, it’s been 2 miles to that point (by step-counter).

At last!  The main drag of the Expo, the mile-long Decumano with the country pavilions aligned on both sides.

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The U.S. Pavilion is almost at the end, on the left, just after Kuwait’s.2015-05-02 16.19.08

By then, it’s been nearly 3 miles.  And just getting started!

To get to the U.S. Pavilion with less effort, take a taxi to the East security entrance.

May 4 2015

The Milan Food Expo: food politics in action

The slogan of the Milan Food Expo, May 1-October 31, is “Feeding The Planet, Energy for Life.”

The U.S. has a gorgeous pavilion framed by an undulating wall of vertical vegetables.

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A video featuring President Obama greets guests.  Check out what he says:

ObamaEven more, he adds:

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Good, safe, healthy food for all!

Creating sustainable food systems!

Yes!

More to come…

May 1 2015

Weekend reading: The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Darra Goldstein, editor.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

Full disclosure: I have two entries in this book, one with Daniel Bowman Simon.

  • Simon DB, Nestle M.  Soda lobbies.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:681-682.
  • Nestle M.  Soda.  In: Goldstein D.  The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.  Oxford University Press, 2015:623-624.

With that out of the way, I can only think that the editors of this book, Darra Goldstein and Michael Krondl, must have had the best time pulling this together.

The encyclopedia starts with an elegant introduction by Sidney Mintz, author of Sweetness and Power, the one book that tops everyone’s list of must reads in food studies.

The remaining 800 pages or so are devoted to entries by 265 authors on matters as diverse or arcane as dulce de leche, nanbangashi (“southern barbarian sweets”), syllabub, and whoopie pie (look them up).  I especially like the Appendixes: lists of films featuring sugar and chocolate, songs about sugar and candy (often as a metaphor), and museums.

The illustrations are lavish, especially the two sets of gorgeous color inserts.  Subtlety: The Marvelous Sugar Baby, alas, is gone from the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, but it lives on here.  For that alone….

Apr 30 2015

Due May 8: Comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

You still have time to file comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.

Here’s where and how.

I’ve just been sent the comments from

Yours don’t have to be lengthy, formal, or cover everything.

You just need to identify the issue, state your opinion, and indicate what you want the guidelines to do or say.

Your opinion counts.  Do it now!

Apr 28 2015

Is the food movement winning?

Brian Lehrer asked me a question this morning that is well worth pondering.

The gist: Are the recent actions taken by food companies an indication that consumers are having an effect at the expense of science—and at the expense of focusing on more important food issues such as too much sugar, obesity, and diabetes?

He cited these recent events:

  • Tyson’s says it will phase out human antibiotics in broiler production.
  • McDonald’s says it will source chicken that has not been treated with antibiotics.
  • PepsiCo says it is taking aspartame out of its diet sodas (it’s the #1 reason given for not drinking diet cola).
  • Chipotle says it will source GMO-free ingredients.
  • Nestlé says it is removing artificial colors from its chocolate candy.
  • Kraft says it is taking the yellow dyes out of its Mac n’ Cheese.

To all of them, I say it’s about time.

None of these is necessary in the food supply.

There are plenty of scientific questions about all of them, although some—antibiotics, for example—are more troubling than others.

If voting with your fork can achieve these results, they pave the way for taking on the much more difficult issues.

These are big steps forward.  They matter.

They should inspire other companies to do the same.

Apr 27 2015

Chipotle goes GMO-free: a brief comment

Chipotle’s announcement that it will only be sourcing GMO-free ingredients is eliciting much press (see the article in the New York Times, for example).

Here’s what I’m telling reporters:

No, this is not a safety issue.  GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

Yes, this is a matter of trust.  Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994 when the FDA first approved GM foods for production.  Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.  But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

Apr 24 2015

Food politics: the Lancet policy infographic

As part of its series on obesity, the Lancet has produced this chart to illustrate why it is so important to create a food environment that makes healthy choices easy.  Nice!

Apr 23 2015

Why we need regulation: education for SNAP participants?

PoliticoPro Morning Agriculture reports on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s speech to the Consumer Federation of America’s National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

About changing the rules so that SNAP benefits could not be used to buy unhealthy foods, Vilsack said:

[recipients] may buy a little bit more soda, but they might buy less salty snacks than we do.  They might purchase a little more of this than we do, than non-SNAP families, but we purchase a lot more sugary stuff than they do in other categories, so it’s kind of a wash…It’s also extremely difficult to set up a system that distinguishes between various items.  You set that system up, what’s going to happen is that people won’t be able to buy apple juice, they won’t be able to buy orange juice… Our thinking is that a better way to approach this is to educate people so they make the right choice, they make the healthy choice [my emphasis].

Ah yes.  Education.  As an educator, I’m all for it, but let’s get real.

For this analysis, I am indebted to Daniel Bowman Simon, who does the math:

  • SNAP benefits =  $70 billion in 2014, for about 46 million participants.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $1504 per year in SNAP benefits.
  • The USDA provides Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grants for SNAP (see section 241)= $375 million.
  • Therefore, the average SNAP participant received about $8 per year in nutrition education.
  • The USDA also provides double-value awards ($31 million) to help SNAP participants buy fruits and vegetables.
  • This adds an average of 66 cents per year for each SNAP participant to make healthy choices.

Thought for today:  How much nutrition education does $8.66 buy?

This is why regulation of the SNAP package is a better approach—once we get past congressional attempts to cut the program out of existance (an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

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