by Marion Nestle
Aug 15 2013

Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics: Q and A

Amazon.com has just posted an interview that I did with Kerry Trueman about my forthcoming (September 3!) book, Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.

Kerry Trueman, an environmental advocate, interviews public health nutritionist, Marion Nestle, author of Eat Drink Vote

Jude Stewart

Kerry Trueman: Has politics always had such a huge impact on the way we eat?

Marion Nestle: Of course it has. As long as we have had inequities between rich and poor, politics has made some people fat while others starved. Think, for example, of the sugar trade and slavery, the Boston tea party, or the role of stolen bread in Les Misérables. Bread riots and food fights are about politics. But those events seem simple compared to what we deal with now, when no food issue seems too small to generate arguments about who wins or loses. Congressional insistence that the tomato paste on pizza counts as a vegetable serving is only the most recent case in point.

KT: How do you reconcile the fact that what’s good for us as individuals–namely, eating less junk food–is bad for business?

MN: I don’t think these facts are easily reconciled. They can only be observed and commented and acted upon. The job of the food industry is to produce products that will not only sell well, but will sell increasingly well over time, in order to produce growing returns to investors. Reconciliation requires companies either to sell less (impossible from a business standpoint) or make up the difference with sales of healthier products. Unfortunately, the so-called healthier products–and whether they really are is debatable–rarely sell as well. In practice, companies touch all bases at once: they put most marketing efforts into their core products, they proliferate new better-for-you products, and they seek new customers for their products among the vast populations of the developing world–where, no surprise, the prevalence of obesity is increasing, along with its related diseases.

KT: Why did you want to do a book of food politics cartoons?

MN: If truth be told, I’ve been wanting to do one for years. Cartoons are such a great way to engage audiences. Politics can be dreary. Cartoons make it fun. I’ve collected cartoons for years on everything about food and nutrition. I would have loved to do a book on nutrition in cartoons but getting permission to reprint them was too difficult and expensive. For the cartoons in my last book, Why Calories Count, I contacted the copyright holder, Sara Thaves, who represents the work of about 50 cartoonists. During our negotiations about how much they would cost, Sara asked if I might be interested in doing a book using Cartoonist Group cartoons. Would I ever! Sara ended up sending me more than 1,100 cartoons–all on food politics. I put them in categories and started writing. The only hard part was winnowing the drawings to a publishable number. But what a gorgeous book this turned out to be! The cartoons are in full color.

KT: In Eat Drink Vote, you note that, it ought to be possible to enjoy the pleasures of food and eat healthfully at the same time. Why does that ideal meal elude so many of us?

MN: Because our food choices are so strongly influenced by the food environment. Given a large plate of food, for example, practically everyone will eat more from it than from a smaller portion. And then there’s the cooking problem. For decades, Americans have been told that cooking is too much trouble and takes too much time. As a result, many people would rather order in and wait for it to arrive and get heated up again than to start from scratch. And healthy foods cost more than highly processed junk foods, and not only on the basis of calories. The government supports the production of corn and soybeans, for example, but not that of broccoli or carrots. I should also mention that food companies get to deduct the cost of marketing, even marketing to children, from their taxes as legitimate business expenses.

KT: On the subject of food and pleasure, you enjoy the occasional slice of pizza or scoop of ice cream, just as Michelle Obama loves her french fries. Do you subscribe to the all things in moderation philosophy, or are there some things you simply won’t eat, ever?

MN: The only food I can think of that I won’t ever eat is brains, and that’s rarely a problem. And yes, I do subscribe to everything in moderation although it’s hard to admit it without irony. The phrase has been so misused by food companies and some of my fellow nutritionists to defend sales of junk foods and drinks. There is no question that some foods are healthier to eat than others and we all would be better off eating more of the healthier ones and fewer of the less healthful foods. But fewer does not and should not mean none. And what’s wrong with pizza, pray tell? In my view, life is too short not to leave plenty of room for freshly baked pizza, toffee candy, real vanilla ice cream, and a crusty, yeasty white bread–all in moderation, of course.  

  • http://nhprogressives.wordpress.com John Ranta

    There are at least two industries which fail us, as human beings, in a free market. The first is healthcare, the second is agribusiness ( and for very similar reasons). In a free market, the over-arching goal of for profit companies is to sell more products and services, at ever higher profits. A hospital or drug manufacturer wants to (needs to) sell us more healthcare, in order to grow stock prices and provide a return to shareholders. A maker of Doritos or Big Macs wants to (needs to) sell us more chips and burgers, for the same reason.

    This free market need is directly at odds with our own (consumers’ and citizens’) welfare. We are healthier if (and only if) we consume fewer health care services, and avoid eating Doritos and Big Macs. An ideal health care system is one in which we need few, if any, hospital visits, pills and prescriptions, or doctors’ visits. An ideal food system is one in which we buy mainly whole foods – fruits, vegetables, dairy, fish, meat, etc. that has not been processed, and which is grown close to where we live.

    We can’t have a free market for healthcare or food that provides increasing returns for investors, while maintaining our own well-being. It’s one or the other. You can have a system that returns profits for shareholders, or a system that provides for the health and well-being of citizens.

    I wonder why more people don’t see the conundrum?

  • Leoluca Criscione

    I like the last sentence very much” And what’s wrong with pizza, pray tell? In my view, life is too short not to leave plenty of room for freshly baked pizza, toffee candy, real vanilla ice cream, and a crusty, yeasty white bread–all in moderation, of course”” … …with the exception of that “in moderation, of course”!!

    This is too unspecific!!

    Our experience indicates that we can be much more specific and the people love it: As being more specific on the quantity (caloric) people allow people to combine quality and quantity!!!! See also the conclusions on this poster about CALOGENETIC BALANCE…. http://www.vitasanas.ch/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/poster-only-eco-liverpool-ok.pdf.

  • Pingback: Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics: Q and A | CookingPlanet()

  • Pingback: Some (Camera) Shots, Links, and Randoms |()

  • TR

    Considering that congress insists that a smear of tomato paste on a pizza counts as a vegetable serving, I wonder if congress would also agree that a smear of grease on a plate counts as a meat serving? I bet the Cattleman and Ranchers Posse would try to sue Congress if Congress attempted to do so.

  • http://www.allsuburbs.com.au/sydney-catering-company.php Philipe Gibbs

    Even, I want to be agree with you TR here that Congress must be accept that smear of grease on plate counts.

    http://www.allsuburbs.com.au