Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 28 2009

The latest from Red Bull: Cocaine!

According to Time online, advertising for the sports drink Red Bull Cola made officials in Germany so suspicious that they did a little testing.  Ach du himmel!  Traces of cocaine.  No wonder guys like it so much.

Here is the ingredient list: Water, Sugar, Carbon Dioxide, Caramel Color, Natural Flavors from Plant Extracts (Galangal, Vanilla, Mustard Seed, Lime, Kola Nut, Cacao, Licorice, Cinnamon, Lemon, Ginger, Cocoa Leaf, Orange, Corn Mint, Pine, Cardamom, Mace, Clove), Lemon Juice Concentrate, Caffeine from Coffee Beans.  With these, you get 130 calories, virtually all from sugar, and some unstated amount of caffeine – along with some other no longer quite so secret ingredients, apparently.

Yum.

Update June 5: European regulatory authorities think this is a non-issue and plan no action.

May 27 2009

Outsourced agriculture: the new colonialism?

The Economist, that radical magazine, has produced an editorial and a long article about how rich countries in the Middle East and Asia are rapidly acquiring agricultural land – and the water rights that go with it – in impoverished developing countries in order to ensure food security for their own populations.  The buyers are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,  South Korea, China, and the like.  The sellers?   Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, and Pakistan.

If this sounds uncomfortably like colonialism revisited, it is for good reason.  As The Economist so nicely puts it, while putting agricultural land to good use might help reduce Third World malnutrition, “these advantages cannot quell a nagging unease.” From whence comes the unease?  The deals raise questions about lack of transparency, government collusion, bargain prices, effects on local food markets, and who gets the benefits.

The Economist suggests the need for a dose of skepticism, not least because of the size of the purchases – an astonishing total of 15 to 20 million hectares so far (a hectare is about 2.5 acres).  Advises The Economist: “defer judgment and keep a watchful, hopeful but wary eye” on the process.

This sounds optimistic to me.  You?

May 26 2009

Latest court ruling: Pringles are potato chips (sort of)

Ah the British.  So ahead of us in so many ways.  A British court has ruled that Pringles have enough potato in them to qualify as crisps (translation: potato chips) and, therefore, are subject to a Value Added Tax of 15%.  Procter & Gamble, the maker of Pringles, argued against the tax.  Pringles, it says, are not crisps.  Why?  Because their shape and packaging are “not found in nature.”   Tough, said the court.  Pringles are 42% potato.  That’s enough to qualify them as crisps.  Under the law, crisps get taxed.

Pringles are 42% potato?  OK, but what else do they contain?  Here’s the ingredient list: DRIED POTATOES, VEGETABLE OIL, RICE FLOUR, WHEAT STARCH, MALTODEXTRIN, SALT AND DEXTROSE. CONTAINS WHEAT INGREDIENTS. (You will be relieved to note: No artificial ingredients.  No preservatives.)

Hey: potatoes are the first ingredient!  I say tax ‘em.

Update May 25: Here’s what Advertising Age has to say about the Pringles-as-a-vegetable idea.  Pringles, it says, was able to supply the entire world with its product out of one factory in Tennessee, precisely because of its infinite shelf life and packaging.  Ordinary potato chips, alas, get rancid after a while.

May 23 2009

And now…orange juice!

I’ve been hearing about Alyssa Hamilton’s new book (pub date: May 26) for some time now.  It’s called “Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.”  From what I can tell, it takes on the orange juice industry for processing the joy out of the juice.  Hamilton is currently with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.  She is Canadian and the Toronto Star has just interviewed her about the book.

I’m looking forward to reading it.  My son in California has an orange tree growing in his backyard.  The juice from its oranges is delicious even though it doesn’t taste nearly as sweet as commercial orange juice.   Orange juice producers want to offer a stable, consistent product.  It sounds like this book suggests that the taste-and-health costs of that consistency are pretty high.

May 22 2009

HFCS is the new trans fat?

Will the confusion about sugars never end?  A recent study reconfirms the metabolic problems caused by too much fructose, but public opinion continues to blame High Fructose Corn Sweeteners (HFCS) as the new dietary evil.   HFCS isn’t really high in fructose.  It has about the same amount of fructose as common table sugar.   Both are about half fructose and half glucose, and both cause metabolic problems when you eat too much of them.  So go easy on the sugars!

Here’s what the New York Times has to say about the study.

May 21 2009

Strong opinions about obesity

Investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated the toll of behavioral contributors to early mortality.  Obesity, they say, is the #3 cause of death after cigarette smoking and high blood pressure.

Dutch researchers say smoking is what kills people.  Obesity just leads to disability.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says schools could do something to help prevent obesity if they got their act together.  It provides a guide to doing so.

Adam Drewnowski, my colleague and friend at the University of Washington, says: if you want to understand obesity, take a look at what poverty makes people eat.

And Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockfeller University tells Nature that obesity is neither an epidemic nor a disease of lifestyle.  It’s all in the genes and in evolution.

I say (see What to Eat): eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food!

May 20 2009

The temptation of soda taxes

David Leonhardt’s column in the business section of today’s New York Times, takes on soda taxes.  It’s starting point is the New England Journal of Medicine article (see earlier post) by Kelly Brownell at Yale and New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden, the newly appointed head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .  Leonhardt notes that such taxes are Pigovian (after the economist Pigou): they discourage unhealthful practices and encourage healthful ones.  As he puts it, “In coldly economic terms, you can make a case that calories are the single best candidate for a Pigovian tax.”

Leonhardt finds arguments for soda taxes compelling.  He tried, but could not get any soda company executive to speak to him about them (why am I not surprised).

I’m intrigued by the accompanying illustration.  In the last ten years, the cost of fruits and vegetables has gone way up.  The cost of sodas is way down.  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  Isn’t now a good time to try to fix it?

Update June 3: Editorial in the New York Times: “While we wait [for bigger fixes], Congress could impose an excise tax on sugary drinks – one of the main culprits in the obesity epidemic.”

20leonhardt-graf01

May 19 2009

Eating well on a low budget?

Adam Drewnowski and his colleagues at the University of Washington have been doing a series of papers on the cost of food per calorie.  The latest is a research brief answering the question, “Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet?”  Not really, they say.  Federal food assistance assumes that low-income people spend 30% of their income on food but that assumption was based on figures from an era when housing, transportation, and health care costs were much less.  As Drewnowski has shown repeatedly, healthier foods cost more, and sometimes a lot more, when you look at them on a per-calorie basis.

Page 180 of 284« First...178179180181182...Last »