Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 18 2016

Annals of beverage marketing: Coke, Pepsi, and Diabetes

A reader, Eddie Pugsley, sends this photo taken at the Walgreens on Nepperhan Avenue, Yonkers, NY.  His comment: “I guess, if you buy the Coke & Pepsi specials you’ll be happy about their diabetic supply savings..?”

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Apr 15 2016

Food politics: Mexico then and now

I’m in Mexico City doing talks for El Poder del Consumidor, the advocacy group in part responsible for Mexico’s soda tax.  I had some time to be a tourist yesterday afternoon and got to see the Diego Rivera murals at the Palacio Nacional.

These are enormous, and stunning.  They deal with the history of Mexico in conflict and in peace.  Look closely, and you see Rivera’s deep respect for Mexico’s traditional food culture.

Along the corridor flanking the main mural, for example, is a painting above a plaque listing what the world owes Mexico—corn, obviously—but also beans, tobacco (oops), chocolate, hemp, and tomatoes.

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Other panels also deal with corn—in this one, production.

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Another shows how corn is used.

 

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The corner panel at the end of the corridor is devoted to chocolate.

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Along the way, quieter panels display the harvest of fruits and vegetables.

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Leave the Palacio, cross the Zócolo, and you come to the Coca-Cola bar and toy store.IMG_20160414_1500139

A brief look at Mexico’s food culture, then and now.

Apr 14 2016

Must reads in food politics this week

I’m traveling this week and can’t keep up with the food politics reading.  Here’s what I’m not able to comment on until I get some more time:

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on any or all of these.  I will catch up with them eventually…

Apr 13 2016

Bakery & Snacks Special Edition: Healthy Snacking

I subscribe to BakeryAndSnacks.com for its information about what’s happening in those industries.  It occasionally collects articles on specific topics.  This one is on healthy snacking.

ESA [European Snacks Association] chief Sebastian Emig says the snacks industry is willing to embrace change to meet demand for healthier, more natural snacks. From the novel Coldbake vacuum process that adds active functional ingredients to foods, to the predicted rise in snacks with savory flavors or sprouted grains, this special edition explores some of the technology and ingredients that could help manufacturers make those changes.

Sprouted grain snack opportunities: flavor, free-from and EuropeThey are still niche – and not cheap to work with – but sprouted grains are set to continue to grow in importance to the snacks industry… Read

Crowdfunding bid to drive development of ‘entirely new’ functional snacksCarritech Research has launched a crowdfunding campaign to expand commercial development and licensing of its Coldbake process, which enables snacks and biscuits to be produced at lower temperatures than traditional methods… Read

Bars of gold: Veggie inclusions to maintain growth in healthy snack bars?With sales of healthy snack bars booming in the US, industry experts predict vegetables and savory flavors could become key weapons in maintaining growth… Read

Insects, wholegrains and air-popping to shape future snack innovations, writes ESA chiefEuropean Snacks Association director general Sebastian Emig discusses innovation drivers in Europe’s snacks market… Read

Zeelandia slashes sugar, fat and calories with ‘healthy’ muffin recipeBakery ingredients and processes business Zeelandia has developed a blueberry muffin claimed to have around a third less sugar and less than half the fat of a regular muffin… Read

Apr 11 2016

The strange story of my accepted but yet-to-be published commentary on a Disney-sponsored study gets stranger

Last week, StatNews.com revealed that the Walt Disney company tried to withdraw a research study it had funded because its University of Colorado authors, Jim Hill and John Peters, were behind the Global Energy Balance Network, the group funded by Coca-Cola to minimize the role of sugary drinks in obesity.

The headline: “Disney, fearing a scandal, tried to press journal to withdraw research paper.”

StatNews.com based the story on e-mails obtained from the University of Colorado by Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know through open records requests.

An e-mail from John Peters to a Disney representative says “could I ask you to look this [draft press release] over and edit as you see fit.”

But the authors’ conflict-of-interest disclosure statement says:

This work was supported by the Walt Disney Company and by the National Institutes of Health (grant no. DK48520). The Walt Disney Company and the National Institutes of Health had no role in the design, analysis, or writing of this article.

This may be strictly true, but the authors were asking Disney to approve their press release, which is not exactly “no role.”

Readers: does any of this sound familiar?  In February, I wrote a blog post about precisely this article for which I wrote an invited Commentary, accepted by the journal but not published.  I said:

The paper turned out to be by a group of authors, among them John Peters and Jim Hill, both members of the ill-fated Global Energy Balance Network, the subject of an investigation by the New York Times last August…I thought Disney’s sponsorship of this research and its withholding of critical baseline and sales data on kids’ meals that the company considered proprietary did indeed deserve comment, and wrote my piece accordingly.  Brian Wansink [the journal editor] soon accepted it for publication but to my surprise, gave it to Peters et al. for rebuttal.  They filed a lengthy response.  I was then given the opportunity to respond, and did so, briefly.

My Commentary—and the back-and-forth—were omitted (although they are online and will be published in a later issue, apparently).

Brian Wansink wrote colleagues who are editing the next issue of the journal that the back-and-forth debate over the article “was heated, and it also dragged on (because of Disney approvals) and – as we feared – it missed the deadline of our issue.”

This suggests that Disney had even more of an involvement, but when I asked Wansink if Disney approvals were responsible for his having dropped my Commentary, he said no, they just ran out of room.

We now know that Disney was more involved than disclosed.  How involved?  We dont know but perhaps other e-mails will surface to answer that question.

In their Rebuttal to my Commentary, Hill and Peters said

We were disappointed by Dr. Nestle’s assertion that Disney’s decision to not allow publication of kid’s park attendance numbers or raw kid’s meal sales numbers (because of their proprietary nature in the competitive business of theme parks) and the fact that Disney funded the study raises “red flags” about the veracity of the data presented…While we believe caution and transparency are always key ingredients when working with industry we also believe that solving the obesity problem will require finding a productive model for working together that can channel everyone’s energy toward finding solutions.  The Disney study is a good example of why partnering with industry can help move the field forward.

I am sorry I disappointed them, but I disagree.

The e-mails demonstrate even more forcefully that the Disney study is a good example of why partnering with industry should raise acres of red flags.

To repeat my response:

The response from Peters and Hill still fails to acknowledge the severity of the problems posed by Disney’s sponsorship of their research—the company’s failure to produce data essential for proper interpretation of study results, and the level to which sponsorship by food companies biases such interpretations.  At one point, Disney boasted of the results of this research, confirming its benefit to marketing goals.  The threat of industry sponsorship to research credibility has received considerable press attention in recent months, as must surely be known to these authors. [References one and two]. 

Because of Disney’s funding, the company must have thought it had the right to determine whether and how its funded study would be published.  And, as these e-mails reveal, therein lies the problem.

Apr 8 2016

Weekend reading: Krishnendu Ray’s The Ethnic Restaurateur (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Full disclosure.  I recruited Krishnendu Ray to NYU (for good reason as you can see from this interview in the Washington Post) and he is now my department chair.

With that said, I greatly admire what he’s done in this book, which is to cast a sociological eye on immigrants to the United States who get their start by using what they know of their own food tastes and traditions to open and run restaurants of the “ethnic” variety in today’s terminology.

Ray argues here (and elsewhere) that the contributions of immigrants to modern food culture are largely ignored by academics and critics who view

discussions of taste as marginal to the real lives of marginal peoples. In this conception, poor, hard-working people can teach us about poverty and suffering, hierarchy and symbolic violence, but never about taste…As a consequence, taste loses its contested and dynamic character, and…even its fundamentally sociological nature. As labor and immigrant historians have shown us repeatedly, good food matters to poor people, perhaps even more than it does to the rich and the powerful.

In his book, Ray draws on his readings, experience teaching at the Culinary Institute of America, and on interviews with cooks from China, India, Italy, and elsewhere to examine their motivations, experiences, and attitudes about the food they prepare and serve.  He says

Nothing devalues a cuisine more than proximity to subordinate others.  That explains not only the rise, fall, and rise again of Italian cuisine in America, but also the difficulty of Chinese, Mexican, and Soul food to break away, in dominant American eyes, from the contamination effect of low-class association.  Poor, mobile people are rarely accorded cultural capital.  The circulation of taste through the social architecture of class and race allows for the creation of a subcultural niche, say for the best taco, genuine dim-sum, or most authentic fried chicken, yet rarely assures a position among elite food cultures. [p. 97]

After reading this book, I find myself paying much more attention to the ethnic restaurants in my neighborhood, and thinking about who owns them, who works in them, and why and how they arrived at their menus.  This book will change the way you think about them too.

Here is Krishnendu Ray on WNYC to explain why some cuisines—French in particular—are more expensive than most “ethnic” cuisines.

Apr 7 2016

Sponsored research: raspberries this time

This morning, I received a query from a scientist:

I have been following your documentation of industry-funded research on health benefits. I’ve been thinking about this issue from the perspective of fruits and vegetables. We know that they are good in general, but how does one fund research to demonstrate that clinically? In particular, how does one get specific about the form and amount that his helpful for specific health benefits?  You may be interested in this press release from the raspberry industry telling about the papers at the Society for Experimental Biology meetings that are relevant to the health benefits of eating raspberries. This seems to be approaching what a good model might look like. I’m interested in your perspective. Furthermore, are the results relevant to nutritionists?

Here’s how I answered it:

Thanks for sending.  I guess my question would be something along the lines of why getting specific about form and amount of specific fruits and vegetables is important for public health.  People don’t eat just raspberries.  They put them in cereal or on desserts.  Raspberries are expensive.  Wealthy, educated and, therefore, healthy people are likely to consume them.  So this looks like marketing research to me—selling raspberries as a superfood.  If you think there is a special benefit to raspberries and that it would be good to quantify it, the best strategy would be to get the research funded by an independent agency.  Otherwise, it’s clearly marketing research (hence the press release).   At least that’s how I see it.

This, of course, gets us back to the question of sponsored research which, as my collection of sponsored studies has shown, almost inevitably produce results favorable to the sponsor.  I love raspberries and don’t doubt for a minute that they are healthy, but a superfood?  I don’t think so.

I’m still working on the descriptive analysis of the year’s collection of sponsored studies.  I will also be giving more thought to such questions, so send them along.

Apr 6 2016

Food Navigator Special Edition: Food Preservation

FoodNavigator-USA provides daily information about issues of interest to the food industry.  It’s useful.  Here, it has a collection of articles on current thinking about how to preserve foods, a problem since antiquity and now even more so over concerns about food additives.

Special Edition: Food preservation

Consumers and retailers are becoming increasingly unwilling to accept products with a shelf life maintained by use of the synthetic preservatives – even if they are safe and legal. But what natural solutions are available to manufacturers, and are they up to the job? Meanwhile, will novel processing techniques ultimately render all preservatives, artificial or otherwise, redundant in certain products?

4 strategies for preservative-free food from Grain-Free JK GourmetRetailers and manufacturers that want to meet consumers’ growing demand for food free from preservatives need to rethink their strategies for packing, shipping and stocking products, suggest the husband and wife team behind Grain-Free JK Gourmet. .. Read

‘Artificial’ preservatives are falling out of favor, but what are the alternatives?The percentage of new food and beverage launches (retail) making ‘no additives/preservatives’ claims rose from 12.46% in 2012 to 20.24% in 2015, according to Mintel*, while there has also been a marked rise in the number of companies pledging to ditch ‘artificial’ preservatives from established brands over the past couple of years… Read

Blue LEDs show promise as food preservation methodBlue light emitting diodes (LEDs) have strong antibacterial effects on foodborne pathogens, according to a study from the National University of Singapore (NUS)… Read

True Drinks teams up with Niagara Bottling to make AquaBall preservative-freeTrue Drinks Holdings has struck a deal with Niagara Bottling under which the latter will produce a preservative-free formulation of True Drinks’ flagship sugar- and calorie-free kids’ beverage AquaBall… Read

Kraft to remove artificial colors & preservatives from Original Mac & Cheese in 2016Kraft has unveiled plans to remove artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its iconic Original Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the U.S. starting January 2016. Meanwhile, Kraft Dinner Original in Canada will be free from synthetic colors by the end of next year.  .. Read

Americans believe ‘preservatives / chemicals’ are significantly more harmful than added sugar, saturated fat and sodium, says new pollA poll* of more than 4,200 US consumers conducted in April 2015 by CivicScience shows Americans believe that ‘preservatives / chemicals’ are significantly more harmful to their heath than added sugar, saturated fat and sodium… Read

General Mills: Chobani’s ‘wilfully deceptive’ ads assert that safe & legal ingredients in rival products are toxic and unsafeThe legal firestorm prompted by Chobani’s provocative new ad campaign for its Simply 100 Greek yogurt range has intensified this week as General Mills has filed a lawsuit accusing Chobani of false advertising and unfair competition… Read

Fresh-baked cookie pioneer Otis Spunkmeyer will launch retail line in early 2016Well-known fresh cookie-maker Otis Spunkmeyer is expanding its empire beyond food service and into the retail segment for the first time with the launch of a line of sweet baked goods that will hit store shelves nationwide in 2016. .. Read

Plant-based preservatives emerge as consumers hunt for clean-label meatsFrom celery to citrus to vinegar, consumers are glancing over nitrate-containing meat products and going for what they deem a more natural alternative… Read

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