Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 2 2014

Locally Grown: Hudson Valley Food & Farming

Tessa Edick.  Hudson Valley Food & Farming: Why Didn’t Anyone Ever Tell Me That? American Palate, 2014.

I live in New York City, where “locally grown” has a meaning all to itself, but the Hudson Valley is a big part of it and a well kept secret from many of us city folk.  Edick, who writes a “meet the farmer” column for upstate newspapers, makes it clear that when it comes to growing food, the Hudson Valley is special.  Her book introduces readers to its farmers, products, and programs, lavishly and gorgeously photographed.

Dec 1 2014

Second International Congress of Nutrition: little progress, ongoing frustration, alas

The Second International Conference on Nutrition took place in Rome a week ago.  It brought together a wide range of people from government, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and donors to consider how world leaders could join forces to end malnutrition in all its forms.

The First such conference took place 22 years ago.  I wrote a disheartening account of it at the time.  In reading it over (it is only two pages), I am struck by how little has changed.

The conference produced two documents of note:

Corinna Hawkes, now at the World Cancer Research Fund, reported on the meeting.

The documents were adopted in a matter of minutes at the commencement of the conference. And then they somehow disappeared…So, my conclusion on ICN2? It’s only going to make a real difference if it is seen as the initiation of a process rather than its conclusion—the start, not the end. And if this helps prevent malnutrition—in all its forms—then we can safely say it will indeed have made a difference.

ICN2 elicited a collection of documents, among them:

  • WHO Global Nutrition Targets 2025
  • WHO non-communicable disease targets.
  • IFPRI’s Global Nutrition Report: “Under existing assumptions, projections from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF show that the world is not on track to meet any of the six WHA nutrition targets. Globally, little progress is being made in decreasing rates for anemia, low birth weight, wasting in children under age five, and verweight in children under age five. Progress in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates has been similarly lackluster.”
  • Public Interest Civil Society Organizations: Statement: “22 years after ICN1, this conference is taking place without properly evaluating progress or failures and without significant participation of civil society, in particular those most affected by hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. We deplore that ICN1 has sunk without trace and we do not want this to happen for ICN2…The conclusion of the ICN2 negotiations is a welcome step, in particular its focus on malnutrition in all its forms. However, we consider it inadequate to confront the scale of the global malnutrition challenge.”

This last statement concludes with a call to action:

22 years – an entire generation – have passed since the first ICN. It is unacceptable that millions of people continue suffer from and die of preventable causes of malnutrition in all its forms. This violence must stop immediately.

We call upon Member States to make clear and firm commitments at both national and international levels to ensure the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights. We will not watch idly as another 22 years pass by.

We stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We demand that Member States and the UN system live up to their obligations.

We hereby declare a worldwide People’s Decade of Action on Nutrition.

The time for action is now!

I’m for that.  May it succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 Global Nutrition Report: Actions and Accountability to Accelerate the World’s Progress on Nutrition

From the point of view of the authors, the report itself is an intervention against malnutrition: it is designed to help reframe malnutrition as a global challenge, to raise ambitions about how quickly it can be reduced, and to reenergize actions to reduce it.

Almost all countries suffer from high levels of malnutrition.  Countries should make a common cause and exploit opportunities to learn from each other. It is clear that the low-income countries do not have a monopoly on malnutrition problems and that the high-income countries do not have a monopoly on nutrition solutions. Failure to intensify action and find solutions will cast a long shadow, bequeathing a painful legacy to the next generation. Our generation has the opportunity—and the ability—to banish those shadows. To do so, we must act strategically, effectively, in alliances, and at scale. And we need to be held to account.

,

v

Nov 28 2014

Weekend reading: Vitamania!

Catherine Price.  Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection.  Penguin Press, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

Catherine Price gives us a journalist’s entertaining romp through the fascinating history of the discovery of vitamins, and their use and marketing as objects of health obsession.  Faith in vitamins, she advises, should be tempered by scientific uncertainty and dietary complexity, and the understanding that foods are better sources than pills.

This is the second excellent book I know of with that title.  This one came out in 1996.  It focused on supplements and their marketing.

Both have interesting things to say about why so many of us take vitamin supplements, regardless of the lack of evidence that they do us much good.

As I keep observing, there just isn’t much evidence that vitamin supplements make healthy people healthier.

Nov 27 2014

Happy Food Politics Thanksgiving

A holiday greeting for anyone cooking a Thanksgiving dinner (thanks to Lisa Young for passing along the URL for this video):

 

And, if you can figure out a way to make this big enough to read (I can’t, alas):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat well and enjoy the day!

Nov 25 2014

At long last menu labeling, and worth the wait!

The FDA released its long-awaited regulations on menu labeling at 12:01 this morning.

The big and most welcome news: the regulations apply across the board to

  • Meals from sit‐down restaurants
  • Foods purchased at drive‐through windows
  • Take‐out food, such as pizza
  • Foods, such as made‐to‐order sandwiches, ordered from a menu or menu board at a grocery store or delicatessen
  • Foods you serve yourself from a salad or hot food bar
  • Muffins at a bakery or coffee shop
  • Popcorn purchased at a movie theater or amusement park
  • A scoop of ice cream, milk shake or sundae from an ice cream store
  • Hot dogs or frozen drinks prepared on site in a convenience or warehouse store
  • Certain alcoholic beverages

The only exceptions: foods from grocery stores or delis that require additional preparation such as deli meats, cheeses, or large deli salads.

Why is this big news?  As I’ve written previously in this space,

  • It’s been more than 4 years since Congress called for menu labels (in the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010)
  • When the FDA first proposed the regs in April 2011, it excluded movie theaters and other places whose primary purpose is not to sell food.
  • It also excluded alcoholic beverages (these are regulated by the Treasury Department)
  • The pizza lobby (yes, there is such a thing–remember “pizza is a vegetable” in school lunches?) fought to be excluded.
  • The National Grocers Association and other retailers who sell prepared foods fought for exclusion.
  • Rumors were that the White House wanted weaker regulations.

Well here they are.

As for the response:

Center for Science in the Interest (CSPI), which has led the menu labeling efforts, is understandably pleased.  Congratulations!

The National Restaurant Association has pressed for national regulations to make the rules consistent across the country.  It says:

We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering – information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them.

The New York Times reports that the The National Grocers Association said: “We are disappointed that the F.D.A.’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members”

Really?  Lots of people eat at grocery stores these days (think: Whole Foods).

The Washington Post reports that the Food Marketing Institute is also disappointed.

I’m not.  Calorie labeling is an excellent tool for public education.

The regs won’t go into effect for another year or two.

Watch the lobbying begin!

In the meantime, congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first.

 

 

 

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/calorie-counts-coming-to-a-restaurant-movie-theater-vending-machine-near-you/2014/11/24/e5bd25ae-7415-11e4-a5b2-e1217af6b33d_story.html

 

Nov 24 2014

NutraIngredients on Functional Foods

NutraIngredients-USA has a special edition on functional foods, those that have something supposedly healthy—vitamins, probiotics, antioxidants, omega-3s, etc—added above and beyond the nutrients naturally present.

I think functional foods are about marketing, not health, but that’s why food companies love them.

From the industry’s perspective, “getting nutritional ingredients into foods requires tackling regulatory hurdles, but food offers a mass market that dwarfs anything possible with supplements.

Here are some of NutrIngredients’ latest developments:

Collagen peptides: Functional Ingredients for a booming market: Functional ingredients are now more visible to the consumer than ever, with people becoming more aware of the benefits they can offer. Among all these ingredients, collagen peptides are increasingly recognized as a highly effective ingredient solution for manufacturers targeting the skin beauty and healthy aging market segments….

Pill fatigue is driving innovation in space between functional foods and supplements, experts say:  Is pill fatigue just a marketing ploy? No, say many experts in the field.  It’s a real phenomenon and it’s driving both dosage form innovation and the movement of bioactives into functional foods…

Functional Foods: The end of the processed foods era?  To understand Functional Foods you must see it as a strategy to add value to processed foods, says the president and founder of the HealthyMarketingTeam, Peter Wennstrom, in this guest article…

Phood booed: Why big pharma fails at functional food:  Faced with mounting difficulties in their drug businesses, many pharmaceutical manufacturers are looking at getting into functional foods and beverages, notes food marketing expert, Julian Mellentin in this guest article…

What’s driving functional food and beverage growth? Snacking, convenience, and consumer behavior:  With sales of $176.7 billion this year functional foods are a hot growth sector. But which ingredients, sectors and countries are the best bets for product launches?

‘The trick is to come up with something that actually works': The elephant in the weight management room:  Two years on from revised European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guidelines on weight management, the industry is still struggling to produce sufficient evidence to back claims. ..

Lemon myrtle: Aboriginal functional favourite revived by Sydney Games:  An indigenous Australian tree plant, used for tens of thousands of years by Aborigines before being forgotten after the arrival of Europeans Down Under, has the Sydney Olympics to thank for its remarkable comeback as a functional food in teas, chocolate, pasta and more…

Raisio brings cholesterol-lowering Benecol home for €90m>  “J&J should have sold it 10 years ago,” is one analyst’s appraisal of Finnish agro-food giant Raisio’s buy-back of the licensing rights to its cholesterol lowering, plant stanol-based Benecol brand today, referring to US market difficulties for the European sector leader…

Nov 21 2014

Weekend reading: a fresh take on the soda industry

Bartow J. Elmore.  Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism.  Norton, 2015.

 

Elmore is an historian at the University of Alabama, whose book takes a fresh look at how soda companies managed to make fortunes selling cheap sugar water.   Advertising, he says, is only a minor factor in generating soda profits.

The real profits came from a business strategy that offloads the costs and risks onto suppliers, bottlers, and taxpayers.  Soda companies depend on taxpayers for the cost of city water supplies, the recycling discarded cans and bottles, the cleanup of containers that are not recycled, the transportation of sodas to the military,  and the health care of overweight consumers.

The public, he says, should be setting and collecting the price for use of public resources, rather than “accepting the bill for corporate waste.”

 

Nov 20 2014

What Dan Glickman is doing these days: bipartisanship

Dan Glickman, former USDA Secretary (1995-2001) has been turning up in my mailbox newsletters a lot lately.  Here’s a small collection.

On making the connection between agriculture and health

The food, agriculture, health, hunger and nutrition sectors need to create new ways of working together that harness their shared commitment to improving health through food and nutrition. And we need government and industry to work together in a way that transcends typical political and business interests….The food industry can do more to reinforce healthy diets through marketing, incentives and other strategies, including product formulation, placement, packaging, and portion sizes. And government needs to amplify its existing efforts to ensure consistent and affirming nutrition and health messages for consumers.

On the need for bipartisan approaches

While a healthy, civil debate among those with differing viewpoints is an essential component of our democracy, the current partisan tone in government is impeding progress. Through the Democracy Project and events like Bridge-Builder Breakfasts, political summits and timely policy discussions, BPC [Bipartisan Policy Center ] is fostering an ongoing conversation about how to overcome political divides and help make our government work better.

He is a co-chair of AGree–Transforming Food and Agriculture

AGree seeks to drive positive change in the food and agriculture system by connecting and challenging leaders from diverse communities to catalyze action and elevate food and agriculture as a national priority.  [Here is what AGree agrees on]

And here he is on the implications of the midterm elections’ for the “rural-urban divide:” 

Notwithstanding the very strong farm and agricultural economy the past few years, the Democratic Party and its leadership are having a great deal of trouble connecting with farmers and rural citizens and small-town America…a sustained effort at the highest political level by Democrats to connect with rural issues and concerns is necessary if they want to broaden their popularity and build bigger and more successful electoral coalitions and succeed in this country’s many rural congressional districts.

…It is no secret that casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan were borne by a disproportionate number of young men and women from these areas. The economic recession has also hit rural America very hard and many towns have not seen much impact on their lives from the rebounding American economy.

The White House and Democratic Party gurus need to recognize that they are failing to connect with rural America….The future of American leadership on nutrition, farming and hunger is in jeopardy without positive action to rebuild and maintain these bipartisan coalitions.

In his post USDA years, Glickman has become a strong spokesman for bipartisanship and bipartisan decisions about how to link agricultural policy to health policy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if he succeeds?

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