Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Apr 18 2008

After a short visit to America, Michaelangelo’s David returns to Italy

The weekend is coming up so it’s the silly season again. With apologies to Michaelangelo and thanks to my son, Charles, for forwarding this photo of unknown origin. Anyone know where it comes from?

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Apr 18 2008

Food price misery: and organics too

Thanks to Eric Colchimaro for sending links to two stories about the effects of rising food prices. One is about the food riots occurring worldwide , a story continued in the New York Times on April 18: “the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” or what the Chicago Tribune calls a “crime against humanity.” And now The Economist (April 19-25) says the era of cheap food is over, reviews the political risks this entails – food riots, to begin with – and calls the current food crisis “the silent tsunami.”

Eric’s second link brings it home; it’s a Washington Post story about the awful problems higher food costs are causing for U.S. school lunch programs. They are hitting home in other ways. Restaurant sales are down and the costs of making pizza are rising. Dollar menus at fast food chains are up – they account for 15% of sales at Burger King and give so little return that they are putting some outlets into bankruptcy, according to Advertising Age (March 31). A story in today’s New York Times talks about the sticker shock in the organic aisles. The fallout from rising oil prices, rising grain demands, and use of grains for biofuels gets worse every day. How do we get reverse this? Extricating from Iraq might help as would more enlightened energy and farm policies. Ideas, anyone? In any case, I’m going to keeping an eye on the effects of rising food prices. My guess is they won’t be good. I hope I’m wrong.

Apr 17 2008

Big surprise: chocolate is not a health food

Oh dear. Chocolate is heavily hyped as a health food these days, but a new study says it doesn’t do much when compared to a placebo and has no measurable benefits for neuropsychological or heart health. Too bad. I haven’t seen the full study yet but I’ll bet it wasn’t sponsored by Mars. No matter. I’ll take chocolate over a placebo any time.

Here’s one explanation for these results: the flavonols are destroyed in the process of making cocoa.   So just because a chocolate is high in cocoa, doesn’t mean it retains active components.

Apr 16 2008

Judge rules in favor of NYC Calorie labeling

The New York City Health Department’s attempts to get calorie information on menu boards, have been strongly opposed by the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA). Today, the judge ruled in favor of the City. In his decision, the judge says he thinks calorie labeling is in the public interest and does not violate the First Amendment. I suppose the NYSRA will appeal this sensible decision, but in the meantime, here’s what chain restaurants have to do to comply. Let’s hope they do. I can’t wait to see whether this works.

And here’s the New York Times account on Friday, April 17, with the law scheduled to go into effect on Monday unless the judge grants the Restaurant Association’s appeal.

Apr 16 2008

Antioxidants in trouble again

Investigators keep trying to find health benefits from taking supplements of vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene but keep coming up with the same conclusion: antioxidant supplements do no good and – worse news – appear to cause harm.   Here we have the single-nutrient problem again.  When in doubt, get nutrients from foods.

Apr 15 2008

Want to work on the new Dietary Guidelines?

The USDA and Department of Health and Human Services are requesting nominations for the committee that will prepare the version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be published in 2010. NutraIngredients.com points out that the committee’s first task is to decide whether the current guidelines need revision. That, of course, is a joke. What’s the point of appointing a committee if it doesn’t do anything. And in this case, the Dietary Guidelines badly need revision. What started out as a simple pamphlet with advice about healthy eating is now a 70-page textbook. The new committee will have some serious pruning to do. How to nominate someone to the committee? Both links explain.

Apr 14 2008

Legal advice to food companies: health claims

As far as I can tell, health claims are completely out of control and food companies can say practically anything they want to about the health benefits of their products or ingredients. Not so, says a lawyer who steers food companies “to the bucks, not the courts.” His ten rules suggest the need for honesty and integrity (what a concept!). My favorite: “Just because others do it, doesn’t mean it’s OK.” Now, if we could just get Congress to agree that health claims ought to have some real science behind them….

Apr 13 2008

Food companies’ actions on obesity: report card

Since 2001, investment analysts in Great Britain have argued that food companies must take responsibility for their contribution to obesity or risk losing business over the long term. The investment analysis, from JP Morgan in the UK, says some companies (Danone, Unilever, Nestlé) are making some progress in some ways, particularly in Europe, but most say they are doing more than they really are–more show than tell. The analysts’ recommendation: food companies should do more–much more–to demonstrate their commitment to the health of their consumers.

But how can they, especially in the U.S., where Wall Street cares about only one thing: growth and more growth.  I don’t see how companies can make real progress until the investment system changes.  A somewhat better junk food is still a junk food, alas.

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