Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 28 2008

IOM Report on School Food Standards: Phase I

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has a committee doing a big study that will lead to recommendations for improved nutrient standards for school breakfast and lunch programs sponsored by USDA.  The committee has just released its “Phase I” report, which explains how it plans to go about setting those standards and asks for public input.   This report is available online as a pdf (go to “Read” and click on “full text”) so you can read it and let the committee know what you think of its approach.  For anyone interested in the school meal situation, the report is a great place to start.  It gives the history of the programs and explains why so many people think changes are needed.  It will be interesting to see where the committee goes with this project.  Stay tuned!

Dec 26 2008

Do whole grains do any good?

At the request (and expense) of Kellogg’s, the Life Science Research Organization convened an expert panel to evaluate studies linking consumption of whole grains – as defined by FDA – to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Using the FDA’s definition, the panel judged the studies insufficient to support a claim that whole grains reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.  The FDA defines whole grains as whole: grains that are ground, cracked, or flaked but include all the parts in their original proportions.  When the panel expanded the definition of whole grains to include supplements of bran, germ, or fiber, the results came out better.   Supplements work better than the real thing!  Kellogg’s must be pleased with the results of its investment.

Dec 24 2008

Cookbook history: just in time for Xmas

The Economist, of all things, is getting serious about Food Studies.  It has a lovely history of cookbooks in its current issue, accompanied by a wonderful illustration.  The writer is anonymous, of course (I will never understand why The Economist doesn’t let its writers sign their articles–most annoying).  Cookbooks, says Anonymous, do more than teach how to cook.  They tell us what’s happening in society and help us deal with life.  Buy cookbooks as presents, read them, try a recipe or two, and eat the result!  I can’t think of a better gift.  Happy holidays to all!

And here’s an idea: if you happen to have more cookbooks or books about food than you have room for, and are looking for a wonderful and appreciative home for them, send them to the NYU Fales special collection of materials on Food and Cookery.   The collection has 20,000 volumes so far, thousands of pamphlets, and a rapidly growing collection of papers from food professionals.

Dec 23 2008

FDA warns Coke: Coke Plus violates Jelly Bean rule!

Thanks to Jack Everitt for forwarding an article from Reuters U.K. about the FDA’s recent warning to Coca-Cola.  Coke Plus, says the FDA, violates the Food and Drug Act.  Food companies are not allowed to add vitamins and minerals to sugary carbonated water (or jelly beans)  just so they can be marketed as healthy.

OK, but Coke Plus is not exactly a secret.  How come the FDA waited to do this until this “midnight” period just before a new administration takes over?  And how come, asks Jack, do we have to “hear about this from a UK newspaper, rather than a US one. Just like with the last election, we now have to rely on out-of-the-country news sources.”

Let’s hope the FDA is a high priority for Obama.  It should be!

Dec 22 2008

Restaurants are adding healthier kids’ meals

Several years ago, I gave a talk to executives of restaurants like Applebee’s and Darden’s about what they could do to make it easier for people to control their weight and eat more healthfully.  I allsuggested that they make healthy kids’ meals the default.  Let parents order junk food for their kids if they want to, but set up the situation so they have to ask for it specially.  The executives went ballistic and gave all kinds of reasons why this was impossible (parental responsibility! cost! trouble!).  Lo and behold: somebody must have listened and changes are coming, or so it seems.  Let’s hope they really do this!

Dec 22 2008

The NY Times weighs in on the Vilsack appointment

The New York Times editorial writers have some interesting things to say about the challenges facing the new USDA secretary.  The Vilsack appointment, they say, “has the merit of being unsatisfactory to both extremes of the farm-policy debates.”  This makes me wonder when sustainable agriculture will be viewed as the wave of the future, and not as “extreme.”  Soon?

12/23 update: Here’s Kim Severson’s piece in the food section on what needs to happen at the USDA.

Dec 20 2008

Bill Marler’s top ten

Bill Marler is a class-action lawyer in Seattle who specializes in food safety cases.  His Christmas letter this year gives his top ten picks for the food safety disasters of 2008.  Number 1 is melamine-laced Chinese food products.  He’s leaving #10 open just in case anything new happens between now and the end of the year.  Thanks Bill.  Enjoy your holiday dinners, everyone!

Dec 19 2008

FDA approves Stevia

It’s beginning to look like the FDA is getting in as many “midnight” approvals as it can before the new adminstration kicks in.  First it loosened its advisory on eating fish, and now it has told Cargill, the maker of the Truvia brand of the artificial sweetener Stevia, that it’s OK for the company to market it.  I guess the FDA must have resolved its doubts about the science supporting the safety of Stevia, even though much of it was corporate-sponsored.  But CSPI still has doubts.  Or maybe the FDA just didn’t have the strength to stop soft drink companies from marketing Stevia-sweetened drinks with or without FDA approval.  CSPI can’t understand the rush.  Why not?  It’s politics as usual, alas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the reason for the rush is to get products with this “natural” sweetener on the market now.  Coke is coming out with Sprite Green and Odwalla juice drinks, and Pepsi will market SoBe Lifewater and an orange drink called Trop50.  They must thing they are on to something.  Stevia does have its supporters.  Me?  I’ll take sugar anytime.

April 15, 2009 update: Stevia products are on the market and competing vigorously for market share, as discussed by Kim Severson in the New York Times.

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