Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 27 2008

Eating Liberally’s Question: Breakfast

So what do I think of the importance of eating breakfast? Here’s what I told Eating Liberally’s KAT.

Mar 25 2008

Percy Schmeiser settles suit with Monsanto!

Why Monsanto chose to go after Percy Schmeiser is beyond me. You might remember the case: Monsanto sued this Canadian canola farmer for growing the company’s genetically modified (GM) seeds without paying for them. But Mr. Schmeiser claimed that GM canola pollen blew over and contaminated his fields.

In 2002, Canadian courts said it didn’t matter how Monsanto’s GM plants got onto his fields; Schmeiser had to pay for them. So Monsanto won the case but looked like a big bad bully.  Now Monsanto has agreed to an out-of-court settlement, surely something it should have done a long time ago.

This case reminds me of the infamous “McLibel” trial of the late 1990′s when McDonald’s sued a couple of young activists in London for saying rude things about the company. You would think the threat of a public relations nightmare would encourage companies to back off in such David-and-Goliath situations, but no such luck. I’m glad this one is over. Next?

Mar 24 2008

My new book on the pet food recall

The cover of my forthcoming book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine has just been posted on Amazon.com. Its publisher is University of California Press, which also published two of my previous books, Food Politics and Safe Food (What to Eat comes from Farrar, Straus & Giroux). I’ve just sent in the last copy-edit, am expecting page proofs in mid-April, and am hoping to see advance copies in late July. It comes out in September!

Mar 23 2008

Do Food Stamps make people fat?

The USDA has just come out with a report looking at the relationship of Food Stamps to obesity. Because rates of obesity are higher among the poor, USDA economists wanted to see if Food Stamps, which raise the amount of money low-income people can spend on food, were associated with higher rates of obesity. They were not, at least for most people, but they were associated with obesity in younger women. I have no idea what to make of this, really. It seems self-evident that having more money – enough money – to spend on food means that people will eat more healthfully. But Food Stamps are notorious for their unreliability in meeting people’s real needs.  They typically run out after three weeks, which leaves recipients scrambling to meet food needs during the fourth week of the month. Food Stamps do help to address income disparities, but not nearly enough. I’d like to see the USDA do an experiment: give women enough Food Stamps to really meet their needs and see if diets improve.

Mar 22 2008

The “Chickenization” of the Beef Industry

I’ve just learned a new word: “chickenization.” This comes from an article on meatpoultry.com explaining how consolidation in the beef industry has gotten so extreme that just three companies now control more than 70% of the market: JBS 31%, Tyson 21%, and Cargill 21%. Monopoly capitalism in action!

Mar 22 2008

Carl Warner’s photos

Mystery solved, thanks to Dawn, Renata, and Bix.  Renata sent a link to a description of Warner’s work along with more photos.  Bix sent a link to an interesting BBC program about this work.  Carl Warner has his own website, of course, but also has been a frequent subject of blogs.  This is the first I’ve heard of his work so I am glad to know about it.  He should be credited every time the  photos get e-mailed, especially because it was so easy to find out whose work it was. Thanks to all!

Mar 21 2008

Who did these?

These made-with-food photos were sent to me with no indication of who constructed the scenes or took the photos.  I think they deserve credit and attribution.  Does anyone know where they came from or who did them?  This situation reminds me of the unattributed photos flying around the Internet that come from Peter Menzel’s and Faith D’Aluisio’s prize-winning book, Hungry Planet.  I recognize photos from it immediately because I wrote the introduction to the book.  If you see photos of people posed in front of everything they ate in a week, they have been lifted from Hungry Planet.  So what about these?

Mar 21 2008

Will bans on marketing food to kids do any good?

In trying to figure out what to do about childhood obesity, the comments on the recent post raise issues worth pondering. Anna, for example, points out that food ads are banned in Norway but that kids are still getting fatter (although to a lesser extent than in the U.S.). She writes: “I just don’t think it [the ban] makes enough of a difference, even if it seems like a good idea on some fronts. It is the larger culture of commercialism and consumerism that surrounds children in Westernized countries, and if Norway can’t regulate commercial influences away, the US certainly can’t.”

Maybe not, but this view leads to two possibilities for dealing with childhood obesity on the policy level.  One is to do nothing (because doing something won’t do any good anyway).    The other, which I prefer, is to start taking actions, one at a time, in the hope of creating an environment more favorable to healthy eating for kids.  A ban on marketing seems like a reasonable first step, as does doing something about school food.  These might make it easier to teach kids (and parents) some critical thinking around food issues, some cooking skills, and something about where food comes from and why it matters.  The long-range goal is to create a food environment that promotes healthy eating as the default.  This means doing something, even if the results aren’t immediately obvious.   That’s why I’m so in favor of calorie labeling, marketing restrictions, school food improvements, efforts to move supermarkets into low income neighborhoods, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and everything else that makes it easier to eat better.  Eventually, they may add up to something that registers on weight surveys.  And that hope keeps me going.  How about you?

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