Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 12 2008

Food prices again: risks vs. benefits

Alexandra Lewin, a doctoral student at Cornell, is working with Corporations and Health Watch in Washington, DC, which “tracks the effects of corporate practices on public health.” Her latest contribution is an analysis of the effects of higher food prices on school lunch programs. Given the impossibly small amount of money schools have to work with, they will surely, she says, “find it ever more difficult to say no to an easy source of revenue: soda, cookies, and other junk food. Here we go again.”

On the other hand, Dan Barber, the fabulous chef of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Stone Barns, writes in the New York Times that higher food prices now “could lead to better food for the entire world.” Market forces, he says may well force more attention to the benefits of small farms “bringing harvests that are more healthful, sustainable and, yes, even more flavorful.” This, of course, is what Michael Pollan and Alice Waters were quoted as saying a month or so ago. I hope they are right.

May 11 2008

Those worrying plastic water bottles: Consumer Reports weighs in

ConsumerReports.com has an especially understandable description of the plastic bottle situation. If the recycling number is 7, the plastic could be polycarbonate and leaching bisphenol A endocrine disrupters. It says recycling numbers 1, 2, or 5 are better bets. The Environmental Working Group says bisphenol A is the “signature compound in the fight for reform of the nation’s toxic chemicals laws. It contaminates nearly all Americans, it causes toxic effects at very low doses…yet the EPA has only the most clumsy and convoluted authority to control its use and reduce exposure to populations at risk.”

May 9 2008

More ideas for reducing calories?

The latest issue of US News and World Report has a neat article (in which I am quoted) with some interesting ideas about how restaurants can help customers cut calories.  Would any of them work?

May 7 2008

The benefits of menu labeling for preventing obesity?

The Los Angeles County Public Health Division has produced a “health impact assessment” of how nutrition information on menus might affect customers’ ordering practices. The authors say that if 10% of customers reduce their caloric intake from restaurant meals by 100 calories a day, they would avert nearly 40% of the weight gain expected among Los Angeles residents. This is all theoretical, of course, but the hypothesis is testable – and New York City is doing the experiment. The NYC calorie labeling project is very much in the works. The city is starting to issue citations to non-compliers, even though the whole thing is still in litigation.

Oops.  Note the comment from Christopher Jarosz, one of the authors of the study.  On this model, it’s 100 calories twice a week (sorry about that and thanks for sending).

May 6 2008

The current food crisis: two views worth reading

The rise in food prices is blamed on a perfect storm of three factors: high oil prices, food grown for biofuels, and rising demand for meat in developing countries, particularly India and China. Vandana Shiva takes exception to this last accusation. The “crisis” is one of the least attractive result of globalization and corporate control of the food supply, she argues. The Washington Post has been running an excellent series of articles. The Post adds a fourth factor: the serious drought in Australia caused by global warming. If you were wondering what was meant by “global food system,” here it is.

May 5 2008

Soy infant formulas: OK but nothing special?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has just issued an updated assessment of the benefits and risks of soy infant formulas. Its conclusion: soy formulas are fine for full-term infants and hardly ever cause problems but they also are hardly ever needed as a replacement for cow’s milk formulas. Never mind which is better. Breast feeding is still best of all.

May 5 2008

Eating Liberally Asks Marion: agribusiness and the global food crisis

I forgot to post the link to Eating Liberally’s last question (and my answer) about how agribusiness is influencing the current crisis over rising food prices. Here it is.

May 4 2008

The Upcoming Farm Bill: A Primer

Politics, as they say, makes strange bedfellows. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has the best article I’ve ever read on the farm bill, which is now making its way out of conference committees (see previous posts). Here’s how reporter Carolyn Lochhead starts out: “It is the rarest of moments. President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on a collision course over a giant farm bill, but it is Bush who is broadly aligned with liberal Bay Area activists pushing for reform, while the San Francisco Democrat is protecting billions of dollars in subsidies to the richest farmers.” The interest groups slated to get pieces of this $300 billion chunk of taxpayer dollars dare not complain about it, out of fear that a more rational public policy would be worse for them. That’s politics for you, at its most raw.

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