Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 9 2009

More voting opportunities: victory gardens and USDA

Slow Food USA is promoting efforts by groups who want an organic garden grown at the White House and who would like to see some representation of interest in sustainable agriculture at the USDA.  Here’s your chance to sign petitions on both those issues.  And the American Gothic illustration of the Obamas is pretty cute too.

Jan 8 2009

Pet Connection Interview: Unedited!

My interview with Christie Keith about Pet Food Politics has just been posted on the Pet Connection blog site.  Pet Connection is the pet care and everything else website that played such an important role in tracking the events of the 2007 pet food recalls.  Christie Keith writes regularly for Pet Connection but I first came across her work as the exceptionally thoughtful pet columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.  This is a first for me: the interview is a verbatim transcript of a long telephone conversation.  The conversation was a lot of fun, but also instructive; it changed my thinking about some issues regarding pet food labeling.  Enjoy!

Jan 7 2009

School interventions work! (Sometimes)

It’s always nice to have some evidence for what you think makes sense.  David Katz and his Yale colleagues analyzed a bunch of studies attempting to improve both school nutrition and physical fitness.  Taken one by one, these studies generally showed negligible improvements in body weight, if any.  But these investigators analyzed a selected group of 19 (of 64) studies that met their inclusion criteria.  Taken collectively, these studies showed that the interventions improved body weight.  The overall effects on weight were small, but in the hoped-for direction.  Katz et al’s conclusion: combined nutrition and physical activity interventions are worth doing, especially when they include parental involvement along with cutting down on TV.

If the link to the paper doesn’t work for you, try the abstract on PubMed.

Jan 6 2009

Did Dickens exaggerate?

Last week’s New York Times science section reported a study from the British Medical Journal arguing that Oliver Twist had plenty to eat and Dickens greatly exaggerated the poverty and inadequacy of poorhouse diets. The BMJ article said poorhouse diets gave kids a few ounces of oatmeal a day along with “modest servings of bread, potatoes, meat and cheese.”  This diet, the authors said, provided 1,600 to 1,700 calories a day, “dull and monotonous, to be sure, but adequate…in a real Victorian workhouse, Oliver would probably not have had to ask for more. He would have had just about enough.”

Here’s my response, published in today’s Science Times  letters.  Enough?  Hardly. The whole point of welfare institutions is to give recipients just enough to stave off starvation, but not so much that they become complacent and dependent on state largesse.  But children are dependent, and British poorhouses were for-profit institutions.  Far too much factual evidence demonstrates that poorhouse diets were barely adequate and strongly associated with childhood malnutrition and death.  What were these authors thinking?

January 7 update: Eating Liberally points out that the basic elements of poorhouse diets have much in common with today’s fast food.  How, kat asks, did fast food get to be so respresentative of America?  Here are my additional thoughts on this matter.

Jan 5 2009

USDA stats on million-dollar farms

Here’s a statistic that reveals the current status of the American agricultural system.  According to a recent USDA report, farms earning a annual income of a million dollars constitute just 2% of American farms, but account for a whopping 50% of total U.S. farm income.  Small family farms: where are you when we need you?

Jan 4 2009

The cost of better school lunch meat: yikes!

Food and Drink Examiner Eric Burkett sends this astonishing report from the school lunch front.  The school system in Portland, Oregon asked Oregon State University to conduct a taste test to find out whether kids preferred local grass-fed beef to grain-fed beef of unknown origin.  Results?  The kids could tell the difference but were evenly split on preference.

BUT–the cost difference!   Grain-fed beef =  $17.11 per case (140 patties per case).  Grass-fed beef = $44.85 a case (75 patties per case).  If the weights were the same, this means the grain-fed = 12.2 cents per patty vs. 59.8 cents each for the grass fed.  Is this really true?

If so, I can’t think of a better reason for some new farm policies.

Jan 3 2009

Oh no! Yet another food rating scheme

Thanks to blogger Hemi Weingarten for telling me about the new scheme from Stop and Shop to help you pick out the thousands of foods it identifies as better for you.   As you know from my previous postings on these schemes (filed under Scoring Systems), I don’t have much love for food rating systems.  They depend entirely on who devises them.  It is very much in the interest of Stop and Shop, PepsiCo, Kraft, Unilever, and all the other companies that are doing this to devise criteria that allow lots of their products to qualify.  Recall the Hannaford example: when the supermarket chain recruited independent nutrition experts to devise criteria, less than one-fourth of the products in the stores qualified even for a one-star rating and most of those were fruits and vegetables in the produce section.  The moral: eat minimally processed foods and you don’t have to worry about such things.

Jan 2 2009

Happy new year: top anti-junk food marketing moments in 2008

The childhood obesity team at Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sends along its new year’s greeting: “great anti-junk food marketing” moments in 2008.  These mostly focus on progress in industry self-regulation (voluntary) but also on congressional legislation to restrict marketing and put healthier foods in schools.  Food marketing to kids is the point of food industry vulnerability.  Food companies must stop marketing junk foods to kids.  Voluntary self-regulation is notoriously ineffective.  Legislative intervention is essential.  Maybe this will be possible under the new administration?  Fingers crossed.

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