Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
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?

Mar 19 2008

Food systems in a spinach basket

Thanks to Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project for advice to check out the web pages of Professor Phil Howard at Michigan State University. Professor Howard, who I do not know but can’t wait to meet, has put together some terrific cartoons of how food systems work. Examples: who owns what in organic foods and the chain of distribution of spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in 2006. This last is especially useful, given the sharp increase in foodborne illnesses due to leafy greens. I fully intend to plagiarize.

Mar 17 2008

OK. Time to talk about the American Dietetic Association’s alliances with food companies

Ashley just posted this message: “Today I received an email from the American Dietetic Association [ADA] welcoming the Coca-Cola company as a corporate sponsor. As a rookie RD this type of announcement is perplexing and often disturbing. What is more bothersome is that the President of ADA referred to the American Public as consumers… How do I align myself with an organization that aligns themselves with industry more than social activism?

Thank you Ashley for reminding me about some previous comments about the ADA’s industry partnerships, including this one: “I feel badly that you chose to put down ADA for its message instead of joining forces and finding ways that we can work together…as an organization which does not have much money this is the way that we can fund educational programs for our members and get our scientific message out to the public…I hope that you will consider joining with us instead of voicing criticism for this well-respected organization of highly educated and well-trained health professionals.”

Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours. Consider the ADA’s Nutrition Fact Sheets, for example, each with its very own corporate sponsor (scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the second page to see who paid for the Facts). Is the goal of ADA really the same as the goal of the sponsors–to sell the sponsor’s food products? Is this a good way to get important scientific messages to the public?  ADA members: how about doing something about this!

Mar 17 2008

Soft drinks in decline?

The Wall Street Journal reports that sales of Coke and Pepsi and other top brands slipped last year by a percentage point or two. They can’t keep up in the face of rising commodity costs, prices, and the popularity of vitamin waters and sports drinks. The drop might seem like a blip but these companies have stockholders to please and are supposed to be growing and increasing their sales every quarter. So it’s no surprise that the WSJ is taking such a hard look at the declining bottom lines. Expect to see even more production of functional drinks, sweetened and not, and at higher prices, of course.

Mar 17 2008

A ban on marketing food to kids?

Consumers International and the International Obesity Task Force have just proposed a ban on global marketing of food to children that goes much further than the voluntary promises of food product companies like Kraft, Kellogg, and PepsiCo. The proposal calls for:

  • No radio or TV advertising of junk foods (including beverages) from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • No marketing of junk foods on social-networking Web sites and other forms of new media.
  • No gifts and toys to promote junk foods.
  • No use of celebrities to market junk foods.
  • No use of cartoon characters to market junk foods.

Why are they doing this? Because voluntary industry efforts are not working. I wonder how far they will get with this thoughtful and hard-hitting proposal.

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