Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 27 2008

The environmental implications of eating meat

Mark Bittman, who usually writes about easy ways to cook great food, has a long piece in today’s New York Times about the energy and other environmental costs of eating meat. These are major. And just think what will happen if everyone in the world eats as much meat as we do!

Jan 27 2008

Coke and Pepsi promote health!

I’m getting lots of e-mails about Coca-Cola’s co-sponsorship of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Instutite’s HeartTruth Red Dress campaign to increase women’s awareness of their risk for heart disease. You can find out more about Diet Coke’s sponsorship on the Coca-Cola website. Here’s my favorite line in the news release: “Participation by Coca-Cola does not imply endorsement by DHHS/NIH/NHLBI.” Really? I’ll bet Coke hopes people will think it does.

But that’s not all. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) is partnering with Pepsi. Pepsi, it says, “will work with ADA to develop consumer and professional education programs, and tackle nutrition research questions.” How’s that for unbiased?

Jan 27 2008

Can a big guy play football on a vegan diet?

Thanks to my colleague Fred Tripp for forwarding this item from the Wall Street Journal about Tony Gonzalez, the 247-pound Kansas City Chiefs’ football player who has switched to a vegan diet to the shock of his family, fellow players, and, I guess, the world. Why anyone is surprised that people can do well on vegetarian and vegan diets is beyond me. Plant foods have plenty of protein and calories if you eat enough of them. If he is following a strict vegan diet–no animal products at all–he will need to find a source of vitamin B12 (it’s made by bacteria and incorporated into animal tissues), but supplements work just fine. I just don’t see this as any big deal. Many different dietary patterns promote health and this one can too. I suppose people will attribute any missed block or dropped pass to his diet, but cheeseburgers are not essential nutrients.

Jan 26 2008

Eating Liberally Asks Marion: is the “obesity epidemic: a myth?

In this week’s “Let’s Ask Marion,” Eating Liberally’s kat wants to know what I thought about the recent piece in the New York Times about the fat acceptance movement. Her questions are always exceptionally thoughtful. My answers try to be. Enjoy!

Jan 24 2008

Dannon sued over Activia claims

Activia “probiotic” (promoting the growth of friendly bacteria) yogurt is a case study of successful marketing, based on its claims about the benefits of its particular live-and-active bacteria. Now its maker is being sued for overhyping the science and duping consumers into paying 30% more for Activia than for other yogurts. For what the company claims, see the Danone website.

Dannon, of course, rejects the charges.

To complicate the picture, Dutch investigators report the disappointing results of a clinical trial of probiotics in treatment of pancreatic cancer; the death rate was higher among study participants taking probiotics.   Somehow, I doubt this had anything to do with the probiotics but it does suggest a need for caution in interpreting studies of benefit as well as risk.

Jan 24 2008

USDA’s new WIC standards: a great improvement!

Daniel from Ithaca writes about the USDA’s new nutritional standards for the WIC food packages for low-income pregnant women and children. He says, “it’s like I am on another planet,” meaning that he can’t believe that such good things are coming out of USDA, among them “More produce! Less juice! Less dairy! No full-fat milk! Dairy substitutes allowed! Fewer eggs! Whole grains! A greater emphasis on breastfeeding! He asks: Do you think that these changes, along with USDA’s hiring of Brian Wansink, will make for more straightforward Dietary Guidelines in 2010?

Thanks to Daniel for passing along this information. The WIC guidelines come out of a different part of USDA than the one that Brian Wansink heads but let’s hope that these changes–and his appointment–signal a new era in that agency, one that puts consumer interests first. One of Wansink’s jobs will be to oversee the appointment of USDA’s nominees to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines committee (the others come from the Department of Health and Human Services). Keep fingers crossed.

Jan 24 2008

Canada’s Health Check program, checkmated

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who directs a bariatric medical clinic in Ottawa, sends a video report (in which he stars!) of an investigation into the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program on food labels. This program is much like our American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart Check program. For both programs, companies pay the organizations for use of the Check on the package label. Both use saturated fat and sodium as cut points for use of the logo, but don’t care much about sugars. I’ve argued for years that putting the AHA’s Check on sugary cereals misleads consumers and is not a good idea. The video–and the press accounts–of this investigation ought to hugely embarrass the organizations, maybe even enough to get them to end the programs.

Jan 24 2008

Methylmercury in big, expensive tuna

So yesterday’s New York Times report on methylmercury in sushi tuna–a shocker because the most expensive tuna has the most of this toxin (of course it does; it’s bigger and accumulates more)–is now experiencing the expected backlash. Sushi eaters don’t seem to care much, and the tuna industry is fighting back through its public relations agency, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). What is a tuna lover to do? If you aren’t pregnant, about to become pregnant, or a very young child (if you are, you should avoid big predatory fish like king mackeral, swordfish, tilefish, shark, and albacore tuna) the FDA and EPA say up to 6 ounces a week is OK. That leaves plenty of room for spending a fortune on sushi.

Here’s what Newsweek has to say about the CCF complaints. It’s great to see a news magazine blow the whistle on that group. Every word CCF says is paid for, and some tuna association pays it to say that methylmercury is not a problem.

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