Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Dec 24 2008

Cookbook history: just in time for Xmas

The Economist, of all things, is getting serious about Food Studies.  It has a lovely history of cookbooks in its current issue, accompanied by a wonderful illustration.  The writer is anonymous, of course (I will never understand why The Economist doesn’t let its writers sign their articles–most annoying).  Cookbooks, says Anonymous, do more than teach how to cook.  They tell us what’s happening in society and help us deal with life.  Buy cookbooks as presents, read them, try a recipe or two, and eat the result!  I can’t think of a better gift.  Happy holidays to all!

And here’s an idea: if you happen to have more cookbooks or books about food than you have room for, and are looking for a wonderful and appreciative home for them, send them to the NYU Fales special collection of materials on Food and Cookery.   The collection has 20,000 volumes so far, thousands of pamphlets, and a rapidly growing collection of papers from food professionals.

Dec 23 2008

FDA warns Coke: Coke Plus violates Jelly Bean rule!

Thanks to Jack Everitt for forwarding an article from Reuters U.K. about the FDA’s recent warning to Coca-Cola.  Coke Plus, says the FDA, violates the Food and Drug Act.  Food companies are not allowed to add vitamins and minerals to sugary carbonated water (or jelly beans)  just so they can be marketed as healthy.

OK, but Coke Plus is not exactly a secret.  How come the FDA waited to do this until this “midnight” period just before a new administration takes over?  And how come, asks Jack, do we have to “hear about this from a UK newspaper, rather than a US one. Just like with the last election, we now have to rely on out-of-the-country news sources.”

Let’s hope the FDA is a high priority for Obama.  It should be!

Dec 22 2008

Restaurants are adding healthier kids’ meals

Several years ago, I gave a talk to executives of restaurants like Applebee’s and Darden’s about what they could do to make it easier for people to control their weight and eat more healthfully.  I allsuggested that they make healthy kids’ meals the default.  Let parents order junk food for their kids if they want to, but set up the situation so they have to ask for it specially.  The executives went ballistic and gave all kinds of reasons why this was impossible (parental responsibility! cost! trouble!).  Lo and behold: somebody must have listened and changes are coming, or so it seems.  Let’s hope they really do this!

Dec 22 2008

The NY Times weighs in on the Vilsack appointment

The New York Times editorial writers have some interesting things to say about the challenges facing the new USDA secretary.  The Vilsack appointment, they say, “has the merit of being unsatisfactory to both extremes of the farm-policy debates.”  This makes me wonder when sustainable agriculture will be viewed as the wave of the future, and not as “extreme.”  Soon?

12/23 update: Here’s Kim Severson’s piece in the food section on what needs to happen at the USDA.

Dec 20 2008

Bill Marler’s top ten

Bill Marler is a class-action lawyer in Seattle who specializes in food safety cases.  His Christmas letter this year gives his top ten picks for the food safety disasters of 2008.  Number 1 is melamine-laced Chinese food products.  He’s leaving #10 open just in case anything new happens between now and the end of the year.  Thanks Bill.  Enjoy your holiday dinners, everyone!

Dec 19 2008

FDA approves Stevia

It’s beginning to look like the FDA is getting in as many “midnight” approvals as it can before the new adminstration kicks in.  First it loosened its advisory on eating fish, and now it has told Cargill, the maker of the Truvia brand of the artificial sweetener Stevia, that it’s OK for the company to market it.  I guess the FDA must have resolved its doubts about the science supporting the safety of Stevia, even though much of it was corporate-sponsored.  But CSPI still has doubts.  Or maybe the FDA just didn’t have the strength to stop soft drink companies from marketing Stevia-sweetened drinks with or without FDA approval.  CSPI can’t understand the rush.  Why not?  It’s politics as usual, alas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the reason for the rush is to get products with this “natural” sweetener on the market now.  Coke is coming out with Sprite Green and Odwalla juice drinks, and Pepsi will market SoBe Lifewater and an orange drink called Trop50.  They must thing they are on to something.  Stevia does have its supporters.  Me?  I’ll take sugar anytime.

April 15, 2009 update: Stevia products are on the market and competing vigorously for market share, as discussed by Kim Severson in the New York Times.

Dec 18 2008

More and more on the soda tax

Nicholas Kristof writes about it in the New York Times today.  As for me, I did 7 radio interviews on Fox News this morning, including two in Georgia, home of Coca-Cola.  The Fox News folks are shocked, shocked: Where’s personal responsibility?  Where’s parental responsibility?

OK, but what about liquid candy?  And marketing to kids?  And all the research linking frequent consumption of soft drinks to childhood obesity?

OK.  I’m not crazy about regressive taxes, and I think the distinction between sugary soft drinks and sugary juice drinks doesn’t make much sense, but I’m interested to see how this idea works.  Let’s call it an interesting experiment and hope that someone is doing the research.

Dec 17 2008

Bookkeeping: End-of-year columns

I have an op-ed (about the FDA’s handling of melamine in U.S. infant formula) and a Food Matters column (answering questions about salt) in the San Francisco Chronicle this week, and a response to a question from Eating Liberally about Governor Paterson’s proposed tax on soft drinks.  Enjoy!

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