Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 3 2007

Bottled Water Spin

The bottled water industry must be really, really worried. Today’s New York Times has a full-page ad from the International Bottled Water Association promoting the health benefits of bottled water (“So, as far as we’re concerned, the drink in everyone’s purse, backpack, and lunch box should be water”), its use in emergencies, and its environmental friendliness (“The bottles our member companies produce are 100% recylable”). You will be pleased to know that the Association supports “new, more comprehensive recycling laws to reduce the amount of plastic waste in our environment.” The Association says: “We realize that there are many different points of view on these issues. We want to hear your thoughts.” They do? They should read today’s letters to the editor. If you want them to hear your thoughts, you can do so on their site. What do full-page ads in the Times cost? $80,000? That’s a lot of bottled water.

Aug 3 2007

Everybody causes obesity?

And now yet another study, this one in the July 2007 Economic Inquiry, says that social factors influence body weight. This study doesn’t say friends make friends fat, but says that the average body weight in a population has a “social multiplier” effect. This, they say, in conjunction with low food prices, encourages weight gain. Read what Dr. David Katz at Yale has to say about obesity “contagion.” He says: “There was virtually no obesity 100 years ago, but I’m pretty sure people did have friends back then. What they did not have was cars, suburban sprawl, fast food, and video games. Human nature and relationships are not the root cause of epidemic obesity; the obesigenic modern environment is.” Indeed.

Aug 2 2007

Alcohol and Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Mix?

My friend Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit, is now working for the Marin Institute, which describes itself as “alcohol industry watchdog.” She sends along a copy of the Institute’s new report on alcohol and energy drinks. In case you were wondering what’s in all those energy and sports drinks, why manufacturers want to add alcohol to them, and what their hazards are, especially to young adults, check this out. I think the drinks taste pretty bad on their own and the alcohol covers the taste, but this report lays out how the manufacturers deliberate target young adults for marketing campaigns that suggest mixing them with alcohol. The report covers the other ingredients in these drinks, things like guarana, ginseng, and–my favorite–taurine, an amino acid essential for cat reproduction.

Aug 1 2007

Scientifically engineered “superfoods”

Eating Liberally is now interviewing me on a regular basis in a post called “Let’s Ask Marion.” Today’s question is about foods created by technologists to introduce some health benefit–what I like to call “techno-foods.” It is timely because today’s New York Times has a report by Andrew Martin of his visit to the recent convention of the Institute of Food Technology. Are these foods really designed to make you healthy? Or are they about the financial health of their makers?

Aug 1 2007

FAQs

At the top of the right-hand side of this site is a link to FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). I’m still trying to figure out the technical tricks for doing these, but for now I’ve posted 7 comments on things that people ask me all the time: (1) how to study nutrition, (2) what is food studies, (3) food advocacy, (4) trans fats and obesity, (5) organics, (6) locally grown, and (7) soy and health. Click on FAQs and there they will be. Enjoy!

Jul 31 2007

The Produce Industry Likes the Farm Bill?

According to industry sources, the produce industry is thrilled with the version of the farm bill just passed by the House. Well, it does contain some support funds for fruit and vegetable growers, calls for country-of-origin labeling, and has some other useful provisions. But subsidies for corn, soybeans, and other agribusiness commodities? No way.

Jul 30 2007

The Whole Grain Mess

Daniel from Ithaca writes: “I love whole grains as much as I love clear, honest labeling of foods. It is discouraging that even the WholeGrainsCouncil.org label on some foods is misleading. I just saw a love of Rubschlager Wheat Bread with the WGC symbol on it. It contains: Whole wheat, enriched wheat and 2 different sweeteners. I’m not sure how this is “whole”. What if foods with the Whole Grains Council or other proclamation that it is a “Whole Grain,” contained only Whole Grains with no “enriched flour” or added sugars?”

The companies would probably go out of business; they wouldn’t have a clue how to make bread without all that stuff. The Whole Grains Council is a trade association/public relations agency that uses nutrition messages about the health benefits of whole grains to promote the products of its 160 member companies. One of its goals is “To promote whole grains through a positive message about their benefits, rather than by criticizing refined grains.” The Council takes advantage of a gap in regulations; the FDA has not defined the meaning of “whole grains” on food labels but, instead, has produced Guidance for Industry. Examples: Question: Does the term “whole grain” mean the same as “100 percent whole grain”? If a product is labeled as “whole wheat bagel” or “whole wheat pizza,” how much whole wheat should it contain? Answer: FDA has not defined any claims concerning the grain content of foods…We recommend that products labeled with “100 percent whole grain” not contain grain ingredients other than those the agency considers to be whole grains….We note that wheat flour should not be labeled as a whole grain flour because wheat flour is a synonym of flour…However, whole wheat flour (§ 137.200) should be considered a whole grain flour because it contains all the parts of the grain, i.e., the bran, endosperm, and germ…. Question: What types of label statements about whole grains are currently permitted to be made on food products? Answer: Manufacturers can make factual statements about whole grains on the label of their products, such as “10 grams of whole grains,” “½ ounce of whole grains,” (21 CFR 101.13(i)(3)) and “100% whole grain oatmeal” (as percentage labeling under 21 CFR 102.5(b)), provided that the statements are not false or misleading under section 403(a) of the Act and do not imply a particular level of the ingredient, i.e., “high” or “excellent source.” Translation: The Whole Grains Council is doing a bit of an end run around the FDA. Is this a public service? You decide. Check out the Bread chapter in What to Eat and enjoy whole grains!

Jul 29 2007

Movies: Ratatouille and No Reservations

I love food movies. Ratatouille and No Reservations would make a great double bill. They both reveal a lot about what goes on in restaurant kitchens. Anyone can cook? Maybe, but not necessarily well.

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