Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Oct 29 2013

How charitable is McDonald’s? Not very, says new report.

If McDonald’s apparently generous support of Ronald McDonald House Charities leaves you with warm feelings about the company’s philanthropic efforts, it’s time to rethink those feelings.

Michele Simon’s latest report, Clowning Around with Charity, should destroy all illusions about McDonald’s charitable giving.

New Picture (7)

The report comes to some interesting conclusions.  McDonald’s, it finds:

  • Promotes itself through Ronald McDonald House Charities but contributes only about 10% of the charity’s revenue.
  • Takes credit for donations.
  • Sells unhealthy children’s menu items by linking their sale to very modest charitable giving.
  • Profits from marketing to children in schools under the guise of charity and education.
  • Spends about a billion dollars a year on marketing, but only a small fraction of that amount on charitable causes.
  • Donates a lower percentage of its profits to charities than many other corporations and private citizens.
  • Explicitly created Ronald McDonald House for public relations purposes.

If you think about it, none of this is surprising, but it’s fascinating to have it all in one place.

Here’s today’s coverage so far:

Oct 28 2013

Interview with Maria Rodale about the politics of your plate

I was recently interviewed by Maria Rodale about Eat, Drink, Vote (published, not coincidentally, by Rodale Books).

Politicians in Washington may bicker back and forth about issues that don’t seem all that immediately relevant to your daily life, but their decisions do trickle down to you—three times a day, every time you sit down for a meal. Your dinner plate (and your cereal bowl and your lunch box) are ruled by politics, from the lobbyists who made your chicken cheaper to the Congresspeople who listened to food marketers’ pleas to limit restrictions on advertising to children.

Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and author of the popular FoodPolitics.com blog, has tried to capture the politics of your plate in a new book, Eat Drink Vote, a compilation of political cartoons that perfectly capture the absurdity that is our nation’s food regulatory system. (Check out a sampling: The 19 Biggest Food Problems in America)

Here’s the video:

Oct 25 2013

Remarks at James Beard food conference

I participated in the James Beard Foundation’s annual food conference, Paradox of Appetite: Hungering for Change, earlier this week in a panel with other recipients of the 2013 James Beard Leadership awards.

If you would like to hear my short remarks (and see the video prepared for the award), click below.

Thanks to the Beard Foundation for all of this.  Enjoy!

Oct 24 2013

Happy Food Day, 2013

October 24 is Food Day, which its organizer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), calls “a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies.”

Food Day aims to help people Eat Real. That means cutting back on sugar drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein. Food Day envisions shorter lines at fast-food drive-throughs—and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

Food Day is about taking personal responsibility for what you eat—what I like to call “voting with your fork.”

Join the Movement: The most important ingredient in Food Day is you! Use October 24 to start—or celebrate—eating a healthier diet and putting your family’s diet on track.

It is not, alas, about working to change policies that will make it easier for people to make healthier food choices.  For that, you must celebrate World Food Day on October 16 (and see post on that topic)—getting political and voting with your vote!

The food movement needs both (compromise on October 20?).

In honor of both, here’s this from Eat, Drink, Vote.

ClayBennett_Cartoon

 

 

 

Oct 23 2013

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: Update

I was a member of this Pew Commission, which produced a landmark report in 2008: Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.

Our report’s conclusion: The current system of raising farm animals poses unacceptable risks to public health, to communities near Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and to the environment.

Our key recommendations:

  1. Ban the nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production.
  2. Define nontherapeutic use of antimicrobials as any use in food animals in the absence of microbial disease or documented microbial disease exposure.
  3. Implement new systems to deal with farm waste.
  4. Phase out gestation crates, restrictive veal crates, and battery cages.
  5. Enforce the existing environmental and anti-trust laws applicable to food animal production.
  6. Expand animal agriculture research.

Recently, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) did an in-depth analysis of what has happened with these recommendations.  Its dismal conclusion: The problems have only gotten worse.

Many hoped the release of the report, which occurred within a year of a change in the administration, would help trigger a sea change in the federal government’s approach to regulating the food animal production industry…Early administrative appointments to top regulatory posts held promise for meaningful changes.

CLF’s review of the policy-landscape changes in the five years since the release of the report paints a very different picture. Contrary to expectations, the Obama administration has not engaged on the recommendations outlined in the report in a meaningful way; in fact, regulatory agencies in the administration have acted regressively in their decision-making and policy-setting procedures.

In addition, the House of Representatives has stepped up the intensity of its attacks on avenues for reform and stricter enforcement of existing regulations, paving the way for industry avoidance of scrutiny and even deregulation, masked as protection of the inappropriately termed “family farmer.”

The assaults on reform have not been limited to blocking policies…Instead, the policy debate…has shifted to the implementation of policies such as “ag-gag”, agricultural certainty, and right-to-farm laws, all of which are designed to further shield unsavory industry practices from the eye of the public and the intervention of regulators.

This week, some of the Commission members answered questions from ProPolitico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich.  Ralph Loglisci reports in Civil Eats on that meeting and his conversation with former Pew Commission director Robert Martin, who is now the Center for a Livable Future’s Director of Food System Policy:

I think issues are going to drive change at some point. You’ve got this big group of people who want to see change. The problems of antibiotic resistance are worsening–the problems of 500 million tons of (animal) waste we produce each year are worsening and the ground in many areas of the country is really saturated with phosphorous. You can’t transport the material, so you’ve got to disperse the animals. So, the problems are reaching really a crisis point. So that could really force action too.

Is there any hope?  It sounds like things will have to get worse before they get better.  But how much worse?

I wish there were better news.  Food safety, animal welfare, and environmental advocates: get together and get busy!

Oct 22 2013

The 2013 Kass Lecture at Harvard Medical School

I’m giving The 2013 Fae Golden Kass Lecture on November 12 (details about time, place, and registration are below).  The lectureship was created by gifts of the family and friends of Fae Golden Kass to support an annual lecture by a woman in the medical sciences.
Here’s what the Harvard Medical School newsletter has to say about it:

Politics of the Plate

By Susan Karcz

There was a time in the U.S. when grocery store shoppers may not have noticed that nutrition facts labels and lists of ingredients on food packages were sometimes difficult to decipher; or that high-fat, high-sugar foods were frequently marketed to children; or that unsubstantiated health claims often appeared on food packaging.

That time has passed.  Americans have now become more aware of, and concerned about, what’s in their food and where it comes from thanks to the work of Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, an acclaimed exposé of the U.S. food industry’s influence on food policy, which was first published in 2002.

Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, can pinpoint the moment in the early 1990s when she first became aware of the politics of food. She was attending a conference at the National Cancer Institute on how behavioral factors affect cancer risk when a physician gave a presentation on how cigarettes were marketed to children all over the world.

Nestle described her “absolute shock” at seeing images of cigarette advertisements displayed in remote areas of the world and at playgrounds in the U.S. While she had known that cigarettes were marketed to children, she said she never really noticed the full extent of the advertising. That’s when she had the thought that this scrutiny should go further. “We should be doing this for Coca-Cola,” she recalled thinking.

In contrast, as a public health nutritionist in the 1980s and 1990s, Nestle said she remembered speakers at obesity meetings talking about how to encourage mothers to improve their children’s diets, but marketing was never discussed. Nutrition societies and professional organizations were (and still are) sponsored by food companies, she said, but nobody noticed.

“I wrote Food Politics to get people to notice,” Nestle said.

Nestle has done more than get people to notice since then. She has also shaped the public conversation about how politics affects what all of us eat.

Food safety, labeling, ingredients, agribusiness, health claims, obesity, nutritional supplements, marketing practices—Nestle has researched and written about it all. Her work examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, obesity and food safety, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing.

Nestle’s most recent book is Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics. Her blog, Food Politics, includes a wealth of information on food and nutrition policy.

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To attend:

Nestle will present the 2013 Kass Lecture, titled “Food, Nutrition and Public Policy: Science vs. Politics” for members of the Harvard community in the HMS Walter Amphitheater, TMEC, 4-5 p.m. on Nov. 12. A reception and book signing will follow.  To register, click here.

Oct 21 2013

Reading for this week: Ed Behr’s 50 Foods

Ed Behr.  50 Foods: The Essentials of Good Taste.  Penguin Press, 2013.

 

Just got my copy.  Here’s my blurb for 50 Foods:

Ed Behr’s 50 Foods extols the pleasures of his favorites from anchovies to walnuts, with plenty of handy advice about how to tell the difference between a great pear or cheese and one that’s not so great, and what wines make good foods taste even better.  He knows the ins and outs of delicious food, and you will too after reading this book.

Oct 20 2013

October, Berkeley style

From the cafe at the French Hotel, Berkeley.

IMG-20131016-00090

Posted from 35,000 feet over the Sierras.

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