Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 3 2014

“Foodies” unite: happy 4th of July

Mark Bittman got my attention and cheers when he wrote about rethinking the word “foodie.”

I do wish there were a stronger, less demeaning-sounding word than “foodie” for someone who cares about good food, but as seems so often the case, there is not…shifting the implications of “foodie” means shifting our culture to one in which eaters — that’s everyone — realize that buying into the current food “system” means exploiting animals, people and the environment, and making ourselves sick. To change that, we have to change not only the way we behave as individuals but the way we behave as a society. It’s rewarding to find the best pork bun; it’s even more rewarding to fight for a good food system at the same time. That’s what we foodies do.

He also  got the attention of George Lakoff, the Berkeley linguist best known to me for his work on the importance of “framing” advocacy issues—describing them in ways that resonate emotionally.

Lakoff writes:

As a linguist, I know that the “-ie” suffix is a diminutive marker. It is added to children’s names, serves a trivializing function, and otherwise indicates nonserious pursuits (Barbie, Baggie, birdie, hoodie, selfie and so on). The word “foodie” has this element of English grammar built in and cannot be rescued as a term for a serious food advocate…Preparing, cooking and enjoying food connects us to all living things, to the wonders of life, and to the very serious responsibilities of a food advocate.

Let’s hear it for the “very serious responsibilities of a food advocate.”

Foodie that I am proud to be, I do indeed take these responsibilities seriously.

You too, I hope.

Enjoy the long, hot weekend, the fireworks, and the food, of course.

 

Jul 2 2014

University of California’s new Global Food Initiative

I was fascinated to read yesterday that the President of the University of California (my alma mater), Janet Napolitano,  presented plans for a new 10-campus food initiative  to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.  I loved it that she made the announcement with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard.

The UC Global Food Initiative, Napolitano said:

is a commitment to work collectively to put a greater emphasis on what UC can do as a public research university, in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world, to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues.  The food initiative will build on UC’s tradition of innovative agricultural research to support farmers and ranchers. Future efforts will build on work already begun by UC’s 10 campuses and its Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Here’s what she says the UC Global Food Initiative will do:

  • Use collective purchasing power and dining practices to encourage sustainable farming practices, healthy eating, and zero food waste.
  • Put food pantries and farmers markets on all 10 campuses.
  • Partner with K-12 school districts to enhance leveraging procurement.
  • Integrate food issues into more undergraduate and graduate courses.
  • Develop catalogues of food-related courses.
  • Put demonstration gardens on each campus for experiential learning.
  • Mine data on California agriculture and response to climate change.
  • Allow small growers to serve as suppliers for UC campuses.

What fun!  Can’t wait to see how it works.

Good work Alice Waters!

I hope other universities—including mine—start copying.

Here’s the info:

Go Bears!

Jul 1 2014

Summer reading and cooking: Calories In, Calories Out

Catherine Jones and Elaine Trujillo.  The Calories In, Calories Out Cookbook: 200 Everyday Recipes That Take the Guesswork Out of Counting Calories – Plus, the Exercise It Takes to Burn Them Off.  The Experiment, 2014.

Screenshot 2014-07-01 09.08.14

Ordinarily, I don’t blurb or review cookbooks, but this one is introduced with a chapter on “Understanding the World of Calories” by my Why Calories Count co-author, Dr. Malden Nesheim.

Why Calories Count recommends understanding calories but most definitely does not recommend counting them.  They are too difficult to count accurately unless you weigh everything you are eating, and that’s not much fun for most people.

But if you happen to enjoy counting calories, this book is for you.  It does several clever things:

  • It arranges the recipes by calories from 0-199 per serving to 300-399 per serving.
  • For every recipe, it gives calories, a few other nutrients, and diabetes exchanges.
  • For every recipe, it also lists the kinds and duration of physical activity needed to balance the calories.
  • It gives ways of fiddling with the recipes to adjust calories.
  • It answers FAQs about calories.
  • It lists gluten-free options.

On top of all that, the book is beautifully designed and illustrated, exceptionally easy to read, and scientifically sound.

Even better, the recipes are easy to follow and look delicious.

Let me give one example: creamy chocolate pots (Pots de Crème)

  • 148 calories in: These have 3 grams of protein, 16 of carbohydrates, 8 of fat, and 2 of fiber; 24 milligrams of sodium, 1 carb choice, 1 whole milk diabetic exchange.
  • 148 calories out: Women need to walk 36 minutes or jog 17 minutes.  Men need to walk 30 minutes or jog 14 minutes.

Anyone reading this book will learn a lot about nutrition and calorie balance.

Anyone who enjoys calorie numerology, will have a lot of fun with this book.

Jun 30 2014

The FDA’s fish advisory for pregnant women: some additional thoughts

When the FDA advisory came out a week or so ago, I started getting questions about whether it meant that women must eat fish during pregnancy and, if so, how much.

As I said in my previous post on the topic, if you like fish, of course eat it, otherwise I can’t think of any compelling reason why anyone has to eat fish.

I view the data on the dilemma caused by omega-3 fatty acids in fish (good) versus the content of methylmercury (bad) as still rather uncertain.  Dr. Malden Nesheim and I discussed this point in an editorial we wrote for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [reference 1 below].

Here’s what the FDA advisory says:

Eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week from choices that are lower in mercury. The nutritional value of fish is important during growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood… Fish contains important nutrients for developing fetuses, infants who are breastfed, and young children. Fish provides health benefits for the general public. Many people do not currently eat the recommended amount of fish.

This is a prescriptive statement telling pregnant women that they should eat fish.

I would argue that the data on which FDA based this prescription are limited, especially because the results of its scientific assessment are based mostly on theoretical models rather than empirical studies.

Here’s what makes me think some skepticism is warranted:

  1. The effects of even low-level methylmercury exposure may be greater than discussed in the assessment [see reference 2], as the latest analysis from the Environmental Working Group explains.
  2. The increase in young children’s IQ associated with fish-eating during pregnancy is low—-0.7 to a maximum of 3 IQ points.

As the FDA’s assessment report says:

On a population basis, average neurodevelopment in this country is estimated to benefit by nearly 0.7 of an IQ point (95% C.I. of 0.39 – 1.37 IQ points) from maternal consumption of commercial fish. For comparison purposes, the average population-level benefit for early age verbal development is equivalent in size to 1.02 of an IQ point (95% C.I. of 0.44 – 2.01 IQ size equivalence). For a sensitive endpoint as estimated by tests of later age verbal development, the average population-level benefit from fish consumption is estimated to be 1.41 verbal IQ points (0.91, 2.00). The assessment also estimates that a mean maximum improvement of about three IQ points is possible from fish consumption, depending on the types and amounts of fish consumed.

How significant is this?  And does the small benefit in childhood persist into adolescence or adulthood?

  1. The economic question.  Fish are expensive.
  2. The ecological questions.  Advice to increase fish consumption comes up against environmental realities—-overfishing, fish farming—-that make the recommendation impossibly unsustainable [reference 3].
  • The levels of long-chain omega-3s in farmed fish depend on feeding them wild fish, an ecological problem on its own.
  • Guidance about fish can’t be just nutritional; it has to take the economic and ecological impact of fish choices into consideration [reference 4].
  • Current per capita fish consumption is about half the FDA recommended level, and half of that is shrimp.  Fortunately, shrimp don’t have much mercury (although the ones from Asia may have other contaminants), but they also don’t have much omega-3).

All of this suggests grounds for skepticism.  I think a better recommendation would leave more wiggle room to account for uncertainties.  Here’s how I would edit the FDA’s statement:

Pregnant women may eat up to 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week from choices that are lower in mercury.  Fish are useful sources of nutrients that may have value for growth and development before birth, in early infancy for breastfed infants, and in childhood, and may provide health benefits for the general public.  Other food sources also provide such benefits.

References

[1] Nesheim MC, Nestle M. Advice for fish consumption: challenging dilemmas. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014;99:973-974.

[2] Karagas MR, Choi AL, Oken E, Horvat M, Schoeny R, Kamai E, Cowell W, Grandjean P, Korrick S. Evidence on the human health effects of low-level methymercury  exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2012; 120:799-806.

[3] Jenkins D, Sievenpiper JL, Pauli D, Sumaila UR, Kendall CWC  Are dietary recommendations for use of fish oils sustainable? Canadian Medical Association Journal 2009;180: 633-637.

[4] Oken E, Choi AL Karagas MR, Marien K, Rheinberger CM, Schoeny R, Sunderland E, Korrick S  Which fish should I eat? Perspectives influencing fish consumption choices. Environmental Health Perspectives 2012;120:790-798.

Jun 27 2014

Lobbying in action: pizza!

This just in from Politico Morning Agriculture:

At their recent Capitol Hill fly-in, members of the American Pizza Community — which included representatives from Domino’s Pizza, Godfather’s, Little Caesars, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut — met with more than 70 congressional offices, according to a statement from the APC. Part of their ask was for lawmakers to back the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act. The bill, which was introduced about a year ago by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), would exempt grocery stores from the ACA menu labeling requirements and allow restaurants to disclose calorie counts online.

American Pizza Community?  Indeed, yes.

The American Pizza Community is a coalition of the nation’s largest pizza companies, regional chains, local pizzerias, small franchise operators, supplier partners and other entities that make up the American pizza industry. This joint effort will highlight the importance of the pizza industry on American communities and promote policies that permit its continued success, including reasonable menu labeling standards, including small business owners in tax reform, commodity policies and employment and labor policies.

The APC knows how to work the system.  Meeting with 70 congressional offices takes some hefty organizational work.

This is, no doubt, how pizza came to be counted as a vegetable in the school lunch program.

Happy weekend!

MPeters1111117_Color_73311

 

Jun 26 2014

NY State Appeals Court says No to Portion Cap Rule

The New York State Court of Appeals issued a decision this morning on the Portion Cap Rule:

PIGOTT, J.:
We hold that the New York City Board of Health, in adopting the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule”, exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority. By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York.

Although the decision applies to the Portion Cap Rule, it has a much larger meaning.

The ruling means the Court does not accept the idea that health departments have the right to set health policy for city residents.  I suspect we will be seeing the implications of this ruling for a long time to come.

The city health commissioner, Mary Bassett, issued a brief statement:

Today’s ruling does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic, and we will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods.

This doesn’t sound like the city will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but maybe it’s too early to say.

I will post additional comments later, as they come in.  Stay tuned.

Additions:

As I just told a reporter, ”

The key issue here is whether health departments have the right to set policy to protect the health of citizens under their jurisdiction.  This court says no, but this seems precedent-setting. The medical community most definitely should support measures to improve the environment of food choice.  Changing the behavior of individuals is extremely difficult and rarely successful; it works much better to improve the environment so it’s easier for individuals to make healthier choices.

On the court decision: The vote was 4 to 2, with one abstention.   Here’s a quotation from Judge Susan Read’s dissenting opinion:

What petitioners have truly asked the courts to do is to strike down an unpopular regulation, not an illegal one…To sum up, if the People of the City or State of New York are uncomfortable with the expansive powers first bestowed by the New York State Legislature on the New York City Board of Health over 150 years ago, they have every right and ability to call on their elected representatives to effect change. This Court, however, does not…The majority fails to advance any persuasive argument why the judiciary should step into the middle of a debate over public health policy and prohibit the Board from implementing a measure designed to reduce chronic health risks associated with sugary beverages just because the Council has not chosen to act in this area.

The New York Times also quotes from this dissent:

In a blistering dissent of the opinion, Judge Susan P. Read wrote that the ruling ignored decades of precedent in which the Board of Health was given broad purview to address public health matters, such as regulating the city’s water supply and banning the use of lead paint in homes.  The opinion, Judge Read wrote, “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”  One justice in the majority, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, seemed to share those concerns, writing in a separate concurrence that “no one should read today’s decision too broadly.”

It’s always amusing to hear what the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed an amicus brief supporting the soda industry’s position, has to say:

New York City’s misguided soda ban was arbitrary, paternalistic, and profoundly inconsistent with separation-of-powers principles. The Court’s decision to strike it down vindicates fundamental constitutional values, protects consumer freedom, and encourages sound regulatory policies.

Jane Delgado of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health’s issued a statement:

 We are deeply disappointed that the court today limited the power of the NYC Board of Health to
act on behalf of the health of New Yorkers… The portion cap rule is the right policy for New York City and communities throughout the nation facing the rise of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Jun 25 2014

NYC’s Green Cart initiative achieves its goals, say Columbia U. researchers

Columbia University researchers have issued an evaluation of New York City’s Green Cart Initiative, which puts street vendors selling fruits and vegetables into low-income areas.

The initiative has three purposes: to change the NYC food landscape, to expand economic opportunity for vendors, and to promote healthier eating for low-income residents.

The Green Carts Evaluation reports much success on all fronts.

  • Green carts are on the streets
  • 80% of vendors say they are making a living.
  • 71% of customers say they are eating more fruits and vegetables.

According to the press release, “Columbia SIPA researchers also find Green Carts are creating economically viable small business opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs, recognize important role of philanthropy in promoting and supporting innovative public policy.”

This last refers to the funder, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

The report also identifies what it calls “opportunities to enhance the program” (translation: things that are not working so well):

  • Green Carts are not distributed evenly throughout all high-need targeted areas.
  • Green Carts are located close to public housing in only one borough.
  • There is an inadequate tracking system for where Green Carts are or how many are on the streets.

Still, it looks like the program is working out according to plan.

This is a pleasant surprise.  I’ve been dubious about the program, mainly because every time I forget and buy berries at one of those carts, they turn out to be moldy.

Correction and apology, June 26: Thanks to Karen Karp for pointing out that the street vendors from whom I bought moldy berries could not possibly have been part of the Green Cart Initiative.  Green Carts, she points out, are

  • Distinguished by an iconic umbrella.
  • Only permitted in certain areas of the city–low-income, “food desert,” high diet related disease.  In Manhattan, that means North of 97th street on the East side, and 110th street on the West.

I bought berries from carts South of 14th street.

Green cart vendors: I apologize.  Please accept and forgive.

Jun 23 2014

Annals of marketing: Protein cereals

Hoping to cash in on the current protein craze, General Mills has come up with this (thanks to Kasandra Griffin of  Upstream Public Health in Portland, OR,  for sending):

Cheerios1

 

Cheerios Protein has 7 grams of protein per serving.  But it also has 17 grams of sugars.

I use sugars, plural, for good reason.  Here’s the ingredient list:

Cheerios3

In case you can’t read this: Whole grain oats, cluster (whole grain oats, brown sugarsoy protein, lentils, sugar, corn syrupnatural flavor, molassesrice starch, caramel (sugar, caramelized sugar syrup), salt, calcium carbonate, baking soda, color added, BHT added to preserve freshness), sugarcorn starch, honeysalt, refiner’s syruptripotassium phosphate, rice bran and/or canola oil, color added, natural flabor, brown sugarvitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT added to preserve freshness.

A trip to the supermarket also turned up these:

This one has 16 grams of sugars.

And here’s another.  This one only has 7 grams of sugar per serving.  How come?  Sucralose!

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets.

This is about marketing, not health.

I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.

Page 3 of 27412345...Last »