Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 27 2013

Texas takes on new USDA school food standards. Sigh.

Thanks to Bettina Siegel of The Lunch Tray for alerting me to Texas’s latest declaration of independence from Washington, DC.

The governor signed a bill this summer that was supposed to allow Texas high school students to buy “competitive” (because they compete with federally funded school meals) fast foods.  But a mistake in the wording allows them to buy “foods of minimal nutritional value”—candy, sodas, and the like in conflict with long-standing USDA regulations.

So while the Texas legislature was trying to allow high schools to sell fast food entrees at lunch, its sloppy drafting has inadvertently limited high schools to selling only a few foods – basically soda and candy – identified by the federal government over forty years ago as the least healthy for our children.

Way to go, Texas!

Based on the bill analysis, the Texas legislators behind HB1781 seemed to care only about bucking state nutrition policy, but they have also put the state in direct conflict with the new federal competitive food rules.  When those rules go into effect in the 2014-15 school year, sales of FMNV will certainly be barred, as will almost all of the competitive food currently sold in high school “food courts.”  And while the new federal rules do make an exception for occasional junk food fundraisers, such as a bake sale, HB1781 has no such limitation, allowing high school junk food fundraisers every day of the school year.

USDA’s school food standards are a great improvement over what they’ve been in the past and they deserve much support.

They do not need Congress (“pizza is a vegetable”) or state micromanagement.  Let’s hope this clearly unhealthy Texas law gets stopped in its tracks, and the sooner the better.

Aug 26 2013

FDA study: Do added nutrients sell products? (Of course they do)

The FDA has announced that it will be studying the effects of nutrient-content claims on consumers attitudes about food products.

FDA does not encourage the addition of nutrients to certain food products (including sugars or snack foods such as [cookies] candies, and carbonated beverages). FDA is interested in studying whether fortification of these foods could cause consumers to believe that substituting fortified snack foods for more nutritious foods would ensure a nutritionally sound diet.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of what the FDA is talking about.

New Picture

 

I’m guessing the FDA’s new research project is a response to increasing pressure from food companies to be allowed to add nutrients to cookies, candies, and soft drinks.

Food marketers know perfectly well that nutrients sell food products.  The whole point of doing so is to be able to make nutrient-content claims on package labels.

The FDA has never been happy about the practice of adding nutrients to junk foods just to make them seem healthy.   Its guidance includes what is commonly known as the “jelly bean rule.”   You may not add nutrients to jelly beans to make them eligible to be used in school lunches.

But this does not stop food manufacturers—especially soft drink manufacturers—from trying.  Hence: Vitamin Water (now owned by Coca-Cola).

Plenty of research demonstrates that nutrients sell food products.  Any health or health-like claim on a food product—vitamins added, no trans fats, organic—makes people believe that the product has fewer calories and is a health food.

As I keep saying, added vitamins are about marketing, not health.

Aug 23 2013

Annals of food and culture: The potato museum, Munich

Thanks to reader Doire for alerting me to Munich’s Kartoffelmuseum.

The tiny museum is based on the private, obsessive collection of Otto Eckart, the CEO of the Pfanni company.  I was not familiar with this company so I looked up its Wikipedia entry.  Here is what Google translator says it says:

The Pfanni GmbH & Co. OHG is a German food company based in Stavenhagen , the kitchen in the production of finished potato products is specialized. She is since 1993 a subsidiary of Unilever Germany gr.

Worth the trip are the gorgeous old drawings and etchings of potato planters and harvesters, and the astonishing collection of old books on potato history and cooking.  

And then this:

IMG-20130823-00054

Of this case, the catalog says:

A special jewel of the museum is the “collection of rare objects.” Here the visitor finds curiosities, precious things, unusual and strange exhibits.  It is a combination of art and rubbish.

The prize: a photo of Marilyn Monroe dressed in an Idaho Potato sack.  I also loved the potato Christmas tree ornaments hanging at the top of the case.

Art or rubbish?  You decide.

I thought it was definitely worth the visit.

Aug 22 2013

Soda advertising: Bavaria

In the Munich subway, Marienplatz station, Coca-Cola ads feature bottles with common German (?) names on the labels, in this case Kevin, Tobias, and Sandra.

München-20130822-00049

At the entrance to the tour of the salt mine in Berchtesgaden (definitely worth the visit), Coke (foreground) and Pepsi (far background) sponsor separate outdoor cafes.

IMG-20130821-00043

Aug 21 2013

More Bavarian food politics

The central farmers’ market in Munich, the Viktualienmarkt, has some organic (“bio”) producers.  This one displays a sign that it has been organic for 20 years (20 Jahre Bio).

München-20130820-00032

 

Aug 20 2013

Food Politics: Munich style

I am in Munich this week to give a talk at a meeting of environmental historians and will be posting tourist photos.  Here’s today’s from the main tourist area in front of city hall:

München-20130820-00030

My (rather loose) translation:

Eat vegetarian today.  For the sake of health, the animals, and the environment.

I guess the Germans do pig crates too.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Albert Schweitzer Stiftung für Mitwelt (Tr. Foundation for Mankind), a vegan animal-welfare group.

Aug 19 2013

Books about food industry work: first-hand

Seth Holmes.  Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. .  University of California Press, 2013.

This book came highly recommended and for good reason.  It is a riveting account by a PhD (anthropology)/MD, now on the faculty of the School of Public Health in Berkeley, who did his dissertation fieldwork as a participant/observer/migrant berry picker.  This meant starting out in Oaxaca, traveling to the U.S. border, crossing it illegally, getting caught, going to jail, getting out, working in the fields with fellow migrants who made it through, and enduring almost everything they had to endure.  The almost?  As an American citizen and white, he was treated better—a difference he makes stark and clear.  For anyone with a conscience, this book is not an easy read; we don’t treat Mexican immigrant workers with much respect and Holmes writes eloquently about how that disrespect feels to people who are making enormous sacrifices to create better lives for their children. What must be done?  “Broad coalitions of people must actively engage in…concrete legal, political, civil, and economic actions…[so these people] no longer have to migrate across a deadly border in order to provide us with fresh fruit in exchange for their broken bodies.”

Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is just out but it reminded me of another participant/observer study that first appeared in 2005.

Steve Striffler.  Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food, Yale University Press, 2007.

I know about this book because I blurbed it:

An extraordinarily powerful indictment of the U.S. chicken industry.  This book will do for chicken what Fast Food Nation did for beef.

Striffler is an anthropologist now at the University of New Orleans who did his dissertation research working on poultry processing lines.  He lived with the other workers, went with them to their home towns, and experienced what they experienced.   Not easy.  He has much to say about the effect of this kind of work on the people who do it, the communities in which they live, and the impact of industrial animal farming on people, rural America, and the animals themselves.

This is anthropology at its best by courageous people.

Aug 16 2013

What’s that cartoon?

Oops.  Amazon left off the last question in Kerry Trueman’s interview.

KT: And what a bonus to get to the end of the book and find that wonderful cartoon of yourself by Clay Bennett! How did that come about?

I know.  I love it.   Minutes before the book was being sent to press, my editor realized that there were a couple of blank pages at the end.  And I didn’t have a bio in the book.  Why not commission a cartoon?  Clay Bennett is the only one of the cartoonists I’ve met—I went to a talk he gave in New York at the launch of another Cartoonist Group book—and I very much enjoy his work, as who does not?   He’s the editorial cartoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and won a Pulitzer Prize at some point.  He produced the cartoon over that weekend.  I think it’s the perfect way to end the book.

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

 

 

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