Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 6 2007

Hannaford’s Stars Get Results

Hannaford, the supermarket chain in the Northeast, today reports the one-year results of its Guiding Stars program. This, you may recall, puts zero, one, two, or three stars on foods in the store, depending on how the products meet some rather rigorous nutrition standards. When the program started a year ago, less than one-fourth of 27,000 foods in the store qualified for even one star (when the criteria are independent, products endorsed as healthy by their makers do not qualify). Did the program encourage people to choose products with stars over those without them? It did! Take a look at the results and see if you think this approach is worthwhile. Hannaford does not reveal its nutritional criteria for awarding stars because of patent issues. I think it should. If the program works, other stores might be encouraged to try something similar. And here’s what the New York Times has to say about it.

Sep 4 2007

Coming Soon to Your Local Grocery: Country-of-Origin Labeling for Meat

Thanks to Lisa Young, author of The Portion Teller, for passing along a neat article from the Detroit News about country-of-origin-labeling of meat. Check out the map showing the global nature of our meat supply. Unless Congress delays these labels yet again, we’ll be seeing them at meat counters starting next year. And won’t that be interesting? Stay tuned.

Sep 4 2007

Oh no! Flooded Organic Farms!

Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis sends this link to a video showing what the floods have done to organic farms in the Midwest. Nobody ever said farming was easy, but this seems especially tragic.

Sep 4 2007

More Research on Marketing to Kids

Once researchers started to look, the results just pour in. Thanks to Margo Wootan of CSPI for send this new study from the journal, Pediatrics. It finds virtually all ads for food products on kids’ TV to be for the junkier ones. No surprise here; these are the profitable products. How many more of these studies do we need? Really, isn’t it high time for a few restrictions? How’s this for a starting position? No marketing of foods to kids. Period.

Sep 3 2007

FTC Wants Info From These Companies!

Margo Wootan from Center for Science in the Public Interest and Lori Dorfman from the Berkeley Media Studies Group send the latest request from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is asking food companies to say how much money they spend on marketing to kids and for a bunch of other information. And now here is the list of companies that have to provide that information. What is so interesting about this list is that it is not only aimed at Kraft, PepsiCo, and other such makers of junk foods but also at Boskovich, Grimmway, and other vegetable companies that put SpongeBob SquarePants and other such cartoon characters on their product labels. It will be interesting to see how much money goes into marketing carrots as compared to breakfast cereals or junky snack foods. Stay tuned.

Sep 2 2007

Do Sports Supplements Help?

Today’s question:

Dear Prof. Nestle,

I enjoyed your article in the recent Scientific American and thought that you would be a good person to ask the following:

Food supplements have become a huge fad among people who “work out”.
Protein powders, various lipids, amino acids and dozens of other arcane pills and potions. My step son, who is otherwise a very sensible and educated young man, indulged in some of them (maybe still does) when he lifts weights.

I tried to convince him that a normal, healthy diet is all that one needs. That perhaps these supplements make a difference to competitive athletes who want to shave a few milliseconds off their speed, or add a few pounds to their weight-lifting, but that for a person who just wishes to be fit (even REALLY fit!) they are a total waste of money. One pays tens of dollars per kg or two of protein extract. For a similar cost, relief agencies ship hundreds of times that weight of basically the same material to 3rd world countries.

Moreover, I doubt very much that most of the claims made for them have ever been proven in proper clinical trials. I’m not even sure whether some of the nutrients that are known to be part of normal metabolic pathways cross the plasma membrane that readily. And even if they do, do they provide enough extra to make any detectable difference in performance.

I raised this issue with several colleagues in our Physical Education Faculty…and they seemed equally sceptical about the value of these substances. One of them said that the supplements might help decrease the time at which one reaches a specific level of performance, but not the ultimate level itself.

What might be your thoughts?

My thoughts: I devote a chapter in my book, What to Eat, to the question of supplements. The chapters come with extensive endnotes and references, which may help convince colleagues. My understanding of sports supplements is similar to yours–they give a tiny edge to elite athletes but act as placebos for everyone else. The marketing hype is so over the top that the attorneys for several states are taking them on. But I like to put sports supplements in context: they are generally harmless and are a whole lot better than steroids. Anyone have any additional thoughts on the topic?

Sep 1 2007

Pet Food in the NY Times Sunday Magazine

Who would ever guess that pet food would be the subject of a New York Times magazine piece. It’s by Fred Kaufman, who has a history of food in America–“The History of the Stomach“–coming out next February. His NYT piece is notable for explaining the driving force behind the formulas for pet foods: keeping elimination products to a minimum. I think it’s a great piece, not least because it quotes me at length and accurately, at that.

Aug 31 2007

Can We Legislate a Leaner Nation?

My latest interview with Eating Liberally is about the policy implications of the “F is for Fat” study (see earlier post).

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