Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 21 2016

Trump would dismantle the FDA’s food safety rules?

Presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a speech to the Economic Club of New York about his tax reform plan to “make America great again.”

The plan would eliminate some programs he finds annoying, the FDA’s food safety regulations among them.

The tax plan, including the FDA provisions, was posted on Trump’s website, but it is no longer there.

Fortunately, @nycsouthpaw did a screen capture and posted it on Twitter.  Among other things, Trump would like to eliminate:

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who begs producers of unsafe food to “put me out of business” is getting his wish and notes how well the new food safety rules are working.  He says Trump must love him: Killing the FDA is good for business:

How did “The Donald” know that my business has dropped over the last few years as the regulatory work of our governmental agencies have kicked into gear.

Who knew that food safety would be an issue in this year’s election, let alone Skittles.

Sep 20 2016

Theater for New York foodies: Aubergine (don’t miss)

If you are in New York or can get to it, go see Julia Cho’s play, Aubergine (“Eggplant”) at Playwrights Horizons.

Ignore the tepid review in the New York Times.  The reviewer, Charles Isherwood, doesn’t seem to be either a foodie or a food studies scholar.

If you are either or both, or just open to the deeper meanings of food in society, you will get the point of this play right away: the emotional significance of remembrance of meals past.

The acting is terrific (even Isherwood says so).  The characters are warm, funny, foodie, and deeply touching.  And you don’t even have to speak Korean to understand them.

It’s only playing until October 2.  Aubergine deserves an appreciative audience.

And while you are there, keep your eye on that turtle.  No spoiler here: you will need to see the play to understand its role (it should get acting credit).

Sep 19 2016

Farewell Dorothy Cann Hamilton. Rest in peace.

The International Culinary Center announced yesterday that its president and founder, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, died in a car accident.  I’ve heard that the accident was in Nova Scotia, but cannot find details.

Dorothy was a star in New York’s food world.   Her Wikipedia entry tells some of the story.

But I knew her best as someone who dreamed big and made the dreams come true.

I met her in the early days of the French Culinary Institute when we met to work out a partnership—her idea—with NYU’s newly launched food studies programs.

That worked.  So did much else.

She turned ICC into a go-to place for programs as well as culinary arts.  I was privileged to participate in those programs occasionally.

I was even more privileged to be part of her occasional Ladies Who Lunch group at L’Ecole.

I watched her handle ambassadors and dignitaries at Food Expo in Milan.  Back in New York, I saw her receive high honors from the French government.

I have no doubt the press will have much to say about all she accomplished.

To me she will always be the girl from Queens who longed for Manhattan, got there, and made many wonderful things happen.

I cannot believe she is gone.  I will miss her.

Obituaries, September 20

Sep 16 2016

Weekend reading: Conservation Heroes of the Heartland

Miriam Horn.  Rancher, Farmer Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.  WW Norton, 2016.

Actually, this book should be titled “Rancher, Farmer, Riverman, Shrimper, Fisherman: Conservation of Life around the Mississippi River.” It consists of deep interviews with one person in each category who is working hard to protect some part of the environment.

My favorite is the shrimper, the truly remarkable woman who is devoting her life to saving the livelihoods of the people engaged in Louisiana’s highly endangered—by hurricanes, floods, oil spills, and regulators—shrimp-fishing industry.

Each of the people highlighted in this book is doing something for conservation, not always in the ways you and I might choose.  As Miriam Horn explains in her introduction,

Which is not to say they have found the perfect way to fish or farm; they would be the first to acknowledge that there is no such ideal.  Rather, their heroism lied in the depth of their commitment to consider the largest implications of what they do, across geographic and generational lines; to forever listen more intently, weight each choice for the impact it will have on their neighbors and all of life, challenge themselves to do better as they understand more and the world changes around them.

Sep 15 2016

Calories, alas, do count

I did a bunch of interviews about the sugar industry’s funding and manipulation of research this week (see the list at the bottom of the post).

I tried to point out that in the fuss over sugars vs. saturated fat, calories get forgotten.  They shouldn’t be.

The balance between fat and carbohydrate matters much less when calorie intake is balanced by physical activity.

The Atlantic notes that Americans eat and waste vast amounts of food, using USDA data on the amount of calories made available by the food supply.

I love the USDA’s “Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.”  Here’s how to use it:

  • Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to Nutrient Availability.
  • Click on Nutrients.
  • Download Excel Spreadsheet.
  • Click on the worksheet, “Nutrients and other components of the US food supply.”  Have fun checking out the trends from 1909 to 2010.  We have available to us 4000 calories per day per capita.
  • Click on the second worksheet, “US Food supply: Nutrients contributed from major food groups.”  Now you can see where the calories come from:  Grain products and fats and oils together account for more than 1800 of the 4000 calories in the food supply.  Add in sugars and sweeteners and you are up to 2500.  Meat, poultry, and fish brings it over 3000.


This is why I co-authored a book on the topic: Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.

Sep 14 2016

Food is getting safer, baby step by baby step

Chase Purdy writing in Quartz says “The system for catching dangerous pathogens in America’s food supply is finally working.”

Here’s the best evidence: the remarkable decline in cases of STEC (Shigella Toxin E. Coli).

Quartz quotes food safety lawyer Bill Marler: “You look back over time and, from 1993-2003, about 90% of my firm’s revenue was from E. coli cases connected to hamburger.”

What changed?  Regulation.

The USDA now considers STEC to be an adulterant and does not permit meat and poultry contaminated with it to be sold.

But then there’s Salmonella.  It is not considered an adulterant.  Why not?  Because it occurs so frequently that USDA considers it normal.  Cases of Salmonella have not declined as much as they should.

In the meantime, the FDA is diligently following through on its food safety rulemaking.  On August 24, it opened three more sets of draft guidance documents for public comment.

FDA officials explain:

When we were drafting and seeking public comment on the rules that will implement theFDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), we promised that we would do whatever we could to help the regulated industry understand and meet the new requirements….Meeting the FSMA mandate involves cooperation between the FDA and the food industry. From the smallest food operation to the largest company, we want to be sure that we’re all on the same page and these draft guidances will help get us there.

Onward and upward.  This is progress.  It would be nice if it went faster but it’s real progress—even if Bill Marler still has plenty of work to stay busy.



Sep 12 2016

Sugar industry funding of research, 1967 style (with many lessons for today)

I wrote a commentary for a study published this morning in JAMA Internal Medicine: “Food industry funding of nutrition research: The relevance of history for current debates.”

The study, by UCSF investigators Cristin Kearns, Laura Schmidt and Stanton Glantz, is based on their archival research.  They found documentary evidence of shocking manipulation by the sugar industry of a Harvard review of studies on dietary factors and heart disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.

Kearns et al. discovered that the sugar industry trade association paid investigators at Harvard an impressive amount of money ($48,000 in today’s dollars) to produce research demonstrating that saturated fat—not sugar—raises the risk of heart disease.

In my commentary, I reproduced a figure from the sugar-funded 1967 reviews.  This summarizes the epidemiology showing that both sugar and saturated fat intake were then indistinguishably associated with increased mortality in 14 countries.

Nevertheless, the reviews exonerated sugars and blamed saturated fat.

Yes, I know that association does not necessarily mean causation, but I’m guessing that the epidemiology still shows that both sugars and saturated fats are associated with increased heart disease risk.

My interpretation: We would all be healthier eating less of sugary foods and fatty meats.

Here are the relevant documents for your reading pleasure:

The Sugar Association issued a response to today’s article by Kearns et al.:

We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities…Generally speaking, it is not only unfortunate but a disservice that industry-funded research is branded as tainted…We question this author’s continued attempts to reframe historical occurrences to conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative, particularly when the last several decades of research have concluded that sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease.  Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research—we’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn into this trend.

I will post press accounts as they appear (I’m quoted in most of these):

Sep 9 2016

Weekend reading: Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation

Sandor Ellix Katz.  Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

This is the updated and revised edition of Katz’s wildly popular and influential book—a how to on the theory and practice of preparing, eating, and enjoying fermented foods.

Katz describes himself as a fermentation evangelist, and so he is.

By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote microbial diversity in your body.  The live bacteria in those ferments…help to digest food and assimilate nutrients, as well as stimulate immune responses.  There is no one strain that is uniquely beneficial; rather the greatest benefit of eating bacteria lies in biodiversity.

With the microbiome the hot new thing in biology, this book could not be better timed.

And besides.  Fermented foods are delicious.  Ginger champagne, anyone?

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