Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 18 2015

The American Beverage Association’s latest anti-obesity effort?

It’s tough to be a soda company these days, what will sales of both sugary and diet drinks falling steadily.  Hence, this May 15 press release:

Alliance for a Healthier Generation and America’s Beverage Companies Start Work In Los Angeles Area Neighborhoods As Part of Community Initiative To Help Reduce Beverage Calories Consumed 

(LOS ANGELES) –The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and America’s beverage companies announced today that work will begin in four Los Angeles area communities as part of a highly focused initiative to help reduce beverage calories consumed by 20 percent per person by 2025 in neighborhoods where there has been less interest in or access to lower-calorie and smaller-portion beverages.

…The beverage companies will utilize a range of marketplace activities in these neighborhoods in an effort to help people reduce their calories, such as making lower-calorie and smaller-portion beverages more available in stores, providing incentives for consumers to try these options and displaying new calorie awareness messages at points of sale. These activities will allow companies to test and learn in order to develop the best practices that can be implemented elsewhere.

Here’s what people in these neighborhoods will see:

ABA

ABA reverse

The press release says nothing about:

  • Less marketing targeted to African- and Hispanic-Americans
  • Less marketing targeted to low-income children and adolescents

Is this public relations or something meaningful?  I’m skeptical but do try to stay open-minded about such things.

Let’s wait and see how this plays out.

May 15 2015

Weekend reading: Barry Estabrook’s Pig Tales

Barry Estabrook.  Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat.  WW Norton, 2015.

I was happy to be asked to blurb this one.  It’s a great read:

Estabrook tells two powerful stories here.  The first is about the appalling ways in which Big Pig raises animals, pollutes the environment, and uses the political system to avoid and fight regulation.  The second is about how skilled animal husbandry and respect for the intelligence of pigs produces calmer animals, more delicious meat, and a far more satisfying life for farmers and pigs alike.  Pig Tales is beautifully written.  It is also deeply touching.

May 14 2015

Milan Food Expo: A highly preliminary assessment

Throughout my travels in Italy the last couple of weeks, I was constantly asked for an assessment of the Milan Food Expo.

My answer: it’s too early to tell.  It’s only been open for two weeks and has lots more to do between now and the end of October.

In my posts on the Expo, I’ve talked about the logistics and a few of the pavilions.

But what about the overall content and take-home messages?  Expos are trade fairs, but this one is about feeding the planet—adequately and sustainably.

expo

The U.S. Pavilion carries out this theme:US

Most countries created exhibits based on these themes.  Many displayed vegetable gardens in raised beds or, in the case of the US pavilion, on a long, undulating wall.

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It’s useful to start with the United Nations’ Zero Hunger Pavilion.  Its gigantic ticker-tape display tells you the price of food commodities throughout the world in real time.

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The scrolling messages in English and Italian:

  • The food sector: reality vs. abstraction.
  • Extreme price volatility is a threat to food security.
  • The gap between supply and demand is mainly caused by increasing food consumption, climate variability, expansion of agro-energy production, and financial speculation.
  • Lack of transparency and profits for a few speculators intensify inequality in food distribution.
  • New rules are needed for agricultural governance.

Like most of the exhibits, this one states the problems and says what is needed to solve them.  But it leaves it up to you to figure out how to set or obtain the new rules for agricultural governance.

My view from this brief visit: The very existence of Milan Food Expo 2025 is a strong statement that food issues are worthy of serious public attention, worldwide.

For that alone, it succeeds magnificently.

May 13 2015

Milan Food Expo: The protests

When the Milan Food Expo opened on May 1, there were plenty of protests, fires, store break-ins, and overturned cars.

The protesters have been angered by Expo’s reliance on volunteer workers, the involvement of corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and a perception that much of the public money ploughed into the project has been lost to corruption.

Coca-Cola has a big presence at the Expo (see my post from last week) and in the city.

Coca-Cola sponsors Milan’s public bicycle program: BikeMi.

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McDonald’s also has a large restaurant on the Decumano (the main street of the fair), but the huge golden arches are in the back where they are only visible to people from outside the fair..

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The day after the protests, cleaners were washing away the last of the “No Expo” graffitti on Milan walls.

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Despite the initial controversy, the Expo is attracting huge crowds and vast hordes of school children.  Most pavilions are open, and some have long lines to get into.

Tomorrow: a preliminary assessment.

May 12 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Coldiretti Pavilion

I especially enjoyed the pavilion of Coldiretti, an association of Italian farmers.

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“No party” can—and is supposed to be—read two ways: no fun, or no political clout.

The pavilion houses a farmers’ market promoting the products of its members.

Coldiretti doesn’t have much use for GMOs, but for reasons we don’t often consider in the U.S.

2015-05-02 15.54.56In case you can’t read the photo:

What is good for the GMO multinational corporations is bad for Italy.

Because they cancel our extraordinary diversity.

Because they suffocate many to reward one.

Because the seeds of the earth belong to those who work it.

Because food certainties belong to “free research.”

Whatever you think of such views, I’m hoping the Milan Food Expo will get visitors thinking about these food issues and more.

May 11 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Trienniale Museum Art and Food Exhibition

Milan’s Trienniale Museum is offering an Arts & Foods exhibit in conjunction with the Food Expo.  Your Expo pass lets you in.

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I’ve been to many food-and-art exhibits, but this one is beyond enormous.  I seems to have everything.

Gursky:

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Warhol:

2015-05-03 12.15.47Gehry:

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American World War II posters:

ww2

Food-related items—paintings, yes, but also teaspoons, coffee pots, refrigerators, and anything else you can think of that might have something to do with food—take up almost the entire museum.

And movie clips!  Buster Keaton!

The catalog is 4-inches thick, weighs at least 5 pounds, and costs 60 Euros.

Go.

But plan on many hours.

May 8 2015

Milan Food Expo: The James Beard American Restaurant

Along with the U.S. Pavillion at the Expo, the James Beard Foundation organized a pop-up restaurant at the top of the Galleria.  It opens today.

Here’s the view:2015-05-03 18.49.39

The location is spectacular, and the restaurant carries out the themes of the US Pavilion–red, white, and blue throughout.

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Chefs appear on a rotating basis with a schedule set up in advance.

If you are in the Galleria, it’s worth a visit!

 

May 7 2015

Milan Food Expo: The Coca-Cola pavilion

Coca-Cola is not a sponsor of the US Pavilion.  PepsiCo is.

Coca-Cola has its own pavilion:
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To enter, I registered for a key chain with a personalized chip.  Holding the chip to the exhibits gives me personalized information:

 

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Much of the Coca-Cola exhibit was devoted to the company’s commitment to the environment and to physical activity.

It also sold bags and items made from flip tops, some costing as much as 190 Euros (a Euro is about $1.20).

Visitors have to look elsewhere* for information about the effects of sugary drinks on health or about Coca-Cola’s long-standing opposition to bottle recycling laws or about who made the expensive flip-top bags and how much they were paid.

* My next book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) comes out in October from Oxford University Press.

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