by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Advocacy

Dec 2 2016

Weekend reading: Fixing the Food System

Steve Clapp.  Fixing the Food System: Changing How We Produce and Consume Food.  ABC-Clio, 2017  (but it’s out).

I wrote the Foreword to this book.  Here’s what I said:

In this welcome addition to my library of books about food policy and politics, Steve Clapp’s Fixing the Food System reviews the past and current history of calls for a national food policy, the most contentious controversies over food and nutrition issues that have impeded development of such a policy, and the work of advocates to achieve one.   As this book makes clear, this history began decades ago.

I first became aware of the importance of federal food policies in the early 1980s when I was teaching nutrition to medical students at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).  First-year students were eager to learn about nutrition, but for personal more than for professional reasons.  They wanted to know what they—and the patients whose health problems they were learning to treat—should eat.  But by the time they were residents, I could see their dietary concerns vanish under the daily demands of patient care.  Trying to advise about diets was too difficult, time-consuming, and financially unrewarding to be worth the trouble.  It seemed unreasonable to expect doctors to take the time needed to counsel individual patients about the prevention of diet-related conditions—heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and the like.  If nutritionists like me wanted to focus on disease prevention rather than treatment, we would have to advocate to change the food environment to make healthful food choices the easy choices—even better, the preferred choices.  This meant we would have to advocate for food and nutrition policies aimed at promoting public health.

In 1983, I co-authored an article with UCSF colleagues on the need for such policies.[i]  It began:

The U.S. government helps to assure an adequate food supply for Americans by sponsoring a wide variety of food, nutrition, and agricultural support programs.  These federal activities were developed in the absence of a clearly articulated national policy, a situation that has resulted in the fragmentation of government programs and their wide disbursement among numerous agencies and departments.

Our article quoted the earliest calls we could find for a national policy to address these problems.  In 1974, long before the term “food system” came into common use, the National Nutrition Consortium of four leading nutrition and food science societies[ii] argued for a national nutrition policy that would:

  • Assure an adequate, wholesome food supply, at reasonable cost, to meet the needs of all segments of the population.
  • Maintain food resources sufficient to meet emergency needs and to fulfill a responsible role as a nation in meeting world food needs.
  • Develop a level of sound public knowledge and responsible understanding of nutrition and foods that will promote maximal nutritional health.
  • Maintain a system of quality and safety control that justifies public confidence in its food supply.
  • Support research and education in foods and nutrition with adequate resources and reasoned priorities to solve important current problems and to permit exploratory basic research.

Whether offered as nutrition or food policies, these were and remain highly appropriate goals for an abundant, healthy, safe, and effective food system.

My co-authors and I went on to identify the constraints that then limited government action to achieve such goals.  Despite an emerging consensus on the basic elements of healthful diets—fruits and vegetables, balanced calories, not too much junk food (as Michael Pollan put it more recently, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”[iii])—the greatest impediment to policy development was the controversy over the science of diet and health.  As our article understated this issue,

The effect on the nation’s health of food processing and other changes in the U.S. diet is controversial.  Salt, sugar, fiber, saturated fats, alcohol, caffeine, calories, vitamins, and food additives all elicit vigorous debate.

Today, more than 30 years later, we are still arguing about that science, and the scientific arguments still impede policy development.  In Fixing the Food System, Steve Clapp brings us up to the minute on federal progress (or the lack thereof) toward achieving a clearly articulated national food policy.  He begins and ends his book with the most recent policy proposals from leading food advocates Michael Pollan, of course, but also Mark Bittman, Olivier de Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador.  Their recent suggestions for improving our current food system reflect the many changes in agricultural production and food consumption that have taken place since 1974 but retain the basic elements of those earlier proposals.  Fixing the Food System explains why a national food policy is so badly needed and matters so much.

Steve Clapp is in a unique position to comment on food policy issues.  He’s been at the policy game for a long time.  I don’t remember when I first met him but I have been reading his work since he reported for the Community Nutrition Institute’s newsletter, Nutrition Week.  For those of us outside the Beltway in those pre-Internet days, Nutrition Week was a lifeline to the ins and outs of food politics in Washington, DC.   Later, when Steve moved to Food Chemical News, also—and still—a lifeline, I continued to read his reporting.  I often ran across him at meetings and hearings in Washington, DC and found it instructive to read what he wrote about those deliberations, not least because he got it right.

I say all this because he has been a keen observer of the food politics scene in Washington for decades and I can’t think of anyone who ought to know it better.  Fixing the Food System reviews the major debates he witnessed—the Dietary Guidelines, of course, but also attempts to set policy for food safety, marketing to children, hunger in America, and humane treatment of farm animals, among others.

Over the years, he also observed the work of policy advocates, and this book includes profiles of many individuals engaged in this work, some likely to be familiar to readers, whereas others may not.  Impossible as it is for me to judge whatever impact my own writing and advocacy might have, I am honored to be included among those whose work he presents.

Fixing the Food System describes political arguments over the kind of food system we ought to have and what an ideal system should accomplish.  But it is also about the importance of personal and political advocacy for a better food policies, those aimed squarely at promoting public health and environmental sustainability.

Advocacy makes a difference.  Advocates are scoring successes in improving one after another aspect of the food system.  In comparison to the 1970s or 1980s, we now have better food in supermarkets, more organic foods, more farmers’ markets, more nutritious food in schools, and impressive declines in consumption of sugary drinks.  My personal favorite among indicators of advocacy success—the change that makes me most optimistic—is the increasing number of college students who care deeply about food issues.  They are demanding local, seasonal, organic, and sustainably produced food in their cafeterias, and campus vegetable gardens.  And they are demanding and getting food studies courses and programs like the ones we started at New York University in 1996 that teach about how food is produced and consumed and the practical and symbolic meanings of food in modern culture and societies.  Today’s students are tomorrow’s advocates for healthier and more sustainable diets for everyone, everywhere, and for fixing what needs fixing in our food systems.  This book is a great starting place for this work.

–Marion Nestle, New York, June 2016

[i] Nestle M, Lee PR, Baron RB.  Nutrition policy update.  In: Weininger J, Briggs GM, eds.  Nutrition Update, Vol. 1.  New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1983:285-313.

[ii] National Nutrition Consortium, Inc.  Guidelines for a national nutrition policy.  Nutrition Reviews 1974;32(5):1253-157.  The Consortium included the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association, and the Institute of Food Technology.

[iii] Pollan M.  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.  Penguin Press, 2008.

Oct 27 2016

Resources for food advocates

Some new resources for food system advocates have just come my way.  Use and enjoy!

  • Food Tank and the James Beard Foundation have issued their third annual Good Food Guide, a searchable guide to 1,000 food nonprofit advocacy organizations.  You can download the guide here.
  • Healthy Food America offers a Sugar Overload Calculator.  This is a mini-game that kids (or adults) can play to guess the sugars in commonly consumed foods.  Most will surprise.  Some will be a big surprise.
  • Healthy Food America also has Maps of the Movement, illustrating where soda tax initiatives are underway in the United States.   Can’t wait to see how they do on November 8.
  • The World Cancer Research Fund International’s NOURISHING framework is a terrific introduction to policy approaches to promoting healthy diets and reducing obesity.
  • The Fund also has a useful graphic about the importance of policy approaches to obesity.  I ran across it on Twitter: 

capture

 

 

Jul 29 2016

Brazil’s food revolution is working!

Bridget Huber of The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has produced a don’t-miss” article in The Nation: “Welcome to Brazil, where a food revolution Is changing the way people eat: How the country challenged the junk-food industry and became a global leader in the battle against obesity.”

As she explains, Latin America is leading worldwide opposition to food industry marketing, and much is happening in Brazil.

She writes about the advocacy work of Carlos Monteiro, Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paolo, who says:

The local food system is being replaced by a food system that is controlled by transnational corporations…this dietary deterioration doesn’t just harm bodily health but also the environment, local economies, and Brazil’s rich food traditions. We are seeing a battle for the consumer.

She further explains:

Over the last 30 years, big transnational food companies have aggressively expanded into Latin America. Taking advantage of economic reforms that opened markets, they’ve courted a consumer class that has grown in size due to generally increasing prosperity and to antipoverty efforts like minimum-wage increases and cash transfers for poor families. And as sales of highly processed foods and drinks have plateaued (and even fallen, in the case of soda) in the United States and other rich countries, Latin America has become a key market…In recent years, Brazil has inscribed the right to food in its Constitution and reformed its federal school-lunch program to broaden its reach while bolstering local farms.

And in 2014, the Ministry of Health released new dietary guidelines that made healthy-food advocates across the world swoon [I did a post on them when they were released].  Monteiro helped lead the team that wrote them; the guidelines transcend a traditional nutrition-science frame to consider the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of what people eat. They also focus on the pleasure that comes from cooking and sharing meals and frankly address the connections between what we eat and the environment.

Huber’s investigative report is long and detailed, and well worth the read.

And it comes with a great graphic comparing the situation in Brazil with that of the U.S. (this is just an excerpt):

Those of us advocating for food systems that are healthier for people and the planet have much to learn from our colleagues in the South.

Jul 27 2016

Plate of the Union goes Presidential

Food Policy Action wants presidential candidates to talk about food issues.  Its Plate of the Union campaign says:

Our food system is out of balance, and it’s time to take action.  Current food policies prioritize corporate interests at the expense of our health, the environment, and working families. This has led to spikes in obesity and type-2 diabetes, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. If you are elected president, I urge you to take bold steps to reform our food system to make sure every American has equal access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to workers, good for the environment, and keeps farmers on the land.

Here’s what the campaign is doing, courtesy of today’s New York Times:

In an e-mailed press release (which I can’t find online), Food Policy Action says:

Plate of the Union leaders Tom Colicchio, Ricardo Salvador and Navina Khanna spoke with Congressional members and staff, delegates and other convention-goers about commonsense steps the next president can take to change the status quo of the nation’s food policy, which currently prioritizes corporate interests at the expense of food and farm workers, and which is making Americans increasingly sick.

“When elected leaders talk about creating good jobs and boosting the economy, they absolutely have to consider food and farm policies,” said Navina Khanna, director of HEAL Food Alliance. “Six of the eight worst-paying jobs in America are in the food system. Our current food system was designed to benefit a few corporations at the expense of working families. That’s got to change.”

If you agree, sign the Plate of the Union petition on its site.
And just for fun, Politico Morning Agriculture’s Jenny Hopkinson provides this souvenir from the Democratic convention.
Apr 5 2016

Berkeley vs. Big Soda: The Video

Watch the Ecology Center’s video: Berkeley vs. Big Soda, and learn how Berkeley voters won a soda tax.

The blurb says “This tells the story of how a community stood up for children’s health against one of the world’s most powerful industries – and won.   See: www.BerkeleyVsBigSoda.com.”

Yes you can do this at home.  Do it in your town!

 

Jul 18 2013

The Mayors’ Forum: History in the Making

Last night’s forum with six candidates for Mayor of New York surely marks the first time that political candidates have had to grapple publicly with food issues—those of greatest concern to members of the 12 co-host organizations and 76 supporting organizations involved in planning this event.

The issues:

  • Ending hunger and food insecurity
  • Improving the wages and conditions of food industry workers
  • Getting city food agencies to be more responsive to public concerns
  • Improving access to healthy foods among low-income residents
  • Expanding participation in school meal programs and improving the quality of school food
  • Taking action to reduce the health consequences of obesity among city residents
  • Using the city’s vast purchasing power to support regional agriculture and the food economy
  • Integrating the Hunts Point Produce Market into the regional food economy
  • Promoting use of city land for urban farming

The candidates made it clear that they had thought about these questions and had come prepared to answer them.

The take home lesson: New York City’s food movement is strong enough to make city candidates sit up, listen and take food issues seriously.

The agenda is clear: maintain the momentum and hold the next mayor accountable.

For a recap:

The candidates who appeared:

  • Sal Albanese – @SalAlbanese2013
  • Bill de Blasio – @deBlasioNYC
  • John Catsimatidis – @JCats2013
  • John Liu – @JohnLiu2013
  • Christine Quinn – @Quinn4NY
  • Anthony Weiner – @AnthonyWeiner

 

New Picture (7)

One of the co-host organizations, the Food Systems Network of NYC, puts the agenda in a slightly different way, in its “Recipe for the Future of Food“:

  1. A New Public Partnership for Food (a City of New York Department of Food and an Independent New York City Food Systems Council)
  2. Better Health and an End to Hunger
  3. A Strong Food Economy with Good Jobs
  4. Support for Regional Agriculture through Smart Procurement and Protection of Working Land and Water Resources
  5. New Farm-to-Plate Distribution Infrastructure
  6. Better Food Waste Reduction and Nutrient Recovery

There’s plenty to do.  Do it!

Addition:  The account in the Wall Street Journal.

Jul 5 2011

Resources for advocacy: school food and ag policy

My San Francisco Chronicle column on food advocacy includes a severely edited list of organizations working on food issues, particularly school food and the farm bill.   I thought the entire list might be useful.

Note that information about how to contact government officials appears at the end.

I consider this list preliminary.  Please use the Comments to add to it.  And pass it along, use, and enjoy!

Organization Advocacy resources
General
Edible Communities ~60 Edible magazines throughout U.S.  Useful for identifying local food resources
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Advocacy and lobbying for a broad range of food and nutrition issues, school food among them.
Slow Food USA Promotes policies favoring slow, as opposed to fast, food
Strategic Alliance for Healthy Food and Activity Environments Promotes policies to improve corporate and government practices that affect food and activity environments in California
Community Food Security Coalition More than 300 organizations working to build sustainable, self-reliant, local and regional food systems, and promote a healthier farm bill.
School Food
Background legislation 

 

 

The Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 

Proposed nutrition standards for school meals

USDA programs Team Nutrition: supports child nutrition programs through training 

Chefs Move to Schools: partners chefs with schools

Public Health Advocacy Institute Promotes use of the legal system to improve school food
National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) Lobbies for federal policies and programs to improve school food and activity environments (a project of CSPI)
Public Health Law & Policy  

 

Offers a policy package with goals and actions for school wellness policies, and a fact sheet on the schools section of its website
National Farm to School Network Promotes connecting farm produce to schools
California ProjectLEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) Helps develop school wellness policies and healthier food and activity environments (a joint project of the California Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute)
CANFIT (Communities, Adolescents, Nutrition, Fitness) Community-based initiatives to improve diet and fitness among low-income, minority adolescents
Center For Ecoliteracy Rethinking School Lunch Guide shows how to incorporate ecological understanding into school meals
School Food Focus Focus: Food Options for Children in Urban Areas
One Tray More direct connection between local farms and school meal programs
Better School Food Community-based connection of school food to health
Cook For America Culinary training to support healthy school lunches cooked from scratch
The Lunch Box Online toolkit with information about healthy lunch options
Let’s Move Salad Bars to School Supports salad bars in schools
Project Lunch Improves Marin County school lunch program
Nourish Life Food and sustainability in schools and communities
PEACHSF How-to guides and resources
Farm Bill
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Public policies for food and farming 

 

Food and Water Watch Bring agricultural policy in line with health and environmental policy
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Promotes healthier and more sustainable systems for small- and medium-size farms, farming opportunities, fair competition
Organic Trade Association (OTA) Supports organic food production, large and small
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) Protect and expand food assistance programs 

 

Environmental Working Group Exposes inequities in food subsidies; provides data on who gets what
PolicyLink Working to get Healthy Food Financing Initiative into the Farm Bill

 

How to contact federal and state government officials

The White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

Members of Congress http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt

State officials: http://www.congress.org/legislative_protocol

Local media: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/

 

Jul 3 2011

Food Matters: How to shape policy: Advocate! Vote!

My monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about how you as an individual can influence food policy:

Q: I know you say “vote with your fork,” and I do, as often as possible, but it seems so small a gesture. In what other ways can we, as consumers, speak out or act to change our food system?

A: Vote with your fork and vote with your vote. Today’s food movement gives you plenty of opportunity to do both.

Voting with your fork means buying and eating according to what you believe is right, at least to the extent you can.

When you vote this way, you support farmers, processors, retailers and restaurant chefs who are working to create a food system that is healthier all around – for the public, farmworkers, farm animals and the planet.

You set an example. You help make it socially acceptable to care about food issues. You make it easier for others to shop at farmers’ markets, join CSAs, grow food at home, stop buying junk food and teach kids to cook.

Part of taking personal responsibility for food choices also means taking social responsibility. When you act, you make it easier for everyone else to do what you do. And yes, one person makes a difference.

My favorite current example is the work of an NYU graduate student, Daniel Bowman Simon, who researches – and advocates for – public policies to promote growing vegetables.

By chance, a food stamp (SNAP) recipient told him that she used the funds to buy plants and seeds to grow her own food. Could this be possible?

Simon found the 1973 food stamp legislation and read the fine print. There it was. He joined others and formed a group to publicize this benefit (see www.snapgardens.org).

Today, SNAP recipients throughout the country are encouraged to grow food – not bad for what one person can do.

I particularly like school food as a starter issue for advocacy. Improving school food is nothing less than grassroots democracy in action.

Schools matter because kids are in them all day long and they set a lifetime example. If you have children in school, take a look at what they are eating. Could the food use an upgrade? Start organizing.

All schools are supposed to have wellness policies. Find out what they are and talk to the principal, teachers and parents about how to improve access to healthier food and more physical activity.

Another well-kept secret: The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers technical assistance to help schools meet nutritional standards. The USDA encourages advocacy. It says its work is easier when parents push the schools to do better.

Many groups are devoted to school food issues. Some have published guides to getting started or developing strong wellness policies. They range in focus from hands-on local to national policy.

Other groups are gearing up to advocate for changes in one or another provision of the Farm Bill, now up for renewal in 2012. This legislation governs everything having to do with agricultural policy in the United States – farm subsidies, food assistance programs, conservation, water rights and organic production, among others.

In this era of budget cutting, every stakeholder in this legislation – and this also means everyone interested in creating a healthier food system – will be lobbying fiercely to defend existing benefits and to obtain a larger share of what’s available. Let legislators hear your voice.

And now is an excellent time to identify candidates for office who share your views and are willing to fight hard for them.

The ability for individuals, acting singly and together, to exercise democratic rights as citizens holds much hope for achieving a more equitable balance of power in matters pertaining to food and health.

Join the food movement. Use the system to work for what you think is right. Act alone or join others. You will make a difference.

Resources

The following are among the many groups advocating for healthier school food or farm policies [I submitted a much longer list but it got edited out.  I will post the rest of it in the next day or two].

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Community Food Security Coalition

Environmental Working Group

Food and Water Watch

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

E-mail Marion Nestle at food@sfchronicle.com.

E-mail questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

This article appeared on page H – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

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