by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-movement

Oct 11 2016

Do we have a food movement? The New York Times food issue

The New York Time published its annual food issue on Sunday, this one with the theme, “Can Big Food Change?”

In the circles in which I travel, Michael Pollan’s “Big food strikes back: Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture?” caused the biggest stir.  Here’s what set people off:

On “Outlobbied and Outgunned:”  The word I’ve been using to describe food industry lobbying against Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign is ferocious.

I’ve always thought that Mrs. Obama must have picked the goal of Let’s Move!—“Ending childhood obesity in a generation“—as a safe, bipartisan issue that Republicans and Democrats could all get behind.  Doesn’t everyone want kids to be healthy?

I can’t imagine that she could have predicted how controversial matters like healthy school lunches or nutrition standards for food advertising to kids would become.

Whatever.  The food industry’s response to everything Let’s Move! tried to do was ferocious.

Despite all that, as I’ve said, Let’s Move! managed to accomplish some important gains: healthier school meals, more informative food and menu labels, the White House garden, and—most important—getting food issues on the national agenda.

On “the food movement barely exists:” I once taught a course on food as a social movement with Troy Duster, a sociologist then at NYU, who had much experience teaching about social movements.

He made one point repeatedly: those who are in the middle of a social movement cannot possibly judge its effectiveness.  You can only know when a movement has succeeded or failed when it is over.

This one is not over yet.

This movement, fragmented in issues and groups as it most definitely is, may not have clout in Washington, DC, but it is having an enormous effect on supermarkets, food product manufacturers, fast food chains, the producers of meat, eggs, and poultry, and young people in this country.

How else to explain:

  • The vast improvement in the quality of foods sold in supermarkets
  • The rush of food product makers to remove artificial colors, flavors, trans-fats. and other potentially harmful food additives, including sugars and salt
  • The insistence of fast food chains on sourcing meat from animals raised without hormones or antibiotics
  • The actions of meat, egg, and poultry producers to care for their animals more humanely
  • Soda tax initiatives in so many cities

And my personal favorite,

  • The enormous numbers of college students clamoring for courses about food systems and the role of food in matters as diverse as global resource inequities and climate change.

As Troy Duster kept telling us, it’s not over until it’s over.

While waiting for enlightenment, let’s celebrate the proliferation of food organizations.  They are all working on important issues and doing plenty of good.

And yes, let’s encourage all of them to move beyond the local, engage in national politics, and put some pressure on Washington to come up with better food policies.

Here are the other articles in the magazine, all of them well worth reading.

Apr 25 2016

Has Mars joined the food movement?

Mars, the very same company that has been trying for years to position chocolate as a health food, appears to be joining the food movement, and big time.

Take a look at its GMO disclosure statement on the back of this package of M&Ms.


If it’s too small to read, the statement is in between MARS and the green Facts Up Front labels)



And this is before Vermont’s GMO labeling rules come into effect in July.

Mars also has come out in support of the FDA’s proposals on voluntary sodium reduction.  The company explains that through its “new global Health and Wellbeing Ambition,

Mars Food will help consumers differentiate and choose between “everyday” and “occasional” options. To maintain the authentic nature of the recipe, some Mars Food products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat. As these products are not intended to be eaten daily, Mars Food will provide guidance to consumers on-pack and on its website regarding how often these meal offerings should be consumed within a balanced diet. The Mars Food website will be updated within the next few months with a list of “occasional” products – those to be enjoyed once per week – and a list of “everyday” products – including those to be reformulated over the next five years to reduce sodium, sugar, or fat.

Last year, the company supported the FDA’s proposal to require added sugars labeling with a Daily Value percentage on the Nutrition Facts panel.

It also said it would stop using artificial dyes in its candies.

How to interpret these actions?  I’m guessing they mean that the movement for good, clean, fair food has gained enough traction to put long-established food brands on notice: make your products healthier for people and the environment, or else.

Feb 15 2016

The food movement, Australia

My daily walk to the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney Uni takes me past Ground Up—the campus community garden.


It has a greenhouse.  And vegetables.


It’s summer here!

May 22 2015

Weekend reading: Organic Struggle

Brian K. Obach.  Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States.  MIT Press, 2015.

Here’s my blurb:

Brian Obach has written an important book for everyone who produces, buys, or considers buying organically produced foods.  This is a well-researched and utterly riveting history of the issues that unite and divide organic farmers and consumers, firmly grounded in the political context of classic social movements.   If you want to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, you must read this book.

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.

2015-05-03 11.02.54

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..

2015-05-02 13.03.17

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

2015-05-03 10.57.16

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.

Jan 8 2015

Food politics, Indonesian style

Food Politics is back from vacation in Indonesia where its president, Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) made this announcement:


His program particularly aims to support rice production, but also corn, soybeans, and sugar, all of which are currently imported.

Much Indonesian rice is still produced on small terraced farms, like this one on Bali.


The government plans to distribute hand tractors and seeds to thousands of farmers across the various islands.

The Jakarta Post also ran a long story about a program promoting organic farming and seed-saving methods, particularly for rice.  Rice productivity has been falling as a result of over-fertilization and exhausted soils.

The food movement seems alive and well in Indonesia.  It has Slow Food chapters and Bali Buda restaurants (“real food by real people”) are multiplying.  Interest is starting early.


This will  be fun to watch.

Dec 8 2014

Sugary drink advocacy, Mexican style

The creatively active Mexican advocacy group, El Poder del Consumidor, launched a new video take-off on Coca-Cola ads—“Haz feliz a alguien” (“Make someone happy”)—with a demonstration on Mexico City’s Zocalo in front of the National Cathedral.



They sent along a translation of the video:

What would make you happy this Christmas?

That my dad were here with us.

PLAY SPORTS/EXERCISE (posted at the bottom of the screen to mimic Coke ads here)

That my mom could see her grandson.


That my dad could play soccer with me.


Make someone happy this Christmas.

50,000 people in Mexico are blind because of diabetes.

Someone’s limb is amputated every 7 minutes because of diabetes.

In Mexico, 66 people die each day from drinking sugary drinks.

Make someone happy.

Share this video and remove soda from your table.

Oct 27 2014

Yes, food is worth serious study.

Yesterday, the New York Times Magazine carried this advertisement:


It’s from the University of California’s new Global Food Initiative: “Helping the world feed itself sufficiently and nutritionally—that’s the power of public.”

I’m proud to be a graduate of UC Berkeley, a public university that provided me with an education—from undergraduate through doctoral—that was, at the time, at a cost low enough so I could take advantage of it.

If Food Studies had existed when I was a student there, I would have enrolled in it immediately.  Instead, I had to wait until we could invent it at NYU in 1996.

But how wonderful that the UC system is using the Global Food Initiative to advertise the power of a public education.

And how wonderful that food education is respectable enough to be advertised in the New York Times.

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