by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-movement

Feb 6 2013

New books in my library

Philip Ackerman-Leist.  Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems. Chelsea Green 2013.

Rebuilding the Foodshed introduces readers to local food systems in all their complexities.  In moving from industrial to regional food systems, communities must consider an enormous range of factors, from geographic to socioeconomic.  Difficult as doing this may be, this book makes it clear that the results are well worth the effort in their benefits to farmers and farm workers, as well as to eaters.   This book is on the reading list for my food advocacy class at NYU this summer.

John Ayto.  The Diner’s Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink, 2nd ed.  Oxford, 2012.

The Diner's Dictionary: Word Origins of Food and Drink

The is the second edition of a book first published in 1990, long before the food movement really got going.  You won’t find an entry for locavore.  It’s also British. You will find an entry for lobscouse: “from its name comes the term scouse ‘Liverpudlian’, which has come into wide use since the Second World War.”  I happen to adore this sort of scholarly discussion and delighted to have this book, but it may be a bit of an acquired taste.

 

Jan 10 2013

Predictions for 2013 in food politics

For my monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle, I devote the one in January every year to predictions.  Last year I got them all pretty much on target.  It didn’t take much genius to figure out that election-year politics would bring things to a standstill.  This year’s column was much harder to do, not least because the FDA was releasing blocked initiatives right up to the printing deadline.

 Q: I just looked at your 2012 crystal ball column. Your predictions were spot on. But what about 2013? Any possibility for good news in food politics?

A: Food issues are invariably controversial and anyone could see that nothing would get done about them during an election year. With the election over, the big question is whether and when the stalled actions will be released.

The Food and Drug Administration has already unblocked one pending decision. In December, it released the draft environmental assessment on genetically modified salmon – dated May 4, 2012. Here comes my first prediction:

The FDA will approve production of genetically modified salmon: Because these salmon are raised in Canada and Panama with safeguards against escape, the FDA finds they have no environmental impact on the United States. The decision is now open for public comment. Unless responses force the FDA to seek further delays, expect to see genetically modified salmon in production by the end of the year.

Pressures to label genetically modified foods will increase: If approval of the genetically modified salmon does nothing else, it will intensify efforts to push states and the FDA to require GM labeling.

Whatever Congress does with the farm bill will reflect no fundamental change in policy: Unwilling to stand up to Southern farm lobbies, Congress extended the worst parts of the 2008 farm bill until September. Don’t count on this Congress to do what’s most needed in 2013: restructure agricultural policy to promote health and sustainability.

The FDA will start the formal rule-making process for more effective food safety regulations: President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act in January 2011. Two years later, despite the FDA’s best efforts, its regulations – held up by the White House – have just been released for public comment. Lives are at stake on this one.

The FDA will issue rules for menu labels: The Affordable Care Act of 2010 required calorie information to be posted by fast-food and chain restaurants and vending machines. The FDA’s draft applied to foods served by movie theaters, lunch wagons, bowling alleys, trains and airlines, but lobbying led the FDA to propose rules that no longer covered those venues. Will its final rules at least apply to movie theaters? Fingers crossed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will delay issuing nutrition standards for competitive foods: When the USDA issued nutrition standards for school meals in January 2012, the rules elicited unexpected levels of opposition. Congress intervened and forced the tomato sauce on pizza to count as a vegetable serving. The USDA, reeling, agreed to give schools greater flexibility. Still to come are nutrition standards for snacks and sodas sold in competition with school meals. Unhappy prediction: an uproar from food companies defending their “right” to sell junk foods to kids in schools and more congressional micromanagement.

The FDA will delay revising food labels: Late in 2009, the FDA began research on the understanding of food labels and listed more relevant labels as a goal in its strategic plan for 2012-16. Although the Institute of Medicine produced two reports on how to deal with front-of-package labeling and advised the FDA to allow only four items – calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars – in such labels, food companies jumped the gun. They started using Facts Up Front labels that include “good” nutrients as well as “bad.”

Will the FDA insist on labels that actually help consumers make better choices? Will it require added sugars to be listed, define “natural” or clarify rules for whole-grain claims? I’m not holding my breath.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation will increase, but so will pressure to cut benefits: Demands on Snap – food stamps – reached record levels in 2012 and show no sign of decline. Antihunger advocates will be working hard to retain the program’s benefits, while antiobesity advocates work to transform the benefits to promote purchases of healthier foods. My dream: The groups will join forces to do both.

Sugar-sweetened beverages will continue to be the flash point for efforts to counter childhood obesity: The defeat of soda tax initiatives in Richmond and El Monte (Los Angeles County) will inspire other communities to try their own versions of soda tax and size-cap initiatives. As research increasingly links sugary drinks to poor diets and health, soda companies will find it difficult to oppose such initiatives.

Grassroots efforts will have greater impact: Because so little progress can be expected from government these days, I’m predicting bigger and noisier grassroots efforts to create systems of food production and consumption that are healthier for people and the planet. Much work needs to be done. This is the year to do it.

And a personal note: In 2013, I’m looking forward to publication of the 10th anniversary edition of “Food Politics” and, in September, my new editorial cartoon book with Rodale Press: “Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.”

Dec 4 2012

The food movement: new books

The digital age may be upon us but I see no sign that books are disappearing.  They flood in, and a great many of them are worth reading and adding to my office library.  Here are a few recent ones on various aspects of the food movement.

Michelle Obama, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, Crown, 2012.

Sometimes a garden is just a garden, but this one is a movement on its own.  As the First Lady explains:

I wanted this garden to be more than just a plot of land growing vegetables on the White House lawn.  I wanted it to be the starting point for something bigger…I was alarmed by reports of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates and the dire consequences for our children’s health.  And I hoped the garden would help begin a conversation about this issue—a conversation about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children.  

Sally Fairfax, et al.,  California Cuisine and Just Food.  MIT Press, 2012.

I wrote the foreword to this account of the development of the San Francisco Bay Area food movement, starting with:

California Cuisine and Just Food takes a deep and comprehensive look at past and present efforts to bring tastier, healthier, locally grown, and ethically produced food to San Francisco Bay Area eaters, poor as well as rich.  The story is inspiring.  The authors of this collectively written account, cautious academics as they must be, describe the development of the Bay Area food scene as a “district” rather than as a social movement.  But I have no such compunctions.  It looks like a social movement to me.  This book is about how the Bay Area food movement evolved to what it is today: a vibrant community of highly diverse groups working on highly diverse ways to produce better quality food and promote a more just, healthful, and sustainable food system—for everyone along the entire system of what it takes to produce, transport, sell, prepare, serve, and consume food.

Katherine Gustafson, Change Comes to Dinner:  How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators are Revolutionizing How America Eats, St. Martins, 2012.

I blurbed this one:

In her wildly successful cross-country search for alternatives to our industrialized food system, Katherine Gustafson comes up with a terrific new word: “hoperaking,” the gathering of inspiration (and the opposite of muckraking).  The people whose work she describes here should inspire anyone to get busy and start planting.

Robin Shulman, Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Bee Keepers, Wine Makers, and Brewers Who Built New York, Crown Publishers, 2012.

Eat the City is about the men and women who came to New York City–now and in the past–and planted gardens, harvested honey, made cheese, and brewed beer and made New York what it is today.  Robin Shulman uses their stories to bring this rich history to life and to reflect on the forces that brought immigrants and their food traditions to this city.   Not all of these stories have happy endings, but they inform, move, and inspire.

Aug 14 2012

More on growing the food movement: Harvard’s career guide

Thanks to Emily Broad Leib, Director of the Food Law and Policy Division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard for sending a link to the Center’s new Food Law and Policy Career Guide.

She sent this as a follow-up to my August 1 post providing a spreadsheet of organizations working on food, nutrition, and health issues.

This lists more than 150 food advocacy groups in order to suggest opportunities for involvement in food issues to those interested in food law and policy.

It lists organizations and agencies  in universities, government, research, and the private sector, domestic and international.  It also lists fellowship and grant opportunities and relevant food websites.

Most useful.  Thanks for this!

Aug 1 2012

Growing the food movement: lists of advocacy groups

Whenever I give a talk, someone in the audience invariably asks how to get involved in food advocacy.  My suggestion is usually to go online and look for local groups working on issues of interest or, if lucky enough to have a nearby Edible magazine, read the ads.

These are still useful starting points and I list them and others in the FAQ section on this site (questions 3 and 4).

More recently, I’ve been asked a more complicated question: Why don’t all those organizations get together?  If they did, they would form a major political force. 

Vivian Wang, an undergraduate at NYU, asked that very question after one of my talks.  She volunteered to start doing some preliminary work by attempting to identify local and national food advocacy groups.

It didn’t take her long to discover the enormity of that task. 

Nevertheless, she created spreadsheet of the groups she was able to find.  She organized her findings by the tabs at the bottom, which she named:

  • Long Lists: These are groups with websites that provide information about resources including many other advocacy groups.
  • NYC-based: Groups in New York City.  These are also given on different spreadsheets in the other categories
  • Advocacy
  • Agriculture
  • Education
  • Hunger
  • Local Food
  • Organic Food
  • Urban Farming
  • NYU-based: food and nutrition clubs at New York University

Readers: please take a look at these lists.  Feel free to use them.

How can such lists best be used to help create coalitions willing to work toward common goals? 

Suggestions are most welcome.   

Feb 14 2012

The Prince’s Speech—On the Future of Food—is now a book

I’ve just received my copy of the book based on the speech given by Prince Charles at a conference I attended in Washington DC a few months ago.

The tiny, 46-page book (published by Rodale and available online and at your local Indie) reprints the speech along with color photographs and a foreword by Wendell Berry and Afterword by Eric Schlosser.

Grist asked me some questions about it.

What sticks out to you most in this speech/book? What surprised you? What do you most hope the reader comes away with?

I attended the meeting at which Prince Charles spoke and was impressed at the time by his broad overview and understanding of the problems inherent in industrial food and the implications of those problems.  He described himself as a farmer, which was not exactly how I had imagined him.  It’s impressive that someone of his stature cares about these issues and is willing to go on record promoting a healthier food system.

Most Americans are probably not aware that Prince Charles is an organic farmer and long-term advocate of sustainable food. What do you think the ultimate value of hearing such an urgent message about the need to change our food system from him? In other words: Do you think it will have more weight/reach coming from him than say Michael Pollan or Alice Waters?

Americans in general love royalty.  Whether food movement participants care about royalty is a different matter.  I can’t imagine anyone in America having more weight than Michael Pollan and Alice Waters but it’s great to have Michelle Obama and now the Prince on our side.

On a related note, the food movement has been working to free itself of the “elitist” charges for years? How do you think inviting one of the true elite (i.e. he grew up in a working castle!) to speak about these issues impacts the discussion.

I don’t know anyone in the food movement who isn’t actively concerned and working hard to make healthy food available to everyone, rich and poor alike.  I see the food movement as an important player in efforts to reduce income inequities.  People will care whether the Prince has anything to say about this or not depending on their feelings about celebrities in general and royalty in particular.

In the book, Prince Charles says “farmers are better off using intensive methods and where consumers who would prefer to buy sustainably produced food are unable to do so because of the price. There are many producers and consumers who want to do the right thing but, as things stand, “doing the right thing” is penalized.” What, in your opinion, would it take to reverse this predicament?

This is a matter of public policy.  Our agricultural support system rewards big, intensive, and commodities like corn and soybeans.  It barely acknowledges small, sustainable, and “specialty” (translation: fruits and vegetables).  Policy is a matter of political will and can be changed.

Prince Charles also suggests that it’s time to “re-assess what has become a fundamental aspect of our entire economic model…Because we cannot possibly maintain the approach in the long-term if we continue to consume our planet as rapaciously as we are doing. Capitalism depends upon capital, but our capital ultimately depends upon the health of Nature’s capital. Whether we like it or not, the two are in fact inseparable.” What role do you think can food play in “re-assessing this economic model?

Food is such a good way to introduce people to every one of these concepts: capitalism, depletion of natural resources, and climate change, for that matter.  At NYU, we explain what food studies is about by saying that food is a lens through which to view, analyze, and work to improve the most important problems facing societies today.  I can hardly think of a social problem that is not linked to food in some way.  That’s what makes it fun to teach.  It’s also what makes the food movement so important.

Feb 6 2012

Happy 2nd Birthday Let’s Move!

On the occasion of the two-year anniversary of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, it’s time to reflect again on what the campaign means for the White House, for childhood obesity, and for the food movement.

A year later, I summarized some of the campaign’s accomplishments.  From the beginning, I’ve been impressed with its smart choice of targets: to reduce childhood obesity by improving school food and inner city access to healthy foods.

I’m reminded of the political savvy that went into the campaign by an editorial in The Nation (February 6), “America’s First Lady Blues.”  In it, Ilyse Hogue writes about Michelle Obama’s careful treading of the fine line between marital independence and submission, using Let’s Move! as an example.

Hogue praises Mrs. Obama’s choice of a target that looks “soft,” but is anything but:

In an effort to fit Michelle’s role into a traditional profile, the media constantly reminds us that her work is on presumably soft subjects, primarily her hallmark cause to end childhood obesity…Slurs aside, what critics miss is that this campaign is not aimed at soft targets.

The food and beverage industry is a powerful lobbying force, spending nearly $16.3 million in the 2008 cycle to defeat initiatives—like a “soda tax” and limits on aggressive advertising aimed at kids—that would encourage a healthier diet and thus cut into its massive profits.

To tackle childhood obesity, we’ll have to confront complicated issues of race, class, entrenched corporate power, and access to healthy food.

Indeed we will.  Childhood obesity is a focal point for issues of social justice.

Happy birthday Let’s Move!  And many more.

Dec 31 2011

Looking ahead: food politics in 2012

My monthly Food Matters (first Sunday) column in the San Francisco Chronicle takes out a crystal ball…

Q: What’s on the food politics agenda for 2012? Can we expect anything good to happen?

A: By “good,” I assume you mean actions that make our food system safer and healthier for consumers, farmers, farm workers and the planet.

Ordinarily, I am optimistic about such things. This year? Not so much. The crystal ball is cloudy, but seems to suggest:

Political leaders will avoid or postpone taking action on food issues that threaten corporate interests. Sometimes Congress acts in favor of public health, but 2012 is an election year. Expect calls for corporate freedom to take precedence over those for responsible regulations. Maybe next year.

Something will happen on the farm bill, but what? Last fall’s secret draft bill included at least some support for producing and marketing fruits and vegetables, and only minimal cuts to SNAP (food stamps). Once that process failed, Congress must now adopt that draft, start over from scratch or postpone the whole mess until after the election.

SNAP participation will increase, but so will pressure to cut benefits. With the economy depressed, wages low and unemployment high, demands on SNAP keep rising. In 2011, SNAP benefits cost $72 billion, by far the largest farm bill expenditure and a tempting target for budget cutters. While some advocates will be struggling to keep the program’s benefits intact, others will try to transform SNAP so it promotes purchases of more healthful foods. Both groups should expect strong opposition.

Childhood obesity will be the flash point for fights about limits on food marketing. The Lancet recently summarized the state of the science on successful obesity interventions: taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages, restrictions on marketing such items, traffic-light front-of-package food labels, and programs to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and television viewing. Expect the food industry to continue to get Congress to block such measures, as it did with U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition standards (hence: pizza counts as a vegetable).

The Federal Trade Commission will postpone release of nutrition standards for marketing to children. Although Congress asked for such standards in the first place – and the standards are entirely voluntary – it just inserted a section in the appropriations bill requiring a cost-benefit analysis before the FTC can release them. Why does the food industry care about voluntary restrictions? Because they might work (see previous prediction).

The Food and Drug Administration will delay issuing front-of-package labeling guidelines as long as it can. The FDA asked the Institute of Medicine for advice about such labels. The institute recommended labels listing only calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars – all nutrients to avoid. Although the institute did not mention traffic-light labels, it did recommend check marks or stars, which come close. The food industry much prefers its own method, Facts Up Front, which emphasizes “good-for-you” nutrients. It is already using this system. Will the FDA try to turn the institute recommendations into regulations? Maybe later.

The FDA will (still) be playing catch-up on food safety. The FDA got through the 2011 appropriations process with an increase of about $50 million for its inspection needs. This is better than nothing but nowhere near what it needs to carry out its food safety mandates. The FDA currently inspects less than 2 percent of imported food shipments and 5 percent of domestic production facilities. The overwhelming nature of the task requires FDA to set priorities. Small producers think these priorities are misplaced. Is the FDA going after them because they are easier targets than industrial producers whose products have been responsible for some of the more deadly outbreaks? Time will tell.

On the bright side, the food movement will gather even more momentum. While the food industry digs in to fight public health regulations, the food movement will continue to attract support from those willing to promote a healthier and more sustainable food system. Watch for more young people going into farming (see Chronicle staff writer Amanda Gold’s Dec. 25 article) and more farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, school meal initiatives, and grassroots community efforts to implement food programs and legislate local reforms. There is plenty of hope for the future in local efforts to improve school meals, reduce childhood obesity, and make healthier food more available and affordable for all.

And on a personal note: In April, University of California Press will publish my co-authored book, “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.” I’m hoping it will inspire more thinking and action on how we can change our food system to one that is better for people and the planet.

Happy new year!

 

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