by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fruits-and-vegetables

Jul 13 2015

Nuclear negotiations with Iran: the food politics

My dear friend, the food writer, cookbook author, and restaurant consultant Joyce Goldstein, is also a careful analyst of today’s global political scene.

She points out that the New York Times account (exceptionally clear, by the way) of the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran suggests one reason why they are going on endlessly:

To sustain itself during its marathon meetings, the United States negotiating team has since the beginning of June consumed at least 10 pounds of Twizzlers, 30 pounds of mixed nuts and dried fruit, 20 pounds of string cheese and more than 200 Rice Krispie Treats, according to its informal count.

Fruits and vegetables anyone?

Let’s join in a chorus of “Give Peas a Chance.”

May 26 2015

Q and A: Should we eat vegetables from parched California?

Q.  Marion, have you seen the NY Times article? It is about how what we eat is contributing to the CA drought. Leaves me confused. If we don’t eat these foods, the farmers will go out of business and that state will suffer. Also, it is mostly fruits, nuts and veggies mentioned. Any thoughts???        –Julie Kumar

A.  The story, in case you missed it, is summarized by its headline: “The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state.

New Picture

The Times also says:

Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.

What to say about this?

California has a good climate for growing vegetables year-round.  What it does not have is rain.  Even in non-drought years, the rainy season is short.  California gets virtually no rain in summers when the vegetable-growing Central Valley is at its hottest.

Nevertheless, the powers that be decided long ago that money was to be made diverting water from the Sierras to promote the growth of cities (see, for example, Chinatown and any number of documentary films)—and to irrigate California farmland.

The current drought brings the greed and lack of foresight in these decisions to public attention.  California farmers have now agreed to cuts in their water allotments, but that still leaves proponents of sustainable agriculture with the dilemma described by Julie’s question:

Does it make ethical or moral sense to boycott California vegetables, nuts, and fruits as a means to encourage producers to move their businesses to wetter locations?

In the long term, it might.  I keep thinking of Iowa, which used to be the major producer of specialty crops, but which now produces corn and soybeans under industrial conditions that are ruining municipal water supplies with nitrates from their runoffs.

We need to develop agricultural policies that promote sustainable production methods and take water use, climate change, and other such matters into serious consideration.

In the meantime, you are on your own to figure out your personal method for helping California with its water problems and for encouraging such policies as quickly as possible.

California’s water problems, by the way, are anything but new.   It’s worth digging up the 1949 study by Carey McWilliams, who edited The Nation for 20 years.  His book, no surprise, focuses on the politics.

Cover art

Or if you prefer a more historical approach, there’s this one from University of California Press in 2001.

Cover art

Where I live, it’s suddenly summer and time for putting in tomatoes.

Mar 27 2015

Weekend reading: Fruits of Eden

Amanda Harris.  Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and America’s Plant Hunters.  University Press of Florida, 2015.

I blurbed this one:

If you have ever wondered how navel oranges, figs, avocados, dates, and other such foods came to be grown in America, here’s the answer: plant explorers.  Amanda Harris tells the stories of adventurers sent out to search the world for delicious foods.  Fruits of Eden is a welcome history of these little-known plant experts who succeeded in improving the diversity and deliciousness of our daily fare.



Mar 2 2015

Brand FNV (Fruits and Vegetables): Worth a Try?

In 2013, Michael Moss wrote a long and highly entertaining piece for the New York Times Magazine about putting the advertising firm Victor & Spoils to work on making up a campaign to sell, of all things—broccoli.

The theory: marketing sells junk food so why not fruits and vegetables?

At last week’s meeting of the Partnership for a Healthier America (the industry support group for Let’s Move!), First Lady Michelle Obama announced that Victor & Spoils had created a for-real campaign to sell fruits and vegetables to moms and teens.

Meet brand FNV.

And don’t miss the video.

Some people who attended the meeting found this on apples in their hotel rooms (thanks to Marie Bragg for sending).

FNV apple marketing


The produce industry considers this campaign to have “monumental implications” for its sales.

In other words, it is expected to work.

I’ve written about such campaigns in 2010 and in 2013.

As I said in 2013:

Marketing is not education.

Education is about imparting knowledge and promoting wisdom and critical thinking.

Marketing is about creating demand for a product.

But such campaigns clearly work.  The 5-A-Day for Better Health campaign in the early 1990s increased F&V consumption—for as long as it lasted.

Although this campaign raises the usual questions about marketing vs. education, and what happens when the funding runs out, it’s not aimed at young children.

I’m wishing it the very best of success.

Jun 25 2014

NYC’s Green Cart initiative achieves its goals, say Columbia U. researchers

Columbia University researchers have issued an evaluation of New York City’s Green Cart Initiative, which puts street vendors selling fruits and vegetables into low-income areas.

The initiative has three purposes: to change the NYC food landscape, to expand economic opportunity for vendors, and to promote healthier eating for low-income residents.

The Green Carts Evaluation reports much success on all fronts.

  • Green carts are on the streets
  • 80% of vendors say they are making a living.
  • 71% of customers say they are eating more fruits and vegetables.

According to the press release, “Columbia SIPA researchers also find Green Carts are creating economically viable small business opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs, recognize important role of philanthropy in promoting and supporting innovative public policy.”

This last refers to the funder, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

The report also identifies what it calls “opportunities to enhance the program” (translation: things that are not working so well):

  • Green Carts are not distributed evenly throughout all high-need targeted areas.
  • Green Carts are located close to public housing in only one borough.
  • There is an inadequate tracking system for where Green Carts are or how many are on the streets.

Still, it looks like the program is working out according to plan.

This is a pleasant surprise.  I’ve been dubious about the program, mainly because every time I forget and buy berries at one of those carts, they turn out to be moldy.

Correction and apology, June 26: Thanks to Karen Karp for pointing out that the street vendors from whom I bought moldy berries could not possibly have been part of the Green Cart Initiative.  Green Carts, she points out, are

  • Distinguished by an iconic umbrella.
  • Only permitted in certain areas of the city–low-income, “food desert,” high diet related disease.  In Manhattan, that means North of 97th street on the East side, and 110th street on the West.

I bought berries from carts South of 14th street.

Green cart vendors: I apologize.  Please accept and forgive.

Mar 10 2014

The farm bill promotes fruits and vegetables? Really?

I was surprised to read in yesterday’s New York Times that the farm bill was full of goodies for fruits, vegetables, and organics.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

I took a quick look at the cost accounting.  Giving these program listings the benefit of the doubt:

  Assistance for community food projects     36
  Food insecurity nutrition incentive   100
  Pilot for canned, frozen fruits, vegetables       5
  Research and extension   100
  Specialty crop research   745
  Beginning farmer development   100
  Foundation for Food and Ag Research   200
  Farmers market, local food promotion   150
  Organic ag and tech upgrade     10
  Organic product promotion order     61
  Plant pest and disease management   193
  Specialty crop block grants   270
  Outreach to socially disadvantaged producers     50


Even stretching the items like this, it’s $2 billion over ten years, not 3.   $2 billion is good; $3 would be better.

What am I missing here?

This morning, Politico Pro Agriculture summarized what states are doing to promote local food production:

Arizona: HB 2233 would create a task force to develop recommendations for how the state can improve the quality and nutrition of food sold in state facilities, including suggestions for promoting locally grown food:

Hawaii: HB 1184 seeks to set a state-wide food sustainability standard to be achieved by 2025 that would increase the availability of locally grown and produced foods to reduce the state’s reliance on imports. The standard would be set at a level double the cash farm receipts that are produced in 2015:

HR 82 and its senate companion SCR 6 calls on the state departments of agriculture and education to develop a farm-to-school program that would provide locally grown produce to public school salad bars:

SB 524 similarly seeks to create an agricultural development and food security program under an existing economic development statute that would seek to increase demand for and access to locally grow foods through promotional campaigns and improving infrastructure, among other things:

Iowa: H2426 seeks to promote small farmers through a new financial assistance program, a marketing program, a revolving grant program and a property tax exemption for farmers who sell their products to state facilities or schools. The measure also calls for state facilities, when cost effective, to purchase from local farmers:

Kansas: SB 380 aims to create a local food and farm task force to develop funding and policy recommendations for supporting and expanding local food production. The task force would be required to issue a report to the legislature by the beginning of the 2016 legislative session:

New Jersey: SR 44 calls on state and local government entities to purchase locally made food and products:

Michigan: HB 4487 would amend an economic development statute to include the creation and funding of programs to promote local agriculture:

Mississippi: HB 1556 would provide a state income tax credit to grocers that amounts to 25 percent of the cost of purchasing locally grown and produced products starting in 2014:

Missouri: HB 2088 would create a “Farm-to-School Program” within the department of agriculture to help facilitate the use of locally grown produce in school meal programs through a website and database that would link farmers and schools. The bill, which was introduced March 5, sets up a task force that is charged with developing recommendations for the program:

New Jersey: SR 44 calls on state and local government entities to purchase locally made food and products:

Rhode Island: H7494 would create a task force for developing recommendations on how to improve the nutrition of food sold at state facilities, including promoting locally grown products:

Lest we forget, the Center for Responsive Politics produced these statistics on farm bill lobbying:

  • 325. Number of companies and organizations registered as lobbyists in 2013 to work on the Senate’s farm bill through the end of October 2013 — the fifth-most of any legislation
  • 111.5 million.  Amount “agribusiness” spent on lobbying in the same period, more than even the defense industry and labor unions.
  • 93 million.  Amount companies and individuals in agriculture made about in campaign donations during the 2012 presidential campaign.

If we want the next farm bill to promote fruits and vegetables (a.k.a. specialty crops), we need to start working on it right now.

Jan 24 2014

A commentary on Subway’s “pile on the veggies”

A reader sent me this commentary on yesterday’s post, source unknown.

If you know who created this, please send.

Enjoy the weekend!

Jan 23 2014

Let’s Move!’s latest move: Subway will “Pile on the Veggies”

This morning, Subway is announcing that as part of its commitment to Let’s Move!’s efforts to reverse childhood obesity, the chain will put $41 million into encouraging kids to “pile on the veggies.”

Subway says it will:

  • Run a fun campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Set nutrition standards for marketing to kids.
  • Strengthen its “already nutritious” children’s menu.
  • Put signs on doors that say “Playtime powered by veggies.”
  • Do a video collaboration with Disney’s Muppets to encourage piling on the veggies.
  • Provide kids’ meals with lowfat or nonfat milk or water as the default.

I could, but won’t, nitpick over the nutrition standards.  Let’s just say they are a start.

But I love it that Subway is focusing on foods—veggies, apples, and no sodas unless parents specifically order them.

And I think “pile on the veggies” is one terrific slogan.

I will be keeping an eye out for those signs on Subway’s doors and the other ways the chain says it will promote healthier meals for kids.  I didn’t see anything about when all this starts, but I hope it’s soon.

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