by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fruits-and-vegetables

Apr 7 2016

Sponsored research: raspberries this time

This morning, I received a query from a scientist:

I have been following your documentation of industry-funded research on health benefits. I’ve been thinking about this issue from the perspective of fruits and vegetables. We know that they are good in general, but how does one fund research to demonstrate that clinically? In particular, how does one get specific about the form and amount that his helpful for specific health benefits?  You may be interested in this press release from the raspberry industry telling about the papers at the Society for Experimental Biology meetings that are relevant to the health benefits of eating raspberries. This seems to be approaching what a good model might look like. I’m interested in your perspective. Furthermore, are the results relevant to nutritionists?

Here’s how I answered it:

Thanks for sending.  I guess my question would be something along the lines of why getting specific about form and amount of specific fruits and vegetables is important for public health.  People don’t eat just raspberries.  They put them in cereal or on desserts.  Raspberries are expensive.  Wealthy, educated and, therefore, healthy people are likely to consume them.  So this looks like marketing research to me—selling raspberries as a superfood.  If you think there is a special benefit to raspberries and that it would be good to quantify it, the best strategy would be to get the research funded by an independent agency.  Otherwise, it’s clearly marketing research (hence the press release).   At least that’s how I see it.

This, of course, gets us back to the question of sponsored research which, as my collection of sponsored studies has shown, almost inevitably produce results favorable to the sponsor.  I love raspberries and don’t doubt for a minute that they are healthy, but a superfood?  I don’t think so.

I’m still working on the descriptive analysis of the year’s collection of sponsored studies.  I will also be giving more thought to such questions, so send them along.

Feb 16 2016

Encouraging healthy kids’ eating, Woolworths Australia

Thanks to Sinead Boylan for sending me this photo about Woolworths’ attempt to encourage kids to eat fruit.

IMG_1419

 

Wouldn’t you think everyone would be thrilled at the idea of giving free fruit to kids?  No such luck.

Sinaed asks: Is W00lies (which is what they call it) trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

The Australian press worries about foodborne illness.

I think it’s a great idea.  I hope it works.

Jan 30 2016

Weekend Reading: From Farm to Canal Street

Valerie Inbruce.  From Farm to Canal Street: Chinatown’s Alternative Food Network in the Global Marketplace.  Cornell University Press, 2015.

I live in downtown Manhattan, love to wander through the open-air food markets in Chinatown, and have always wondered how the extraordinarily fresh and exotic vegetables and fruits get there.  Who grows them, and where?

The answers: supply chains based on family connections (of course), in Florida, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Inbruce views the supply chains as an alternative to industrial food systems, one that provides vegetables of outstanding quality at low cost, while supporting small farmers.

Instructors of courses in food systems: this book belongs in your syllabus.  It is essential reading for anyone interested in who produces food for urban areas and how it gets into cities.

 

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.

Page 1 of 612345...Last »