by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Processing

Aug 25 2014

More money in food: USDA’s food dollar

While I’m thinking about the role of money in food, take a look at USDA’s new food dollar series.

Farm and agribusiness get 11.8 cents on the dollar.

The real money is in adding value through processing (18.6 cents) and food service (33.7 cents).

When farmers complain that it’s hard to make a living, they aren’t kidding.

Screenshot 2014-08-20 09.50.54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 13 2014

Sales of packaged, processed foods are declining: Three reasons why

Everybody agrees that the packaged food industry isn’t selling as much as it used to.  Here are three explanations for this trend.

1.  The packaging: The Wall Street Journal says it’s all about the old-style packaging that makes foods seem unnatural.  Clear packaging works better for sales.

2.  More sophisticated consumers: The Hartman Group research and consulting firm has a new report analyzing this trend: “Recipe for Growth in Packaged Foods:”

The biggest long-term challenge facing the U.S. food industry is that taste preferences are changing. This is most apparent among highly urbane and educated consumers, where the arbitrary boundaries of “too sweet” and “too fatty” are altering in ways inimical to the core food science paradigm of the U.S. food and beverage industry.

The U.S. food industry routinely serves crude flavor profiles associated with the unsophisticated farm cuisine of Middle America: heavy on salt, dairy and animal fat and, in the past half century, sugar…For years, there was growing demand for these flavors in all sorts of foods, primarily because U.S. preferences were not changing.

Now they are. The increasing multiculturalism of the U.S. population plus the globally well-traveled, savvy upper-middle class have created a large population of consumers intentionally seeking complex flavor profiles imported from much more sophisticated food cultures.

3.  Not enough corporate social responsibility: Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign achieved two coups in the last week or so.  First General Mills and now Kellogg have signed on to its Climate Declaration which commits them to reducing greenhouse gases produced in their processing chains.  Oxfam organized more than 200,000 signatures on a petition—and produced a report, Standing on the Sidelines—to induce these companies to pay more attention to their effects on climate change.

Food advocacy is making headway.  Keep at it!

May 24 2013

Weekend viewing: A food politics story for kids—Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory

I’ve been waiting for the weekend to write about the kids’ story by Bettina Elias Siegel, the school food advocate who writes The Lunch Tray blog  (and who put “pink slime” on the map).

Her video story—in rhyme yet—is titled Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory: A Tale of Processed Food and is worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch it (try it out on your kids!).

I wondered about the back story: how did she come to write it, who did the illustrations, how did she put it together?    Fortunately, Dana Woldow, also a long time food advocate, has just posted an interview with Ms. Siegel on just those points (the interview starts about half way down the post).  Ms. Siegel says:

If kids could see more clearly how the processed food, fast food and soda industries are earning profits at the expense of their health, I do think they might grow resistant to those industries’ marketing tactics. That was the idea behind Mr. Zee and his apples.

The interview explains the details of how the story got written, illustrated, and posted.

Ms. Woldow’s column concludes:

Of course, not everyone has the equipment, the confidence, or the patience to make their own video, but anyone can use social media. Watch Bettina’s video (with your children, if you have any), and if you like it, share it with your friends. It won’t undo all the marketing that Big Food does to kids, but it’s a start.

Try it out on your kids.  What do they think of it?

May 25 2012

Memorial Day Weekend reading: food biography

A couple of books, just in.  Happy reading!

Kurlansky, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Doubleday, 2012.

Kurlansky is the author of several distinguished books, notably Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, and Salt: A World History.  Here, he takes up the story of Clarence Birdseye, the man who invented and gave his name to frozen vegetables.  Anything that Kurlansky writes is worth reading, and Birdseye—an multitasking explorer, trapper, and inventor—is worth writing about.  The book is illustrated with Birdseye’s patent drawings.

Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, 2012.

I thought McNamee’s previous biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, was a great read, wonderfully gossipy and entertaining.   Like so many others, I learned to cook from Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook.  In 1980, I met Claiborne while doing a segment of an Over Easy program on San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.   Claiborne has recently had some health problems, had been told to eat better and lose some weight, and had just published Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet with Pierre Franey (with an introduction to principles of healthy eating by Jane Brody).  He cooked lemon chicken.  I commented on how healthy it was.  Claiborne was a fascinating character and McNamee’s account makes me wish I’d been part of the New York food scene back then.

Mar 7 2012

U.N. Special Rapporteur: Five Ways to Fix Unhealthy Diets

Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has issued five recommendations for fixing diets and food systems:

  • Tax unhealthy products.
  • Regulate foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.
  • Crack down on junk food advertising.
  • Overhaul misguided agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper than others.
  • Support local food production so that consumers have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods.

De Schutter explains:

One in seven people globally are undernourished, and many more suffer from the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiency, while 1.3 billion are overweight or obese.

Faced with this public health crisis, we continue to prescribe medical remedies: nutrition pills and early-life nutrition strategies for those lacking in calories; slimming pills, lifestyle advice and calorie counting for the overweight.

But we must tackle the systemic problems that generate poor nutrition in all its forms.

Governments, he said:

have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed…We have deferred to food companies the responsibility for ensuring that a good nutritional balance emerges.

…Heavy processing thrives in our global food system, and is a win-win for multinational agri-food companies…But for the people, it is a lose-lose…In better-off countries, the poorest population groups are most affected because foods high in fats, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthy diets as a result of misguided subsidies whose health impacts have been wholly ignored.

Much to ponder here.  Let’s hope government health agencies listen hard and get to work.

For further information, the press release adds these links:

Mar 1 2012

What about that pesky “natural” on food labels?

FoodNavigator.com has issued a collection of its recent articles on “natural” and processing.  At issue is the meaning of “natural,” which many people perceive as equivalent to organic or healthy.  As I’ve said before, it isn’t.

Natural has no regulatory meaning.  The FDA merely says (note obfuscating double negatives):

From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.

That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.

One thing is clear: “natural” sells food products.

Selling processed foods in a whole food world? Authenticity is key: Consumers increasingly are choosing whole and unprocessed foods – so is it the end of the line for processed food manufacturers? Not if they move with the times, say ingredient suppliers.

Who is driving the clean label agenda, and what does ‘clean’ really mean? Attempts to link clean-labeling policies with the healthy eating agenda have been so successful that research now shows shoppers equate ‘healthy’ with ‘natural’ or ‘minimally processed’ foods.

‘Natural’: The most meaningless word on your food label?  Consumers, the marketers all tell us, want foods that are ‘wholesome’, ‘authentic’, and above all ‘natural’, although few of them can articulate what this means.

‘Processed’ foods are often high in sodium – but what’s a processed food? About 75% of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods. It’s a regularly cited figure – but what exactly is a ‘processed’ food? Consumers might be surprised.

Processing is a dirty word – but we’ll need more of it to feed the world. Processing has become a dirty word, but we are going to need more processing, not less, in order to feed a growing population, according to professor and head of food science at Penn State University John Floros.

FDA: get to work!

Dec 22 2011

The latest in new product introductions

You may be interested in how real foods improve health and well being, taste better, reduce waste, and are friendlier to the environment.

But such foods, alas, are much less profitable than those highly processed.

Caroline Scott-Thomas of Food Navigator USA gives us a preview of what Big Food has in store for us next year. Coming soon to a store near you:

From General Mills:
  • Dulce de Leche Cheerios
  • Peanut butter Cheerios

And from Kraft:

  • BelVita breakfast biscuit, a cookie-type product made with whole grains and fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • MilkBite Milk and Granola bars with as much calcium as an 8oz glass of milk
  • New flavor combinations for Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Dinner Kits
  • New Kraft Sizzling Salads Dinner Kits to which you can add your choice of meat and vegetables

The rationale for this last one?

Americans are having more interactive experiences with food and want the opportunity to do some of the cooking themselves. With global influence and the merging of different cultures, consumers are open to new flavor combinations. Being able to customize the flavor and texture to enhance the end dish is important and Kraft Foods is delivering.

Real food anyone?  Or—how’s this for an idea—real cooking?

Jan 8 2011

Darya Pino’s guide to supermarket navigation

This diagram is flying all over the Internet and has been sent to me by so many people (thanks to all) that I’m eager to share it.

I particularly like it because it’s just what I used to say in lectures after What to Eat came out in 2006.  My What to Eat rules say never to eat a food with:

  • More than five ingredients (too processed)
  • An ingredient you can’t pronounce (ditto)
  • Anything artificial (ditto)
  • A health claim on the front (these are always about marketing, not health)
  • A cartoon on the package (it’s being marketed to kids)

Much praise and many thanks to the designer, Darya Pino (of Summer Tomato):

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