Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 23 2019

Canada’s new food guide: a better version of MyPlate?

Here’s Canada’s new food guide:

Doesn’t this look a lot like the USDA’s MyPlate?

Actually, the Canadian guide is better.  Even though it retains the annoying “Protein” section (we don’t eat protein; we eat foods containing protein and lots of other nutrients), it drops the dairy requirement.  Even better, it comes with mostly useful suggestions: [my comments]:

  • Be mindful of your eating habits
  • Cook more often
  • Enjoy your food [Yes!]
  • Eat meals with others
  • Use food labels
  • Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat [alas, the usual switch from foods to nutrients when talking about eating less]
  • Be aware of food marketing [yes, but lots more on this please]

I can see why this has been greeted with some enthusiasm and less criticism than usual:

The documents


Jan 22 2019

American Society for Nutrition’s “Trust” report: open for membership and public comment

Last week, I received a press release from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) announcing the release of the long-awaited (by me, at least) report of its Blue Ribbon Panel, “Best practices in nutrition science to earn and keep the public’s trust.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel was created in response to a growing perception among researchers that public trust in nutrition science is eroding as nutrition information is increasingly being received from an expanding variety of sources, not all of which are clear about their motivations, qualifications, or ethical standards…The panel, an independent group composed of 11 members from a variety of disciplines, was charged with identifying best practices to allow effective collaborations while ensuring that ASN’s activities are transparent, advance research, and maintain scientific rigor, engendering trust among all nutrition science stakeholders.

I have long been troubled by ASN’s partnerships and financial relationships with food companies, which make it appear as an arm of the food industry rather than an independent source of information and advocacy for public health nutrition.

I spoke to the Panel about my concerns in April 2016 at its first (and only in-person) meeting about how I would be writing about these concerns in my then-forthcoming book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.  The book includes a chapter—“Co-opted? The American Society for Nutrition”—devoted to this group’s ties to food companies:

In that chapter, I talk about ASN’s corporate Sustaining Partners, sponsored awards and conference symposia, partnerships with dubious food-industry initiatives, industry-friendly position statements, limited disclosure of financial ties to food companies, and the beliefs of society officials in the value of industry ties.  In later chapters, I discuss the frequent publication of industry-sponsored research in ASN’s scientific journals, and the industry affiliations of some journal editors and peer reviewers.  Overall, I note that “ASN’s apparent support of food-industry objectives makes it seem to be favoring commercial interests over those of science of public health” (p. 138).

I also discussed my hopes for the Panel:

I thought appointment of the Trust Committee was an impressive step, especially because its members were distinguished experts in nutrition science, public perception, and conflicts of interest.  If any group could rise to the challenge—create a policy that allowed industry funding but protected integrity—this one could” (p. 129).

Alas, no such luck.  The Panel’s recommendations largely were targeted to individuals.  Its members could not reach agreement on how the society should handle its own conflicted interests.  It made recommendations in six areas:

  1. Manage conflicts of interest (COIs) in partnerships and activities
  2. Uphold the standards for evidence-based conclusions in publications
  3. Maintain effective dialogue between ASN, the public, and the media
  4. Develop guidelines for conducting nutrition research funded by entities with COIs
  5. Perform independent audits of adherence
  6. Disclose all COIs of financial and other sources

The first is of particular interest.  The Panel gave ASN two options:

  • 1A.  The ASN should enter into partnerships and other agreements only when these partnerships or agreements are supported exclusively by membership resources or not-for-profit entities with no COIs.
  • 1B.  The ASN should develop a rigorous, transparent approach to cosponsoring and managing all activities financially supported by “entities and/or individuals at interest” [perhaps through an advisory board, or guidelines for individuals].

I, obviously, favor option 1A, mainly because of substantial evidence (reviewed in my book) that perceived conflicts of interest—and, therefore, distrust—cannot be eliminated by approaches that allow for financial ties to food, beverage, and supplement companies making products of dubious health benefit.

These options—and the other recommendations—are now open for comment by ASN members—and anyone else who is interested—at this site.

The deadline for comments is February 15.  I have filed mine.  Please do not miss this opportunity to weigh in on the kind of ethical standards you think this leading nutrition society should uphold.

Jan 21 2019

Industry-funded request of the week: prove peanuts healthy

Peanuts are delicious when freshly roasted—I always keep some on hand—and they are highly nutritious, despite their calories.

But the peanut industry must not think sales are high enough (oh those sales-inhibiting peanut allergies).

Its trade group, The Peanut Institute, has issued a Call for Research Proposals.

We are currently requesting human peanut nutrition research proposals with an emphasis on the effect of consuming peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products on: (1) cognition/brain health, (2) chronic disease risk and outcomes, (3) diet quality, and (4) gut microbiome in various populations. Other research areas that increase the understanding of peanut consumption and human health are encouraged. All novel and noteworthy proposals that advance the health and wellness message of peanuts will be reviewed [my emphasis].

The Peanut Institute is not interested in funding open-ended research exploring the effects of peanuts on health.

Instead, it intends only to consider proposals designed to prove benefits.  This is marketing research, not basic science.

As I demonstrated in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, the basic observation is this: industry-funded research almost always favors the sponsor’s product.

I discuss similar requests from other trade groups in that book.  Guess what.  The funders usually get what they ask for.

Jan 18 2019

Weekend reading: Halal Food

Febe Armanios and Boğaç Ergene.  Halal Food: A History.  Oxford University Press, 2018.

I reviewed a book about the regulation of Halal Food in September last year, and its politics continue to fascinate me.

This book covers anything and everything you would want to know: the rules, the slaughter issues, what the rules say about alcohol, and how delicious Halal food can be and is.

Its has great illustrations (alas, in black-and-white) and the Appendix comparing Kosher, Christian, and Halal food rules is a model of clarity.

This is an academic book, but full of tidbits I found fascinating.  To pick one example, “Haute Halal.”

Beyond street or fast food, halal eating in France has also transformed into a gourmet style dubbed “French-halal fusion” or “haute halal.”  Some young Muslims born and raised in France grew up unable–bit yearning–to taste some of France’s most iconic dishes, like foie gras and magret de canard, and several of them have long blogged about these frustrating barriers.  The barriers began to fall in 2007, when two brothers of Algerian origin…opened Paris’s (and possibly that country’s) first gourmet French -halal fusion restaurant, Les Enfants Terribles….The restaurant, moreover, serves no wine or alcohol, which the owners admitted was a “turnoff” for some French customers.

Responding to this drive to make halal food more chic, gourmet, and even decadent, in 2015 the first halal cooking school, “L’Ecole de Cuisine Halal, opened in Paris.

This book is fun to read, and has much to teach.


Jan 17 2019

Annals of food marketing: Gold-leafed potato chips!

When Torsten Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899, he could not possibly have imagined this product when he invented the term “conspicuous consumption.”


I am indebted to for its noting the new “bling in snacks:”

Japanese snack maker Koikeya…collaborated with gold-leaf maker Hakuichi…to create the Koikeya Pride Potato Kanazawa Gold Leaf Salt chips. The chips are crafted with particular care to the ingredients and frying process, using gold leaf pieces in two different sizes to ensure the chips are thoroughly coated.

The Koikeya Pride Potato Kanazawa Gold Leaf Salt chips are priced at 300 yen for a 68g bag, available at convenience stores across Japan.

The snack maker is also offering an exclusive set that comes with three packages of extra gold leaf that consumers can sprinkle onto the chips.The set, priced at 2,000 yen ($18), includes three 68g (2.4oz) bags of the chips and three 0.12g (0.004oz) packets of extra gold leaf.

Gold-plated junk food?

Fortunately, gold has no calories.

Jan 16 2019

Bad news on world hunger and obesity: they are getting worse

United Nations agencies have just released their annual report on world food insecurity.

Its main unhappy conclusion:

Food insecurity has increased since 2014:

So has worldwide obesity:

What is to be done?

Alas, that’s not what this report is about.

Jan 15 2019

Coca-Cola’s political influence in China: documented evidence

The BMJ (the new name for what was formerly the British Medical Journal) has just published a report by Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist and China specialist at Harvard, of how Coca-Cola, working through the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), got the Chinese government to focus its anti-obesity efforts on promoting physical activity rather than dietary changes.

Professor Greenhalgh documented industry influence on Chinese health policy through review of published work as well as interviews with key players in this drama.

A more thorough report of her investigation with details of her interviews was released at the same time by the Journal of Public Health Policy: “Soda industry influence on obesity science and policy in China.”  This report comes with extensive supplemental information about her methods and interview details (these explain why training in anthropology is useful for this kind of work and provides information not otherwise available).

For readers familiar with Coca-Cola’s funding of the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), this is a familiar story.

I tell the GEBN story in a chapter in my recently released book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

One surprise in writing that book was how often ILSI turns up in its pages.  ILSI positions itself as an independent “nonprofit, worldwide organization whose mission is to provide science that improves human health and well-being and safeguards the environment,” but it was founded by Coca-Cola and is largely supported by food and beverage companies.  It works in many countries to promote food-industry interests.

Greenhalgh’s articles thoroughly expose how this organization accomplishes its objectives.  If you would like to know more about it, UCSF Food Industry Documents Library can help, as I learned about from this tweet.

Greenhalgh’s investigation has received extensive press coverage.

I was particularly interested in the account by Crossfit’s Derek Fields and Russ Greene, which provides further documentation of the close connections between Chinese health agencies, ILSI, and programs funded by Coca-Cola.

Jan 14 2019

Last chance to comment on 2030 food and nutrition objectives

The endlessly repeating process of defining health goals for the next ten years continues and the Department of Health and Human Services is now (or will be when the shutdown ends) collecting comments on draft objectives.

You can see the list of categories here.

That site also has links to the history of the objectives (which dates to 1979) and how the whole process works.

The point of the objectives is to set highly specific, measurable goals for health improvement, so that progress toward attaining the goals (or the lack thereof) can be tracked.

Here, for example, are the first two in the Nutrition section:

  • NWS-2030-01: Reduce household food insecurity and in doing so reduce hunger
  • NWS-2030-02: Reduce the proportion of adults who have obesity

The problem: the process does not define how these goals are to be accomplished or who is responsible for accomplishing them.

But the scorekeeping is useful and the deadline for weighing on on the proposed objectives is January 17.

Here’s your chance!