Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 26 2021

Weekend Reading: Modern Capitalism and Health

Nick Freudenberg.  At What Cost: Modern Capitalism and the Future of Health.  Oxford University Press, 2021.   

I did a blurb for this terrific book:

At What Cost is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why food insecurity, low-wage work, chronic disease, and environmental degradation are such widespread and seemingly intractable problems.  Capitalism may not be their only cause, but it is common to all of them.  This important book provides compelling evidence for the need to join together to change this system to one better for people and the planet.

Here are a few excerpts to give you the idea:

…how capitalism has evolved now undermines health, widens inequality, worsens climate change, and erodes democracy.  Food, education, healthcare, labor, transportation, and social relationships constitute the most basic necessities of life.  Converting them into commodities that must bring profits to their producers if they are to be offered imposes a cost on human and planetary well-being (p. 15).

[Goals for food justice require] changing the dominant corporate system of food and agriculture.  Focusing on the separate goals of each strand rather than the common overarching ones has made the food movement less powerful, less able to win concessions from the highly organized alliance of food and agriculture businesses, and more vulnerable to co-optation by trade groups who offer some factions grants or a seat at the policy table (p. 274).

Corporate-controlled globalization, financialization, deregulation, monopoly concentration, and the corporate capture of new technologies, the defining characteristics of twenty-first-century capitalism, are fundamental causes of multiple and growing threats to well-being.  This commonality justifies a sharp focus on the system that is the underlying cause (p. 277).

To fix food system problems, means fixing capitalism.  That’s the problem that needs our focused attention.  He’s got some ideas about that too.

 

Feb 25 2021

Online: NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Tel Aviv

I am keynoting a conference jointly held by NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Tel Aviv on “Food Systems in the Coronavirus Era: Past and Present.”  The other speakers are Professor Yifat Taharani, archeologist at NYU Tel Aviv speaking on ” Epidemics, Famine and Distress in Antiquity, ” and Professor Jonathan Shannon, Visiting Professor of Anthropology at NYU Abu Dhabi, on food security in the Gulf region.  The Webinar will run from 9:00  to 10:30 a.m. East coast time/2:00-3:30 p.m. GMT.

Feb 25 2021

Eggs again: Are they good, bad, or whatever?

Here’s another nutrition question that doesn’t go away.

This new study is just out: Egg and cholesterol consumption and mortality from cardiovascular and different causes in the United States: A population-based cohort study.

Its conclusion:

In this study, intakes of eggs and cholesterol were associated with higher all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality. The increased mortality associated with egg consumption was largely influenced by cholesterol intake. Our findings suggest limiting cholesterol intake and replacing whole eggs with egg whites/substitutes or other alternative protein sources for facilitating cardiovascular health and long-term survival.

This gets right into the funny business of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.  As I explained,

the recommendation to limit cholesterol has been dropped [from the 2015 Guidelines], but the document says, confusingly, that “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. As recommended by the IOM, individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”  Could the dropping of the limit have anything to do with egg-industry funding of research on eggs, the largest source of dietary cholesterol, and blood cholesterol?  The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has just filed a lawsuiton that very point.

Well, here we go again.  My thoughts:

This is association, not causation.  The paper gives this caveat: “At baseline, participants with higher whole egg consumption had a higher BMI and lower household income. They were less educated, less physically active, more likely to smoke and have a high cholesterol level, and less likely to take aspirin. They also had higher red meat intake; lower intakes of fruit, dairy products, and sugar-sweetened beverages; and lower HEI-2015 score.”

Eggs, it seems, track with other unhealthful dietary behaviors.

The egg situation is a mess to sort out because the egg industry funds so many studies in its own defense and these invariably show no effect.

But eggs are one food in complicated diets and it’s really hard to look at them independently of everything else in the diet and lifestyle.

What to do?  Moderation is always good advice.

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Feb 24 2021

Fungal protein, veganism, and venture capital

I don’t usually pay attention to press releases for food products but this one caught my eye.

Just announced, Nature’s Fynd, the buzzworthy food-tech company growing a nutritional fungi protein named Fy™ that recently raised over $150M in equity and debt financing, opened preorders for a limited release for its Fy Breakfast Bundle…Nature’s Fynd is solving a massive agricultural (and business) need.

The business need I get.  As one of my readers, Kristin Ohlson pointed out, this is an example of “veganism meets venture capital.”

The agricultural need?

Their breakthrough fermentation technology only requires only a fraction of the water, land, and energy of traditional protein sources. And thanks to the natural resilience and efficiency of Fy’s base organism, they make Fy emitting 99% less greenhouse gases, and using 99% less land and 87% less water than processing beef. Plus, the products are incredibly tasty and Fy is good for your body—containing all nine essential amino acids and fiber, with no cholesterol or trans fats. It’s also vegan and certified non-GMO.

Does this remind anyone of Quorn, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been complaining about for years?

Despite what some of the manufacturer’s marketing materials indicated, the fungus used in Quorn is only distantly related to mushrooms, truffles, or morels. While all are members of the fungus kingdom, Quorn is made from a less appetizing fungus (or mold) called Fusarium venenatum (venenatum is the Latin word for venomous).

Fy protein comes from Fusar­i­um  flavolapis, which they got out of some Yellowstone hot spring (with permission).

I hope they have done some allergy testing.

I’d like to see the ingredient lists for some of these products.

For the moment, I’ll stick with food.

Feb 23 2021

Are frozen foods the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic?

I can’t believe we are even talking about this, but the FDA, USDA, and CDC have just issued a rare joint statement addressing it [my emphases throughout].

After more than a year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19.

This, no doubt, is in response to statements from the World Health Organization team that visited Wuhan to determine the source of the virus causing Covid-19.  This team has not yet issued its report, but members of the team have talked to reporters.

Nature, for example, reports:

The researchers largely discounted the controversial theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a laboratory, and suggested that SARS-CoV-2 probably first passed to people from an animal — already a leading hypothesis among researchers. But the team also offered two hypotheses promoted by the Chinese government and media: that the virus, or its most recent ancestor, might have come from an animal outside China, and that once it was circulating in people, it could have spread on frozen wildlife and other cold packaged goods….Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist at New South Wales Health Pathology in Sydney, Australia, and a member of the WHO team, says there is some evidence that the coronavirus could have spread on contaminated fish and meat at Chinese markets, and more details will be included in the written report.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

Beijing has blamed frozen-food imports as one cause of a string of recent outbreaks, and it has introduced mandatory testing and disinfection of foreign goods, saying it found traces of the virus on packaging of products including American pork, Saudi shrimp and Brazilian beef.

This idea has had a profound effect on sales of frozen foods.

Everyone seems to agree that there are four key hypotheses to explain the origin of this particular Coronavirus: 

  • Direct animal vector
  • Intermediary animal vector
  • Laboratory accident
  • Frozen food products,

The team could not identify a specific animal vector, dismissed the idea of a laboratory accident, but left open the possibility of frozen food.

The frozen food idea was suggested by the Chinese.

Several top Chinese scientists have further suggested that the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease may have arrived in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan city, the location of the world‘s first known outbreak, via frozen food imports, or what’s referred to as cold-chain transmission.

The WHO team’s report is considered a public relations win for the Chinese.

The W.H.O. team opened the door to a theory embraced by Chinese officials, saying it was possible the virus might have spread to humans through shipments of frozen food, an idea that has gained little traction with scientists outside China.… The virus was circulating in Wuhan several weeks before it appeared at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where some of the earliest clusters were initially reported, the experts said. It most likely emerged in bats and spread to humans through another small mammal, though the experts said they have not been able to identify the species.

The team, as I mentioned, considered a laboratory origin unlikely.

The team called for further investigation into the possibility of “cold chain” transmission, referring to the transport and trade of frozen food.

US Federal agencies don’t believe this for a minute; hence, their joint statement.

So if frozen foods are not at fault, and no animal vector can be conclusively identified, that leaves us with the dismissed-out-of-hand laboratory origin.

So what’s up with that?  Wuhan, where the pandemic started, happens to be the site of a laboratory that works on Coronaviruses.  

Why does the origin of the pandemic matter?  

  • If we don’t know how this one happened, how can we take steps to prevent the next one?
  • And it matters a lot to the makers of frozen foods.
Feb 22 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: a rare exception to the rule?

As a general rule, industry-funded studies produce results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.  But what have we here?

The study: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials on the Effects of Oats and Oat Processing on Postprandial Blood Glucose and Insulin Responses.  Kathy Musa-Veloso, Daniel Noori, Carolina Venditti, Theresa Poon, Jodee Johnson, Laura S Harkness, Marianne O’Shea, YiFang Chu.  The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 2, February 2021, Pages 341–351.

Results: the consumption of thick—but not thin—oat flakes was associated with significant reductions in postprandial blood glucose and insulin responses.

Conclusion: “Relative to a refined grain control food with the same amount of available carbohydrate, the postprandial glycemic and insulin responses elicited by intact oat kernels and thick oats were significantly reduced. The postprandial glycemic and insulin responses with thin/instant/quick oats were not significantly different from those elicited by the refined grain control.”

Funding: The systematic review and meta-analysis, as well as the writing of the manuscript, were funded by PepsiCo, Inc.

Author disclosures: “KM-V, DN, CV, and TP are employees of Intertek Health Sciences Inc., which has provided consulting services to PepsiCo, Inc. JJ, MO, and YC are employees of PepsiCo, Inc., which manufactures oatmeal products under the brand name Quaker Oats and which funded this systematic review and meta-analysis. LSH is a former employee of PepsiCo, Inc.  The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of Intertek Health Sciences Inc. or PepsiCo, Inc.”

Comment:  This is a PepsiCo study paid for by the company and conducted by employees or contractors.  PepsiCo owns Quaker Oats instant oatmeal.  In the late 1980s, oat bran was a craze.  Everyone I knew was sprinkling oat bran on everything they ate as a means to reduce their blood cholesterol levels.  Even then, there were real questions about whether oats had any special effects on blood cholesterol levels.   But the idea has persisted.  This study demonstrates that oats might have metabolic benefits, but only if they are thick, whole-grain, and minimally processed.  Instant oatmeal is not in that category.  I wonder what the company’s reaction is to this study, whether it intends to fund more like it, and whether it will us thicker oats in its Quaker products.

 

Feb 19 2021

Weekend reading: Fat Justice

Aubrey Gordon.  What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.  Beacon Press. 2020.

I didn’t think I’d want to read or write about this book but I couldn’t put it down and ended up doing a blurb for it:

In What We Talk About, Audrey Gordon gives us an authoritative, forceful, splendidly written, and deeply moving account of the shockingly personal hostility she and other fat people must endure on a daily basis.  You don’t have to agree with her interpretation of the research on fatness and its consequences to sign on to her thoroughly convincing demand for respect as a human being and for what she calls “fat justice.”  This book changed my thinking, and in the best possible way.

Here are two short excerpts:

While these [other fat activist] approaches work for many, I describe mine as work for fat justice.  Body positivity has shown me that our work for liberations must explicitly name fatness as its battlground—because when we don’t, each of us are likely to fall back on our deep-seated, faulty cultural beliefs about fatness and fat people, claiming to stand for “all bodies” while we implicitly and explicitly exclude the fattest among us.  I yearn for more than neutrality, acceptance, and tolerance—all of which strike me as a meek plea to simply stop harming us, rather than asking for help in healing that harm or requesting that each of us unearth and examine our existing biases against fat people (p. 6)

But the first step for all of us will be to let go of the magical thinking of thinness.  Stop believing that a thinner body will bring us better relationships, dream jobs, obedient children, beautiful homes.  Stop waiting to do the things we love until we’ve lost ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred pounds.  Come to truly believe what we already know, and what so much data tells us: the vast majority of us don’t lose significant amounts of weight and the few who do don’t maintain weight loss in the long term.  Nearly twenty years of dieting has shown me that I will never be thin….I also believe that my life is worth living, worth embracing, worth loving, and celebrating.  And it’s worth all of that now—not two hundred pounds from now (p. 161).

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Feb 18 2021

Keeping up with plant-based meat alternatives

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news on plant-based meat alternatives.   This isn’t easy.  There’s a lot going on.

Plant-based meat politics

Plant-based science news

Plant-based business news

Comment

This is a big industry with many questions about quality, degree of processing, and effects on the environment still to be settled.  And these are just the plant-based products.  Next week, I’ll post a collection of articles on the cell-based meat alternatives.  These are not yet on the market (except in Singapore) but also look like big business.  Stay tuned.