by Marion Nestle
Aug 3 2012

A thought for a summer weekend: topics for discussion?

Jason Huffman, the editor of Food Chemical News, sent in a comment a few weeks ago that I thought worth sharing.

Just an observation. Your readers’ comments on these articles about limits on soda sizes are as entertaining as your columns, Marion. Obviously, some very intelligent people read your articles, and with a good balance of viewpoints. I think you might start writing some of your columns as a single line and simply say “discuss.” 🙂

I think so too.

So how about it?  What topics would you like to see me put up as a single line and open for discussion?

  • Teiji

    Commodity crop subsidies

  • Once school starts, what impact are the new USDA regulations really having on what kids eat in the cafeteria?

  • Marion,
    I would like to know your opinion about something I’ve been thinking about concerning GMO labeling. I feel the activists are asking the wrong question.

    It would be so much easier to work towards a “GMO-Free” label than a “This product contains GMOs” label.


    Kay M. @ Big Picture Agriculture

  • Kay McDonald –
    Look into the Non-GMO project… they are doing exactly what you are proposing!

  • Elisa Elkind

    I have been reading your blog for a long time from my Google Reader, and so have never really read the comments.. but I am going to start now! And–

    Hm- if all companies that want consumers to know they do not use GMOs are expected to have a GMO free label on their products–well– that places the burden on them RATHER than the companies that support GMOs. That doesn’t seem right. A similar thing already happened with organic. Any company that wants to be recognized as organic now has the burden of paying a lot of money and filing a lot of paperwork with an organic certifying agency just to have a seal of approval. There could have been a system where companies that are NOT organic need to label their products as such.. this would reduce the cost of organic products too… but that did not happen. I think it is a good thing for the GMO initiative to not follow along the lines of Organic Certification. (Not that the Organic Seal is important, or that it is unimportant.. different people feel differently about that…)

    Also, I would be interested in what your readers have to say about how deregulated the supplement industry is. From a business standpoint it seems pretty amazing, but as a consumer fairly scary…

  • Jen Oslund

    How would Healthcare Reform affect Food Policy, if at all?

  • Yusef Smith

    I’d love for you to discuss current and proposed food labeling requirements. Should labeling change, and if so, how?

  • Scott

    I would love to hear Dr. Nestle’s thoughts on the most recent scandal to hit the FDA and what you think its potential impact on U.S. Food regulation implementation might be.

  • Alicia

    The relationship between the “Green” population, population growth (number of individuals), population growth (increased biomass due to obesity).

  • Alicia

    *”Green” revolution, rather

  • John

    How about the relationship between class (or wealth) and obesity? Basically the issue is that our environment and food distribution system is set up to make the most unhealthy foods the least expensive or most readily accessible. Healthy foods are relatively more expensive, snacks and fast food are available everywhere. Aside from cost, marketing and distribution of processed low cost food targets the the disadvantaged and begins a vicious cycle of obesity. Anyway, that appears to be the current situation.

    Gillian Tett wrote about this very succinctly in this weekend’s FT.

  • Scott

    Here are some ideas:

    How about ways to fight individualized marketing?

    What about a discussion on the various ways different entities (not just the government agencies and industry, but the diverse and contradictory eating style defined groups (from vegans to cavemen) define the word ‘healthy’.

    Frankly we all disagree on so many things I’d just like to know what we all agree on, then we might be able to form some sort of coalition.

  • FarmerJane

    How can farmers and consumers find ways to dialog and share information?
    I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to talk with urban food-interested people and they posed their “Farmer Litmus Test” before deigning to speak with me. Food-thought and hence thoughts about ag are dominated by a few powerful big media writers. When we farmers try to speak, we find ourselves excoriated. I have lost count of the number of threats to burn my barn down, release my cows and tweaking me that I should “watch out behind me” I’ve gotten on twitter. The most recent was post-Bittman “milk” article where vegans told me they would buy my farm for 10 cents on the dollar, lowering the offer to 5 cents on the dollar and convert the cow pastures to bean fields! Temple Grandin mentioned the threat factor in her talk at the American Cheese Society Conference this week.
    Rural America does not seem to have any sort of spokesperson who has access to national media. The issues are framed by a handful of urban food-elite writing whose thoughts then trickle down to how rural farmers are perceived. Some of us viewed USFRA with hope thinking that the voice of at least some of the 2.2 million farmers would be included, but so far no.
    I think the inclusion of farmers in food dialog would bring a multi-disciplinary approach to the issue of food: environment, ag economics, animal welfare, food systems to name a few. But what are the ways this could happen?

  • Ellen Ezell

    Prop 37

  • Follow up on the request of a Surgeon General’s Report on sugary drinks… What’s up? If nothing, why and how do we keep the pressure on?

  • To Teiji’s suggestion of Commodity crop subsidies, I would add: that they’re a false issue, largely irrelevant, as they merely compensate farmers for about 1/8 of massive hidden reductions to prices. This is the only issue I know of where the food movement has massively advocated against it’s own values, as it doesn’t see what I call the “Hidden Farm Bill Pie”, where farmers have been victimized below fair market value by something like $4 trillion (2010 $) and yet they’re labeled as the exploiters because farm subsidies (compensating for only 1/8 (or with livestock, much less) of the reductions.

    This then leads to FarmerJane’s comments. On the issue I’ve raised above I ask if anyone has seen any proof against FarmerJane. Has there been even one spokesperson with access on the topic of the Hidden Farm Bill Pie, and on how the food movement has advocated against it’s own values. My 2-part YouTube video, “Michael Pollan Rebuttal,” (which strongly shared Pollan’s underlying values,) has received less than 2,000 views.

    Can the food movement accurately see it? FarmerJane is calling for dialogue, for sharing. She’s also speaking out of the desparate situation of the most acute injustice in the food movement, the dairy crisis.

    Ok, here’s my 1 liner: Why couldn’t the food movement see that the dairy crisis was the most acute food justice issue for the 2008 Farm bill? For 2012?

    Related to all of this is another huge issue. Resource Conserving Crop Rotations (with Alfalfa and Clover) are arguably the most important sustainability need, as they can radically reduce both fertilizers and pesticides. Economically, however, livestock are needed (as we clearly see on organic farms) to eat these crops. Likewise livestock are the key value added for poor farmers world wide, representing 40% of income. Additionally, most hunger is caused by rural poverty from low prices and OVERsupply, not a shortage or undersupply. 80% of the undernourished are rural (& 70% of LDC population). Not eating meat makes these problems worse, (and yes, there are dilemmas here, so eat meat and drink milk from organic or other diversified farms. But note that most dairy farmers are diversified family farmers, a great resource for any future food system.

  • I would say you should ask about fast food.

  • Thanks for the mention, Marion. Just getting around to catching up on all of the suggestions your readers posted. And I think I can say, “I was right!” You’ve got a very informed readership. These are some great ideas.

  • I would love to discuss laws that affect the homesteading movement, things like zoning, backyard chickens, rabbits, laws banning heritage breeds (like the pig one in MI recently), being banned from growing crops on your front lawn, etc. and what people think of them. Should residential zoning allow for such activities? Is growing your own food a basic right?

  • I would like to see a discussion on the politics of supermarket aisles. Specifically, how the economics of supermarket chains helps create a certain type of “food world” for the public. Since most people do nearly all their non-restaurant food shopping at supermarkets, the sourcing, marketing and placement of food on their shelves profoundly affects the choices we make for our families and ourselves.

    It’s important to identify the obstacles to health and anti-obesity issues that supermarket chain economics creates, and then to move on to finding solutions.

    Rather than excoriate the supermarket industry, I’d like to see nutrition advocates thinking of ways to influence and aid supermarkets to elevate their *positive* influence on human nutrition, sustainable farming and food consumption.