by Marion Nestle
Aug 24 2012

Weekend reading: Food Addiction and Animal Agriculture

Kelly Brownell and Mark Gold.  Food and Addiction: A Comprehensive Handbook.  Oxford, 2012

I blurbed this one:

Brownell and Gold have produced an instant classic.  Food and Addiction presents a comprehensive, authoritative, and compelling case for considering whether food is addictive.  Its chapters raise serious questions about our current laissez-faire attitude toward food marketing, especially to children.  This book is a must read for everyone who cares about the causes and consequences of obesity and the need for food policies that better promote health.  It is a game changer.  Readers will never look at food the same way again.

The book is a collection of edited pieces by a variety of authors with distinctly different approaches and viewpoints, ranging from the seriously scientific (“is food addiction real?” to to the thoroughly anecdotal (“I am a food addict”).  The editors deserve much praise for casting so wide a net and for their cautious interpretation of the available science.  Is food addictive in ways similar to alcohol or cocaine?  In some ways yes, maybe, and no.  Read it and decide for yourself.

Martha Rosenberg.  Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health.  Prometheus, 2012.

This book is better than it’s flashy, misleading title would suggest.  It doesn’t seem to be at all about McDonald’s or soft drinks.  Instead, the first half is about Big Pharma and the marketing of drugs that don’t do much good but cause plenty of harm.  The second half is devoted to the same kind of analysis of Big Food, but mostly focuses on animal agriculture: bovine growth hormone, antibiotic resistance, salmon farming, mad cow, and the safety of animal foods.  I liked the cartoon illustrations by the author.

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  • Hello Marion,

    Really a great study resulting in useful findings for mankind. I do believe that food is addictive.We can understand this if we study our eating patterns regularly. Our taste buds get sensitive at the sight of our favorite food and similarly we start feeling hungry when we smell our favorite dishes. All these are regular experiences. Thanks a lot for sharing this valuable information.


  • Leoluca Criscione

    It is unacceptable and counterproductive that Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, continues giving advices, especially to children, on how to prevent and defeat obesity, being himself, since many years, severe obese!
    He must know, better that anybody else, that NO ONE is destined to be obese!
    Leoluca Criscione, PhD, former obesity researcher

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  • I’m always amazed at people who deny food addiction. From fMRI studies to empirical self reports to anecdotal evidence, we know that many (many) people struggle with overeating.

    I hope to have a chance to read this book shortly.

    Thanks for the post,


  • FarmerJane

    The Rosenberg book talking about bovine growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. sound like one of those books that I don’t waste my time reading. For us in dairy….the vast majority of farmers I know here in the northeast do not use bovine growth hormones. (yet…we still see the organic dairy companies out shilling it as if it pervaded all of the milk here). Tracking Rick North data, he concluded that it is being used on about 20% of US cows, and primarily on the largest farms in the western states.
    As to antibiotics, when it comes to dairy cows, last year, some 3.2 million tractor trailer loads of milk were tested for antibiotics. The positives were something like 621 out of these millions of trailers. Milk is tested when it leaves the farm (before going into trailer that comes to farm), when the trailer arrives at the plant and again before it goes into processing. This is because antibiotics ruins the cheese and yogurt cultures. Yes, there is always room for improvement. I wonder if the Rosenberg book mentioned the development of the Delvo tests that farmers can now use to determine antibiotics on the farm. Or, does she mention that webinars helping dairy farmers to manage antibiotics were booked solid last year. Or, perhaps, any discussion of enhanced veterinarian advice and counseling councerning withholding times, use of antibiotics that involve less withholding time, farmer protocols in withholding even longer than necessary, education concerning antibiotic residues in meat and how these can be improved. There’s all too much misinformation out there when it comes to talking about food, and milk.
    We also rarely see any of the positives discussed about animal agriculture: Here in NY, dairy farms average 100 cows (yes the big ones are growing fast as consumers sit in silence while the little ones get rubbed out). Farms equate to wide open spaces, biodiverse habitats, floodplain and watershed protection and more. These POSITIVES are never mentioned. I would also like to know that the anti-animal ag vision is for rural Ameriac. 750,000 cow/calf operations in the US. What about them and their roles in rural America? 54,000 dairy farms, what is their role and what do the anti-animal ag peole envision for them? This is a book that has not been written yet.

  • Food addiction, or food cravings, can’t be untangled from hunger cravings.

    It is an issue that is not always addressed by the scientists, even if they know it exists.