by Marion Nestle
Oct 22 2012

Rest in peace George McGovern

Former Senator (D-SD) George McGovern died yesterday at age 90.

His accomplishments as a Senator and statesmen were legion, many of them strongly connected to food politics.

As I mentioned in 2009 when I gave the state department’s annual George McGovern lecture in Rome, he chaired the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs from 1968-1977.   This committee greatly expanded food assistance programs and then developed the first federal guidelines for chronic disease prevention: Dietary Goals for the U.S.

In Food Politics, I described the work of this strongly bipartisan committee (Bob Dole was its lead Republican member) and how it did so much to improve the lives of women and children living in poverty in the United States, and of poor people throughout the world.

The committee also broke new ground in shifting nutrition education from a focus on eating more of a variety of foods to eating less of foods that increased risks for chronic disease.

What’s shown here is the February 1977 version of this landmark report.  As the result of outraged protests by food producers affected by the “eat less” messages, the committee was forced to tone down its recommendations.  The committee issued a revised report in December that year.

That was the committee’s final act.  Congress disbanded it and McGovern lost his bid for reelection.

McGovern leaves an extraordinary legacy, one unimaginable in this era of partisan politics.

He was far ahead of his time, as this 1977 photo shows.  It is a fitting tribute.

  • chuck

    george mcgovern did a lot of good for america. his impact on our diet have not proven to be one of those positive impacts.

  • Cathy Richards

    Thanks Marion for reminding us that public policy can be bipartisan with strong leaders and strong followers.

    The photo with the sugar cans very clearly shows why public policy is essential to limit access to highly sugared foods and beverages. Taxation, school policy, limits on serving sizes at retail food service premises, etc. Education alone does not suffice for long lasting change.

  • Peggy Holloway

    A great man in many ways, but sadly misguided in terms of his understanding of diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, he was misled by his involvement with Ancel Keys. Because he bought into Ancel Keys’ lipid hypothesis and didn’t question his faulty and biased methodology, he was one of those principally responsible for the terrible dietary recommendations that led to the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Sad, but true. For someone who spoke about speaking the truth, he sadly didn’t look deeper into the untruths spoken by Ancel Keys. He meant well, but this is a sad legacy for an otherwise great political figure.

  • Good man, with good ideas, none of which would fly at all in our pro-business, anti-consumer and anti-citizen Congress.

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  • matthk

    Wha? He was pro big-agra and VERY pro-wheat. The very reason so many people are sick and fat today. He was duped by Ancel Keys and is – possibly unwittingly – responsible for countless deaths the world over.

  • matthk

    Education is the ONLY answer! The problem with taxing and policy making, is that we can often tax or ban the good stuff encouraging us all to eat the wrong stuff!

    Denmark in 2011 stupidly, based on no science, decided to tax foods – even glorious grass-fed BUTTER – if the item contains more than 2.3% saturated fat – which science tells us (as it used to know) is not only an ESSENTIAL nutrient, but a good fat and not a contributor to heart disease. Trans-fats, found in margarine – and ALL seed-oils (Canola etc.) which turn into as soon as you heat them – DO cause heart disease and other problems. It has since – thankfully – repealed this moronic tax.