Marion Nestle calls herself “a long-lapsed molecular biologist.” The renowned food writer originally set her sights on a career in bench science but switched to the classroom when she found postdoc work hours too much to balance while raising two small children. After a few years of teaching, “I was assigned a nutrition course and it was like falling in love,” she remembers. “I’ve never looked back.”
The years since then have been filled with innumerable achievements. Coauthoring the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. Creating the field of Food Studies at New York University. Writing the seminal Food Politics (2002) and seven subsequent books. Appearing in seven documentaries, including Supersize Me (2004) and Food, Inc. (2008). In 2011, Forbes magazine listed Nestle second among “the world’s seven most powerful foodies.”
“When we started Food Studies in 1996, everyone thought we were crazy — why would anyone want to study food?” she says. “Now most American universities, and many worldwide, have some kind of food program.”
Nestle received her BS from UC Berkeley, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1959, before pursuing her PhD (molecular biology) and MPH (public health nutrition), also from Cal. She was named Public Health Hero by the School of Public Health in 2011.
“As I look back, what I learned at Berkeley was how to think critically about science,” she says. “I can read and assess nutrition research quickly, then offer opinions based on what I know within a broad scientific context — and nobody messes with me about science. I may be criticized for my opinions, but never for their scientific foundations.”