by Marion Nestle

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Sep 13 2017

FDA approves “qualified health claim” for early introduction of peanuts

I was interested to see the FDA’s announcement that it “acknowledges” and will “exercise enforcement discretion” (translation: will not oppose) a qualified health claim linking the early introduction of peanuts into the diets of young children with severe eczema or egg allergies as a means to reduce their risk of peanut allergy.

Here’s the claim, which the FDA says manufacturers can use right away:

For most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age. FDA has determined, however, that the evidence supporting this claim is limited to one study. If your infant has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.

The FDA’s decision is based on:

But why a qualified health claim?  Whenever you see one, you know that business interests are at stake.

In this case, the claim is in response to a petition filed by Assured Bites, Inc., maker of Hello Peanut products.  Check the astonishing prices of these products and you can see why this company wanted a health claim, and why it is already advertising it.

Really, you can do this at home.  We are talking here about starting high-risk kids out—under medical supervision—with a small taste of plain, ordinary peanut butter.

The FDA allows qualified health claims because industry wants them for marketing and pressures Congress to force the FDA to allow them.

What’s wrong with qualified health claims?  The qualifications get lost in the marketing.  Parents may think Hello Peanut works better than much less expensive alternatives.

 The FDA documents

Also see

Mar 23 2017

Two U.N. Rapporteurs take on pesticides

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, have issued a report on pesticides as a human rights issue.

They

Told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that widely divergent standards of production, use and protection from hazardous pesticides in different countries are creating double standards, which are having a serious impact on human rights…The Special Rapporteurs pointed to research showing that pesticides were responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The overwhelming number of fatalities, some 99%, occurred in developing countries where health, safety and environmental regulations were weaker.

The site says the full report is available here, but I could not access it from that site and requested it.  It is here).

In the meantime, The Lancet has an editorial about it: “Phasing out harmful use of pesticides.”

The UN rapporteurs are damning about the “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” of the pesticides industry and the money spent on influencing policy makers and disputing scientific evidence. They call for a new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of hazardous pesticides in farming. Such an international pact would be a welcome addition to efforts towards a more sustainable future but it will take time to form, especially considering the likelihood of industry opposition to it. More immediately, much more can be done nationally to strengthen existing weak regulations on the use and safety of these chemicals to protect the health of populations and the environments that they depend on.

Let’s hope these statements bring this issue to public attention—again.  We need another Rachel Carson!

Mar 10 2017

Edible Communities: Happy 15th Anniversary!

I was invited to write a short piece for Edible Communities reflecting on the 15-year anniversary of these publications, which began with Edible Ojai and now include 90 Edible Magazines throughout the country.

They titled it: Where to From Here? The Local Food Movement 15 Years Later

The editor writes:

Edible Communities began in 2002 with the launch of Edible Ojai, a magazine that chronicled the rising interest in farm-to-table/local, organic and natural foods. Since that time, the organization started by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian has grown into a revolutionary, award-winning media network that encompasses over 90 independently-owned and operated magazines and websites across the United States and Canada. In 2011, Edible Communities was recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as “the voice of the local food movement.”

As the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary, Marion Nestle looks back at how the local food movement has changed the way we eat and how the world (especially the U.S. and Canada) can best ensure—via political action and other means—a healthy and sustainable food supply in the years to come.

And here’s what I wrote:

Can it really be 15 years since Edible Ojai kick-started the Edible Communities contribution to the local food movement? Edible Communities has played such a vital role in the stunning changes that have taken place in the North American food world since the mid 1990s. At a time when global politics seems ever more intimidating and irrational, local food movements shine as beacons of empowerment and hope. By making food choices that support regional farmers and producers, we vote with our forks for healthier and more sustainable lives for ourselves, our children, our communities, and our planet.

I use the word “vote” advisedly. Choosing local food is an outright act of politics.

I am a college professor and I hear all the time from students about how much they want to find work that will give meaning to their lives and help change the world, but how pessimistic they feel about whether this is possible in today’s political environment. They see what needs to be done, but don’t know how or where to begin.

Begin with food, I tell them.

They are too young to realize how much the food movement already has accomplished: a lot. The food system has changed so much for the better since Edible Communities began its journey.

Here is my personal measure of its progress. In 1996, my New York University colleagues and I created undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in Food Studies. Everyone thought we were out of our minds: Why would anyone want to study about food? But we got lucky. The New York Times wrote about our programs the week after they were approved. That very afternoon, we had students in our offices waving the clipping and telling us that they had waited all their lives for these programs. Now, just about every college I visit offers some version of a Food Studies program or food courses in fields as diverse as English, history, art and biology.  Students see how food is an entry point into the most pressing problems in today’s society: health, climate change, immigration, the –isms (sex, gender, race, age), and inequities in education, income, and power.

Some gains of local food movements are easier to measure than others. One of my favorites: The New Oxford American Dictionary added “locavore” as its word of the year in 2007.

The easiest to measure are those counted by the USDA, starting with farmers’ markets. In 1994, there were 1,755; by 2016, there were 8,669. The USDA is mainly devoted to promoting industrial agriculture but has had to pay attention (if a bit grudgingly) to the growth of local and regional food systems. It reports that about 8 percent of U.S. farms market foods on the local level, mostly directly to consumers through farmers’ markets and  harvest subscription (CSA) arrangements. It estimates local food sales at more than $6 billion a year. This is a tiny fraction of U.S. food sales, but growing all the time.

More signs of progress: Since 2007, regional food hubs, which the USDA defines as collaborative enterprises for moving local foods into larger mainstream markets, have tripled in number. The USDA finds four times as many school districts with farm-to-school programs as it did a decade ago. It even notes the number of farms selling directly to retail stores or restaurants. As for what seems obvious to me—the increasing value of local food to local economies—the USDA remains hesitant (hence: grudging). It admits that “local economic benefits may accrue from greater local retention of the spent food dollar” but is withholding judgment pending further research.

The USDA partners with other federal agencies in a Local Foods, Local Places program aimed at revitalizing communities through the development of local food systems. These not only involve farmers’ markets, but also cooperative groceries, central kitchens, business incubators, bike paths and sidewalks, and school and community gardens. This program may be minuscule in federal terms, but that it exists at all is testimony to how effectively local food movements have encouraged the development of home, school, community and urban gardens. The Edible Communities publications have both chronicled and championed all these changes.

One more measurable change: the increasing sales of organics. Organic production, of course, is not necessarily local but it is very much part of the food movement.  Its growth is remarkable—from about $15 billion in sales in 2006 to nearly $40 billion in 2015. As the Organic Trade Association puts it, “Consumer demand for organic has grown by double-digits nearly every year since the 1990s.” This has happened so quickly that the demand now exceeds the supply.

My last example: In the summer, even New York City supermarket chains proudly display locally grown foods, usually defined as coming from within New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, but still a lot closer than California or Latin America, where much of the city’s food usually comes from.

But the USDA has no idea how to measure the other critical accomplishments of the food movement. It is hard to put a number on the personal and societal values associated with knowing where food comes from and how it is produced.

Some months ago in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan complained that the food movement is barely a political force in Washington, DC, despite its having created “purchase by purchase, a $50 billion alternative food economy, comprising organic food, local food and artisanal food.” “Call it Little Food,” he said, pointing out that “while it is still tiny in comparison with Big Food, it is nevertheless the fastest-growing sector of the food economy.”

His concern was the need to consolidate these gains, join forces and exert power at the national level. Even in today’s political climate, this can—and must—be done. I’ve seen local food movements in the United States evolve over the years to increasingly converge with movements for organics, and also with those for better access to food and for health, food justice, environmental justice, food sovereignty, living wages and gender, racial and economic equity. We need to keep doing this, now more than ever.

The congressional Freedom Caucus is doing all it can to revoke a long list of federal regulations, many of which deal with food. Its members want to do away with healthier school meals, the National Organic Program, food labels, menu labels and a host of food safety regulations. We need to do more than vote with forks to protect the gains of the last few years. We need to “vote with votes.” This means doing basic politics. The most important strategy by far is to write, call and meet with our own congressional representatives or their staff. If one person does this, they might not notice. But if several do, they pay attention. If many do, they pay more attention. Get friends to help.

We often hear it said that “all politics is local.” Local food movements prove that point. So much can be done at the local level to strengthen food systems and encourage community action. Real social change starts locally, and builds from there. That’s why Edible Communities matters so much. They are a force for strengthening local food movements, supporting community development and taking political action for a healthier and more sustainable future. May they flourish!

Feb 14 2017

Happy (healthy?) Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s a big day for candy sales.

Just for fun, I Googled “healthy Valentine’s Day” just to see what would come up.   Lots, it turns out.

Here’s my favorite.

Image result for valentine's day healthy candy

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dec 5 2016

Farewell Steve Clapp, and thank you for your legacy

On Friday December 2 I posted Steve Clapp’s Fixing the Food System in my series on Weekend Reading.  His daughter has just written to tell me that Steve died on December 1 of acute leukemia, which he learned he had just six weeks earlier.

I so hope that he was able to see his book, hold it in his hands, and celebrate its arrival.

Memorial service: January 28 at Wakefield Country Day School, Flint Hill, VA, 2:00 p.m. with reception following.  Doors open at 1:00.

In sadness, I am repeating the post in honor of his memory.

Steve Clapp.  Fixing the Food System: Changing How We Produce and Consume Food.  Praeger/ABC-Clio, 2017  (but published November 30).

I wrote the Foreword to this book.  Here’s what I said:

In this welcome addition to my library of books about food policy and politics, Steve Clapp’s Fixing the Food System reviews the past and current history of calls for a national food policy, the most contentious controversies over food and nutrition issues that have impeded development of such a policy, and the work of advocates to achieve one.   As this book makes clear, this history began decades ago.

I first became aware of the importance of federal food policies in the early 1980s when I was teaching nutrition to medical students at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).  First-year students were eager to learn about nutrition, but for personal more than for professional reasons.  They wanted to know what they—and the patients whose health problems they were learning to treat—should eat.  But by the time they were residents, I could see their dietary concerns vanish under the daily demands of patient care.  Trying to advise about diets was too difficult, time-consuming, and financially unrewarding to be worth the trouble.  It seemed unreasonable to expect doctors to take the time needed to counsel individual patients about the prevention of diet-related conditions—heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and the like.  If nutritionists like me wanted to focus on disease prevention rather than treatment, we would have to advocate to change the food environment to make healthful food choices the easy choices—even better, the preferred choices.  This meant we would have to advocate for food and nutrition policies aimed at promoting public health.

In 1983, I co-authored an article with UCSF colleagues on the need for such policies.[i]  It began:

The U.S. government helps to assure an adequate food supply for Americans by sponsoring a wide variety of food, nutrition, and agricultural support programs.  These federal activities were developed in the absence of a clearly articulated national policy, a situation that has resulted in the fragmentation of government programs and their wide disbursement among numerous agencies and departments.

Our article quoted the earliest calls we could find for a national policy to address these problems.  In 1974, long before the term “food system” came into common use, the National Nutrition Consortium of four leading nutrition and food science societies[ii] argued for a national nutrition policy that would:

  • Assure an adequate, wholesome food supply, at reasonable cost, to meet the needs of all segments of the population.
  • Maintain food resources sufficient to meet emergency needs and to fulfill a responsible role as a nation in meeting world food needs.
  • Develop a level of sound public knowledge and responsible understanding of nutrition and foods that will promote maximal nutritional health.
  • Maintain a system of quality and safety control that justifies public confidence in its food supply.
  • Support research and education in foods and nutrition with adequate resources and reasoned priorities to solve important current problems and to permit exploratory basic research.

Whether offered as nutrition or food policies, these were and remain highly appropriate goals for an abundant, healthy, safe, and effective food system.

My co-authors and I went on to identify the constraints that then limited government action to achieve such goals.  Despite an emerging consensus on the basic elements of healthful diets—fruits and vegetables, balanced calories, not too much junk food (as Michael Pollan put it more recently, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”[iii])—the greatest impediment to policy development was the controversy over the science of diet and health.  As our article understated this issue,

The effect on the nation’s health of food processing and other changes in the U.S. diet is controversial.  Salt, sugar, fiber, saturated fats, alcohol, caffeine, calories, vitamins, and food additives all elicit vigorous debate.

Today, more than 30 years later, we are still arguing about that science, and the scientific arguments still impede policy development.  In Fixing the Food System, Steve Clapp brings us up to the minute on federal progress (or the lack thereof) toward achieving a clearly articulated national food policy.  He begins and ends his book with the most recent policy proposals from leading food advocates Michael Pollan, of course, but also Mark Bittman, Olivier de Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador.  Their recent suggestions for improving our current food system reflect the many changes in agricultural production and food consumption that have taken place since 1974 but retain the basic elements of those earlier proposals.  Fixing the Food System explains why a national food policy is so badly needed and matters so much.

Steve Clapp is in a unique position to comment on food policy issues.  He’s been at the policy game for a long time.  I don’t remember when I first met him but I have been reading his work since he reported for the Community Nutrition Institute’s newsletter, Nutrition Week.  For those of us outside the Beltway in those pre-Internet days, Nutrition Week was a lifeline to the ins and outs of food politics in Washington, DC.   Later, when Steve moved to Food Chemical News, also—and still—a lifeline, I continued to read his reporting.  I often ran across him at meetings and hearings in Washington, DC and found it instructive to read what he wrote about those deliberations, not least because he got it right.

I say all this because he has been a keen observer of the food politics scene in Washington for decades and I can’t think of anyone who ought to know it better.  Fixing the Food System reviews the major debates he witnessed—the Dietary Guidelines, of course, but also attempts to set policy for food safety, marketing to children, hunger in America, and humane treatment of farm animals, among others.

Over the years, he also observed the work of policy advocates, and this book includes profiles of many individuals engaged in this work, some likely to be familiar to readers, whereas others may not.  Impossible as it is for me to judge whatever impact my own writing and advocacy might have, I am honored to be included among those whose work he presents.

Fixing the Food System describes political arguments over the kind of food system we ought to have and what an ideal system should accomplish.  But it is also about the importance of personal and political advocacy for a better food policies, those aimed squarely at promoting public health and environmental sustainability.

Advocacy makes a difference.  Advocates are scoring successes in improving one after another aspect of the food system.  In comparison to the 1970s or 1980s, we now have better food in supermarkets, more organic foods, more farmers’ markets, more nutritious food in schools, and impressive declines in consumption of sugary drinks.  My personal favorite among indicators of advocacy success—the change that makes me most optimistic—is the increasing number of college students who care deeply about food issues.  They are demanding local, seasonal, organic, and sustainably produced food in their cafeterias, and campus vegetable gardens.  And they are demanding and getting food studies courses and programs like the ones we started at New York University in 1996 that teach about how food is produced and consumed and the practical and symbolic meanings of food in modern culture and societies.  Today’s students are tomorrow’s advocates for healthier and more sustainable diets for everyone, everywhere, and for fixing what needs fixing in our food systems.  This book is a great starting place for this work.

–Marion Nestle, New York, June 2016

[i] Nestle M, Lee PR, Baron RB.  Nutrition policy update.  In: Weininger J, Briggs GM, eds.  Nutrition Update, Vol. 1.  New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1983:285-313.

[ii] National Nutrition Consortium, Inc.  Guidelines for a national nutrition policy.  Nutrition Reviews 1974;32(5):1253-157.  The Consortium included the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association, and the Institute of Food Technology.

[iii] Pollan M.  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.  Penguin Press, 2008.

Nov 29 2016

FDA clarifies what’s happening with menu labeling

Remember menu labeling—the amazing number of calories posted on your favorite items at chain restaurants?  For those of you who don’t live in New York City or other places with calorie labels, they are supposedly coming soon to places near you.

Here’s FDA-speak for what is happening:

In December 2015, section 747 of the 2016 Omnibus Bill prohibited FDA from using appropriated funding to implement, administer, or enforce the menu labeling requirements until one year after FDA finalized the draft September 2015 menu labeling guidance. While FDA originally issued a statement indicating the Omnibus Bill extended the compliance date, FDA is clarifying that the compliance date remains December 1, 2016, but, consistent with the Omnibus Bill, FDA will not begin enforcing the final rule until May 5, 2017, which is one year after the date that the Notice of Availability for the final guidance published in the Federal Register.  For more information see: Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements.

Got that?

Really, these are worth waiting for.

Did you really want to eat that 650-calorie muffin?

Nov 24 2016

Happy Thanksgiving: Special thanks to farmers

Thanks today for everything there is to be thankful for, and especially to the National Farmers Union for reminding us how small a share our farmers get of the American food dollar.

I know you can’t read this, so try this piece.

Or maybe just this one?

Where does the rest go?  Labor, processing, transportation, marketing, etc.

Ponder that, and enjoy your dinner!

Oct 31 2016

Happy Halloween (or, as should be renamed, Candy Day)

Aren’t you happy that it’s that sweet, gooey time of year again?

Image result for halloween candy

As Julia Belluz of Vox points out

Candy and Halloween didn’t always go hand in hand.  It wasn’t until the 1950s that that candy industry started to push the stuff as a way to boost flagging fall sales.

 

The candy industry would love you to think:

Kids do love candy, as this marketing report tells us.  I’ll bet these favorites have everything to do with advertising budgets.

Does candy have a place in healthy diets?  Sure, but in very small and occasional amounts.

Good luck getting through tonight’s trick-or-treat.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

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