Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 15 2019

Weekend reading: Meat, Cultured and Not

I’ve been seeing lots of books about meat lately.  Here are two recent ones.

Josh Berson.  The Meat Question: Animals, Humans, and the Deep History of Food.  MIT Press, 2019.

The author is an Australian social scientist, a vegan, who has produced a deep dive into the history of the use of meat as food and as cultural symbol.  As he puts it,

The aim of this book is to unpack what I’ve come to call the Meat Question–Should humans be eating meat, and if so who, and what kinds, and how much?–in the most comprehensive way possible.  The perspective…is deep deep in that it encompasses the history of human meat eating and human relationships with other gregarious vertebrates over a span of more than 2 million years.  (p. 2)

This [book’s] perspective is centered on my conviction that the economic violence of meat has less to do with who can and cannot afford it than with how meat serves to prop up a system of asymmetric benefits from all forms of human activity, not just that related to food.  Growing demand for meat is not simply an outcome of growing affluence.  It is a symptom of the inequality and oppression that have accompanied that affluence. (p. 294)

Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft.  Meat Planet: Artificial Flesh and the Future of Food.  University of California Press, 2019.

This book examines the brand-new industry creating lab-based meat.  These products are not yet on the market but are of such enormous public and economic interest that they are well worth book-length treatment.

This book tells the story of what I found, and what I did not find, in the course of my time in the small, strange world of cultured meat, during what seemed to be the early years of an emerging technology.  I expected to spend time in laboratories…This did happen in some measure, but for the most part I found myself with very little laboratory science to observe and a great many public conversations about cultured meat to participate in and sort through.  (p. 15)

But cultured meat, too, raises moral questions.  Not questions about our moral regard for harvested cells, but questions about the implications cultured meat may hold for our moral regard for animals….It is relatively easy to see how cultured meat would or would not suit different philosophical arguments for animal protection….But assuming that cultured meat leads to abolition of animal agriculture, it will change our sense of what these creatures, these nonhuman animals, are doing in the world. (p. 133)

Both of these books deal with the moral, philosophical, cultural, historical, and socioeconomic implications of meat-eating, although from quite different perspectives.

Nov 14 2019

Lab-based meat and dairy: recent trends

No lab-based meat or dairy product is yet on the market, but lots of people are working on such things.  Here are some recent examples, starting with my favorite.

Nov 13 2019

The latest on the dietary supplement industry

NutraIngredients.com alerted me to a study by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the main trade group for the dietary supplement industry.

Its conclusion: 77% of American adults say they take dietary supplements.

Here are selected results.

Who Takes Dietary Supplements? 77 percent of U.S. adults take dietary supplements.

  • 79 percent of female adults
  • 74 percent of male adults 
  • 81 percent of adults 35 – 54
  • 79 percent of adults 55+ 
  • 83 percent of adults with children under 18 in the household
  • 68 percent of adults without employment
  • 73 percent of adults who live in the Northeast
  • 80 percent of adults who live in the South

Everybody takes this stuff, apparently.  What are they taking?

What to say?

I wish we had better evidence—how about any evidence—that supplements make healthy people healthier, but we do not.

Supplements, as far as I can tell, are about nutritional magic.

Whatever works, I guess.

In the meantime, NutraIngredients cites data that the dietary supplement market was worth nearly $125 bilion in 2018.

Impressive.

For the record: I don’t take supplements.  I prefer my nutrients from food and sunshine.

Addition

A reader, Charlene Elliott, sends her study of supplement marketing to Canadian children.

This study is the first of its kind to examine the nutrient levels of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements specifically marketed as for children in the Canadian retail environment. On the one hand, the promotion of gummy and chewable supplements using cartoon and licensed characters and claims that the products are “fun to eat” simply extends contemporary strategies found in child-targeted packaged foods. Yet vitamins are not foods, nor are they regulated as foods in Canada, and this study questions the logic of recommending that children consume up to 15 gummy candies per day in order to “improve” their health.  Beyond this, the substantial variation in dosage depending on the supplement is problematic, given that all of these supplements use the same kinds of appeals on the package.
Do Canadian children really need chewable gummy vitamins?  Or vitamin supplements at all?  I have my doubts.
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Nov 12 2019

SNAP: A special section in the American Journal of Public Health:

I guest-edited a series of papers on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).  The papers are now online and will be in print in the December issue of the journal.

AJPH SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, served as Guest Editor for the special section: “AJPH Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.” M. Nestle oversaw peer review for the articles, provided input on peer reviewer selection and peer review evaluation, suggested which articles would appear in the special section, and wrote the lead Commentary.

Conflicts of interest disclosure: Marion Nestle’s retirement benefits and a small fund from New York University support her research, publications, and Web site (foodpolitics.com). She receives royalties from books—and honoraria, travel, and meals related to lectures—about matters relevant to this special section.

PODCAST

Alfredo Morabia, the executive editor of AJPH, interviewed one of the authors, Joanna Cruz Simmons, and me in his monthly podcast.

SECTION OVERVIEW

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): History, Politics, and Public Health Implications.  Marion Nestle.  109(12), pp. 1631–1635.

EVIDENCE

Links of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program With Food Insecurity, Poverty, and Health: Evidence and Potential.  Brynne Keith-Jennings, Joseph Llobrera and Stacy Dean.  109(12), pp. 1636–1640.  Supplemental Material

RURAL SNAP

Importance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in Rural America.  Lisa Harnack, Sruthi Valluri and Simone A. French.  109(12), pp. 1641–1645.

URBAN SNAP

SNAP at the Community Scale: How Neighborhood Characteristics Affect Participation and Food Access.  Nevin Cohen.  109(12), pp. 1646–1651

COLLEGE STUDENT SNAP

College Students and SNAP: The New Face of Food Insecurity in the United States.   Nicholas Freudenberg, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Janet Poppendieck.  109(12), pp. 1652–1658.

SNAP DATA

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Data: Why Disclosure Is Needed.  Jennifer L. Pomeranz. 109(12), pp. 1659–1663

SNAP PARTICIPANTS

Recommendations From SNAP Participants to Improve Wages and End Stigma.  Tianna Gaines-Turner, Joanna Cruz Simmons and Mariana Chilton.  109(12), pp. 1664–1667.

INTERNATIONAL COMPARISONS

Alternatives to SNAP: Global Approaches to Addressing Childhood Poverty and Food Insecurity.  Lia C. H. Fernald and Wendi Gosliner.  109(12), pp. 1668–1677.   Supplemental Material

Nov 11 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Dairy foods again and again

The Study:  Dairy Foods and Dairy Fats: New Perspectives on Pathways Implicated in Cardiometabolic Health.  Kristin M Hirahatake; Richard S Bruno; Bradley W Bolling ; Christopher Blesso; Lacy M Alexander, et al.  Advances in Nutrition, nmz105, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz105  Published: 25 September 2019

The Conclusions: Most observational and experimental evidence does not support a detrimental relationship between full-fat dairy intake and cardiometabolic health, including risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Indeed, an expanded understanding of the dairy food matrix and the bioactive properties of dairy fats and other constituents suggests a neutral or potentially beneficial role in cardiometabolic health.

The Conflicted Interests (my emphasis): SHA’s research is funded in part by USDA-Agricultural Research Project…Support for RSB is provided by USDA-NIFA…the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at the Ohio State University, and the National Dairy Council. BWB’s research is funded in part by the National Dairy Council. Author disclosures: SHA has received honoraria from ILSI North America, the National Dairy Council (NDC), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Herbalife, and the Council for Responsible Nutrition as a presenter and participant at sponsored scientific conferences. RSB has received honoraria from NDC to serve as an external research advisor and from Abbott Nutrition for serving as a presenter at a sponsored scientific conference. BWB has received honoraria from NDC and Nederlanse Zuivel Oranisatie for presenting research at scientific conferences. CB has received honoraria from NDC and the America Egg Board as a presenter and participant at sponsored scientific conferences. LMA has received funding from NDC, NHLBI, and Performance Health. KMH has received funding from NDC to coordinate author contributions and to write the article. The National Dairy Council (NDC) sponsored the 2018 Scientific Summit: A New Look at Dairy Foods and Healthy Eating Patterns. The sponsor reviewed this manuscript prior to submission. All editorial decisions were solely left to the authors, and this report reflects the independent opinions and views of the authors.

Comment: The National Dairy Council funded this study and reviewed its manuscript.  The authors receive funding from the Dairy Council.  This review should be considered a paid advertisement.  Do dairy foods have any special role in cardiometabolic health?  I doubt it, but we are unlikely to find out until such questions are investigated independently.

Nov 8 2019

Weekend reading: Let’s take real action on childhood obesity

On World Obesity Day, I posted links to three recent reports.

An editorial in The Lancet made me realize that I had not read this one nearly carefully enough.  It deserves careful reading.

It comes from Sallie Davies, who just stepped down as Britain’s Chief Medical Officer.  In another Lancet piece, she and her colleagues insist that children have a right to live in a healthy environment:

Today, government legislation is necessary not simply because we have an obligation to protect vulnerable children, but because children have rights. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, sets out children’s rights to protection, education, health and health care, shelter, and good nutrition…a child rights approach requires us to recognise childhood obesity as the responsibility of the state and as an issue that must be addressed across society…It is time to address childhood obesity as a rights issue.

In her report, she insists that government should enact legislation to ensure a healthy food environment; Annex A lists recommendations:

  • Increase taxes on sugary drinks
  • Require product reformulation to reduce sugar and calories
  • Tax unhealthy foods
  • Label calories
  • Provide free drinking water
  • Remove tax exemptions for advertising
  • Phase out marketing of unhealthy products
  • Ban eating and drinking on public transport
  • Only permit healthy options at sports facilities
  • Promote smaller portion sizes

Her report also suggests ways to promote physical activity.

Worth a try?  I think so.

Nov 7 2019

The dairy industry in Asia: a round up

DairyReporter.com, one of those industry newsletters I love getting every day, tracks the international dairy industry and occasionally collects them in one place.  Here is an example.  I never can get over how the dairy industry has worked its way into countries where populations never consumed such products and are largely lactose-intolerant.  The industry has gotten the word out that children grow faster and bigger if they consume dairy foods.  That’s all it takes, and Asia is a huge consumer market.  To wit:

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Nov 6 2019

Soda industry hypocrisy: recycling

I was fascinated to see this ad in the October 24 New York Times extolling Coke, Pepsi, and Dr Pepper’s commitment to improve recycling.

The ad says “We’re all in…But we need your help to change how America recycles.”

Sure.  Happy to.  But these companies are among the leading plastic polluters in the world, according to the latest audit.

So how about:

  1.  Stop producing so much waste in the first place
  2.  Stop fighting bottle recycling laws.

I just read the Intercept’s investigative report on Coca-Cola’s overt and covert opposition to recycling laws: “LEAKED AUDIO REVEALS HOW COCA-COLA UNDERMINES PLASTIC RECYCLING EFFORTS.”

As the article explains:

States with bottle bills recycle about 60 percent of their bottles and cans, as opposed to 24 percent in other states. And states that have bottle bills also have an average of 40 percent less beverage container litter on their coasts, according to a 2018 study of the U.S. and Australia published in the journal Marine Policy.

But bottle bills also put some of the responsibility — and cost — of recycling back on the companies that produce the waste, which may be why Coke and other soda companies have long fought against them.

Soda companies would much rather have us clean up the mess they make.

Mind you, I’m for cleaning up that mess and am happy to help.  But I also want bottle recycling laws that give us an incentive to take back all that waste.