Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 10 2024

Sunday viewing: Super Bowl food ads

Question of the day: What does a 30-second Super Bowl ad cost?

Answer: roughly $7 million (I’m not kidding—for 30 seconds).

Here is Statistica’s “Average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl TV commercial in the United States from 2002 to 2023.”

I have to confess to not being much of a football fan but I am riveted by the junk food content—and astronomical cost—of Super Bowl ads.

I first learned about this year’s collection from FoodNavigator—USA.

Super Bowl LVIII: The products, ads expected to make big plays during game dayWith the Super Bowl two weeks away, consumers are preparing their grocery lists and budgets for the big game day, as CPG brands ready their ads and promotions with the anticipation of receiving a volume boost the week after the game…. Read more

Here’s its prediction:

When it comes to what consumers will bring to Super Bowl parties, 72% said they will buy chips and dips, 44% pizza, 42% homemade appetizers, 35% side, and 33% pre-made appetizers.

Lesser purchased food items include fruit at 32%, cheese/charcuterie at 27%, and homemade desserts at 27%. Only 6% of consumers said they would bring nothing to a party.

Additionally, 47% of consumers said they are planning on purchasing alcoholic beverages, compared to 27% who said the same for non-alcoholic beverages.

However, 34% of shoppers under the age of 35, a demographic increasingly embracing a sober or sober-curious lifestyle, will be buying alcohol, compared to 72% of the consumers aged 55-64.

OK.  The Super Bowl is an occasion for junk food and alcohol.  Would you believe 1.45 billion chicken wings expected to be consumed during the game?

Brand Innovator lists the advertisers.  Here are some of the food and alcohol advertisers:

  • Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob ULTRA
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Pringles
  • Doritos
  • Reese’s
  • Frito-Lay
  • Nerds
  • M&Ms
  • Coors Light
  • Popeyes
  • Drumstick
  • DraftKinds
  • Starry
  • Mountain Dew Baja Blast
  • Oreo
  • Molson Coors

Here are some summaries:

Enjoy the game, but watch those calories!

Addition: a reader sent this SuperBowl infographic with much more on its being the #2 eating occasion (after Thanksgiving).

Feb 9 2024

Weekend (Forever) Reading: How to Write Recipes

Raeanne Sarazen.  The Complete Recipe Writing Guide: Mastering Recipe Development, Writing, Testing, Nutrition Analysis, and Food Styling.  Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2023.


You might think that writing a recipe is a simple matter of a handful of this and a pinch of that, but you would be oh so wrong.

This doorstop of a book—an absolute treasure—takes more than 400 pages to tell you how to do it right.

If only everyone who writes recipes would follow Sarazen’s advice, their recipes might actually work!

I can’t even begin to say how impressive this book is.  Sarazen brings in an astonishing amount of information about food, nutrition, and diets into her discussions of how to think about recipes in general, but especially those for dishes aimed at improving health or dealing with health problems.

Sarazen is a critical thinker who deals with tough issues about recipes—cultural appropriation, intellectual property, nutritional unknowns—and  works through them, one at a time.

If you have problems with gluten, fish, or FODMOPS (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), here’s what you need to know to deal with them.

This book is an encyclopedia of information about food, nutrition, and health, full of useful charts, explanations, and references.  It’s a how-to manual for anyone who wants food to be delicious as well as healthy.

It’s really impressive and, as I said, a treasure.

Want it?  Information about it and how to get it is here.

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Feb 8 2024

The latest on plant-based meat and dairy substitutes

It continues to be hard to keep up with what’s happening with plant-based food alternatives.  They have their fans, but also detractors.  Much depends on sales trends and their consistency.  I’m keeping on eye on this one.



Feb 7 2024

An endless saga, alas: contamination of leafy greens

Last summer, food safety lawyer Bill Marler wrote a blog post:

28 years of Leafy Green E. coli Outbreaks – We can and should do better!  E. coli outbreaks associated with lettuce, specifically the “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon. In fact, the frequency with which this country’s fresh produce consuming public has been hit by outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria is astonishing. Here are just a sample of E. coli outbreaks based on information gathered by the Center for… Continue Reading

It includes a long list of illness outbreaks (more than one case attributed to a particular source) from 1995 through 2022 caused by contaminated salad greens.

I did not add them up but the FDA reports a total of 78 foodborne disease outbreaks linked to leafy greens (mainly lettuce) from 2014–2021 reported to the CDC.  During this period, the CDC issued outbreak notices for several of the outbreaks.

Their cause: leakage of animal waste from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) onto vegetable fields.  This happens often enough to be worth advising against eating bagged salads from California or Arizona.

Bill Marler doesn’t eat bagged salads at all (see the 6 foods he won’t eat):

Prewashed or precut fruits and vegetables. “I avoid these like the plague,” Marler says. Why? The more a food is handled and processed, the more likely it is to become tainted. “We’ve gotten so used to the convenience of mass-produced food—bagged salad and boxed salads and precut this and precut that,” Marler says. “Convenience is great but sometimes I think it isn’t worth the risk.” He buys unwashed, uncut produce in small amounts and eats it within three to four days to reduce the risk for listeria, a deadly bug that grows at refrigerator temps.

Buy greens from farmers’ markets or grow your own.  If that seems impossible, buy them whole and grown in places unlikely to be neear CAFOs.  And wash them well in running water.

Feb 6 2024

USDA’s “Specialty Crops.” Translation: Food.

The USDA has just announced Investments to Strengthen U.S. Specialty Crops Sector.

The launch of the Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE) initiative will provide $65 million for projects that will help the specialty crop sector increase global exports and expand to new markets. Additionally, today USDA is announcing $72.9 million in grant funding available to support the specialty crops industry through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) will fund innovative projects designed to bolster the competitiveness of the expanding specialty crop sector. Specialty crop exports totaled $24.6 billion in FY2023, representing 13.8 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.

“Specialty crops” is USDA-speak for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains—the food plants everyone, including the USDA, recommends for health.

The USDA co-sponsored Dietary Guidelines say:

A healthy dietary pattern consists of nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limits. The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:

• Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables

• Fruits, especially whole fruit

• Grains, at least half of which are whole grain

The USDA, however, defines “Specialty” crops as

Fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).

It lumps edible foods, herbs, and spices together with inedible annual and perennial bedding plants, potted house plants,  cut flowers, and Christmas trees, among others.  So the new money supports export of all of them, not just food.

The money—$65 million—is hardly a rounding error compared to the billions spent on support of commodity crops like corn and soybeans.

Commodity crops go for food for animals and fuel for automobiles; only a tiny fraction goes for food for people.

Despite the Dietary Guidelines, the USDA support of food for people is minimal.  Hence, “Specialty.”

We need the USDA to refocus its priorities on food for people and environmental sustainability.

Hey—I can dream.

Feb 5 2024

Industry-funded study of the week: marketing, not science

I have long argued that industry funded studies are about marketing, not science.

Here is a prime example (it caught my eye in Food News from the Institute of Food Technologists).

PR Newswire Cornell University partners with Danone and Symbrosia for new study: The study will aim to prove oil-based seaweed product has the potential to be more effective than existing solutions.  Read More

I went right to the source: a press release from Danone, North America: Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Study, in partnership with Symbrosia and Danone North America, Aims to Prove Effectiveness of Seaweed Oil Extract for Livestock Methane Reduction.

Symbrosia, a Hawaii-based cleantech startup that uses seaweed to drastically reduce livestock methane emissions, is excited to announce a study with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Cornell CALS), supported by Danone North America, a leading food and beverage company. Designed by Associate Professor Joe McFadden, the study aims to prove the effectiveness of an Asparagopsis-based seaweed oil extract for reducing livestock methane emissions compared to Symbrosia’s existing freeze-dried seaweed products…

As the press release explains, “The team’s plan [is] to ensure the study’s impact on the environment and sustainable agriculture is maximized.”

Thus, the purpose of this study—and the teams’ design plan—is explicit: to prove the superiority of this product.  That’s marketing, not science.

If it were about science, the investigators would design their study to find out which product does a better job of reducing methane emissions, if any.  This may sound like a subtle difference, but it is anything but.

Research on the effects of industry funding—“the funding effect”—shows how easy it is to design studies to give desired answers.  These researchers should be doing everything possible to make sure their study design is as objective as possible.

For a review of this and other research on food industry funding, see my Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Feb 2 2024

Weekend reading: Ethical Eating

Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A Goldthwaite, eds.  Good Eats: 32 Writers on Eating Ethically.  New York University Press, 2024.

I did a blurb for the back cover:

In Ethical Eating, authors from all walks of life relate their daily struggles—moral as well as economic—to eat diets that promote human and environmental health and meet deeply held principles of food equity and social justice.  Their accounts of these struggles are sometimes funny, always moving, and entirely recognizable by anyone trying to eat ethically.

This book contains several dozen short-to-medium length essays describing authors’ struggles—I use the word advisedly—to figure out how to eat in today’s impossibly complicated food system.

The book is designed to be used in food literature courses, and I can see why.

Each essay raises subject-to-debate issues about the costs and consequences of making principled dietary choices on a day-to-day basis while living with the usual complexities of life.

The writers are almost all unknown to me, so the book is an introduction to the concerns of people who care about the same issues I do, although often in very different ways.

Amazon has examples from the text and the Table of Contents .  Here’s a sample of the TOC—there’s much more in the book:


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Feb 1 2024

Cultured meat: of great interest, still not on market

Cell-Based or Cultured Meat continues to generate predictions, positive (new products, new approvals, growth) and negative (doom, bans).

Current status: The FDA and USDA have approved sales of cell-cultured chicken but the only place selling it is Bar Crenn in San Francisco (where I have not been).

While waiting for it to get scaled up (if this ever will be possible), here are a few items I’ve collected recently.