Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 3 2022

The coming influx of hard soda

As if we don’t have enough trouble with alcohol in this country, it’s now being added to sodas.  In states that allow such things, expect to see them taking up more and more room in supermarket aisles.

The business press is interested in this trend; there is much money to be made on drinks of any kind.

See, for example, Bud Light to Launch Hard Soda.

Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda will have no sugar or caffeine. Anheuser-Busch describes it as ‘light like a seltzer and bold like soda pop.’ Each can will contain 100 calories and 5% alcohol.

This comes in cola, cherry cola, orange and lemon-lime flavors.

Consumer demand has soared over the past few years for nonalcoholic seltzers such as LaCroix and alcoholic ones such as White Claw that are low on calories and offer just a hint of flavor. Now some consumers are migrating toward stronger flavors, industry experts say, and brewers are trying out new fizzy drinks.

This, then, is about market share.

Lots of other companies are getting into this act.

Given all that, what are we to make of this piece of news?

  • Alcohol and COVID-19: Good news for red wine drinkers, but blow for beer boozers?  People who consume red wine between one to more than five glasses a week had a 10 to 17% lower risk in contracting COVID-19, but beer drinkers had a heightened risk, according to a recent study…. Read more
  • Here’s the study: COVID-19 Risk Appears to Vary Across Different Alcoholic Beverages.
  • Here’s the caveat: Association does not equal causation.  Drinkers of red wine have different lifestyles than beer drinkers, perhaps?
  • And here are the study’s sensible conclusions:  The COVID-19 risk appears to vary across different alcoholic beverage subtypes, frequency, and amount…Consumption of beer and cider and spirits and heavy drinking are not recommended during the epidemics. Public health guidance should focus on reducing the risk of COVID-19 by advocating healthy lifestyle habits and preferential policies among consumers of beer and cider and spirits.



Feb 2 2022

The ongoing debate about meat and dairy emissions

Every time I write anything about the effects of ruminants on greenhouse gas emissions, I am flooded with comments about cherry-picked data.  I’m not going to even try to sort that out, but I do find the studies interesting.

Here’s a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP): Emissions Impossible Europe: How Europe’s Big Meat and Dairy are heating up the planet

Watch the video about it here.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Just 20 European meat and dairy companies combined produce the equivalent of more than half of the United Kingdom, France and Italy’s emissions, and exceed that of the Netherlands.
  • The same 20 companies’ total emissions rival those of fossil fuel giants…over half of Chevron’s (55%), 42% of ExxonMobil’s, 44% of Shell’s and of BP’s.
  • Their combined emissions are also equivalent to 48% of the coal consumed in the entire EU (2018)1 or more than 53 million passenger cars driven for one year.
  • Only four (Arla, Danone, FrieslandCampina and Nestlé) out of the 20 companies assessed report their total supply chain emissions…Only three (Nestlé, FrieslandCampina and ABP) have announced plans to reduce their total.

Plenty of groups object to these findings.  You can read about that here.


If you haven’t seen it, take a look at this 15-minute video on Big Ag lobbying from the New York Times.

Feb 1 2022

At last some love for nutrition

Last week was a busy time for high-level thinking about nutrition.

I’ll start with this from Chef José Andrés.

For the rest, I am indebted to Politico Morning Ag for gathering all this in one place.

Nutrition research: Last week, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) appeared at an event focused on “sustainable nutrition science” hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.  The are sponsors of the Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act.  I watched Booker’s remarkably inspiring talk and wish I could find a video or transcript of it.

Booker held hearings on nutrition last year.  I have a transcript of his opening remarks.  Here is an excerpt:

Now let’s be clear about something: the majority of our food system is controlled by a handful of big multinational companies. These big food companies carefully formulate and market nutrient-poor, addictive, ultra-processed foods — ultra-processed foods which now comprise 2/3 of the calories in children and teen diets in the U.S — and then these companies want us to believe that diet related diseases such as obesity and diabetes are somehow a moral failing, that they represent a lack of willpower or a failure to exercise enough.
That is a lie.
It is not a moral failing, it is a policy failure.

Food is Medicine: Food and Society at the Aspen Institute and Harvard’s Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation released a Food is Medicine Research Action Plan, a lengthy report detailing recommendations for how to bolster nutrition interventions in health care.

Food is the leading cause of poor health in the United States. Over half of American adults suffering from at least one chronic, diet-related disease. This health crisis has devastating effects for individuals and their and families and places an immense burden on our health system and economy. Though food is the culprit, it can also be the cure. Food and nutrition interventions can aid in prevention and management, and even reverse chronic disease. Introduced at large scale, proven interventions could save millions of lives and billions in healthcare costs each year.

Universal free school meals: The Bipartisan Policy Center released recommendations from its Food and Nutrition Security Task Force.   The report has recommendations for strengthening nutrition education and security in and out of school.  For example:

  • Ensure all children, regardless of household income, have access to nutritious foods to allow them to learn and grow by providing school breakfast, school lunch, afterschool meals, and summer meals to all students at no cost.
  • Make Summer EBT a permanent program and allow students to access EBT benefits during school breaks, holidays, closures, and other emergencies.
  • Maintain and, if possible, strengthen nutrition standards for all programs to better align them with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Pandemic EBT program: The Government Accountability Office recommended that USDA do a better job on nutrition assistance during emergencies and of implement the Pandemic-EBT program, which was supposed to give eligible school children charge cards for buying foods, but never worked well.

Jan 31 2022

Industry-funded study from 1930: meat is good for you!

I am indebted to David Ludwig for passing along this bit of nutritional history.

BY WALTERS. McCLELLAN AND EUGENE F. Du BOIS.  Journal of Biological Chemistry Volume 87, Issue 3, 1 July 1930, Pages 651-668
Method:  Several men agreed to eat nothing but meat for a year.  The meats included beef, lamb, veal, pork, and chicken, in various parts.  This was a high-fat, low-carb diet.  The men lived at home mostly.

Conclusion: In these trained subjects, the clinical observations and laboratory studies gave no evidence that any ill effects had occurred from the prolonged use of the exclusive meat diet.

Funder: These studies were supported in part by a research grant from the Institute of American Meat Packers.

Comment: I did not realize that industry sponsorship of favorable studies went back that far.  I’ll bet there are lots more.  Researchers: start digging!

Jan 28 2022

Weekend reading: Diet for a Small Planet at 50

Frances Moore Lappé.  Diet for a Small Planet.  50th Anniversary Edition.  Ballantine, 2021.

Fifty years?  Really?  I used the first edition of this book as a text in the first nutrition class I ever taught—in the Brandeis University Biology Department in spring 1976.

The book had been out for five years and already was having a huge impact.  Its observation that most of the world’s grain is used to feed animals, and mixing grains with beans produced all the essential amino acids anyone needed, came as a revelation.  If only we used that grain to feed people, we could solve problems of world hunger.

And this was before 40% of US corn was used to produce ethanol fuel for cars.

The new edition has enough of the old naterial in it to understand why this book merited editions in years 10 and 20 and, now, 50.

What’s new are the preface and introduction to the 50th anniversary edition, a new look at myths about protein, and more than 100 pages of plant-forward recipes donated by lots of cooks and chefs.

The issues Lappé wrote about in 1971 are very much still with us.  Only the numbers have changed.

Here is just one example:

But I have learned that hunger can exist anywhere, within any society that has not accepted the fundamental responsibility of providing for the basic needs of its most vulnerable members—those unable to meet their own needs.  And ours, sadly, is such a society.  I found myself feeling ashamed when i learned that other societies with which we might compare ourselves—France, Sweden, West Germany—demonstrate by their welfare programs that they do accept this social responsibility.  In a recent study of social benefits to needy families with children in eight major industrial countries, the United States ranked among the lowest.   (p. 101).

She could have written this yesterday.

If only we could have acted to make her observations out of date.

Jan 27 2022

Too big? The meat industry responds

I am on the mailing list for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) the trade association for Big Beef, and I like knowing what it has to say.

Right now, it is in defensive mode.  The industry must be—and ought to be—concerned about White House interest in making the beef industry more competitive.

But wait, says NAMI, there’s nothing new here.  Four beef processors have held 80% of the market since 1994.

And, it says, the meat industry is not responsible for the inflationary cost of meat.

It also denies anti-trust allegations.

In testimony to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law on “reviving competition,” NAMI said the meat industry is not to blame:

The administration will be surprised to learn that economic fundamentals have led to inflation. Labor shortages. Transportation and supply chain challenges. Regulatory policies. And all of those input challenges were coupled with record meat demand.
Collectively, these factors drove up prices for wholesale and retail beef…The discussion above demonstrates that free market fundamentals drive the cattle and beef markets and that what we have seen before and during the course of the pandemic was to be expected.

The testimony, which is well worth reading, makes this case.  It does not discuss the behavior of the big four meat processors during the pandemic: forcing sick people to come to work, inducing the President to sign an executive order to keep plants open, squeezing ranchers so they can’t make a living, and demanding higher prices at the store.

NAMI may be right that consolidation in this industry happened a long time ago, but the pandemic revealed its exercise of power in a way that had not been previously so visible.

Let’s hope the Justice Department gets to work on this.

Jan 26 2022

The dietary dilemma: food adequacy vs. planetary health

A recent report in Nature caught my eye:

It begins with the problem:

More than 2 billion people are overweight or obese, mostly in the Western world. At the same time, 811 million people are not getting enough calories or nutrition, mostly in low- and middle-income nations. Unhealthy diets contributed to more deaths globally in 2017 than any other factor, including smoking2As the world’s population continues to rise and more people start to eat like Westerners do, the production of meat, dairy and eggs will need to rise by about 44% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

That poses an environmental problem alongside the health concerns. Our current industrialized food system already emits about one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. It also accounts for 70% of freshwater use and 40% of land coverage, and relies on fertilizers that disrupt the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus and are responsible for much of the pollution in rivers and coasts3.

It talks about dietary recommendations for human and planetary health:

And it discusses the practicalities of achieving that kind of diet.

In fact, for the average person to eat the diet in 2011 — the most recent data set available on food prices — would have cost a global average of $2.84 per day, about 1.6 times higher on average than the cost of a basic nutritious meal12.

Despite the lack of more recent data, the ideas here demand consideration.  Nature readers don’t get to see things like this too often and these issues deserve attention and solutions.

Jan 25 2022

Maybe a hint of good news about animal antibiotics?

The FDA says use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food animals decreased by 3% between 2019 and 2020  (For details, see the full report).

Is this good news or not.  Use is down from 2015-2016, but up from 2017.  As Wired puts it, “Antibiotic Use in US Farm Animals Was Falling. Now It’s Not.”

According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, use of antibiotics as growth promoters in food animals is still a big problem, with lots more going for use in animals than in humans.

Or, to be a bit more precise:

The Pew Foundation thinks much more needs to be done to limit use of antibiotics in food animals.

FDA: get on this please.