by Marion Nestle

Search results: peanut

Jan 1 2008

The first topic in 2008: food scoring systems

My first question in the new year is from “fretful reader” who asks: “Esteemed Wise Woman Whose Writing Lights A Fire Under Me: …today’s [San Francisco] Chronicle has a story about the ONQI(overall nutritional quality index)…which purports to ‘make nutrition easy’. My college education (about 30 yrs old, damn near antiquated) is
inadequate to the task of combining “positive nutrients” , “negative nutrients”, dividing them, and why didn’t they remember to subtract the number of ingredients on the list altogether…as a way of penalizing the ‘foods’ that have those scary long lists in a designed to be unreadable, vertical typeface? Does it sound like I’m irritable? Probably.”

Dear irritable, fretful: Me too. I’m not much for scoring systems of any kind on food. I don’t think you need a score to know whether you are eating a junk food or not and is a slightly better junk food better for you? I can’t remember who started these things but PepsiCo has its Smart Spots and Kraft has its Sensible Solutions and companies like those can set up their own criteria for what is and is not “healthier.” It’s a lot of fun to go to supermarkets and look to see which products qualify. Kraft’s Lunchables are a good place to start. See if you can tell the difference between products that do and do not qualify. Hannaford supermarkets got some independent nutrition researchers to develop criteria for awarding one , two, or three stars to healthier products and guess what: less than one quarter of nearly 30,000 products qualified for even one star, and most of those were fruits and vegetables in the produce section. So when the criteria are tough, hardly anything qualifies. So now Dr. David Katz at Yale has gotten a committee together to develop his own set. You have to have a degree in mathematics to understand it but that doesn’t really matter. Do you really need a scoring system to tell you that General Mills’ Wheaties (score: 246.2403) is better than Barbara’s Puffins Peanut Butter (9.937892) or Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies (0.476746)? Never mind the apparent but misleading precision of the 4 to 6 decimal places. All of these are low scores. The problem with these systems is that the criteria are arbitrary and make some highly processed foods look better than others. This is a great marketing tool but will it help people eat more healthfully? I doubt it. I take an extreme position on all such systems. They should not be allowed. If we must have them, the FDA needs to step in and set up one set of criteria. And I don’t envy the committee that has to do that. So I am adding one more item to my list of “rules” for supermarket shopping in What to Eat. If it has a self-endorsement of nutritional quality, don’t buy it; such things are about marketing, not health.

Nov 9 2007

Fussing over the Farm Bill

Today’s New York Times has a story on little known provisions of the Farm Bill that benefit old barns, artisanal cheese makers, and asparagus and peanut growers. Personally, I am in favor of doing anything to promote artisanal cheese and asparagus but I doubt these provisions will survive. I have to say that the Farm Bill leaves me paralyzed. For starters, it’s 1360 pages. And finding it is not all that easy. Start by going to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (an odd combination, no?). If you click on “2007 Farm Bill Updates and Info,” you get summaries. For the real thing, click on “Final Committee Reports and Documents,” and then on “Final Reported Farm Bill.” Wait patiently until it downloads and see what you can make of it. This would be funny if it didn’t matter so much.

Oct 18 2007

More on the military food service scandal

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran stories today about the deepening scandal over graft and corruption in Iraq food service. The Journal article comes with a nifty illustration of the chain of companies involved in supplying peanut butter, calzones, and frozen French fries to the troops, easily explaining where there might be plenty of room for kickbacks. According to the Times, the key company under investigation, Public Warehousing, was paid a billion dollars by the military for its part in the chain. Expensive calories, those.

Aug 24 2007

College Dining: An Eat-More Environment?

I had lunch today at one of Cornell’s brand-new undergraduate houses where 350 sophomores, juniors, and seniors have a meal plan that allows unlimited access to meals prepared in cafeteria as well as to snacks supplied at an all-night canteen. Unlimited access means that students do not pay for each item. Instead, they can eat as much as they want of three meals a day plus a late lunch four days a week, plus leftovers and snacks at night. For lunch (modest because it’s only the second day of classes), we had a choice of hamburgers, chicken burgers, fish burgers, or fish for sandwiches with lots of fixings; a salad bar; French fries (heavily salted); two soups; a fruit bar; and a bunch of baked desserts. In case that didn’t do, students could also do the bagel bar or make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Cornell students have one healthy advantage; the campus is huge, these dorms are on the downhill side, and they have to hike uphill to get to class. And, of course, they are young. But I wonder how they figure out how to manage portions and calories in this kind of environment? Anyone have any idea?

Jul 11 2007

Where Food Comes From

Today’s USA Today has several terrific stories about how hard it is to know where our food comes from and why it matters that we do. The cover story in the Life section follows Phil Lempert, the supermarket guru, around a store reading package labels to try to figure out the origins of ingredients. A second piece lists where specific foods come from. Dairy, peanut butter, bread, and soda pop are All-American, but Brazil is the number one source of orange juice. And who knew that fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables head the list of imported foods and Mexico is the leading source? A third story, in which I am quoted, discusses Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), a law passed by Congress years ago but endlessly postponed under pressure from food industries. Only supermarket fish are required to list the country that caught or farmed them, and as far as I can tell, this is a law ignored more often than not. If Congress doesn’t get its act together and put COOL into action, we won’t have a clue where our food comes from. Why do we need to know? Safety and miles traveled, for starters. Ever heard of COOL? It’s worth writing your representatives for this one.