Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jan 24 2022

Marketing to dietitians: the benefits of MSG

Members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics get SmartBriefs sent to their email addresses.

The subject line of this one: “A Surprising Sodium Reduction Tool for Your Clients


It is an advertisement; it even says so.  But it does not say who paid for it.

To find that out, you have to click on the subscribe or resource links.

Bingo!  Ajnomoto, the maker of MSG.

All of this is to convince dietitians to push MSG as a salt substitute:

 Extensive research has affirmed not only the ingredient’s safety, but its benefits for sodium reduction. Even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recognized MSG as a tool to reduce sodium in the food supply.

Is this a good or bad idea?  MSG still has sodium and its health effects remain under debate.

This kind of sponsorship should be disclosed, front and center, in ads like this, especially because much of the research demonstrating benefits of MSG was funded by guess which company.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics should not permit ads that lack full disclosure.

Members: Complain to the Academy that you want these ads to stop.

Thanks to Jackie Bertoldo for alerting me to this one.

Jan 21 2022

Weekend reading: two discouraging reports on food insecurity

I.  FAO.  State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2021.

This annual report reflects some of the pandemic’s collateral damage.

This year, this report estimates that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020 – as many as 161 million more than in 2019. Nearly 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320  million people in just one year. No region of the world has been spared.

The high cost of healthy diets and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people in every region of the world.

The trend is in precisely the wrong direction.  The report discusses what needs to be done to reverse it

II.  The second report, this one from the World Food Programme, focuses on countries in crisis.

Regions in Asia and Africa have been hit hardest.  The report gives the situation country by country.

These reports do not make light reading, but much effort has gone into providing data as a basis for policy.

And do we ever need policy.

Jan 20 2022

Mexico confiscates improperly labeled kids’ cereals

What a concept!  A government cracking down on illegally labeled Kellogg kids’ cereals, lots of them.

The Associated Press report of the matter, widely reproduced, does not say which cereals or show photos of the ones that were seized.

Mexico has seized 380,000 boxes of Corn Flakes, Special K and other Kellogg’s cereals, claiming the boxes had cartoon drawings on them in violation of recently enacted laws aimed at improving children’s diets.

These laws put warning labels on foods and beverage high in calories, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine.  These cover practically all ultra-processed foods.

At the same time, restrictions were placed on the advertising of unhealthy products to children, so that products with warning labels cannot be advertised to children or use cartoon characters.

I’m wondering if some of the seized products violated the law by having cartoons on the package, like this one.

Here is what the boxes of sugary cereals are supposed to look like now.

I want to know more about what got seized.

But how terrific that the Mexican government is taking this public health measure seriously.


Jan 19 2022

Annals of online marketing: organic, vegan frozen food

I saw this full page ad in the New York Times last week, and did not have a clue what it was for.

Politico Morning Ag to the rescue.

Daily Harvest, an up-and-coming plant-based frozen food maker that’s been valued at more than $1 billion, says it plans to engage on food issues in Washington.

The young company’s opening salvo? Projecting several large billboard-type images onto USDA’s headquarters in D.C. over the weekend, including one that read: “Big Food, Bite Me.” The projections accompany full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

The ad worked.  I went right to the Daily Harvest website.

Daily Harvest is on a mission is to make it *really* easy to eat more fruits + vegetables every day. From seed to plate, we’re committed to a better food system, one that prioritizes human and planetary health. We are transforming what we eat, what we grow, and how we grow it — one crop (and box) at a time.

Oh.  They sell food products.

The website lists them in great detail.  The photos and descriptions make them look fresh and delicious (but they are frozen).

I looked up the Chickpea and Coconut Curry (“Tastes like Madras veggie curry”), 489 grams, 560 calories, $11.99.

organic chickpeas, water, organic cauliflower, organic sweet potato, organic spinach, green chickpeas, organic cashew butter, organic peppers, organic tomato paste, organic ginger puree, organic coconut cream, organic cilantro, organic garlic puree, himalayan sea salt, organic madras curry powder (organic turmeric, organic coriander, organic cumin, organic fenugreek, organic mustard seed, organic black pepper, organic ginger, organic cinnamon, organic chili pepper, organic allspice), organic lime juice, organic moringa leaf powder, organic onion powder, organic coriander seeds, organic black pepper, organic cinnamon, organic cloves.

Obviously, I haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening with online ordering.

Also obviously, I need to.

This company has been around for five years, and plenty has been written about it.

I wonder how the frozen meals taste?

I will have to order something and find out, not least because I intend to include a chapter on online ordering in the updated edition of What to Eat.  I’ve just started working on it, and can’t wait to get to this chapter!

Jan 18 2022

FDA’s big accomplishment: revoking standard of identity for French dressing

If you want to know what preoccupies the FDA, takes up its time, and keeps it from giving food safety the attention it needs, try this for a burning issue: Revocation of the Standard of Identity for French dressing.

Why would the FDA go to all this bother (and it looks like a lot of bother?

Because it was petitioned to do so by the Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS).

If, like me, you had never heard of this trade association,

it represents manufacturers of salad dressing, mayonnaise and condiment sauces and suppliers of raw materials, packaging and equipment to this segment of the food industry.

Background: Standards of Identity

These date back to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. They say what a food product must contain, in what proportions, and, sometimes, how it must be manufactured. Foods called things like ‘milk chocolate,’ ‘bread’ and ‘ketchup’ have standards of identity.  Because some of these standards date back 80 years, the FDA has called for comments on modernizing them.

When the FDA extended the comment period, it explained the goals for updating Standards of Identity:

  • Protect consumers against economic adulteration;
  • Maintain the basic nature, essential characteristics and nutritional integrity of food; and
  • Promote industry innovation by giving manufacturers the flexibility to produce healthier foods.

The French Dressing standards

Check this for level of effort over more than 70 years.

In the Federal Register of August 12, 1950 (15 FR 5227), we established a standard of identity for French dressing. We later amended that standard of identity in the Federal Registers of May 10, 1961 (26 FR 4012), February 12, 1964 (29 FR 2382), February 1, 1967 (32 FR 1127 at 1128), May 18, 1971 (36 FR 9010), and November 8, 1974 (39 FR 39554), to allow the use of certain ingredients in French dressing. We also re-designated the French dressing standard of identity as § 169.115 (21 CFR 169.115) (42 FR 14481, March 15, 1977).

The Association for Dressings and Sauces complained—in its January 1998 petition— that nonstandardized pourable salad dressings such as Italian, Ranch, cheese, fruit, and peppercorn, have proliferated as have those reduced in fat, “light,” and fat-free. Because of this variation, and because consumers now expect French dressing to contain tomato-derived ingredients, be reddish-orange color, and sweet, the French dressing standard of identity “no longer serves honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”

It took more than 20 years, but the FDA now agrees.


Ted Kyle of, who always has thoughtful and interesting things to say about food issues (even when we disagree), asks a good question: Does Anybody Care What’s in French Dressing?  He points out that standards protect the integrity of real as opposed to ultra-processed foods.

The New York Times quotes food historian Ken Albala:

“I can picture the people at Kraft sitting down at a board meeting and the chief marketing guy saying, ‘Do you know the sales of French dressing have dropped off by x and y?’ ” Professor Albala said that the change could allow food companies to revamp their recipes for French dressing as a way to try to boost sales.

 The Times also noted:

In response to the F.D.A.’s announcement of the change on Twitter, some people mocked the agency on Wednesday and said that it should concentrate more on its regulatory role in the coronavirus pandemic. The agency said in the newly published rule that it had received at least one comment as part of its review that questioned its priorities.

My point precisely.

Jan 17 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: grape powder

Thanks to Daniel Bowman Simon for pointing me to this one.

The study: Effect of Standardized Grape Powder Consumption on the Gut Microbiome of Healthy Subjects: A Pilot Study.  Jieping Yang, et al.  Nutrients. 2021 Nov; 13(11): 3965. doi: 10.3390/nu13113965

Methods: Study subjects had to eat 46 grams a day of grape powder (the equivalent of two daily grape servings) for 4 weeks.  Their microbiomes and serum cholesterol levels were compared to those observed during a baseline 4-week period.

Conclusions: “In conclusion, grape powder consumption significantly modified the gut microbiome and cholesterol/bile acid metabolism.”

Funding: This research was funded by California Table Grape Commission.

Conflicts of Interest: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Comment: The authors see no conflicts of interest but they accepted funding from the Grape Commission for the study.  California grape producers issue requests for research proposals to demonstrate the health benefits of grapes using grape powder, so I’m guessing the authors applied for this funding.  As I explain in my book, Unsavory Truth, industry influence on research outcome is well documented, but often unrecognized by recipients.  Funders typically get what they pay for.  Does grape powder duplicate the nutritional benefits of grapes?  Hard to say.  Are any of these results clinically important?  Ditto.

Jan 14 2022

Weekend reading: Agroecology, Regenerative Ag, Indigenous Foodways

Check out this new report from the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, an alliance of foundations devoted to using “our resources and networks to get sustainable food systems on the poltical, economic, and social agenda.”

The Politics of Knowledge: Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways

Working with 17 contributing teams representing geographic, institutional, sectoral, gender, and racial diversity, the compendium is anchored in debunking the most common narratives about the future of food, addressing questions about yield, scaling potential, and economic viability….For an overview of this work, featuring case studies, stories, video, and audio from around the world, check out this multimedia interactive. Discover powerful and compelling evidence that food systems transformation is possible — and already happening.

Other resources on this site include an interview with me: EVIDENCE, POLITICS AND THE FUTURE OF FOOD, for example:

LB: In your opinion, what’s the role of philanthropic funders and donors in transforming food systems and how can they best activate a research and action agenda that is focused on political and social justice, the right to food, and food sovereignty? 

MN: The goals of food system transformation have to be to eliminate hunger, reduce the effects of obesity, and greatly reduce the impact of agriculture and food consumption on climate change.  The best way to do that is to begin by asking the people who are most affected by these problems about the kinds of changes they would like to see, and then fund programs to effect those changes.  That may sound obvious, but hardly anyone actually works that way with communities.

Jan 13 2022

Interested in soda taxes? Some resources

I received a notification of the output of a research team at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), which did an evaluation of local soda taxes. Its products and resources are available at UIC Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center (P3RC).

Among these are research briefs summarizing the available evidence base of U.S. sweetened beverage tax studies.

  1. Chriqui JF, Pipito AA, Asada Y, Powell LM. Lessons learned from the adoption and implementation of sweetened beverage taxes in the United States: A narrative review. Research Brief No. 119. Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois Chicago. Chicago, IL. June 2021.
  2. Powell LM, Marinello S, Leider J. A Review and Meta-analysis of Tax Pass-through of Local Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes in the United States. Research Brief No. 120. Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois Chicago. Chicago, IL. July 2021.
  3. Powell LM, Marinello S, Leider J, Andreyeva T. A Review and Meta-analysis of the Impact of Local U.S. Sugar-sweetened Beverage Taxes on Demand. Research Brief No. 121. Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois Chicago. Chicago, IL. August 2021.
  4. Marinello S, Powell LM. A Review of the Labor Market Impacts of Local Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes in the United StatesResearch Brief No. 122. Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois Chicago. Chicago, IL. September 2021.
  5. Leider J, Oddo VM, Powell LM. A Review of the Effects of U.S. Local Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes on Substitution to Untaxed Beverages and Food Items. Research Brief No. 123. Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center, University of Illinois Chicago. Chicago, IL. November 2021.

An excellent source of information about soda taxes is available at Healthy Food America

And let’s not forget the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)’s terrific report on soda taxes in Latin America.