Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 17 2020

Desperate for good news? Two cheery items

We need some good news.   I can offer two items.

1.  Coca-Cola says it will align executive pay to employee pay

Coca-Cola has agreed to “consider the wages it pays all of its employees when setting executive salaries”, for the purpose of aligning them more closely.

This happened as the result of action by the New York State Common Retirement Fund.  The Fund complained that CEO compensation has increased enormously while average wages have made meager gains, to the point where the ratio of CEO to worker compensation has gone up in some instances by nearly 1,400%.

According to Food Dive’s account

Following the agreement with the beverage giant, the fund, which is among the company’s top 50 shareholders with 9,275,387 shares as of the end of 2019, withdrew a shareholder resolution against the company. Coca-Cola agreed to add language to its upcoming proxy statement that said “the compensation approach used to set CEO and (named executive) pay” would be the same one it uses to determine compensation for the broader workforce.

Food Dive points out that

Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey made about $18.7 million in 2019, according to a company spokesman. He was paid $16.7 million in 2018. As of April 1, 2019, Quincey’s base salary was increased 6.7% to $1.6 million “to align (it) with the competitive market,” the beverage company said in a recent proxy.

What this means in practice remains to be seen.  It’s hard to imagine that executives will get a pay cut but maybe employees will see a pay raise?  Let’s hope so.  In any case, cheers to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli for using the Retirement Fund’s clout.

2.  While it lasted, Chicago’s Soda Tax worked

Chicago passed a soda tax but then rescinded it four months later under pressure from the American Beverage Association, which whipped up public opposition.

Now, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, reports that during the months the tax was in effect, the sales volume of taxed sodas dropped by 27% in Cook County relative to St. Louis.  The net decrease was 21% after cross-border shopping was accounted for.

The tax raised nearly $62 million—in those four months—of which nearly $17 million went to a county health fund.

No wonder the American Beverage Association so strongly opposes soda taxes.

  • They reduce sales
  • They generate funds for health and social purposes
Mar 16 2020

Industry funded study of the week: the benefits of infant formula

The study:  Influence of a Functional Nutrients-Enriched Infant Formula on Language Development in Healthy Children at Four Years Old.  Ana Nieto-Ruiz, et al.  Nutrients 202012(2), 535; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020535

Conclusion: “The functional compound-enriched infant formula seems to be associated with beneficial long-term effects in the development of child’s language at four years old in a similar way to breastfed infants.”

Funding: “This project has been funded by Ordesa Laboratories, S.L.” Ordesa Laboratories, you will not be surprised to know, makes infant formula products.

Comment:  Infant formula companies have a problem: the products are virtually identical in nutrient composition (they all have to meet the same nutritional standards), babies only need them for the first year at most, and the number of babies is finite.  From the formula industry’s perspective, the challenge is how to increase sales.  This study shows that formula works pretty much as well as breast milk, no surprise.
But it got press attention: “Nutrient-enriched infant formula appears beneficial for kid’s language development, study finds.”

Mar 13 2020

Very early announcement: Let’s Ask Marion

I was surprised to see the announcement of my new book in a tweet from University of California Press, because its publication date isn’t until late September.  Here’s the tweet:

More information, still preliminary, is here.

I’m still working on the copyedited manuscript, but the cover is done.  Here’s what it looks like:

I will say more about this as the time gets closer, and will post the table of contents when the page proofs come in.

Stay tuned.  Stay healthy.

Mar 12 2020

What’s up with pets and pet food?

It’s bad enough to have to worry about avoiding getting sick from Coronavirus, but now we have to worry about making our pets sick too.

My pet food mantra: more research needed!

Mar 11 2020

Coronavirus and food: the latest

Food connects to everything, even to Covid-19.  Here’s how.

The New York Times says “Open Windows. Don’t Share Food.”  It reports the latest advice from Vice President Pence’s office, summarized in a flyer.  The not-sharing-food advice refers to schools.

The Los Angeles Times asked for a comment of sharing food.  Here’s what I told the reporter (the article quotes some of this):

Depends on how paranoid you are.  So far, there is no evidence that Coronavirus can be transmitted by food but I suppose it is theoretically possible.  Someone who has the virus but doesn’t show symptoms could cough or sneeze or handle raw foods.  If you handle the foods before cooking them, you could pick up the virus.

Cooking should kill the virus (don’t re-use the bag the foods came in).  Salad greens should always be washed, even prewashed, even salads that come pre-bagged.

As for salad bars: they usually have glass or plastic screens and long handled spoons.  Again, contamination is possible but unlikely.  If such things worry you, the remedy is easy: cook the food and eat it while it’s hot.

Some of the CDC’s advice about Coronavirus relates to food.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

CDC’s advice about preparedness says what to do if you are ill.  Basically, stay home.

  • Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks
  • Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.

General information about Coronavirus also is available from the World Health Organization.  It doesn’t say anything about sharing food but recommends standard hygiene procedures for food handling and preparation—wash hands, cook meat thoroughly, and avoid cross-contamination between cooked and uncooked foods (see WHO website).

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says there is no evidence that that food is a source or transmission route for Coronavirus.

  • EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said: “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”

The FDA has issued warnings to individuals and companies making unsupported claims for Covid-19 cures, one of them to the TV evangelist Jim Bakker (he hawks supplements of colloidal silver).  Warning letters went to the Jim Bakker Show, as well as Vital SilverQuinessence Aromatherapy Ltd.Xephyr, LLC doing business as N-ErgeticsGuruNanda, LLCVivify Holistic ClinicHerbal Amy LLC.

Finally, a survey finds that one-third of shoppers in the U.K. are stockpiling food in preparation for siege by Coronavirus.

Enjoy your meals while all this is going on!

Mar 10 2020

The heartbreaking decline in American agriculture and especially dairy

Farm bankruptcies rose again in 2019 painting a bleak picture on maps of the U.S.

Dairy farms showed the largest decline in 15 years.

As for dairy consumption, take a look at this collection of charts.

Butter and cheese are up; milk is down.

Even ice cream is down.

That leaves us with yogurt as the one product that was doing well, but then wasn’t.

I like dairy foods and don’t want farms to go under, but dairy products are way overproduced so it’s hard to make a living from them.

On another dairy matter, the International Dairy Federation has just issued new guidelines for the welfare of dairy cattle.   Let’s give this industry credit for trying to do right by dairy cattle.  But the real problem, which nobody wants to address right now, is that there are too many of them in the wrong places.

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Mar 9 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: fruit extracts and cognitive function

I learned about this one from Nutra-Ingredients-latam.com, one of those industry newsletters I avidly follow: “Grapes plus blueberries may boost cognitive function in college students.”

The study: Acute Intake of a Grape and Blueberry Polyphenol-Rich Extract Ameliorates Cognitive Performance in Healthy Young Adults During a Sustained Cognitive Effort.  Philip P, et al.  Antioxidants 2019, 8, 650; doi:10.3390/antiox8120650.

Purpose: “This study investigated the acute and sustained action of a polyphenols-rich extract from grape and
blueberry (PEGB), on working memory and attention in healthy students during a prolonged and intensive cognitive effort.”

The comparison: “Participants were asked to either consume 600 mg of polyphenol-rich active extract made from
grape (Vitis vinifera L.) and wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) (Memophenol, Activ’Inside, Beychac et Caillau, France), or a placebo containing pure maltodextrin (Maltrin® M100, Roquette, Lestrem, France) and providing no polyphenol.”

Conclusion: “Our findings suggest that consumption of PEGB coupled with a healthy lifestyle may be a safe alternative to acutely improve working memory and attention during a sustained cognitive effort.”

Funding: This study was funded by Activ’Inside (Bordeaux area, France).

Comment: All I had to do was see the title of this study to guess that it was funded by a company with a vested interest in the study’s outcome.  Activ’Inside makes antioxidant extracts for purposes like this.  I’m all for college students eating grapes and blueberries rather than taking drugs to keep them up all night, but flavanol extracts?  Not the same.  Chalk this one up to marketing, not science.

Mar 6 2020

Weekend reading: More on food banks

Rebecca de Souza.  Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries.  MIT Press, 2019.

This must be the season for books about food banking (see last week’s Weekend Reading).

Rebecca de Souza explains her book as about

food justice and, more precisely, the stigmatizing narratives that surround people who are hungry and food insecure…I argue that stigmatizing narratives about those who are hungry and food insecure—that is, poor people, women, and racial minorities—serve to uphold and legitimize the unjust food system.  I use the term neoliberal stigma to refer to a particular kind of Western and American narrative that focuses on individualism, hard work, and personal responsibility as defining attributes of human dignity and citizenship.  When people do not live up to these parameters, for reasons out of their control, they are marked as irresponsible, unworthy, and “bad citizens,” creating the “Us and Them” phenomenon.

She demonstrates these concepts through observations of two food pantries in Duluth, Minnesota.

 

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