Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 10 2019

Death by backyard chicken?

The CDC reports that more than 1000 people have been infected with a toxic form of Salmonella, almost certainly from contact with backyard poultry.

Among these cases of illness, 23% are among children under the age of 5 years.

The link to backyard poultry comes from epidemiologic and laboratory evidence.

The CDC warns owners of backyard poultry to take steps to avoid acquiring Salmonella from their poultry

This problem has become so serious that the CDC has a webpage devoted to the safety of backyard poultry.

Best to follow its advice.

Sep 9 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: circumin

Curcumin is a flavonoid antioxidant isolated from turmeric, the spice used in Indian curries, among other foods.

It is about as overhyped as any ingredient I have encountered lately for its “proven ability” to fight Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and anything else that ails you.  If only this could be true.  If it were, people in India who use this in their cooking would all live exceptionally long and healthy lives.

But to convince skeptics like me—and to sell curcumin supplements of course—the makers of such supplements fund studies.

I learned about this study from the industry newsletter, NutraIngredients-Latam.

It reported on a an abstract of a clinical trial of a curcumin supplement, Longvida,™ made by Verdure Sciences. 

The study:  This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-groups clinical trial in which participants were given Longvida™ (400 mg daily containing 80 mg curcumin) or a matching placebo.

Results: After 12 weeks, the curcumin group did better on memory performance and other tests, and after 4 weeks showed less tension, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance.

Conclusions: “These results confirm that Longvida™ improves aspects of mood and working memory in a healthy older cohort. The pattern of results…may hold promise for alleviating cognitive decline in some populations.”

Funding: Surprise! “This study was funded by a grant from Verdure Sciences.”

Comment: I see three problems here with the Nutraingredients report.

(1) When funders have a vested interest in the outcome of studies, biases tend to creep in.

(2) The report is based on an abstract, not on a complete account of the trial; this makes the methods difficult to assess.

(3) The report did not mention that study was funded by a company with a vested interest in the result; it should have.

Sep 6 2019

Weekend reading: Reducing food waste

The World Resources Institute has issued this report.

Here’s what it does:

  1.  We encourage countries and companies to adopt the global SDG 12.3 target as their own, measure their  food loss and waste (since what gets measured gets managed), and take action on the hotspots identified. Although simple, this “Target-Measure-Act” approach is proving effective.
  2.  We identify a short-list of “to do’s” for each type of actor in the food supply chain. If you don’t know which actions to take, start with this list and go from there.
  3.  To scale up the impact and pace of these actor-specific interventions, we recommend 10 interventions that tackle food loss and waste across the entire supply chain, target a handful of food loss and waste hotspots, and help
    set the enabling policy and financial conditions that are necessary for success.

It has a great laundry list of recommendations, some of which we can all do right now.

Others will require systems change.

Food for thought.

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Sep 5 2019

Industry-influenced study of the week: dairy and blood pressure

A reader, Gema Flores Monreal, who holds a doctorate in Food Science and Nutrition, pointed me to this study.  She noted that it examines the effects on blood pressure of eating 5 to 6 servings of dairy per day, twice what is typically recommended. 

it is easy to understand why a dairy company would want research like this.  People are consuming less dairy food, and the industry wants to reverse the decline.

The study:  Effect of high compared with low dairy intake on blood pressure in overweight middle-aged adults: results of a randomized crossover intervention studyRietsema S, and 11 other authors.  Am J Clin Nutr 2019;110:340–348.

Conclusions: “This intervention study shows that an HDD [high dairy diet] results in a reduction of both systolic and diastolic BP [blood pressure] in overweight middleaged men and women. If the results of our study are reproduced by other studies, advice for high dairy intake may be added to treatment and prevention of high BP.”

Funding: “Supported by the Public–Private Partnership Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie (TKI) Agri & Food (TKI-AF-12104).”  FrieslandCampina, a Dutch multinational dairy cooperative, is part of the partnership.  Two of the authors are employed by FrieslandCampina.

Comment: As I discuss in Unsavory Truthresearch like this has a high probability of producing biased results.  I’m reserving judgment about dairy foods and blood pressure until results like these are confirmed by independent research.

Sep 4 2019

General Mills ad: Nutritionism in action

Nutritionism is a term coined by the Australian sociologist, Gyorgy Scrinis, and popularized by Michael Pollan.  It means reducing the value of a food to its content of specific nutrients.

This General Mills cereal advertisement is a perfect illustration of how nutritionism works.

Here is one of the six examples:

Chocolate Chex has more iron than black beans?

This may be a true statement, but it is misleading.

What General Mills is not saying is:

  • Whether  iron is absorbed from Chocolate Chex as efficiently as it is from black beans.
  • What nutrients are in black beans that do not appear in Chocolate Chex.
  • How much sugar Chocolate Chex provides as compared to black beans.
  • Which of these foods is better for your health.

Hence: Nutritionism.

Sep 3 2019

For the record: I am an omnivore

My Twitter feed over the Labor Day weekend was full of messages like this one:

It took me a while to figure out what they were talking about, but eventually I was sent a link to a story in Vice about people who became ill on vegan diets. The article quotes me:

“Most healthy people should be able to adapt to an all-plant diet,” says Marion Nestle, nutritionist, professor, and James Beard Award-winning author. She emphasizes eating a “variety of plant food sources, taking in enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, and finding a good source of vitamin B12.”

The article describes the health problems reported by some followers of vegan diets.  It quotes me again:

Nestle notes these problems are more associated with “starvation” than a standard plant-based diet, which “should not cause people to lose weight or have any of those issues.” However, Nestle adds that a diet high in fibrous plants can take time to adapt to, and people who have been advised to eat a low-fiber diet “will have problems eating a wide enough variety of plant foods to meet nutrient needs.” In other words, many of these influencers may be masking disordered eating habits that are unsustainable.

So, in answer to the tweets:

  • I am an omnivore.
  • I do not endorse vegan or any other kind of diet.
  • I believe that many widely different dietary patterns can support good health.
  • It is possible, but not always easy, to eat healthfully on a vegan diet.

Healthy diets generally contain a wide variety of relatively unprocessed foods in adequate but not excessive amounts.

There are lots of good ways of doing this.  Enjoy!

Sep 2 2019

Have a happy, thoughtful, appreciative Labor Day

I particularly like this poster celebrating Labor Day in 2014.

Let’s honor, protect, and pay the people who harvest our vegetables, slaughter our meat, and prepare our food.

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Aug 30 2019

Weekend reading and viewing: What the Democratic candidates have to say about food and agriculture

The New York Times carried a plea this week for more attention to food and nutrition policy from presidential candidates.

Civil Eats is tracking what they are saying.

So is Jerry Hagstrom, who has given permission to re-post these links from his Hagstrom Report, a daily newsletter about “agriculture news as it happens,” to which I gratefully subscribe (the Washington Post just ran a story about him).

Hagstrom collected agricultural position statements posted by candidates in Iowa.

Joe Biden — The Biden Plan for Rural America
Pete Buttigieg — A Commitment to America’s Heartland: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America
— Securing a Healthy Future for Rural America
John Delaney — Heartland Fair Deal
Kirsten Gillibrand — Rebuilding Rural America for Our Future
Kamala Harris (video) — Kamala Harris answers question on Rural America, July 4, 2019, Indianola, Iowa
Amy Klobuchar — Plan from the Heartland: Strengthening our Agricultural and Rural Communities
Tim Ryan — Improving Our Agriculture and Food System
Bernie Sanders — Revitalizing Rural America
Elizabeth Warren — My Plan to Invest in Rural America
— The Farm Economy
Donald Trump — Land and Agriculture: President Donald J. Trump Achievements

Videos of all the “soapbox” speeches, In alphabetical order

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
Former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperWithdrew from race Thursday
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio
Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.
Former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa.
Hedge fund manager and activist Tom Steyer
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, Republican
Author Marianne Williamson
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

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