Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Sep 24 2018

Unsavory Truth: The Blurbs

Coming October 30: My new book about food company sponsorship of nutrition research and its effects on public health.

Here is what some early readers had to say about it:

“What happens when one of the country’s great nutrition investigators follows the money in food and science? You get this riveting, provocatively-written book, which deftly explores how the processed food industry has deepened our dependence on its products by sponsoring and manipulating food research for decades. This book should be read by anyone who has been seduced by the words, ‘New study shows…’—which is all of us.”  —Michael Moss, author of Salt Sugar Fat

“Marion Nestle is a tireless warrior for public health, and her meticulous research and irrefutable arguments are desperately needed right now. This book, as frightening as it is, compels us to discover where true health begins: nutrition starts in the ground, with real food that is sustainably grown, eaten in season, and alive.”  —Alice Waters, founder, owner, and executive chef of Chez Panisse

 “In clear, concise language, Marion Nestle details the many ways our ideas about what to eat are being manipulated by Big Food.  If you want to make better choices, read this book.”  —Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet Magazine

 “Marion Nestle is a national treasure.  She has the courage to take on multinational corporations and the wisdom to separate the facts from the spin.  If you care about our food system and the health of your family, Unsavory Truth is essential reading.”  —Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

“Marion Nestle has been a guiding light for sanity, credibility, and justice in food and nutrition for decades; she stands alone in her field. In Unsavory Truth, she exposes the awful deceptions practiced on eaters by manipulative food companies using ‘scientific research’ try to make themselves look good.”  —Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything

 “Marion Nestle is a truth-teller in a world awash with nutrition lies of one kind and another. In this scintillating and eye-opening book, Nestle reveals how much of our confusion about food in modern times has been spread by the food industry itself, which passes off marketing as science and funds ‘research’ designed to show that its products are harmless. Unsavory Truth is essential reading for anyone in search of hard facts about what to eat.”  —Bee Wilson, author of First Bite and Consider the Fork

Sep 21 2018

USDA’s double-speak proposal to “improve” the ERS: brute-force politics

I listened in yesterday to the webinar on USDA’s proposed relocation and reorganization of the Economic Research Service.  Participants included Scott Swinton (Michigan State University), Cathie Woteki (former undersecretary for research at USDA), Susan Offutt (former ERS head), Gale Buchanan (another former undersecretary for research, USDA), and Stephen Censky (current USDA deputy secretary). The former officials were unanimous in arguing that the proposal to relocate the agency outside of Washington DC and reorganize it into the USDA Secretary’s office was “ill-conceived,” made no sense, was done without appropriate consultation, was potentially illegal, would politicize the agency, and would damage, if not destroy, an agency that is the jewel of USDA. The USDA says the reasons for doing this are easier recruitment, cheaper rent, closer alignment with the Secretary’s policy initiatives, and getting the agency closer to stakeholders.  None of these bears up under even the most casual scrutiny. So what is this really about? I’m guess that this is about getting political control over—silencing—an agency that conducts independent, unbiased, nonpartisan research that risks leading to inconvenient truths. Here, for example, are some recent publications [with my comments].

ERS is not broke and does not need fixing.  The proposal must be understood as an attempt to destroy the ERS.  Participants called for:

  • Congressional hearings
  • An independent cost-benefit analysis
  • Delay further action until then or, better yet, a full stop

I am a big user of ERS data and a great admirer of the work of ERS economists. Other views on the webinar and this issue

Additions, September 24

The groups that did the WEbinar have forwarded links:

These ask Congress to:

  • retain the ERS in the national Capitol region;
  • maintain and strengthen the integrity and independence of the ERS as a statistical agency; and
  • keep the budget and personnel for the USDA Economic Research Service at least at FY 2018 levels.

Additions, September 25 (thanks to the Hagstrom Report

USDA — Secretary Perdue response to Roberts and Stabenow
American Statistical Association — Count on Stats
— Fact Sheet
— Friends of Agricultural Statistics and Analysis Sign-On Letter Opposing USDA re-organization and re-alignment of the Economic Research Service
— USDA Economic Research Service Sign-On Letter – Former administration officials and statistical agency leaders
— NIFA Relocation Letter to Congress
Center for Progressive Reform — Draining Washington of Science and Talent

 

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Sep 20 2018

Plant-based dairy and meat: latest developments

Here is the latest collection of industry articles on dairy alternatives and plant-based meats—all doing quite well these days.

Dairy Alternatives

DairyReporter.com has a Special Edition: The rise of these plant-based products.  

Many dairy companies, rather than ignoring the rise in plant-based alternatives to dairy products, are jumping on the bandwagon, either through developing their own vegan and vegetarian product range, or through acquisitions, such as Danone’s high-profile takeover of WhiteWave.  This special newsletter looks at some of the latest developments in the plant-based dairy alternatives space.

What about plant-based meat?

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Sep 19 2018

Soda company pouring rights contracts: exposed!

I first wrote about soda company pouring rights contracts in 2000.  I also discussed these contracts in Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).

These contracts are still a big issue, at least at the college level.

A site called MuckRock has just published an analysis of 38 pouring rights contracts, which it obtained through open-records requests from public universities.

Good for them!  The contracts make riveting reading.

Coke and Pepsi compete for these contracts and it is easy to understand why.  They provide for exclusive sales of the winning company’s products on school campuses.

The companies give the schools money, often in the millions.  In return, the schools are required to promote—heavily—the contracted products.

As MuckRock documents, the contracts demand lots of space and exposure for the products.  They turn colleges and universities into pushers of sugary beverages.  This, at a time when everyone would be healthier avoiding sugary drinks or consuming them in small amounts.

MuckRock posts the contracts so you can read them for yourself.

Is your college not listed?  MuchRock says:

Well, we want to expand our survey to your school, too. Help us out by sending us the name of a public college or university, and we’ll submit a request for its alliance in the Battle of the Colas.

This is great investigative reporting.  When I wrote my 2000 article, I based it on one contract leaked to me by a school food official appalled by this marketing technique.  At the time, Coke and Pepsi were contracting with junior high and elementary schools.  Fortunately, they have stopped doing that and are now concentrating on older kids.

That’s some progress, I guess.

Want to get pouring rights off of your campus?  Good luck with that.  This is a perfect example of money vs. public healh.  Guess which is more likely to win.

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Sep 18 2018

What should be done to repopulate and reinvigorate rural America?

I’m catching up on reading and just came across the USDA’s annual report, Rural America at a Glance, 2017.

Rural areas, says the USDA, face challenges:

  • Outmigration
  • Increased adult mortality (opioid use)
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty

What does USDA suggest as the solution?  Broadband.

I’m for insisting that media companies get broadband into rural areas right now. (I have plenty of personal experience with the broadband dead zone between Whitney Point and Ithaca in upstate New York), but that’s not enough.

How about doing something to promote smaller scale, less industrial farming that would bring people back into those areas, and give them meaningful work.

Rural America is turning into America’s Third World.  That’s not good for anyone.

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Sep 17 2018

Unsavory Truth: How I deal with conflicts of interest

Coming October 30:  My new book about food company sponsorship of nutrition research and its effects on public health.  

To introduce the book, which describes the consequences of conflicts of interest generated by food industry research funding, I will be doing a series of posts about it over the next few weeks.

I begin this series with a discussion of how I manage my own financial relationships with food, beverage, or supplement companies.

As a nutrition professor, even one who is retired, I cannot avoid contacts with food companies, nor do I necessarily want to.  I need to know what they are doing.

I go to meetings sponsored by food companies, read journals sponsored by food companies, read newsletters they send me, and get frequent gifts of books, research materials, product samples, and swag ranging from small (jump drives, squeeze toys) to enormous (would you believe a room-size punching bag that looks like a cola can?).

I give talks to and occasionally consult for food companies.  At issue is how to do this without being influenced to change what I write or say—or appear to be so influenced.

If I were wealthier, I would just pay my own expenses and be done with it.  As it is, I figured out a management policy for dealing with food company gifts and payments.

  • I accept reimbursements for travel, hotels, meals, and meeting registrations (otherwise I would not be able to go).
  • I do not accept honoraria, consulting fees, or any other personal payment.
  • Instead, I ask the company to make an equivalent donation to the NYU Library’s Food Studies collection (which is named after me) or to my department’s fund for student travel.  If the checks come to me directly, I endorse them over to NYU.  I report all such income appropriately on tax forms.

I am well aware that this policy is not perfect.  Small gifts, meals, and travel reimbursements are thoroughly established to influence physicians’ prescription practices, and I derive reputational benefit from donations to NYU.

But this policy makes me think carefully about conflicted situations and I try to make it work as well as I can.

My conflict of interest declaration on journal articles reads as follows:

Marion Nestle’s retirement and research funds from New York University support her research, manuscript preparation, and website at foodpolitics.com.  She earns royalties from books, and honoraria and travel from lectures, about matters relevant to this publication.

A summary of this policy is posted on the About page on this site.

Sep 14 2018

Weekend reading: Food Justice Now!

Johsua Sbicca.  Food Justice Now!  Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle.  University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Image result for Food Justice Now! Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle

This book is about how to turn the “eat-better” food movement into a movement for social justice.  It directly addresses the complaint that the food movement has no real power.

Sbicca, a sociologist at Colorado State, bases his analysis on three case studies of food justice activism focused on creating reasonably paid work for former prisoners and low-wage workers, many of them of color or immigrants.

He tells the stories of three programs, Planting Justice in Oakland, California; the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project; and programs run by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

In writing this book, he investigates

the tensions between maintaining an “us” in the food movement and a “them” needed to keep the food system running.  This informs the prospects of a food politics that is capable of overcoming ethnoracial and citizenship boundaries…The ethnoracial and class makeup of food workers pushes labor organizers to challenge the race-to-the-bottom practices of food corporations.

He ends the book by calling for what is needed to create true food justice: land, labor, community development, health, self-determination, and environmental sustainability—exactly what is called for in food system reform.

This is an academic book but well worth reading for anyone who cares about building a movement with power to change food systems.

 

Sep 13 2018

Beer: sustainable, THC-infused, from BeverageDaily.com

BeverageDaily.com does a monthly special collection of industry-focused articles on beer.  This one spotlights sustainability, but includes a couple of items about—really!—cannabis-infused beer, as well as tea, coffee, and water.  As readers of this blog know, I am following the politics of cannabis edibles.  It’s now time to add drinks to the list, or what is known in the trade, apparently, as the “THC-infused beverage space.”

And here are even more of its articles about the beer industry.  Be sure to check the one about how to personalize yours with 3D printing.