Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jun 3 2024

Industry-funded study of the week: Pork

A reader, Tara Kenny, sent me this one.  She wrote that she had seen a chart from this paper posted on X (Twitter) “showing  how pork, chicken, eggs, fish and turkey are almost the same as beans and nuts in terms of mean GHGs/50g of protein so I figured this paper would have likely have some conflicts of interests…It does.”

I went right to it.

  • The paper: Perspective: The Place of Pork Meat in Sustainable Healthy Diets. Advances in Nutrition.  Adam Drewnowski.  Advances in Nutrition.  Volume 15, Issue 5, May 2024, 100213.
  • Rationale. “The present analyses explore the place of pork in sustainable healthy diets worldwide, given the need for high-quality protein and the predictable patterns of global food demand.”
  • Method: “This Perspective article aims to assess the place of fresh pork in the global sustainability framework, drawing on data from United States sources and from international agencies. The present goal was to examine the sustainability of pork as a source of meat protein, considering nutrition, affordability, environmental impact, and future food demand.”
  • Conflict of interest: “AD is the original developer of the Naturally Nutrient Rich (NNR) and the Nutrient Rich Food (NRF) nutrient profiling models and a member of scientific advisory panels for The National Pork Board, Nestlé, FrieslandCampina, BEL, and Carbohydrate Quality Panel supported by Potatoes USA and has worked with Ajinomoto, FoodMinds, KraftHeinz, Nutrition Impact LLC, Nutrition Institute, PepsiCo, and Samsung on quantitative ways to assess nutrient density of foods.”
  • Funding: “Analyses of publicly available USDA, FAO, and World Bank data were supported by the National Pork Board. The funders were not involved in the development of databases, analytical models, data analysis or interpretation, manuscript preparation or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.”

Comment: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by agriculture is an important goal.  Most researchers think industrialized countries should produce less meat (particularly beef) as a necessary first step.  This analysis suggests we stop worrying about the effects of pork on climate change (never mind the effects of industrial pork production on air, land, and water within smelling distance). This article, by my old friend and colleague Adam Drewnowski, is an excellent overview of pork nutrition.  But why do it?  The title alone raises the question, “Who paid for this?”

May 31 2024

Weekend reading: The Financial Times (!) on ultra-processed foods

If you are still confused about ultra-processed foods and the current status of this truly important dietary concept, here is a great place to start: The Financial Times of all things: “Deny, denounce, delay”: The battle over the risk of ultra-processed foods.

Why important?  The message is clear: eat less of them.  Hence, the article’s subtitle: “Big Food is trying to dampen fears about the effects of industrially formulated substances.”

This piece is totally worth reading.

It is clear that the public is now much more aware of UPFs, and concerned about them. Two-thirds of Europeans now believe that ultra-processed foods are unhealthy and will cause health problems in later life, according to a February survey of 10,000 people in 17 countries, and 40 percent do not trust that the authorities are regulating them well enough. Research by Mintel in the UK has found that 70 percent of UK adults try to avoid ultra-processed foods.

“I don’t think even Carlos Monteiro in his wildest dreams expected the public discourse to get so attuned,” says Lang at City University. “The public is running with it. The genie is out of the bottle.”

May 30 2024

What’s new in food tech? A few that caught my fancy

I’m a food technology skeptic but I do enjoy keeping an eye on what food scientists and innovators are coming up with.  Just what we need!

May 29 2024

U.S. food insecurity: a failure of public policy

It takes a while for USDA to catch up to the data so its most recent report on food insecurity ends with 2021: “Household Food Insecurity Across Race and Ethnicity in the United States, 2016-21.

The highlights:

▪ The prevalence of food insecurity ranges from a low of 5.4% for Asian households to a high of 23.3% for American Indian and Alaska Native households. Food-insecure households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all household members because of a lack of resources.
▪ Food insecurity varied substantially by country of origin. Among Hispanic origin subgroups, food insecurity varied from 11.4% in Cuban households to 21% in Dominican households. Food insecurity among Asian origin subgroups ranged from 1.7% in Japanese households to 11.4% in other Asian households.

But where is the trend?  The report did not include a trend line (could politics have something to do with this?).

Fortunately, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities used the USDA data to produce this:

It’s a sad story of policy failure.  We had one that worked during the pandemic.  But Congress chose to end demonstrably effective measures.  Politics wins over science, in this case tragically.

Overall, food insecurity increased from 10.2 percent in 2021 to 12.8 percent in 2022 — resulting in 10.3 million more people, including 4.1 million more children, who lived in households that experienced food insecurity in 2022 compared to 2021 — reflecting higher food costs and the phasing out of many pandemic relief measures.

May 28 2024

Industry-funded study of the week: Almonds again

It’s been a couple of years since I’m commented on almond-industry research funding, but it remains hard at work.  Sasha Matera-Vatnick sent me a report of this study from Food Technology.  It essentially reproduced the California Almonds’ press release: New Research: Eating Almonds Can Aid in Post-Exercise Recovery.

The study: Witard, O., Siegel, L., Rooney, J., Marjoram, L., Mason, L., Bowles, E., Valente, T., Keulen, V., Helander, C., Rayo, V., Hong, M. Y., Liu, C., Hooshmand, S., & Kern, M. Chronic almond nut snacking alleviates perceived muscle soreness following downhill running but does not improve indices of cardiometabolic health in mildly overweight, middle-aged, adultsFrontiers in Nutrition. 2024 January 8: doi:

Method: 25 mildly overweight subject used a treadmill for 30 min after 8-weeks of consuming either 57 g/day of whole almonds (ALMOND) or an isocaloric amount (86 g/day) of unsalted pretzels (CONTROL).

Results: muscle soreness measured during a physical task (vertical jump) was reduced by ~24% in ALMOND vs. CONTROL . No pre-post intervention changes in assessments of cardiometabolic health, body composition, mood state or appetite were observed in ALMOND or CONTROL (all p > 0.05).

Conclusion: “Chronic almond supplementation alleviates task-specific perceived feelings of muscle soreness during acute recovery from muscle damaging exercise, resulting in the better maintenance of muscle functional capacity. These data suggest that almonds represent a functional food snack to improve exercise tolerance in mildly overweight, middle-aged adults.”

Funding: “The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This work was supported by Almond Board of California, Modesto, CA. The funder had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis and interpretation, or the preparation of the manuscript.”

Comment:  The promised mechanism of action has to do with inflammation, claimed here to be reduced by eating almonds (or pistachios in these authors’ previous studies).  Despite the detailed science here, this seems like wishful thinking.  I like nuts but what about everything else we eat?  This is a one-food study, and it defies credulity to think a handful of nuts could have signfiicant physiological effects on their own.  Whatever.  The Almond Board paid the authors to do the study and the results and interpretation were predictable from this alone.  If you believe almonds are a superfood, maybe you won’t mind the amounts of water they require.  To which, by the way, the Almond Board says other foods use more.

May 27 2024

Rest in peace, Morgan Spurlock

This is Memorial Day, and it seems appropriate to use this time and space to mourn the death of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock last week.  He was only 53.

I had brief appearances as a talking head in Super Size Me! (2004) and also Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! (2017)—although so briefly that I did not get mentioned in the credits.

Super Size Me

Super Size Me! was the first time I was interviewed for a major documentary and I wish I could remember more about its filming, which took place a year or so before the film’s release.  By the time it came out, I had forgotten about it, but was invited to the premier—a thrilling experience.

The film was fun—enormously entertaining as well as educational.  Morgan was a great storyteller, and one with a mission to improve the American diet.  The first film focused on overeating fast food.  The second focused more on food system issues; it too is well worth seeing.

In 2019, I wrote a blog post about the second film which, when released, was accompanied by a pop-up restaurant: “From my food politics point of view, the film is a must-see.  It is a compelling, beautifully photographed, disturbing, cynical, utterly devastating account of industrial chicken production.”

Spurlock was a great filmmaker, and I view the end of his life as a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.   He took a highly ethical position and wrote a confession about his poor behavior toward women.  This destroyed his career and the film disappeared.

I hoped he would recover from that and did not know of his illness.  His loss saddens me enormously. I hope his memory will be a blessing.

Addition, May 28: I’m quoted in an assessment of Spurlock’s work in the Times of London. 

May 24 2024

Weekend reading: Food Crises

The first line in this report says it all: “This Global Report on Food Crises is a roll call of human failings.”

It does not get cheerier: “In 2023, 281.6 million people, or 21.5 percent of the analyzed population faced high levels of acutte food insecurity in 59 food-crisis countries/territories.”

This report does not make for easy reading, but we need to face the realities: conflicts, weather extremes, economic shocks, and decreased humanitarian funding.

Some of these, we can—and ought to—do something about.

May 23 2024

Farm Bill lobbying

Since we are talking this week about the Farm Bill, take a look at this report from the Union of Concerned Scientists: Cultivating Control: Corporate Lobbying on the Food and Farm Bill.
Its major findings:
  • Interest groups spent more than $523 million on Farm Bill issues between 2019 and 2023.
  • Agribusiness spends more on lobbying than the gas or oil industries.
  • 561 groups reported lobbying on Farm Bill issues.
  • Agribusiness players donated $3.4 million to election campaigns, mainly to members of the House and Senate Ag committees.

The AARP (at $15 million) and Feeding America (6 million) are the main lobbyists for public health issues, but their expenditures pale in comparison to that of the top contributors.

Lobbyists must disclose spending and on what, but not their positions.  These, you have to guess, but that’s not hard to do.