Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Jul 29 2007

Movies: Ratatouille and No Reservations

I love food movies. Ratatouille and No Reservations would make a great double bill. They both reveal a lot about what goes on in restaurant kitchens. Anyone can cook? Maybe, but not necessarily well.

Jul 28 2007

Bottled Water (Sigh)

Thanks Eric for posting an article from the July 27 Los Angeles Times under the Diet Drinks category, for lack of a better place to put it. I hope this posting fixes that problem. PepsiCo, it seems, will now label Aquafina bottled water with its origin–“public water source,” meaning tap water (Coke’s Dasani water, of course, also comes from public water supplies). Bottled water is so amazing to talk about that I devote an entire chapter of What to Eat to that topic. The L.A. Times piece covers the big issues: energy cost, corporate control of water, creation of massive amounts of plastic trash, and the one that I find most troubling–the undermining of confidence in public water supplies and public commitment to maintaining water supplies of high quality. The article quotes an investment analyst saying that Coke and Pepsi do not make a lot of profit on bottled water. I find that hard to believe. In any case, the message is clear. If you live in a place that still has a decent water supply, refill that bottle from the tap! If you want to weigh in on bottled water, do it here from now on.

Jul 27 2007

Bored With Food Recalls? You Are Not Alone

On July 18 and again on July 21, the FDA announced a recall of canned chili and other foods, including pet foods, produced by Castleberry’s Food Company in Georgia because they made four people sick from botulism. Now the FDA and USDA have issued guidance to companies for proper handling of foods to prevent botulism, which can be fatal.

I don’t understand why people aren’t demonstrating in the streets for better oversight of food safety. Botulism used to be a big problem in low-acid canned foods until the FDA issued rules for dealing with them properly. If it’s still a problem, it’s either because companies are not following standard food safety procedures or because their systems failed and nobody noticed. We do not have a food safety system in this country that requires every food product made or imported into this country to be produced under standard food safety rules, monitored and enforced, from farm to table. I think we need them. Now. The endless “recalls” (in quotation marks because they are voluntary, unenforceable, and never able to get back more than a fraction of the products out there–they are still on shelves according to USA Today) may be endlessly boring but they ought to be inducing outrage–and lots of expressions of outrage to congressional representatives (easy to contact).

Jul 27 2007

Should Kids Eat Organics?

A reader posted this question: “Marion, I’ve really enjoyed your book and found it extremely eye-opening. My question is… should I be buying organic juice for my toddler who drinks lots of juice?”
Sure, why not? Even though science has not yet been able to demonstrate much harm to children from consumption of pesticides, why take a chance when you don’t have to. Children who typically eat organic fruits and vegetables have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies, as shown by studies. That seems desirable. If you can afford organics, they are always a good idea. But lots of juice? Juices are great in small amounts but their sugar calories add up quickly. Have you thought of trying fruit? And giving your toddler water to drink?

Jul 26 2007

Does Nutrition Education Work?

For my thoughts on the recent Associated Press report (unpublished except in newspapers) suggesting that nutrition education doesn’t work to change people’s eating habits, see my interview at Eating Liberally.

Jul 26 2007

Friends Make Friends Obese?

So the latest report from the Framingham Heart Study tells us that obesity travels in social networks. You are likely to be overweight if your friends are, and vice versa. Gina Kolata has a great account of the study in today’s New York Times, but the paper itself is worth reading for its gorgeous diagram of this particular social network. It is also noteworthy for its ability to expand your otherwise boring vocabulary. Did you know that homophily is the tendency for people to choose relationships with people who have similar attributes, and alter is a person connected to the ego who may influence the behavior of the ego? Not me.  Never mind.  Go see what The Onion has to say about this.

Jul 25 2007

Diet Sodas and Metabolic Risks?

The Framingham Heart Study has just released new results suggesting that people who drink one or more 12-ounce sodas a day have a greater chance of developing “multiple metabolic risk factors” such as obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), high blood sugar (diabetes), or low HDL-cholesterol (the good kind). The story made headlines in USA Today and other publications because diet sodas–which have no calories–were associated with the same level of risk as that of sodas made with corn sweeteners. As might be expected, soda industry officials find this result ridiculous but I think it makes sense if you think of sodas–diet and not–as an indicator of poor dietary habits. Plenty of evidence suggests that many (although certainly not all) people who habitually drink sodas of any kind consume more calories, have worse diets, and are more likely to be overweight than people who do not. For some individuals, using artificial sweeteners helps maintain weight. But on a population basis, the huge increase in use of artificial sweeteners since the early 1980s has occurred precisely in parallel with rising rates of obesity. So lots of people must be making up for the calories they save in diet sodas by eating other junk foods. When it comes to food, I don’t care for anything artificial so I try to avoid artificial sweeteners as much as I can. And you?

Jul 24 2007

That Pesky Farm Bill

A reader just posted an interesting comment about marketing foods to children in school, but also has this to say about the farm bill: “…I’m concerned with the vast amount of money that is spent on promotion of corn and obesity with the corn subsidies in the Farm Bill…Dr. Nestle, what do you think can be done so that America has a Farm Bill more appropriate for public health before the current one is reissued for 2008-2012?
My response: Well, something certainly needs to be done about the Farm Bill, especially this year when it’s up for renewal. The Farm Bill (food bill, really) has everything to do with our food and agriculture system, good and bad. But the issues it concerns are mind-numbingly complex. Dan Imhoff’s book, Food Fight, is a good place to start figuring out what they mean, and he has a terrific short summary of his book at the Center for Ecoliteracy. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis is another great source of information–check out their reports, particularly the one called Food Without Thought about how current farm policies promote obesity. Now is the time to let congressional representatives know how you think about the issues. It could not be easier to find and contact them. Maybe they will listen if enough people let them know that farm policies should promote health–for people and the environment. Don’t you think it’s worth a try?

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