Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Nov 12 2018

Another industry-funded study for your amusement

As I discuss in my latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eatfood industry funding of nutrition research produces highly predictable results and, therefore, is not good for science, public health, or trust.

Industry-funded studies are easily recognizable by their titles.  When I see a title like this one, I immediately wonder why anyone would do a study to example this particular question.  And then I look to see who funded it.

Title: Corn Oil Lowers Plasma Cholesterol Compared with Coconut Oil in Adults with Above-Desirable Levels of Cholesterol in a Randomized Crossover TrialJ Nutr 2018 148(10):1556-63.

Conclusion: “When incorporated into the habitual diet, consumption of foods providing ∼54 g of corn oil/d produced a more favorable plasma lipid profile than did coconut oil in adults with elevated cholesterol.”

Sponsor: “Supported by ACH Food Companies, Inc., Oakbrook Terrace, IL,” and all of the authors either received research funding from ACH Food Companies, Inc., or are employees of that company.

Comment: So what is this about?  ACH is the maker of Mazola oil, which must be losing market share to coconut oil.

Which oil is better for you and does it really matter?

I sure would like some independent researchers to weigh in on this.

Nov 9 2018

Weekend reading: Farming While Black

Leah Penniman.  Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land  Chelsea Green, 2018.

This is the second copy of this book sent by the publisher.  The first was snapped up off my desk by a colleague who was desperate for this book, not even knowing it existed.

For good reason.

This book is way more than a how-to guide, although it does that part splendidly.  It thoroughly integrates farming basics with necessary elements of supportive community, grounded in Penniman’s experience with Soul Fire Farm near Albany, New York.

Every section emphasizes the importance of community.

  • On finding the right land: make sure it is geographically accessible to a community where you feel you can belong.
  • On mission statements: train and empower aspiring Black, Latinx and indigenous growers; advance healing justice.

Every section emphasizes resources for Black farmers—scholarships, training programs, university programs, food hubs—and the contributions of traditional African and modern African-American farmers to what we know about how best to conduct sustainable agriculture.

The book is firmly grounded in history.  I particularly appreciated the annotated timeline of the trauma inflicted on Black farmers induced by racism.  This history begins with slavery, but continues through police brutality, convict leasing, sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, land theft, USDA discrimination, real estate redlining, and today’s mass incarceration and gaps in income, food access, and power.

Karen Washington wrote the Foreword:

We sat with pride as we went around the circle introducing ourselves, talking about our frustrations with not being represented at food and farming conferences.  I sat in awe as this young Black woman [Penniman] engaged us in conversation about race and power…this masterpiece of indigenous sovereignty [Farming While Black] sheds light on the richness of Black culture permeating throughout agriculture.

From Penniman’s chapter on keeping seeds:

Just 60 years ago, seeds were largely stewarded by small farmers and public-sector plant breeders.  Today, the proprietary seed market accounts for 82 percent of the seed supply globally, with Monsanto and DuPont owning the largest shares…Beyond simply preserving the genetic heritage of the seed it is also crucial to our survival that we preserve the stories of our seeds…our obligation is to keep the stories of the farmers who curated the seeds alive along with the plant itself.    It matters to know that roselle is from Senegal and tht the Geechee red pea is an essential ingredient in the Gullah dish known as Hoppin’ John.  In keeping the stories of our seeds alive, we keep the craft of our ancestors alive in our hearts.

Penniman offers suggestions for white readers who might want to help:

Adopting a listener’s framework is the first step for white people who want to form interracial alliances  Rather than trying to “outreach” to people of color and convince them to join your initiative, find out about existing community work that is led by people directly impacted by racism and see how you can engage.

This is an important book for everyone who cares about farming and agrarian values, regardless of color.

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Nov 8 2018

Progress, of sorts, on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines

Remember the Dietary Guidelines?  Those pesky things that have to be revised every five years by order of Congress?

This time, the USDA is firmly in charge of the joint process with HHS.

It says the updating process is well underway.

The call has gone out for nominations of advisory committee members.  This is now closed and USDA expects to appoint the committee within the next few months.

And now it has put the official charter for the process out for comment.

It also has issued a Q and A.

And provides a schedule for public engagement.

A few aspects of this especially interest me:

  • Nothing has been said about a new food guide (MyPlate is left over from the 2010 guidelines).
  • USDA’s close control.  It says this is mandated by Congress.
  • The level of scrutiny of the process will be exceptional, giving the fuss about the 2015 guidelines.
  • Expect the process to be highly politicized.

This committee will have its work cut out for it.  Much appreciation to the brave souls willing to take this on.

I can’t wait to see who they are.

Stay tuned.

Nov 7 2018

Trump’s “public charge” proposal: just say no

The Trump Administration’s “public charge” proposal is now open for public comment.

This ungenerous and unwelcoming idea is to use participation in benefits for the poor—food assistance programs among them—as a way to deny residency or citizenship to those coming to live or work here.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)…proposes to require all aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule.

Why is DHS doing this?  Ostensibly, because it

seeks to better ensure that applicants for admission to the United States and applicants for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident who are subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility are self-sufficient, i.e., do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their family, sponsor, and private organizations.

What programs constitute a public charge?

  • Any grant, contract, loan, professional license, or commercial license provided by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States; and
  • Any retirement, welfare, health, disability, public or assisted housing, postsecondary education, food assistance, unemployment benefit, or any other similar benefit for which payments or assistance are provided to an individual, household, or family eligibility unit by an agency of the United States or by appropriated funds of the United States.

Brilliant move.  It kills two birds with one stone: it discourages immigration, and saves money (those tax cuts for the wealthy make this necessary).

As Jan Poppendieck explains, this proposal revises the promise of the Statue of Liberty to read “don’t give me your tired and your poor.”

The proposal is open for public comment until December 10.

I hope it gets lots.

Nov 6 2018

It’s Election Day: Vote!

Voting has everything to do with food politics.

To pick just one, light-hearted (we need this), example: Ben & Jerry’s new ice cream flavor: Resist.

What’s in it? “Chocolate ice cream with white and dark fudge chunks, pecans, walnuts, and fudge-covered almonds.”

I don’t even want to think about the calories.  Everything in moderation, of course.

Except voting.

Vote!

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Nov 5 2018

Why I so enjoy industry-funded studies

My latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eatis about food industry funding of nutrition research and why it’s not good for science, public health, or trust.

The book is full of examples, easily recognized by their titles.

I can’t resist showing you the latest example:

The title: Vitamin-supplemented chewing gum can increase salivary and plasma levels of a panel of vitamins in healthy human participants.  Journal of Functional Foods Volume 50, November 2018, Pages 37-44.

The conclusion: “our study demonstrates the potential usefulness of chewing gum as a delivery vehicle for both water- and fat-soluble vitamins.”

Guess who funded this study?  “This work was supported by Vitaball, Inc. (FT. Thomas, KY, USA) and the United States Department of Agriculture.”

Vitaball, you can probably guess, makes vitamin-fortified chewing gum, and one of the study’s authors works for the company.

Want vitamins?  Try food.

Nov 2 2018

Weekend reading: Supermarket USA

Shane Hamilton.  Supermarket USA: Food and Power in the Cold War Farms Race.  Yale University Press, 2018.

Image result for supermarkets usa shane hamilton

I did a blurb for this one:

Who knew that supermarkets, of all things, were key elements of U.S. free-enterprise, anti-Soviet, Cold War propaganda.  Hamilton fully explains how “farm wars” led directly to today’s international industrial agribusinesses.   This superb book is a must-read.

Nov 1 2018

Brave new food world: Will you eat these things?

I’ve started taking note of foods and ingredients still in the research phase or soon to come to a supermarket near lucky you.

Some recent examples:

  • Fat replacer made from wood cellulose.  This is designed to be used to make mayonnaise, sauces, dressings, and ice cream, among other foods.  Why?  This won’t have much in the way of calories or saturated fatty acids.
  • Blue salad dressing made from SpirulinaWhy?  It’s “Instagrammable.”
  • Crickets for breakfastInvestigators fed muffins made with dried cricket powder to 20 courageous volunteers.  Why?  “These data suggest that eating crickets may improve gut health and reduce systemic inflammation.”  But note the disclaimer: “more research is needed to understand these effects and underlying mechanisms.”
  • Salmon skin chips.  “The skins are washed and boiled before cooking which rmoves any ‘overly fishy’ taste, and are available in three flavours: lightly salted; salt & vinegar and lime and vinegar.”
  • Insect-based protein supplements for athletes, vanilla flavoredWhy?  “Opportunities in sports nutrition, and particularly in bulk powders, are greater than those in bars right now—especially given existing competition in the insect bar space.”
  • Danish insect buffalo worm bar: Denmark-based Wholifoods has developed a buffalo worm energy bar rich in iron, zinc and magnesium to plug deficiencies and provide holistic sport nutrition stretching beyond protein which is ‘very hyped’, its co-founder says. Read more
  • Danish protein juice: crickets, coffee & mushrooms: Another month, another insect start-up? Maybe, but Danish firm Insekt KBH’s apple, ginger and cricket juice is different: it’s sustainable not only thanks to its ingredients but because it’s produced in Copenhagen’s self-sustaining urban food loop. Read more
  • Wilde Chicken Chips: Wilde Chicken Chips – thinly-sliced premium cuts of chicken tossed in tapioca flour, fried in coconut oil, and seasoned in various spices – reached nationwide availability at Whole Foods and Sprouts stores last month and will be debuting a new flavor early next year that founder Jason Wright believes will make chips a breakfast snack item. Read more
  • Walkers Chips flavored with brussels sprouts or Iceland chips flavored with pine needles:  “We know the sprout debate is one that divides the nation, so we wanted to offer product solutions for both sides of the debate, and ask people to decide whether they are a #SproutLover or #SproutHater,” said Andrew Hawkswell, marketing manager of brand owner PepsiCo.”

Yum.  Can’t wait.