by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Advocacy

Apr 22 2022

My latest article: Regulating the Food Industry

The American Journal of Public Health has just published a first look—ahead of its print in June—at my most recent article, Regulating the Food Industry: An Aspirational Agenda [if you are not a member of the American Public Health Association, this will be behind a paywall, alas].

It begins:

I end it with policy recommendations for:

  • Dietary guidelines
  • Mass media campaigns
  • Taxes
  • Warning labels
  • Marketing restrictions
  • Portion size restrictions
  • Farm subsidies

Hence, aspirational.

And, I say,

While we are thinking in aspirational terms, let us not forget root causes. We must also demand policies that link agriculture to public health, keep corporate money out of politics, reduce corporate concentration, and require Wall Street evaluate corporations on the basis of social as well as fiscal responsibility.  In comparison with those challenges, takin gon the food industry should be easy.

Let’s get to work.

Dec 23 2021

Good news: sometimes, food advocacy works

How about let’s end this year with some cheery news.

The Global Health Advocacy Indicator (“Changing Policies to Save Lives”) has produced a series of international case studies of successful advocacy for a healthier food environment.

  • How Advocates Protected Heart Health in Brazil: Brazil approved strict limits on trans fat in food following strategic advocacy led by local civil society organizations supported by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI). Our new case study describes the process and lessons learned. Read the case study
  • A Victory for Healthy Food Policy in Argentina: Argentina passed a Front of Package Labels bill with some of the strongest standards in the region in October, thanks to incredible advocacy by civil society organizations FIC Argentina, Fundeps, SANAR and Consumidores Argentinos.  Read more
  • How Advocacy Communications Supported Healthy Food Policy in Colombia: Colombia adopted a new Front of Package Labels law in August. We asked our civil partners how they how they used communications to advance advocacy and mobilize public support. Read the responses from Red PaPaz, Colectivo de Abogados, Dejusticia and FIAN Colombia. Read the responses
  • Trans Fat Policy Win in Bangladesh: In November, Bangladesh set new trans fat limits in line with international best practices. “The approval of trans fat regulations in Bangladesh illustrates the power of civil society advocates to impact public health policy,” said Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, GHAI’s coordinator of cardiovascular health work in Bangladesh. Read more
  • Case Study: Trans Fat Elimination in the Philippines: Read our new case study about the advocacy that led the Philippines to mandate the elimination of industrially produced trans fat from its food supply in July.  Read the case study
  • Resource: Legal Issues in the Design and Implementation of Public Health Measures: Our new resource, Legal Issues in the Design and Implementation of Public Health Measures, describes how our legal experts evaluate public health policies and legislation. Download the Guide
  • Report: Behind the Labels: Big Food’s War on Healthy Food Policies:  Our new report describes how the ultra-processed food and beverage product industry is attempting to derail effective front-of-package warning label policies, and shares key activities public health advocates are using in response. View the report
  • New Case Study: Protecting Heart Health in India: Our new case studies describes how Indian advocates supported new national limits on trans fat, a particularly harmful food component.  

Advocacy can succeed when it is done well.  It’s working in all these countries.  We could do that too!

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Jul 14 2021

The UN Summit on Food Systems 2: The Critique

Yesterday, I posted information about the forthcoming UN Summit on Food Systems (UNFSS) and its Pre-Summit.  The Summit has been heavily criticized on the grounds that it:

  • Sets agenda themes determined by corporate entities such as The World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation.
  • Favors corporate technological solutions to food system problems.
  • Ignores agroecology, organic farming, and indigenous knowledge.
  • Excludes meaningful representation from people most affected by food system transformation.
  • Promotes corporate control of food systems.
  • Ignores the conflicted interests of its organizers.
  • Is fundamentally undemocratic.

These criticisms are so severe that The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism for Relations with the UN (CSM) is organizing counter events July 25 to July 27.

Much has been written to document such concerns.

Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism, North America: UN Food System Summit “Dialogue” events spark renewed concerns of corporate capture in North American food system and rural economies globally

In March 2020, 550 civil society organizations sent an open letter to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General condemning the involvement of the World Economic Forum in the UNFSS, the appointment of Ms. Agnes Kalibata as UNFSS Special Envoy due to her links to corporate agribusiness, the failure of the UNFSS to elevate the primacy and indivisibility of human rights frameworks as foundational to the governance of food systems, and the necessity of civil society organizations to have an autonomous, self-organized, and equal ‘seat at the table.’ These concerns have not been addressed despite numerous CSM interactions with UNFSS organizers.

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES): An IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] for Food?”  How the UN Food Systems Summit is being used to advance a problematic new science-policy agenda.

Behind what sounds like a technocratic question is in fact a high-stakes battle over different visions of what constitutes legitimate science and relevant knowledge for food systems. This, in turn, is part of a broader battle over what food systems should look like and who should govern them.

Matthew CanfieldMolly D. Anderson and Philip McMichael.  UN Food Systems Summit 2021: Dismantling Democracy and Resetting Corporate Control of Food Systems.  Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 13 April 2021. [Note: this paper has an especially useful historical account of attempts to establish global food system governance]

Although few people will dispute that global food systems need transformation, it has become clear that the Summit is instead an effort by a powerful alliance of multinational corporations, philanthropies, and export-oriented countries to subvert multilateral institutions of food governance and capture the global narrative of “food systems transformation”…It elaborates how the current structure and forms of participant recruitment and public engagement lack basic transparency and accountability, fail to address significant conflicts of interest, and ignore human rights.

Independent scientists:  Open letter to policy makers: No new science-policy interface for food systems.

We call on governments and policymakers to…Support participatory processes that actively and meaningfully include plural perspectives and voices in food system governance. Farmers and other citizens need inclusive, participatory, and safe spaces within the CFS-HLPE process to co-create the knowledge necessary to govern food systems at global, national and local levels.

Maywa Montenegro, Matthew Canfield, and Alastair IlesWeaponizing Science in Global Food Policy.

Nobody disputes the need for urgent action to transform the food system. But the UNFSS has been criticized by human rights experts for its top-down and non-transparent organization. Indigenous peoples, peasants, and civil society groups around the world know their hard-won rights are under attack. Many are protesting the summit’s legitimacy and organizing counter-mobilizations.

Scientists are also contesting a summit because of its selective embrace of science, as seen in a boycott letter signed by nearly 300 academics, from Brazil to Italy to Japan.

Through the Summit, “science” has been weaponized by powerful actors not only to promote a technology-driven approach to food systems, but also to fragment global food security governance and create institutions more amenable to the demands of agribusiness.

ScientistsAn open letter from scientists calling for a boycott of the 2021 Food Systems Summit.

Some critics of the UNFSS have suggested ways that the process could become less problematic: (1) it could incorporate a human rights framing into all of its “action tracks”; (2) it could create an action track led by the CSM on the corporate capture of food systems; and (3) it could designate the UN Committee on World Food Security as the institutional home to implement recommendations coming out of the summit.

Nisbett N, et al.  Equity and expertise in the UN Food Systems Summit.  BMJ Global Health. 2021;6:e006569.

…time is not late to take action in rebalancing powers and enabling a greater diversity of knowledge, not simply among a multiplicity of voices in multiple public forums, but explicitly engaged at the summit’s top table of expertise and summit leadership. It is also not late to adopt mechanisms that limit the engagement of those actors whose primary interests have driven our food systems to
become unhealthy, unsustainable and inequitable, so the voices of the people can be clearly heard..

An alternative: The Global People’s Summit on Food Systems

The People’s Summit is composed primarily of movements of landless peasants, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, rural women, and youth—or small food producers who produce 70% of the world’s food, yet remain among the world’s poorest and food insecure.  “The issue of landlessness and land grabbing is not on the agenda of the UNFSS.  Nowhere in its so-called Action Tracks do discussions highlight critical trends such as on land concentration and reconcentration in the hands of big agribusiness firms and their network of local landlords and compradors, nor on the massive displacement of rural communities to give way to big private investments and large development projects,” said Chennaiah Poguri, chairperson of the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC).

Additions

 

May 28 2021

Weekend reading (and thinking): “framing” food messages

The Rockefeller Foundation has produced what I view as an incredibly important guide to describing—“framing”—food system issues in ways that will encourage support for transforming the U.S. food system.

For effective advocacy, issues have to be “framed” in a way that the public can understand and respond to.

“Framing” is a concept made famous by George Lakoff.  It refers to the way political messages are designed to resonate with voters.  But it also refers to how public health messages can be designed to be more effective in encouraging people to act in the interests of their own health (wear masks, for example).

For food system change, the Rockefeller Foundation issued an action guide:  Reset the Table: Messaging Guide,

One of the consistent needs expressed by those seeking to transform the food system is a shared narrative to motivate and sustain the needed changes in the system. This narrative and messaging guide focuses on the long-term food system transformation while responding to the evolving circumstances presented by the pandemic, economic downturn, and racial justice reckoning being experienced in the United States.

Its guide is part of a longer report giving the research basis behind the messages: Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System.

Here is an example of how this kind of research-based framing works:

And here is an example of the messaging in action:

These are great suggestions for ways to talk about food issues.

Required reading!

Apr 9 2021

Weekend advocacy: The People vs. Big Soda

I’ve just received a copy of Larry Tramutola’s The People VS Big Soda: Strategies for Winning Soda Tax Elections.

Larry was involved in the successful Berkeley soda tax initiative, and this is his account of how they won an election wtih an astonishing plurality of 76%.  I consider this initiative to be a model of how to do food advocacy, and it’s great to have this practical guide to the details of starting a campaign like this or, for that matter, any other food campaign.

He covers such matters as:

  • Coalition building
  • Dealing with industry arguments
  • Framing the issue
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Winning despite limited financial resources
  • Building power, step by step
  • Staying with it no matter what happens

These are important lessons for anyone involved in food advocacy.

I can’t find anything about this booklet online, which means that if you want one, you must contact him at:

Larry Tramutola
191 Ridgeway Avenue
Oakland, California 94611
PHONE510-658-7003
May 8 2020

Weekend reading: Bite Back!

Saru Jayaraman and Kathryn De Master, eds.  Bite Back: People Taking On Corporate Food and Winning.  University of California Press, 2020.

Bite Back by Saru Jayaraman, Kathryn De Master - Paperback ...

It is a heartbreak that this book is being released at a time when book tours have to be virtual.

If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is about the basic inadequacies and inequities of our food system, and how badly we need to do something about them.  Just one example: slaughterhouses as viral epicenters forced to stay open by presidential decree.

What can be done?

Start here.  Buy this book.  Read it.  Act.

This book has been a long time coming.  I wrote its Foreword.  Here’s what I said (the version as published was edited slightly).

Our food system—how we produce, process, distribute, and consume food—is broken, and badly.  We know this because roughly a billion people in the world go hungry every day for lack of a reliable food supply while, perversely, about two billion are overweight and at increased risk for chronic diseases.  All of us bear the consequences of atmospheric warming due, in part, to greenhouse gases released from industrial production of food animals.

It is true that a great many factors have contributed to the breaking of our food system, but one in particular stands out as a cause: the companies that produce our food put profits above public health. They have to.  Capitalism demands this priority.

Yes, food companies make and sell products we love to eat, but they are not social service agencies.  They are businesses with primary fiduciary responsibilities to stockholders.  Like all corporations, they must put profits above public health.

If we want to reverse this priority, we are going to have to get organized, mobilize, and act.  Bite Back, a truly extraordinary book, tells us how.

Bite Back is a manifesto.  It is a call to action to reverse the harm caused by corporate takeover of our food system.  It is an advocacy manual for, as the editors put it, “disrupting corporate power through food democracy.”  It is a guidebook for empowering all of us to resist corporate power and to collectively gain the power to make our own decisions about how to create a food system that best prevents hunger, improves health, and reverses climate change.

The operative phrase here is “food democracy.”  This book embeds democracy in its very structure.  The first part of each of its sections—Labor, Seeds, Pesticides, Energy, Health, Hunger, Trade–reviews how the requirement that corporations focus on profits has harmed workers, undermined small farmers, imperiled health, damaged the environment, and imposed highly processed “junk” foods on world populations.

But the second parts are about democracy in action.  Each highlights the work of individuals or groups who have resisted corporate power—and succeeded in doing so.  Here, we see how community organizing, grassroots advocacy, and bottom-up leadership can stop or reverse some of the more egregious corporate damage.  These chapters make it clear that advocacy can succeed.  They demonstrate that resistance to corporate power is not only necessary; it is also possible.

            The food movement in the United States has been criticized for its focus on personal food access rather than putting its energy into mobilizing forces to gain real political power.  Why, for example, do we not see a grassroots political movement emerging among participants in federal food assistance programs to demand better-paying jobs, safer communities, and better schools?  I’m guessing that the power imbalance seems too discouraging.  This book aims to redress that imbalance.

Bite Back presents voices from the food movement, all deeply passionate about their causes.  Read here about the importance of grassroots organizing, why advocates must stay eternally vigilant to maintain the gains they have won, and why uniting advocacy organizations into strong coalitions is essential for gaining power.

A particular gift is the Afterword, which is anything but an afterthought.  Subtitled “Taking Action to Create Change,” it is a superb summary of the principal elements of successful advocacy.  It explains the basic tools of community organizing—setting goals, building organizations and coalitions, identifying the people who can make desired changes, developing strategies and tactics, and gaining real power—and how to obtain and use those tools.

Together, these elements make Bite Back essential reading for anyone who longs for a food system healthier for people and the environment.  This book is an inspiration for food advocates and potential advocates.  Join organizations!  Vote!  Run for office!   Whatever you do, get busy and act!   Our food system and the world will be better—much better—as a result.

                •                                                                                     –Marion Nestle, New York City, March 2019

 

 

Mar 5 2019

Food movement coalitions: Do you know of any?

I’ve been giving talks lately on how to strengthen the food movement and my two-word answer is this: build coalitions.

The food movement includes thousands of organizations working on food issues.  For real power, those organizations need to unite around common goals.

At a recent talk in Berkeley, I was asked if I could name some food movement coalitions.  I had trouble thinking of any, but the audience popped up with suggestions and I’ve added a couple more.

  • California Food and Farming Network is dedicated to advancing state policies that are rooted in communities, promote fairness and racial equity, secure financial prosperity and advance environmental sustainability.  It tracks legislation and publishes a scorecard.  50 member groups.
  • La Via Campesina: 182 organizations in 81 countries advocate for peasants’ rights, food sovereignty, and social justice and oppose corporate-driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.
  • National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA):  Its more than 500 organizations advocate for policies and programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: Its 120 member groups advocate for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities by supporting small and mid-size family farms.
  • Rural coalition: “Our mission is to build an equitable and sustainable food system that is beneficial to people of color, small farmers, rural and tribal communities.”  50 member groups.

If you know of others, please let me know at marion.nestle@nyu.edu.  I will be tracking these.

The next step: a union of coalitions?

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Jul 13 2018

Weekend action: speak up for public health

As I posted last week, the New York Times has a handy guide to how to participate in politics.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) also has a guide, Speak for Health, specifically focused on lobbying on behalf of health.

The guide explains how to be effective in reaching lawmakers and their staff.  It suggests how you can:

  • Meet with your members of Congress or their staff, or invite them to visit you.
  • Attend a public forum and ask a question.
  • Submit an op-ed to your local paper. Email APHA for a template letter or technical assistance.
  • Use Facebook or Twitter to engage your members of Congress. Make sure to use #SpeakForHealth!
  • Email or call your members of Congress. Use an APHA action alert as a phone script or email message. It’s quick and easy.

These ideas work for agriculture, food, and nutrition issues too.  Use them.

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