by Marion Nestle

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May 15 2020

My forthcoming book: Let’s Ask Marion

I’ve just sent back the page proofs for my forthcoming book with Kerry Trueman.  It’s set for publication in late September.  It’s a short (just over 200 pages), small format (4 x 6) set of 18 short essays in Q and A format.  Kerry did the Qs.  I did the As along with introductory and concluding chapters, and a resource list.

The book went into page proofs before the Coronavirus hit.  If anything, the pandemic makes the food topics we talk about in the book even more relevant.

You can pre-order the book from Amazon here.

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 6 2020

Weekend reading: More on food banks

Rebecca de Souza.  Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries.  MIT Press, 2019.

This must be the season for books about food banking (see last week’s Weekend Reading).

Rebecca de Souza explains her book as about

food justice and, more precisely, the stigmatizing narratives that surround people who are hungry and food insecure…I argue that stigmatizing narratives about those who are hungry and food insecure—that is, poor people, women, and racial minorities—serve to uphold and legitimize the unjust food system.  I use the term neoliberal stigma to refer to a particular kind of Western and American narrative that focuses on individualism, hard work, and personal responsibility as defining attributes of human dignity and citizenship.  When people do not live up to these parameters, for reasons out of their control, they are marked as irresponsible, unworthy, and “bad citizens,” creating the “Us and Them” phenomenon.

She demonstrates these concepts through observations of two food pantries in Duluth, Minnesota.

 

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Feb 28 2020

Weekend reading: Food Banks and their Discontents

Graham Riches.  Food Bank Nations: Poverty, Corporate Charity, and the Right to Food.  Routledge, 2018.

I’m not sure how I missed this one when it came out.  It’s really good.

It is a tough analysis of the politics of charitable food—the institutionalized use of corporate food waste to feed hungry people, largely in OECD countries but also in the U.S.

  • The analysis is seen in chapter subtitles, for example:
  • Corporate capture: hunger as a charitable business
  • Shaming the hungry, regulating the poor
  • The “dark side” of food banking
  • The corporate food charity state
  • Food, as a matter of human rights

The solution?  Put rights and politics back into hunger.  The book gives examples of how to do this.

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Feb 21 2020

Weekend reading: Industry schemes to deny harm

David Michaels.  The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception.  Oxford University Press, 2019.  

Image result for The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception

Even though this book is not strictly about food politics, it has enough about the sugar and alcohol industries to qualify.  I did a blurb for it.

Triumph of Doubt is an industry-by-industry account of how corporations manipulate science and scientists to promote profits, not public health.  Nothing less than democracy is at stake here, and we all should be responding right away to David Michaels’ call for action.

Michaels, a former OSHA official, has written an insider’s look at a wide range of industries that follow the tobacco industry’s playbook for casting doubt on inconvenient science.  The range is impressive: football, diesel fuel, opioids, silica dust, Volkswagen cars, climate denial, food packaging chemicals, alcohol, sugar, and Republican ideology

He’s got some ideas about what to do—keep conflicted scientists out of policy making, for example—but in this political environment?

That leaves it up to us folks to take to the streets.  If only.

Feb 7 2020

Weekend reading: The Philosophy of Food

David M. Kaplan.  Food Philosophy: An Introduction.  Columbia University Press, 2020.

Philosophy can seem impenetrable and confusing.  What I so much like about this book is its crystal clarity.

The clarity is evident from Kaplan’s first paragraph.

This book examines some of the philosophical dimensions of food production, distribution, and consumption.  It analyzes what food is (metaphysics), how we experience food (epistemology), what taste in food is (aesthetics), how we should make and eat food (ethics), how governments should regulate food (political philosophy), and why food matters to us (existentialism).

One chapter covers each of these topics.  The chapter on political philosophy, for example, deals with what food justice is, how food systems should be regulated, and the politics of food animals, again with great clarity.

Kaplan admits to three philosophical convictions:

  • Food is always open to interpretation
  • People and animals deserve respect
  • Food is about eating–and is sometimes disgusting

Food metaphysics?  Food epistemology?  Food ethics?  How terrific to have a book like this to explain how these terms play out in real life.

Jan 31 2020

Weekend reading: the new immigrant farmers

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern.  The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability.  MIT Press, 2019.

This book is a study of Mexican-American farmers: who they are, what they do, and why and how they farm the way they do.  The author visited farms and interviewed farmers in California, Washington, Virginia, New York, and Minnesota.

In my research, I have found that throughout the United States, there are pockets of first-generation Mexican immigrant farmers who, unlike the majority of farmers in the United States, use a combination of what have been identified as alternative farming techniques.  This includes simultaneously growing multiple crops (from four to hundreds), using integrated pest management techniques, maintaining small-scale production (ranging from three to eighty acres, with most between ten and twenty, employing mostly family labor, and selling directly at farmers markets to their local communities or regional wholesale distributors….Immigrant farmers are filling unmet gaps in knowledge and labor as they ascend to farrm ownership….

 

Jan 17 2020

Weekend reading: McDonald’s in Black America

Marcia Chatelain.  Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America.  Liveright, 2020.  

I did a blurb for this book, and was happy to do it:

Marcia Chatelain uses the complex interrelationship of black communities with McDonald’s to explore the history of American racism and the struggle for civil rights.   Franchise is an eye-opener for anyone who cares about why diet-related chronic disease is more prevalent in these communities and what it is really like to be black in America.

Here are a few selected excerpts to give you the idea:

The contemporary health crisis among black America—like all of our society’s most pressing problems—has a history.  By unmasking the process of how fast food “became black,” we are able to appreciate the difficult decisions black America has had to make under the stress of racial trauma, political exclusion, and social alienation.  This story is about how capitalism can unify cohorts to serve its interests, even as it dissembles communities…Ultimately, history encourages us to be more compassionate toward individuals navigating few choices, and history cautions us to be far more critical of the institutions and structures that have the power to take choices away (p. 23).

To ignore the positive impacts of franchise networks among communities of color that appreciate their contributions would be shortsighted.  It is equally shortsighted to ignore the government subsidies, civil right organization endorsements, limited community resources, and economic desperation that supports the dubious idea that fast food—and business on the whole—can breathe life into an underdeveloped community (p. 253).

The idea of financially sound black institutions is alluring across the ideological spectrum because it allows white conservatives and liberals alike to claim plausible deniability in their role in supporting systems and politics that maintain racial capitalism (p. 260).

This book is concerned with the reasons that places like Ferguson are more likely to get a fast food restaurant than direct cash aid to the poor, oversight over the police department, or jobs that pay more than $8.60 per hour (p. 263).

This book was reviewed in the New York Times:

“Franchise” is a serious work of history….“History encourages us to be more compassionate toward individuals navigating few choices,” Chatelain writes, “and history cautions us to be far more critical of the institutions and structures that have the power to take choices away.”