by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Books

Oct 2 2020

Weekend reading: Grocery Activism

Craig B. Upright.  Grocery Activism: The Radical History of Food Cooperatives in Minnesota.  University of Minnesota Press, 2020.

Grocery Activism: The Radical History of Food Cooperatives in Minnesota:  Upright, Craig B.: 9781517900731: Books

I was interested to read this book because I was a member of the Berkeley Co-op grocery store on Shattuck Avenue back in the day and am a member of the Ithaca Co-op now.  Co-ops are member-owned.

Upright based this book on his doctoral thesis about the history of the co-op movement in Minnesota, which aimed to promote production and sales of organic foods.

It is important to study these stores and their stories because it is difficult to understand what “organic” means today without knowing what it could have been, without exploring how this new product, sold in these unconventional settings, attracted the passions of those who wanted to make their world a better place (p. 5).

The difficulty, as Upright puts it, was in trying to run a business and a social movement in one space.

A co-op will cease to exist if it continually operates at a loss.  But co-ops are generally not oriented toward generating a profit.  In fact, state laws often dictate that surplus revenues must be reinvested in the organization or returned to its members…Remaining true to their social values helps maintain the patronage and support of the members who consciously choose to participate, thus keeping the business viable (p. 79).

Upright explains the social-movement origins:

Between 1971 and 1975, co-ops promoted ideologies of opposition to larger capitalistic structures.  Particularly in the Twin Cities, new-wave co-ops opened primarily in areas characterized by institutions of higher learning and strong leftist political leanings.  They formed as art of a larger rejection of mainstream economic policies, attempting to place more power in the hands of lower-income consumers; the array of foods they sold reflected a liberal cultural and political agenda, balanced by the need to sell enough product of any kind to stay in business (p. 125).

This movement was important because in many ways, it succeeded.

The goal so many worked toward…has been achieved; organic food has now achieved mainstream acceptance.  Even so, cooperatives thrive…The social change many championed when this movement began more than forty years ago—the hope that they could challenge the dominance of prevailing agricultural paradigms—has been realized without leading to the irrelevance of co-ops (p. 210).

Sep 29 2020

Let’s Ask Marion—its officially out!

Today is the official publication date for my latest book.  This one is unusual for me.  It is tiny (4″ by 6″), short (fewer than 200 pages of text), and done in a Q and A format.  Kerry Trueman asks the questions in mini-essays.  I answer them in brief essays intended for anyone who eats.

I will be discussing the book via Zoom:

  • Tonight (September 29):  at 6:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center.  Information and registration (required for Zoom link) here.
  • October 1: with Clark Wolf as part of the Fales Library Critical Topics Series at 5:00 p.m., via Zoom.   It’s free but registration is required—here.
  • October 4: I’m on a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival at 11:00 a.m.  Information about the festival, registration, and Zoom links is here.

The Table of Contents is here.  You can read the Introduction here.

More information is here

Buying options


Sep 25 2020

Weekend reading: Tom Philpott’s Perilous Bounty

Tom Philpott.  Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It.  Bloomsbury, 2020.  

Media of Perilous Bounty

Here’s my blurb:

In Perilous Bounty, Tom Philpott probes what’s wrong with Big Agriculture—examining how it depletes California’s water, poisons water in the Midwest, and ruins soil resources—and proposes ways to reconfigure the food system to better promote health and sustain the environment. This must-read book is deeply researched, compellingly written, and thoroughly inspiring.

And here’s a quick excerpt:

We have reached the limits of “market-as-movement” to transform the food system.  In an economy marked by severe inequality, wage stagnation, and persistently high levels of poverty, the market approach excludes the population that can’t afford to pay the higher prices of organic, local food or devote time to cooking from scratch.  It threatens to create an ecologically robust niche for the prosperous within a dominant food system that quietly lurches on, wrecking the environment and making people sick.  Well-off consumers should vote with their forks three times a day, but the pace of positive change they create has been no match for Big Food’s massive inertia and the rapid advance of climate change.  But something important has emerged over the same period: the stirrings of a new form of movement politics…  [p. 255]


Sep 18 2020

Weekend reading: books about individual foods, avocados this time

Jeff Miller.  Avocado: A Global History.  Reaktion Books, 2020.  


I did a blurb for this one:

Avocados is a welcome addition to the Reaktion food series, so filled with splendid facts, figures, and illustrations that I learned something new on every page.   I particularly appreciated Jeff Miller’s discussion of avocados as an international commodity—legally grown and traded but also the target of organized thievery and now too expensive for many of their growers to have for their own use.  This is a fascinating story, beautifully told.

This book comes early in the alphabetical listing of Reaktion Books’ Edible series, which includes dozens of single-food monographs from Apples to Wine.  I didn’t know they had blurbs on the back cover, but I was pleased to do this one, especially because I met Jeff Miller when he took the course I taught with Sidney Mintz in Puerto Rico in 2003 and appreciate his subsequent work as a food studies scholar.

Sep 11 2020

Weekend reading: Fat in the Fifties

Nicolas Rasmussen.  Fat in the Fifties: America’s First Obesity Crisis.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.  

Fat in the Fifties: America's First Obesity Crisis: 9781421428710: Medicine  & Health Science Books @

I wrote a blurb for this book:

Fat in the Fifties is a riveting analysis of the rise and fall of early concerns about the health consequences of obesity.  Rasmussen’s history is indispensable for understanding the social, psychological, political, and environmental origins of today’s obesity “crisis.”

Even though the prevalence of obesity was quite low—by current standards—in the 1950s, Rasmussen documents widespread professional and public concern.  These concerns drifted away in the 1960s and 1970s, overtaken by efforts to prevent coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death.   At the time, obesity did not seem to be an important coronary risk factor.  Rasmussen explains how all this happened, and does it well.

I had a personal interest in this book.  My father died of a heart attack in 1950—at age 47.  It was no coincidence that he was also an extremely overweight chain smoker.  Rasmussen’s book provides the context for this particularly tragic aspect of my family history and I found his analysis helpful.

Tags: ,
Sep 1 2020

Let’s Ask Marion: Published today!

My new book with Kerry Trueman is published today: Let’s Ask Marion: What You Need to Know about the Politics of Food, Nutrition, and Health.

It’s an unusual book for me.

  • For one thing, it is small, 4″ x 6,” and under 200 pages of good-size print.
  • For another, it’s a Q and A.  Kerry asked the questions (there are 18, 6 each on the politics of personal diets, community food politics, and international food politics).  I answered them in short essays).

The Table of Contents is here.

You can read the Introduction here.

The back cover blurbs:

  • “Marion Nestle has emerged as one of the sanest, most knowledgeable, and independent voices in the current debate over the health and safety of the American food system.”––Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals 
  • “When it comes to making sense of the unclean politics of national and international food policy, exposing the motives of corporate food giants, and helping us make the right choices about what we eat, Marion Nestle is a fierce and reliable voice of reason, and her new book is approachable, focused, and hopeful.”––Alice Waters, chef, author, food activist, and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant
  • “There is no one better to ask than Marion, who is the leading guide in intelligent, unbiased, independent advice on eating, and has been for decades.”––Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything

More information is here

Buying options


Aug 28 2020

Weekend reading: a catering memoir

Carol Durst-Wertheim.  Vignettes & Vinaigrettes: A Memoir of Catering before Food was Hot.  Full Court Press, 2020. Vignettes & Vinaigrettes: A Memoir Of Catering Before ...

I did a blurb for this one:

In one entertaining anecdote after another, Durst-Wertheim gives us the dirt on what it was really like to be a woman running a catering business in New York City at the end of the 20th Century.   Her warm-hearted stories are tough, dishy, and poignant, and tell it like it was and, no doubt, still is.

Aug 21 2020

Weekend reading: Diabetes, race, and class

Arleen Tuchman.  Diabetes: A History of Race and Disease.  Yale University Press, 2020.Diabetes: A History of Race and Disease: 9780300228991: Medicine & Health Science Books @ Amazon.comI did a blurb for this book:

This is a superb, deeply researched history of the role of racism and class bias in perceptions of type 2 diabetes.  Its root causes?  Poverty and discriminationa new vision for a prevention agenda.

Tuchman does for type 2 diabetes what historians of other diseases have done: explore the central role of race and racism.  Racism, she explains, can

Generate ill health by producing pathological responses to the stress of living in a society in which skin color is endowed with privileges denied to others.  Racism, in other words, can make people sick.  In this way, racism—not race—becomes a fundamental cause of differential disease rates, making it impossible to draw a sharp line between what is biological and what is social.

As she documents, health professionals first viewed diabetes as a disease of the Jews—perhaps because they went to doctors more often.   It took decades for scientists to distinguish type 1 from type 2 diabetes, and more decades to recognize that its higher prevalence among non-white minority groups might be due to the obesity-promoting diets and lifestyles of poverty.

For documentation of the social determinants of health, this book is an instant classic.