by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: films

Sep 6 2023

On Netflix now: “Live to 100–Secrets of the Blue Zones”

I’ve just watched this four-part series on Netflix for two reasons, (1) the concept is fascinating and Dan Buettner does a great job with it., and (2) I’m in it in episodes #1 and #4.

Thanks to Martin Bruhn of Common Meadows Creamery for sending the screen shot.

I won’t go into all the details about the episodes, because Gothamist did a great job of reporting and analysis.

Buettner’s basic idea was to find out why a few relatively small and mostly isolated populations (“Blue Zones”) have so many members who live to the age of 100.

Spoiler alert: the secrets, no surprise, are diet (largely plant-based), physical activity built into daily life, community and social support, and a sense of purpose.

I am for all of these and that’s how I live, which explains my enthusiasm for these films.

Buettner works with cities to turn them into Blue Zones that support healthy diets, walking, and community support.

I got involved in this when Buettner invited me to join his team—and the Netflix crew—in South Phoenix where they were suggesting ways to Blue-Zone up the local environment.  I’m not a city planner but I could sure think of things that would make that part of Phoenix much more livable—parks, walking trails, shade trees (if they didn’t need too much water), stores selling fresh food, community gardens.

I like the concept a lot.  See the films and let me know what you think of them and those ideas.  Enjoy!


Aug 9 2023

On Netflix now: Poisoned

Poisoned, the food safety film featuring the lawyer, Bill Marler,  is now available to watch on Netflix.

I wrote about earlier when I saw it at the Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s totally worth watching, and not only because I have a cameo in it.

Bill Marler explains why.  I reproduce his post with permission.

Over two months ago, while watching the premiere of the documentary, “Poisoned,” at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC, I got thinking again about how little in the past 30 years I feel I have moved the needle on food safety – pathogens and certainly, human nutrition.  Now that “Poisoned” is up on the Netflix platform, it has become the most watched documentary in the world – at least for the last few days.

The real issues to me is how do we engage the food industry, policy makers, academics and most importantly consumers, to focus on driving the numbers down on the pathogens that kill us quickly and the products that kill us over time?

I will focus on pathogens as I have for the last 30 plus years. I will leave it to some very smart people who are rightly concerned about the millions of us who become sick and die due to inadequate nutrition – especially the millions of illnesses and deaths due to heart disease, diabetes and obesity caused by ultra-processed foods, salt, sugar, and fat.

There is so much to do, and the list is long. So, what would I do with a Food Safety Magic Wand on day one?

  1. Vaccinate. The first thing I would do is mandate that all food service workers be vaccinated against hepatitis A.  Perhaps to some, not the most pressing food safety issue, but it is forefront of my mind.  In the past few months, I finished up litigation around a hepatitis A outbreak involving one ill food service work who infected nearly 50 people, hospitalizing most, killing four and causing two liver transplants.  With regret, I forced a family-owned restaurant chain to file for bankruptcy.  All of this could have been prevented by a safe vaccine that has been around for decades.  It is time for the restaurant industry and the CDC to step up.
  • Investigate. Invest in public health surveillance over human pathogens, like, ListeriaE. coli and Salmonella, etc.  A dirty truth is that most culture-confirmed illnesses are never attributable to a food source, so people never know what sickened or killed them. Not because the source was not food, but because we fail to invest adequate resources in the epidemiologists that investigate illnesses and track those illnesses to the cause. Tracking illnesses to the cause gets tainted product off the market and helps us all understand what products and producers to avoid.  We need to continue to invest in the science of whole genome sequencing, so we know with certainty which pathogens are causing which illnesses. Foodborne illness epidemiology helps us understand the root cause of an outbreak and helps prevent the next one from happening at all.
  • Relegate. Allow public health officials access, especially during an outbreak investigation, to all areas around farms that grow fruits and vegetables.  It is long past time to allow investigators access to neighboring cattle, dairy, chicken, or hog operations that spill billions of deadly pathogens into the environment, via air or water.  We need to think of our growing regions as an integrated system and that all sectors responsible need to play a role.  Access allows investigators to understand the likely cause of an outbreak, and again, what can be done to prevent the next one.
  • Advocate. Make all pathogens that can sicken or kill us adulterants.  In 1994 Mike Taylor making E. coliO157:H7 and adulterant has saved countless lives and has saved the beef industry from my lawsuits. We can do the same for all food producers, especially chicken, turkey, and pork.  Remember, in the 1990’s nearly all the lawsuits I filed were E. coli cases linked to ground beef.  Today that is zero.  Think about it.
  • Educate. Give everyone a thermometer and provide better education to middle and high school teachers and students around food safety and human nutrition policy, not in a dry, technical way, but by sharing engaging history, microbiology, patient stories, and case studies. We need to teach how and why our food can be unsafe and what consumers can do about it.
  • Consolidate. Finally, make a single federal agency out of USDA/FSIS, FDA, and the food safety parts of CDC, NOAA, and EPA, to oversee food safety and human nutrition. Making food safety and human nutrition its own agency would help increase governmental accountability,  close regulatory loopholes, facilitate the collection and sharing of information and facilitate critical change.  I might have a suggestion for someone to run it.

With the CDC estimating 48,000,000 are sickened each year, 125,000 hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food, preventing pathogenic foodborne illness is no simple matter.  And, if you consider the millions that are impacted by the lack of adequate and safe nutrition, we have a lot to do.  However, it can be done, and the six ideas above are a small start.

“Doing anything is better than doing nothing,” my Marine drill sergeant father used to say.  He used to require my brother and I to make our beds every morning and bounce quarters on them.  For the longest time I thought this was punishment.  But it was not punishment, it was accomplishment, that you could build on for the rest of the day.  Doing “little” things, like the six things above, are accomplishments. Doing them starts a process that will continue to make all our lives just a little bit safer.

Jun 26 2017

A win for GMO trolls: this blog no longer accepts comments

With regret, I asked my site managers at Cre8d to block all future comments to this site.

The GMO trolls—people who post deliberately hostile comments—have defeated me.

Would you believe 870 comments?  These were filed in response to my post of last week  about the GMO propaganda film.

I realize that this sort of thing is a deliberate, if shameful, strategy of the agbiotech industry: “Let Nothing Go.”

As described in a document filed in a lawsuit by US Right to Know:  [Correction: see below at **]

Monsanto even started the aptly-named “Let Nothing Go” program to leave nothing, not even facebook comments, unanswered; through a series of third parties, it employs individuals who appear to have no connection to the industry, who in turn post positive comments on news articles and Facebook posts, defending Monsanto, its chemicals, and GMOs.

This is not about thoughtful discussion of the scientific, social, and political issues raised by GMOs.  This about personal attacks to discredit anyone who raises questions about those issues, as i did.

Trolling is not appropriate on this site.  Hence: no more comments.

I will continue to write about GMOs as new developments occur.

In the meantime, I commend the first chapter of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety to your attention.  It does much to explain why opinions of GMOs are so polarized and why the science of GMOs has become so politicized.

**Correction: The document discussing “Let Nothing Go” was not filed by US Right to Know.  Instead, it was filed by attorneys for plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto alleging that glyphosate is responsible for cases of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.    US Right to Know is only posting the documents and analyzing them.

Jun 21 2017

GMO propaganda film: Food Evolution

I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film.  The director refuses.  He believes his film is fair and balanced.  I do not.

I am often interviewed (see Media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context.  This film is one of those rare exceptions.

In my 10-second clip, I say that I am unaware of convincing evidence that eating GM foods is unsafe—this is what I said, but it is hugely out of context.

Safety is the industry’s talking point.  In the view of the GMO industry and this film, if GMOs are safe, they ought to be fully acceptable and nothing else is relevant.

I disagree.  I think there are plenty of issues about GMOs in addition to safety that deserve thoughtful consideration:  monoculture; the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and climate change; the possible carcinogenicity of glyphosate (Roundup); this herbicide’s well documented induction of weed resistance; and the how aggressively this industry protects its self-interest and attacks critics, as this film demonstrates.

Food Evolution focuses exclusively on the safety of GMOs; it dismisses environmental issues out of hand.  It extols the benefits of the virus-resistant Hawaiian papaya and African banana but says next to nothing about corn and soybean monoculture and the resulting weed resistance, and it denies the increase in use of toxic herbicides now needed to deal with resistant weeds.  It says nothing about how this industry spends fortunes on lobbying and in fighting labeling transparency.

Instead, this film hammers hard on three out-of-context points:

  1. GMOs are safe.
  2. Anyone who thinks otherwise is anti-science, ignorant, and stupid.
  3. Organic foods are bad and proponents of organic foods are deceitful.

Its biases are apparent throughout but the bias against organics is particularly striking.

For example, in arguing that proponents of organic agriculture are paid by the organic industry, the film refers to an article on the front page of  the New York Times.  But most of that article was about how the GMO industry recruits and pays academic researchers to front for it.  The film fails to mention that.

The obvious question: Who paid for this film?

The official answer: The Institute for Food Technologists (IFT).

IFT is a professional association for food scientists and technologists involved in the processed food industry.  I have been a member of it for years; its journal, Food Technology is useful for keeping up with what the food industry is doing.

I had no idea that IFT sponsored films, let alone one that must have been very expensive to produce (on location in Hawaii and Uganda, among other places.)

I can’t help but think Monsanto or the Biotechnology Innovation Organization must have given IFT a grant for this purpose, but IFT takes complete responsibility for commissioning the film (if you have any information about this, please let me know).

Food Evolution is opening in New York on Friday this week.  I view it as a slick piece of GMO industry propaganda.

If you want a thoughtful discussion of the real issues raised by food biotechnology, you will need to look elsewhere.

Full disclosure: half of my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety deals with GMO issues.  These have not changed much since the book appeared in 2003 and in a revised edition in 2010.  The GMO industry’s defenses and attacks are much the same, just louder and more expensively produced.

Oct 10 2016

Save the date: Food Film Fest, New York, October 20-24

New York City’s Food Film Fest opens October 20.

The organizers are offering a 20% discount off of all tickets and VIP passes to readers of this blog.

Use the code FOODPOLITICS20 to take advantage of it.

The festival runs from October 20-23 at the AMC 25 in Times Square and is a benefit for the Billion Oyster Project.

All showings feature Taste What You See on the Screen service.  Each night has a different theme:

  • THRS – Best of 10 Years
  • FRI – Louisiana + More
  • SAT – Food Porn
  • SUN – Japan

For details, tickets, etc, click here.

Mar 11 2015

Study documents sugar industry influence on dental research in the 1960s and 1970s

A new study in PLoS Medicine provides documentary evidence of sugar industry manipulation of research on dental caries in the 1960s and 1970s.

The paper is a formal presentation of an article in Mother Jones (which I wrote about in a previous post).

The researchers are at UCSF, which sent out a press release:

A newly discovered cache of industry documents reveals that the sugar industry worked closely with the National Institutes of Health in the 1960s and ‘70s to develop a federal research program focused on approaches other than sugar reduction to prevent tooth decay in American children.

The archive of 319 industry documents, which were uncovered in a public collection at the University of Illinois, revealed that a sugar industry trade organization representing 30 international members had accepted the fact that sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950, and adopted a strategy aimed at identifying alternative approaches to reducing tooth decay.

These approaches, as the article explains, involved encouraging the NIH to do research on mitigating or preventing tooth decay, which is fine in theory, but in practice distracted the dental research community from trying to discourage sugar consumption.

The analysis showed that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sugar industry funded research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay. It also shows they cultivated relationships with the NIDR and that a sugar industry expert panel overlapped by all but one member with the NIDR panel that influenced the priorities for the NIH tooth decay program. The majority of the research priorities and initial projects largely failed to produce results on a large scale, the authors found.

Understandably, the Sugar Association is not pleased.  Here is what the Sugar Association told Time Magazine:

It is challenging for the current Sugar Association staff to comment directly on documents and events that allegedly occurred before and during Richard Nixon’s presidency, given the staff has changed entirely since the 1970s. However, we are confused as to the relevance of attempts to dredge up history when decades of modern science has provided answers regarding the role of diet in the pathogenesis of dental caries… A combined approach of reducing the amount of time sugars and starches are in the mouth, drinking fluoridated water, and brushing and flossing teeth, is the most effective way to reduce dental caries.

As Stan Glantz pointed out in his blog post, “This sounds similar to the statement from Brown and Williamson Tobacco put out in 1995 in response to our first papers based on tobacco industry documents.”

Distracting researchers from focusing on underlying causes is a strategy perfected by the tobacco industry and copied widely by other industries making potentially harmful products, as shown clearly in the just released film, Merchants of Doubt (a must-see).

Apr 2 2008

Contest: Make a film!

Those clever King Corn guys are running a contest: who can make the best statement about food politics using clips from King Corn and whatever. The winner gets $1,000 and fame. The deadline is May 30, and here’s how it works.