by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-studies

Mar 29 2024

Weekend reading: Practicing Food Studies!

The exclamation point is because this is my department’s long-awaited book ,for which I wrote the Foreword and part of one of the last chapters.

Practicing Food Studies: Bentley, Amy, Parasecoli, Fabio, Ray, Krishnendu, Nestle, Marion: 9781479828098: Books

If you are in the New York area, come to its celebration on April 1 at 5:3 p.m. at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge, 20 Cooper Square (South of 3rd Ave and North of The Bowery between 4th and 8th Streets), 5th Floor.  For information and registration for the event, click here.

There will also be an online presentation of the book on April 29 through the NYU Library’s Critical Topics series.  For details, watch for the announcement.

To buy the book from NYU Press, click here.

My department at NYU, now known as the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, invented the field of Food Studies in 1996.  Now, more than 25 years later, practically every college in America, and plenty outside the U.S., offers courses or programs about the role of food in society, commerce, and the environment.

Food studies is highly interdisciplinary (my doctoral degree is in molecular biology, for example).  As NYU Press puts it, scholars from an enormous range of fields

felt limited by the conventions of their traditional discipline. Many gravitated to food studies to be able to describe and critically examine their specific areas of interest beyond the borders of academic disciplines.

Faculty and doctoral graduates from our department wrote extraordinarily personal essays for this book to explain their connection to Food Studies and how this new filed made their work possible.

We do not necessarily agree with each other about what Food Studies is, exactly, and whether and how it fostered our work.  We argue throughout, respectfully, of course.

I think the book is enormous fun and I could not be more proud of what it accomplishes.

Here are two of the blurbs:

“NYU’s Food Studies department has a lot to teach: about pedagogy, art, library sciences, the limits of traditional disciplinary fields, and the world beyond the academy. With essays that blend biography with analysis, this anthology finds the universal in the particular. Anyone interested in how to address the urgent  and practical questions, while confronting the systemic ones, will find inspiration in this fine anthology.” ― Raj Patel, University of Texas at Austin

“Food studies provides a home for deeply interdisciplinary scholars; Practicing Food Studies packages that intellectual belonging into a single book that you’ll want to not just read but keep close. The editors, each a leading voice in the field, use NYU’s program as a case study that delivers a must-read history of food studies itself. Critical reflections, warmth, and candor leap from each page, fascinating and endearing at every turn.” ― Emily J.H. Contois, The University of Tulsa

Dec 8 2023

Weekend reading: The Upstairs Delicatessen

Dwight Garner.  The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading about Eating, & Eating While Reading.  Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2023. 244 pages.

This book was given to me by my editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux (which is publishing the new edition of What to Eat in 2025).

And what a fun read it is.

For one thing, the title describes exactly how this book is constructed.

Garner (who I don’t know but wish I did) reviews books for the New York Times (his most recent is a review of Fuchcia Dunlop’s history of Chinese food).

He, as it turns out, is one serious foodie.

In this memoir of sorts, he notes what everyone he reads—and he reads everything—has to say about food.  The name-dropping result takes getting used to.  Here is an example from the chapter on shopping for food.

I push past the onions and put two leeks into my cart.  I like to slice off the tops, when cooking with them, and set them on the windowsill, where the crazy tendrils wave like Struwwelpeter’s hair in the children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann…I take some arugula.  In Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections, a failed academic named Chip eats arugula that’s “so strong it made his eyes water, like a paragraph of Thoreau.”  Arugula wasn’t well-known in America before the eighties.  When farmers began to grow it in California, they didn’t know how much to charge.  Cree’s [Garner’s wife’s] father, Bruce explained that in Europe the cost was roughtly equal to a pack of cigarettes.  According to Joyce Goldstein, in her book Insie the California Food Revolution, farmers listened to him and initially pegged arugula prices to the cost of Bruce’s Lucky Strikes.

This is all a great introduction to who is writing what about food, and wonderfully gossipy about people I’ve read too (and occasionally have met).

But wait.  How come he’s not quoting me?

I went right to the Index’s pages and pages of names.

Bingo!  There I am on page 93.

By now we’ve all read our Eric Schlosser, our Alice Waters, our Marion Nestle, our Michael Pollan.  These are first-rate writers and thinkers, and God bless them, but they can’t help, at times, sounding sanctimonious.

I am deeply honored by—and adore —being grouped with Schlosser, Waters, and Pollan.

But, ouch.  Sanctimonious?  Moi?

Oh well.  I enjoyed reading the book.  A lot.

Jul 29 2022

Weekend reading: food and political parties

R.C. Harris.  Party Food: A Partisan History of Food & Farming in America.  Common Ground, 2021 (147 pages plus an index).

The author, a politics professor at Washington & Lee University, sent me a copy of her book, which I have now read.

I love the cover.

This is a book about the differing views of Farm Bill provisions among Democrats and Republicans.

Harris points out, correctly, that recent books about food policy in the United States, mine among them, say practically nothing about the role of the two political parties in deciding food issues.  Here, she corrects this omission.

She does so using a sports analogy–red and blue teams with one goal: to win.  A brief excerpt:

Setting the Stage: Farmers on Welfare in a Capitalist Society

The main problem in our story is that farm policy is really about giving farmers federal dollars to stay in business—and this idea tends to divide the red team from the blue team.  The history of modern farm policy in the United States is essentially the history of social welfare policy—a policy designed to prop up the incomes of farm families…As a nation of independent, hardworking, self-sufficient citizens and immigrants, America has always been more likely to embrace capitalism and less likely to expect government support than nations with a history of kinds, vassals, and peasants.  This means America is much more centrist and market-oriented in its economic policy, making welfare the exception rather than the rule. (p.53)

I get what she’s saying and her points are worth considering, but I wish she had used a word other than “farmers.”  The ones who get corporate welfare in America are not your small subsistence farmers or even those of medium size.

A more precise term here would be Big Agriculture.

The Farm Bill is welfare for the rich.  That’s why the red team is for it.

But her contention that the food movement needs to pay more attention to party politics demands attention.

Voting really matters to our players on the field.  In fact, we learned that partisan farm policy is really field policy—what will keep the team on the field.  And, interestingly enough, this has a lot to dow with what is in the fields and on the tables (and on the menus, and in the regrigerator, and for sale at the store or local farmers market) where the players are elected.  In other words, political teams want to be re-elected so they can keep making political plays.  (p. 131)

As I keep saying, if you want the food movement to have power, run for office.

Maybe it’s time for a third team?

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.

Jun 26 2019

Letter to a young food studies scholar

As a former member of the editorial board of GastronomicaI was invited by its new editorial collective to contribute to a compilation of letters to young people entering the still new field of food studies.

Here is my contribution:

Welcome to the world of food studies, a field we at NYU adopted in 1996.  That date may well be before you were born, but we view our programs as still young, hungry, ambitious, and striving to find their place in the world, just as you must be.  We designed them to respond to demands for deeper and more complex analyses of the role of food in culture and society, and of how food systems operate, in practice as well as in theory.  We hoped we would attract students who wanted to learn about—but also to act on–what our society needs to do to solve major food-system problems: food insecurity, chronic disease, and climate change.  And here you are, ready, we hope, to take them on.

Without question, they need taking on.  Food insecurity—lack of access to a reliable daily supply of adequate food—affects roughly fifteen percent of Americans and nearly a billion people worldwide.  At the same time, about two billion people consume so much food that they become overweight and at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other leading causes of premature death and disability.  Furthermore, the way we typically produce and consume food depletes soil and water resources, pollutes streams, and generates unsustainable amounts of greenhouse gases–thereby affecting everyone on the planet.  The urgent need to solve these problems is the obvious response to the challenge, “why study food?”

I’m guessing you will hear this question often.  We certainly do.  To address it, we also point out that sales of food exceed a trillion dollars annually in the United States, that everyone eats, and that food is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Food matters–physiologically, economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally.

How to deal with all this?  Study hard.  Learn everything you can about everything you can.  Be curious.  Follow leads.  Dig deeply.  But never lose sight of the pleasure.  Delight in what you are learning about food and what it means, but also use what you learn to take even deeper pleasure in food itself.

–Marion Nestle, Emerita Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

Oct 27 2014

Yes, food is worth serious study.

Yesterday, the New York Times Magazine carried this advertisement:


It’s from the University of California’s new Global Food Initiative: “Helping the world feed itself sufficiently and nutritionally—that’s the power of public.”

I’m proud to be a graduate of UC Berkeley, a public university that provided me with an education—from undergraduate through doctoral—that was, at the time, at a cost low enough so I could take advantage of it.

If Food Studies had existed when I was a student there, I would have enrolled in it immediately.  Instead, I had to wait until we could invent it at NYU in 1996.

But how wonderful that the UC system is using the Global Food Initiative to advertise the power of a public education.

And how wonderful that food education is respectable enough to be advertised in the New York Times.

Aug 15 2014

Weekend reading: Globalization and Food Sovereignty

Peter Andrée, Jeffrey Ayres, Michael J. Bosia, and Marie-Josée Massicotte.  Globalization and Food Sovereignty: Global and Local Change in the New Politics of Food.  University of Toronto Press, 2014.

New Picture (1)

This is a book in a series on political economy and public policy, edited by political science professors in Canada and the United States with deep interests in food movements.  The chapters, by various authors, define food sovereignty as “a central issue that cuts across social, political, economic, cultural, and ecological domains.”  They deal with such matters as fair trade, local food, food security, and other food movements in places such as Cuba, Australia, France, and Brazil.

The editors say:

This volume posits that–given the incrasing attention to the politics of food as local, national, and global–it is important to incorporate these new areanas of political action much more widely into curriculums and scholarship and focus especially the framework and methodologies of political science on the profoundly political issues raised by the food sovereignty response…we seek to develop the study of food politics as a more engaged arena within the social sciences….

I say, yes!



Jul 2 2014

University of California’s new Global Food Initiative

I was fascinated to read yesterday that the President of the University of California (my alma mater), Janet Napolitano,  presented plans for a new 10-campus food initiative  to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.  I loved it that she made the announcement with Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard.

The UC Global Food Initiative, Napolitano said:

is a commitment to work collectively to put a greater emphasis on what UC can do as a public research university, in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world, to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues.  The food initiative will build on UC’s tradition of innovative agricultural research to support farmers and ranchers. Future efforts will build on work already begun by UC’s 10 campuses and its Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Here’s what she says the UC Global Food Initiative will do:

  • Use collective purchasing power and dining practices to encourage sustainable farming practices, healthy eating, and zero food waste.
  • Put food pantries and farmers markets on all 10 campuses.
  • Partner with K-12 school districts to enhance leveraging procurement.
  • Integrate food issues into more undergraduate and graduate courses.
  • Develop catalogues of food-related courses.
  • Put demonstration gardens on each campus for experiential learning.
  • Mine data on California agriculture and response to climate change.
  • Allow small growers to serve as suppliers for UC campuses.

What fun!  Can’t wait to see how it works.

Good work Alice Waters!

I hope other universities—including mine—start copying.

Here’s the info:

Go Bears!