by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Let’s Ask Marion

Feb 24 2009

A post from 36,000 feet: Kathleen Merrigan

I know I’ve already posted today but I’m on an American flight to L.A. connected to GoGo and can’t resist checking out the WiFi.  It works!  And they aren’t charging for it on this flight!  And anyway, we have terrific news today: Kathleen Merrigan’s nomination as USDA assistant secretary.  Here’s what I told Eating Liberally about it.   Enjoy the day!

Jan 25 2009

Eating Liberally: peanut butter

Eating Liberally’s kat wants to know what the deal is on Salmonella in peanut butter.  The list of recalled products gets longer every day and now some members of Congress want the FDA to ask for recalls of all peanut butter, even that in jars.  The CDC reports nearly 500 cases of illness and, perhaps, as many as 7 deaths.  If you want to see something amazing, take a look at the FDA’s recall list.  Where will this end?  Here’s what I said to kat.

Jan 6 2009

Did Dickens exaggerate?

Last week’s New York Times science section reported a study from the British Medical Journal arguing that Oliver Twist had plenty to eat and Dickens greatly exaggerated the poverty and inadequacy of poorhouse diets. The BMJ article said poorhouse diets gave kids a few ounces of oatmeal a day along with “modest servings of bread, potatoes, meat and cheese.”  This diet, the authors said, provided 1,600 to 1,700 calories a day, “dull and monotonous, to be sure, but adequate…in a real Victorian workhouse, Oliver would probably not have had to ask for more. He would have had just about enough.”

Here’s my response, published in today’s Science Times  letters.  Enough?  Hardly. The whole point of welfare institutions is to give recipients just enough to stave off starvation, but not so much that they become complacent and dependent on state largesse.  But children are dependent, and British poorhouses were for-profit institutions.  Far too much factual evidence demonstrates that poorhouse diets were barely adequate and strongly associated with childhood malnutrition and death.  What were these authors thinking?

January 7 update: Eating Liberally points out that the basic elements of poorhouse diets have much in common with today’s fast food.  How, kat asks, did fast food get to be so respresentative of America?  Here are my additional thoughts on this matter.

Dec 29 2008

Are organics a scam? This week’s Q and A for Eating Liberally

This week, EatingLiberally.org wants to know whether I think organics are honest.  Do organic food producers really follow the USDA’s Organic Standards?  I think most do, but the question comes out of an incident in California where a fertilizer seller was passing off an unapproved chemical fertilizer as organic. Apparently, state agriculture officials knew about this but didn’t bother to tell anyone or do much about it.  Not a good situation.   Here’s my response to all this.

Nov 19 2008

Eating Liberally: melamine again

Kat’s question for me is “Shouldn’t the FDA keep melamine out of our domestic food chain?”  Well yes.  It should.  And thanks to Sokie Lee for forwarding the Mao poster from her “say no to made in China” campaign.  Still, I don’t think we should be too xenophobic about China.  After all, its food safety system is about where ours was before we got food and drug laws in 1906.  It’s just a lot bigger and more complicated so it has even more work to do to keep its – and our – food safe.  And here’s Sokie’s poster in miniature:

gotmelamine_mao_med.jpg


Nov 2 2008

Eating Liberally: What’s up with salt?

For this week’s Q and A on Eating Liberally, kat connects the dots between the recent increase in salt-induced kidney stones in children and the food industry’s new Smart Choices labeling system which, as I pointed out a few days ago, is particularly generous in the salt standard.

Oct 5 2008

Eating Liberally: Can a free market economy solve Africa’s food problems?

This week’s Eating Liberally Q and A is about my talk at a conference run by Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia a couple of weeks ago.  I had no idea that it was possible to cause so much consternation in such brief remarks (we were allotted four minutes), but it elicited a quite lengthy and angry rebuttal from Professor Sachs.  He took strong issue with my view that Capitalist economics might not help African agricultural development because farmers cannot afford to buy patented seeds, fertilizer, and machinery.  The lack of agricultural development seems to me to be a social rather than a technical problem and, therefore, one that requires social rather than technical solutions.  This seems pretty obvious to me, but not everyone agrees, apparently.

Sep 16 2008

Melamine in Chinese infant formula: the saga continues

My interview with Eating Liberally this week concerns the wake of the pet food recalls that I wrote about in Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine. Some Chihuahua!  Now we have the Chinese infant formula scandal and don’t we wish we had Country-of-Origin Labeling?  It’s been a busy few days on the scandal.  The toll so far is 2 babies dead and 1253 sick, with 340 still in the hospital, and 53 of these are in serious condition.   The Chinese have arrested two brothers who run a milk collection center on suspicion that they added melamine to make the protein content appear higher.  An investigation of dairy producers found 22 to be producing milk contaminated with melamine.  The largest of these dairies is owned in part by Fonterra, a New Zealand company.  Fonterra says it tried to get the formula recalled earlier but the Chinese refused.

September 17: Today, it’s 3 babies dead, 1,300 in the hospital, and 6,244 sick.  They were adding melamine to cover for diluting the milk with water.  Hmm.  Just like we used to do in the early years of the 20th century before passing pure food laws.  Regulation, anyone?

When I was in New Zealand last year at a ministerial agriculture meeting, I heard a lot about how ranchers were giving up on sheep and starting large dairy farms to supply milk to China.  This meant the end of pristine streams and sheep dotting the landscape.