Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Food Politics is a carefully and thoroughly researched publication from professor of sociology and nutrition Marion Nestle. Nestle's book examines the manifold ways in which the food industries (meat, dairy, and food processing) influence public food choices. The author calls our attention to the grand irony that the food industry profits from the very foods that are worst for the public health.
Corporations such as Kraft, ConAgra, and Pepsi-Cola profit from sales of unhealthy foods as well as from people eating more in general. She remarks that the food industry is a very competitive environment; there is a surplus of production, which has resulted in extensive advertising campaigns. All of these circumstances have left consumers with difficult choices to make.
Nestle records that subsidies to select food corporations have historically been disbursed immediately before votes. Nestle recounts her own experience as an editor of the Surgeon General's public health reports. For Nestle, this was the first experience in which it became blatantly obvious that the government was beholden to the interest of the food industries. The report could not explicitly advise the public, for example, to eat less of anything—a strategy that avoided alienating any food corporation that produces a certain product. Nestle points out that, to this day, the language featured in public health advertisements is neutralized so as to not categorically exclude any food groups. The result, according to Nestle, is inadequate and ambiguous public health information.
Nestle is equally attentive to the ethical implications of advertisements. What Nestle calls "techno-foods" (such as Proctor & Gamble's fat substitute, Olestra) won the legal right to make health claims for their foods. The same is true of dietary and botanical supplements. The consequence of this is yet more ambiguity for the public, who is the ultimate victim (and here she adduces ephedra to illustrate this point). With this, claims Nestle, should come the ethical obligation to not promote unhealthy products or products that are environmentally unfriendly.
The tone of her book is largely a well-researched exposé, inviting the careful reader to examine who is really behind current health and nutrition advocacy in the United States.