Food Politics

by Marion Nestle

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 587

In Food Politics (2003), nutrition professor Marion Nestle addresses the iniquities surrounding the public's perception of food. She explains in rigorous academic detail the extent to which the various food industries are involved in the government's regulation of and advising on food and nutrition.

In her first section, Nestle discusses the complicated negotiations that were underway when the food pyramid was being created. For example, she claims that representatives from both Kraft Foods and ConAgra complained throughout the various stages of the food pyramid's production. She furthermore claims that:

The most important change was also designed to appease food producers. The numbers of recommended servings had been moved outside the design and set in bold typeface to suggest that the diet should include at least 2–3 servings of meat and dairy foods each day. (64)

This point is central to Nestle's observation that the food industry is designed to make people eat more, not less. This is a natural aim, according to Nestle, for the reason that:

The food supply figure for calories is 3,900 per day per capita (this means the figure applies to infants as well as to adults of all ages, but dietary intake surveys indicate that adults consume about 2,000 per day. Wastage accounts for some of the discrepancy, but not all, and the lower figure hardly seems sufficient to account for the rising rates of overweight and obesity. A more probable explanation for the lower figure is underreporting of food intake on dietary surveys. (422)

This portion—a simple presentation of facts—is quite representative of Nestle's writing style. She is a thorough and compelling researcher who shrewdly and clearly points out the extreme disparity between food production and consumption.

Additionally, Nestle discusses her experience working as the editor of the Surgeon General's reports on nutrition and health. She explains that:

My first day on the job, I was given the rules: No matter the research indicated, the report could not recommend "eat less meat" as a way to reduce intake of saturated fat, nor could it suggest restrictions on the intake of any other category of food. (3)

Nestle's unique insider perspective revealed to her that the food industries (meat, dairy, etc.) influence government operations. She explains how she was told that these industries, if adversely affected by official government recommendations, would withdraw support from congresspeople—which granted the companies enough influence to prevent reports from ever being published.

In another section, Nestle identifies the uniquely contemptible methods of food advertising to children. This is exemplified by Channel One. She compelling explains how this broadcasting company allowed advertisers to buy all rights to the station. They did this, according to Nestle, so that they could advertise (mostly junk) food products in just several minutes' worth of advertising. Advertisers target children's stations because, "children do not readily distinguish Channel One's commercials from its entertainment, news, and public service programs, and . . . they are confused about such distractions" (190).

Finally, Nestle addresses the dietary supplement industry, now quite widespread in America. She specifically recounts the tragedy resulting from ephedra, a dietary stimulant drug.

While the FDA held its ephedra docket open for further reports and comments, independent investigators reviewed 140 of the adverse event reports and concluded that 31% of them were "definitely or probably related to ephedra supplements" and that another 31% were "possibly related." (284)

Nestle uses ephedra as the prime example of how the dietary supplement industry prioritizes profits instead of public safety (even with its tragic consequences). She goes on to say that 13 individuals suffered permanent disability and 10 cases resulted in death.

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