Food Politics

by Marion Nestle

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 323

Food Politics by Marion Nestle, professor of sociology and nutritional sciences, covers the title theme of food—especially processed food and its relation to the book's other theme of politics.

Nestle worked for the Office of Disease Prevention as a Senior Nutritional Policy Advisor, where she learned the extent to which the food industry is controlled by business. Her major thesis in this book is that the consumption guidelines for Americans are heavily edited by the various food industries. The meat, dairy, and food processing industries are under the protection of the Department of Agriculture. These industries finance political agencies, and so maximizing their profits becomes a primary consideration of the government itself. According to Nestle, profits trump health concerns.

The industry also controls profit by occasionally restricting production in order to keep prices up. The USDA, acceding to Nestle, must cater to the food industries. Nestle gives a compelling and insightful account of the politics behind the creation of the USDA's food pyramid.

Nestle also highlights the processed food industry to demonstrate food politics in action. For example, Nestle focuses on Proctor & Gamble's fat substitute, Olestra. Proctor & Gamble spent $500 million and thirty years patenting Olestra, which the Food and Drug Administration approved (provided that the risks—of abdominal pains and loose stools—were advertised). However, Nestle chronicles the lengthy process by which Proctor & Gamble lobbied with members of the FDA and members of Congress. According to Nestle, this process, wherein business interfaces with the government—which ought to be concerned primarily with public health—is quite common.

Furthermore, according to Nestle, food substitutes should not be considered food at all. The creation of these non-foods has resulted from the simple fact that publicly traded companies have to sell products to yield profits in a world where there is a surplus of food. To meet this challenge, companies have developed processed foods and substitutes that barely constitute food at all.

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