Thursday, August 28, 2008

Marion Nestle at Copia

I drove up to Napa today with Barbara to hear Marion Nestle speak about food. Marion is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley. She has written four books: Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and her latest book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

Marion did a great job of depicting the larger political story behind our obesity and disease problems. She said that if we prepare our meals at home, we eat less and eating less is what we need to do. We need to eat 2000 calories or less a day and fast food chains are selling smoothies that are 1100 calories. A lot of families order food in or go out to eat and studies show that we're going to eat more if we aren't the ones preparing the food. Even if we eat a healthy meal out at a restaurant, we're probably eating too much.

She also sited a study conducted by a grocery store that wanted to use their own labeling system to call out healthy foods based on a three star scale. After hiring a group of nutritionists to evaluate all the products, they found that only 23% of the products for sale qualified for one star or more. And, that 80% of the 23% were fruits and vegetables.

Nestle is pushing food companies to stop directly advertising to children. I wrote down a shocking statistic that she shared with us. Kellogg spent 32.8 million dollars advertising Cheez-Its to children last year. These companies want children to develop brand loyalty now so they carry it through to adulthood. Food companies are quite aware of the Pester Factor when parents are shopping with their children. They advertise to the children so the children in turn pester their parents to buy the product. And, food companies want children to believe that they eat different foods than their parents when in fact we all eat the same thing. "Kid food" is all advertising.

Nestle believes that it is necessary that the government and the food industry encourage people to eat less. She says that the food industry will have to sacrifice fast increases in share price for their moral obligation to the people of this nation.

Nestle gave me reason to read her new book when I found out that even though I don't have a pet, I should be concerned about the quality of pet food. Pet food gets into human food through the meat we eat. And, the scary part about pet food contamination is that it isn't biological; it's chemical. Straight poison ground up in pet food, and then fed to cattle, that we later eat.

And, the last note that I wrote down was her reminder to all of us that we have a personal responsibility to ourselves and our children to eat well and make it a priority. Despite the gloomy state of our food industry, she is hopeful that through political activism like Slow Food Nation, we can force our politicians to make better laws to protect our public health. The only ones who will loose when we get healthier are a few large food companies.

Nestle is speaking tomorrow, Friday, August 29, 11:00am – 12:30pm in San Francisco.

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