Book Review: Food Politics

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
by Marion Nestle
UC Press, 2003; $16.95

When you bite into an apple, you’re probably not considering the laws and regulations, complex legal relationships and huge amounts of money that go into promoting food products. On your behalf, though, Marion Nestle is.

A respected academic—she chairs the nutrition and food studies department at New York University—Nestle uses both her personal experience (she worked on the 1988 Surgeon General’s report) and excellent research skills to put together a case indicting lawmakers and big agribusiness.

One of the most striking facts in the book is that the U.S. produces almost double the amount of calories necessary for every person. This has led to food producers spending lots of money advertising, lobbying politicians and crafting policy to get us all to eat more food products that don’t have much basic nutritional value.

By going into the inner machinations of food policy, Nestle reveals how what’s best for people—as in most healthy—usually takes a back seat to what makes the most money. The example of soda companies paying to secure so-called “pouring rights” at schools (where they can set up vending machines, etc.) is especially chilling considering the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes.

To fix our food problems, Nestle suggests institutional reforms like subsidizing growers of those fruits and vegetables instead of the many other food industries that already receive governmental money, such as the sugar industry.

A revised and updated version of the book is available now, with contemporary info on the food revolution it helped spark. One of her biggest points, though, hasn’t changed—a balanced diet is the same now as it was a thousand years ago, and if we paid more attention to what makes us healthier, instead of what is more profitable, we’d all be better off.