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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Marion Nestle on What to Eat

This past weekend I was treated to a Spring Breakfast by the Bay with Marion Nestle, a benefit for CUESA (CUESA operates the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market). It was a most delicious breakfast but I'm not going tell you anything about it because the main attraction was really hearing Marion Nestle speak.

Marion Nestle is the author of What to Eat, (just now out in paperback) Food Politics, and Safe Food. She is Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She has strong links to the Bay Area having received her BA, PhD and MPH from UC Berkeley, she also spent a decade on the faculty of UC San Francisco's School of Medicine.

This past Saturday she talked about her latest book What to Eat and how it came to be written after people kept asking her, what should they be eating? She thought the answer was simple enough until she began visiting supermarkets. From the moment she walked in she saw the flowers and produce and was aware of how stores try to keep consumers shopping as long as possible and buying as much as possible. The romance begins from the minute you walk in.

Her visits to supermarkets proved to be very confusing and she described using a scale and a calculator to try to understand how much products actually cost. Romaine lettuce for example was to be found in 7 different forms in the produce section--packaged, organic, conventional, etc. She wanted simple answers to questions like was the food in the store genetically modified, and was organic worth the price difference, but answers proved impossible to find.

While most of what she talked about was not new information, the way she wove it together was very new. For example she talked about how many things are frustrating in our lives and how we feel we can do nothing about big issues like the war in Iraq or terrorism. But we can have an impact on the food we eat and what we buy. She talked about how the school food movement, the animal rights movement, the slow food movement and the organic movement are all coming together to form a new consciousness about food that seems to be sweeping the country.

How can we see an improvement in the food we eat? Many factors need to be addressed--she pointed to the fact that the FDA only inspects 1% of food coming into the US, that we produce much more food than we should be eating, and that the pressure on big food companies to sell more to please shareholders are all impacting our food choices. Her belief is that food marketing aimed at children crosses an ethical line and should be limited. She also believes that smaller portion sizes will help curb obesity in adults as well as children. But ultimately she pointed to election reform as necessary to counterbalance the influence of big companies in government. What to Eat has been on my reading list for a while now, and after hearing Dr. Nestle speak, I am even more eager to read it. You can read some exerpts from the book here. A special thanks to Alison for the invitation to breakfast.