Friday, 7 June 2013

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Marion Nestle's Food Politics

For people in the nutrition world who care about public policy, Marion Nestle's 2002 book Food Politics is the single most useful source there is.

I thought about several other important sources before making that statement.  The federal government's dietary guidance may be authoritative, but it is tamed and diluted in ways that Nestle explains precisely.  Eric Schlosser covers labor issues passionately, Michael Pollan addresses the techno-skeptical mood of the local food movement, and Wendell Berry is poetic, but Nestle is the steadiest and most solid critic of the modern food industry and its nutritional shortcomings.

A highlight of Nestle's revised and expanded 10th Anniversary Edition of Food Politics is the new 50-page Afterword.  It brings the book up to date by covering MyPlate, Let's Move, front-of-pack labeling, children's advertising initiatives, school meals reforms, and soda taxes.  I will certainly add it to my course syllabus.

In some ways, these topics in the Afterword are new.  In other ways, they are minor variations on themes that already were central in the earlier 2002 edition.  These themes usually involve the food industry's success in resisting and reversing proposed improvements in food and nutrition policy.  Nestle insists that she remains optimistic, but the reason she gives has little to do with the nutrition policy initiatives she covers at greatest length, and more to do with the grassroots food movement that has grown up in response to dissatisfaction with the status quo:
I am often asked how I remain optimistic in light of the food industry's power to control and corrupt government.  That's easy: the food movement.  Everywhere I look, I see positive signs of change.
Though Nestle doesn't give up hope, re-reading this book ten years later tempts me to give up more profoundly on the "politics" in Food Politics.  Not yet, but maybe some day.

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