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Food Politics

Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

MARION NESTLE
Foreword by Michael Pollan
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 534
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw29z
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  • Book Info
    Food Politics
    Book Description:

    We all witness, in advertising and on supermarket shelves, the fierce competition for our food dollars. In this engrossing exposé, Marion Nestle goes behind the scenes to reveal how the competition really works and how it affects our health. The abundance of food in the United States--enough calories to meet the needs of every man, woman, and child twice over--has a downside. Our over-efficient food industry must do everything possible to persuade people to eatmore--more food, more often, and in larger portions--no matter what it does to waistlines or well-being.Like manufacturing cigarettes or building weapons, making food is big business. Food companies in 2000 generated nearly $900 billion in sales. They have stakeholders to please, shareholders to satisfy, and government regulations to deal with. It is nevertheless shocking to learn precisely how food companies lobby officials, co-opt experts, and expand sales by marketing to children, members of minority groups, and people in developing countries. We learn that the food industry plays politics as well as or better than other industries, not least because so much of its activity takes place outside the public view.Editor of the 1988Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health,Nestle is uniquely qualified to lead us through the maze of food industry interests and influences. She vividly illustrates food politics in action: watered-down government dietary advice, schools pushing soft drinks, diet supplements promoted as if they were First Amendment rights. When it comes to the mass production and consumption of food, strategic decisions are driven by economics--not science, not common sense, and certainly not health. No wonder most of us are thoroughly confused about what to eat to stay healthy.An accessible and balanced account,Food Politicswill forever change the way we respond to food industry marketing practices. By explaining how much the food industry influences government nutrition policies and how cleverly it links its interests to those of nutrition experts, this path-breaking book helps us understand more clearly than ever before what we eat and why.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95506-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. vii-x)
    Michael Pollan

    On even the shortest shelf of books dedicated to explaining the American food system, Marion Nestle’sFood Politicsdeserves a place of prominence. Whenever I teach a course on writing about food, I include the book on the syllabus. On my own shelf, its white and fire-engine-red spine stands next to Eric Schlosser’sFast Food Nation, Wendell Berry’sUnsettling of America, Harvey Levenstein’sParadox of Plenty, and Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring. Pretty good company for a book that, on its publication in 2002, wasn’t even reviewed by theNew York Times—an error in judgment the paper has been trying...

  4. PREFACE TO THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND ʺEAT MOREʺ
    (pp. 1-28)

    This book is about how the food industry influences what we eat and, therefore, our health. That diet affects health is beyond question. The food industry has given us a food supply so plentiful, so varied, so inexpensive, and so devoid of dependence on geography or season that all but the very poorest of Americans can obtain enough energy and nutrients to meet biological needs. Indeed, the U.S. food supply is so abundant that it contains enough to feed everyone in the country nearly twice over—even after exports are considered. The overly abundant food supply, combined with a society...

  7. PART ONE UNDERMINING DIETARY ADVICE

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 29-30)

      As a nutritionist, I cannot go anywhere without being asked why nutrition advice is so confusing. If it were not for public confusion, it would be difficult to explain to any rational person why dietary guidelines matter so much and why this book begins with an historical account of how the food industry affects them. As I will explain, dietary recommendations for prevention of chronic diseases have hardly varied for the past half-century, but the consistency of such advice is a well-kept secret. Americans may recognize theFood Guide Pyramidof the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but hardly anyone...

    • CHAPTER 1 FROM ʺEAT MOREʺ TO ʺEAT LESS,ʺ 1900–1990
      (pp. 31-50)

      The u.s. government has been telling people what to eat for more than a century, and the history of such advice reflects changes in agriculture, food product development, and international trade, as well as in science and medicine. In 1900, for example, the leading causes of death were infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria made worse by the nutrient deficiencies and overall malnutrition that were especially prevalent among the poor. Life expectancy at birth for both men and women barely exceeded 47 years. To overcome nutritional deficiencies and related disorders, government nutritionists urged people to eat more of a...

    • CHAPTER 2 POLITICS VERSUS SCIENCE: OPPOSING THE FOOD PYRAMID, 1991–1992
      (pp. 51-66)

      Late in april 1991, I received a phone call from Malcolm Gladwell, then a reporter at theWashington Post, asking for an opinion on the latest furor over dietary advice. The recently appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), former Congressman Edward R. Madigan, had just blocked the printing of the Department’s latest food guide—theEating Right Pyramid—because it was “confusing to children.” That guide is illustrated in Figure 8. Unlike theBasic Four, which presented the food groups in squares of roughly equal size (see Figure 6), thePyramidis explicitly hierarchical; it illustrates a...

    • CHAPTER 3 ʺDECONSTRUCTINGʺ DIETARY ADVICE
      (pp. 67-92)

      As noted earlier, despite the constantly recurring themes of dietary advice for health promotion—eat more plant foods and less of animal and processed foods—many people feel confused about what they should be eating. Because public discussion of nutrition issues tends to focus on single nutrients and on the distinctions between one set of guidelines and another, the fundamental similarity of five decades of dietary advice becomes hopelessly obscured. The contradiction between the constancy of the advice and the public’s confusion can be explained in part by deliberate or unconscious efforts to undermine “eat less” precepts. Pressures from food...

  8. PART TWO WORKING THE SYSTEM

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 93-94)

      Food companies use every means at their disposal—legal, regulatory, and societal—to create and protect an environment that is conducive to selling their products in a competitive marketplace. To begin with, they lobby. They lobby Congress for favorable laws, government agencies for favorable regulations, and the White House for favorable trade agreements. But lobbying is only the most obvious of their methods. Far less visible are the arrangements made with food and nutrition experts to obtain approving judgments about the nutritional quality or health benefits of food products, and the personal connections made with legislators or agency officials who...

    • CHAPTER 4 INFLUENCING GOVERNMENT: FOOD LOBBIES AND LOBBYISTS
      (pp. 95-110)

      To understand how food companies are able to exert disproportionate influence on government nutrition policy, we must begin with a discussion of lobbying and its integral position in American political processes. Lobbying is anylegalattempt by individuals or groups to influence government policy or action, a definition that explicitly excludes bribery. Historically, lobbying always has involved three elements: (1) promoting the views of special-interest groups, (2) attempting to influence government laws, rules, or policies that might affect those groups, and (3) communicating with government officials or their representatives about laws, rules, or policies of interest.¹ Food lobbyists, therefore, are...

    • CHAPTER 5 CO-OPTING NUTRITION PROFESSIONALS
      (pp. 111-136)

      The efforts of food companies to influence dietary advice to the public and to establish an image of their products as nutritious extend well beyond lobbying Congress and government agencies. They go right to the heart of nutrition as a profession. Indeed, co-opting experts—especially academic experts—is an explicit corporate strategy. A guide to such strategies explains that this particular tactic “is most effectively done by identifying the leading experts … and hiring them as consultants or advisors, or giving them research grants and the like. This activity requires a modicum of finesse; it must not be too blatant,...

    • CHAPTER 6 WINNING FRIENDS, DISARMING CRITICS
      (pp. 137-158)

      We have seen how food interest groups gain access and exert influence upon elected officials through donations of money, both hard and soft. Such transactions are legal, publicly disclosed, painstakingly tracked by advocacy groups and investigative reporters, and readily apparent to any interested person with access to the Internet. Far less visible are more subtle lobbying activities directed toward officials of federal agencies and other people likely to wield influence. Such activities do not necessarily involve money or other “things of value.” Even when they do, the amounts can be quite small. This kind of lobbying involves forming friendships, doing...

    • CHAPTER 7 PLAYING HARDBALL: LEGAL AND NOT
      (pp. 159-172)

      When advertising, public relations, arrangements with experts, outright lobbying, and the other efforts discussed in previous chapters are insufficient to protect the sales environment, food companies resort to more heavy-handed methods. This chapter illustrates two ways in which companies use “hardball” strategies. To counter suggestions that their products might have adverse health, safety, or environmental consequences, food companies engage in litigation: they sue critics for libel or other reasons. And to avoid the unwanted consequences of freemarket competition, some companies use a strategy that crosses the line from legal to illegal: they conspire to fix prices. This chapter presents some...

  9. PART THREE EXPLOITING KIDS, CORRUPTING SCHOOLS

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 173-174)

      During the twentieth century, the nutritional health of American children improved dramatically in some ways—but not in others. Early in the century, many children died from the complications of infectious diseases made worse by diets limited in calories and nutrients. As scientists learned more about how diets could protect against disease, they introduced measures that virtually eliminated classic signs of severe undernutrition among American children. Fortification of foods with iron, for example, helped reduce rates of iron-deficiency anemia to their present low levels, and school lunch programs kept many children from going hungry. These accomplishments count among the greatest...

    • CHAPTER 8 STARTING EARLY: UNDERAGE CONSUMERS
      (pp. 175-196)

      Whereas concerns about children’s nutrition once focused on dietary insufficiency, the most serious dietary issue affecting today’s American children is obesity—the result of eating more food than is needed, rather than too little. Obesity rates are rising rapidly among children and adolescents, especially those who are African-American or Hispanic. By the early 1990s, for example, 23% of white girls aged 6–11 were overweight, compared to 29% of Mexican-American girls and 31% of black girls.¹ Pediatricians report seeing children with high levels of serum cholesterol, high blood pressure, and “adult”-onset diabetes at earlier and earlier ages—all consequences of...

    • CHAPTER 9 PUSHING SOFT DRINKS: ʺPOURING RIGHTSʺ
      (pp. 197-218)

      I had never heard of “pouring rights” until late in 1998 when I received a telephone call from a representative of the New York State School Food Service Association, inviting me to comment on that topic at its next meeting. She explained that the term referred to a recent development in food marketing: large payments from soft drink companies to school districts in return for the right to sell that company’s products—and only those products—in every one of the district’s schools. I was aware that colleges and universities had negotiated vending contracts with soft drink companies, and I...

  10. PART FOUR DEREGULATING DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS

    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 219-221)

      We now turn to a new topic: how a relatively minor segment of the food industry—the makers and sellers of dietary supplements—convinced the public and Congress that its products did not need to be regulated according to the strict standards applied to conventional foods or to drugs. Supplement makers do not need to demonstrate that their products are safe and effective before selling them. What is left of supplement regulation is based on the assumption that supplements are safe until proved otherwise, and Congress places the burden of responsibility on the beleaguered Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to...

    • CHAPTER 10 SCIENCE VERSUS SUPPLEMENTS: ʺA GULF OF MUTUAL INCOMPREHENSIONʺ
      (pp. 222-246)

      Early in 1999 i took a European visitor, newly appointed as director of his country’s equivalent to our Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on a field trip to my local health food store. I thought that he might be interested in the vast array of dietary supplements and the benefits claimed for them, as indeed he was. His home agency demanded proof that supplements were safe and effective before permitting them to be sold as health remedies, and his country (like others in Europe) does not permit misleading health claims on product labels or in advertisements.¹

      Like most health food...

    • CHAPTER 11 MAKING HEALTH CLAIMS LEGAL: THE SUPPLEMENT INDUSTRYʹS WAR WITH THE FDA
      (pp. 247-271)

      No person making a first visit to a health food store today, perhaps bewildered by the vast array of supplements and the statements made about their purported purposes, could possibly imagine that as recently as 1990, claims about health benefits were strictly prohibited. Until then, if the labels suggested that supplements might be useful for preventing or treating a specific condition, the FDA considered them drugs and demanded evidence that they were beneficial as well as safe. To the supplement industry and to supplement users, the FDA’s science-based regulation seemed inappropriate, if not downright obstructive. Makers and sellers of supplements...

    • CHAPTER 12 DEREGULATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
      (pp. 272-294)

      Following enactment of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the results of its lowest-common-denominator regulatory approach were apparent almost immediately. Most evident was the remarkable growth of the supplement industry; this, of course, had been the point of the industry’s efforts in pushing for the legislation. As this chapter relates, however, DSHEA led to additional consequences, some intentional and some unintentional. Food companies seeking similar increases in growth began to produce supplement-enhanced foods that could be marketed using health, nutrient-content, and structure/function claims. Pharmaceutical companies began adding herbal and vitamin supplements to over-the-counter drugs. Furthermore, companies...

  11. PART FIVE INVENTING TECHNO-FOODS

    • [PART FIVE Introduction]
      (pp. 295-297)

      As we saw in the last chapter, the nutritional attributes of foods are a natural selling point, and the advertising of health benefits increases sales. Food companies are vitally interested in the ways that they might take advantage of three approaches used by government and health officials to promote better diets: education, supplements, and fortification or alteration of foods to make them “healthier.” Part I of this book explained how the food industry protects its interests by influencing federal dietary advice to the public. Part IV discussed how makers and sellers of dietary supplements worked the system to obtain a...

    • CHAPTER 13 GO FORTH AND FORTIFY
      (pp. 298-314)

      In developing techno-foods fortified with essential nutrients and designed to be “healthier,” food companies were responding not only to the marketing advantage of such products, but also to the demands of federal health officials, in what appeared to be a win-win situation. By the late 1980s, consensus about the health benefits of recommended diets—those that followed theDietary Guidelines—seemed almost universal. Because Americans were spending an ever-increasing proportion of their food dollars on products and meals prepared outside the home, nutritionists and health officials believed that the industries responsible for pre-prepared foods should join homemakers as primary targets...

    • CHAPTER 14 BEYOND FORTIFICATION: MAKING FOODS FUNCTIONAL
      (pp. 315-337)

      Becauseallfoods and drinks include ingredients (calories, nutrients, or water) that are essential for life, any one of them has the potential to be marketed for its health benefits. Many vitamins and minerals participate in energy-yielding biochemical reactions, and the phrase “contains vitamins essential for energy” would accurately describe just about any food except pure sugar, starch, or alcohol (which have calories, but no nutrients). Accordingly, when Congress in 1990 instructed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider authorizing certain claims for the health benefits of conventional foods and then in 1994 demanded that it permit less restrictive...

    • CHAPTER 15 SELLING THE ULTIMATE TECHNO-FOOD: OLESTRA
      (pp. 338-357)

      I was no longer a member of the FDA’s Food Advisory Committee during the years when it was considering approval of Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) fat substitute, olestra, but I followed its deliberations closely. On June 17, 1998, the committee confirmed a judgment that it had made more than two years earlier. Once again, it agreed that olestra was reasonably certain to cause no harm as a food additive. The members did, however, advise the FDA that foods containing this substance should carry a warning statement: “This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the...

  12. CONCLUSION: THE POLITICS OF FOOD CHOICE
    (pp. 358-374)

    We have seen how the food industry uses lobbying, lawsuits, financial contributions, public relations, advertising, partnerships and alliances, philanthropy, threats, and biased information to convince Congress, federal agencies, nutrition and health professionals, and the public that the science relating diet to health is so confusing that they need not worry about diets: When it comes to diets, anything goes.¹

    Representatives of food companies and their trade associations repeatedly make the following claims:

    The keys to healthful diets are balance, variety, and moderation (especially when their products are included).

    All foods can be part of healthful diets (especially theirs).

    There is...

  13. AFTERWORD: FOOD POLITICS: TEN YEARS LATER AND BEYOND
    (pp. 375-412)

    The principal point ofFood Politicsis that food choices are political as well as personal. In 2002, reactions to this idea ranged from surprise to outrage: How dare anyone suggest that food choices could be anything other than a matter of personal responsibility? Today, more people than ever have come to understand the food industry’s economic imperative to increase sales in a hugely competitive marketplace, as well as the ways in which business pressures have created an obesitypromoting “eat more” food environment. This environment makes food not only ubiquitous, convenient, and inexpensive but also socially acceptable to consume frequently,...

  14. APPENDIX: ISSUES IN NUTRITION AND NUTRITION RESEARCH
    (pp. 413-424)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 425-486)
  16. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. 487-488)
  17. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. 489-490)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 491-510)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 511-512)