This is an article I wrote as a guest editorial for the International Culinary Professionals (ICAP) newletter, Winter 2008
Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
Guest Editorial by Carol S. Casey, R.D., CDN, LDN
As a dietitian, I knew this book would be filled with information that was going to challenge many nutrition facts as I know them. As I read the book, I found myself engrossed in the examples of how politics influences the nutrition messages that are conveyed to the public. I am one of the biggest skeptics you will ever meet and the message Dr. Nestle conveyed in her book only compounded my doubts. My curiosity regarding the mixed messages the public is given in the media and the policies our country's government endorses was certainly supported by Dr. Nestle's book.
The author enlightens the reader on just how the food industry distorts wholesome natural ingredients into products filled with fat, salt, and needless sugary calories - far from the nutrient dense foods the public is encouraged to consume. Even when this information is made public - as other authors and filmmakers have done recently - the public seems to ignore the information thus contributing to the growing rate of obesity in our country. The messages that bombard the public contribute to their conflicting knowledge of what to chose and what not to chose. There are glimmers throughout the book where she addresses basic gluttony and our arrogant attitude that "more is better" - a result of overcoming a history filled with starvation and disease associated with malnutrition.
Dr. Nestle discusses the different food manufacturing industries of sugar, beef,c ereal and others. As Nestle lays out the facts, she carefully provides sufficient evidence, that for the sake of influence from the food manufacturers the final outcome is confusing messaging to consumers while enabling the company's large profits. She carefully describes, with satisfaction of this reader, that political correctness with the food manufacturing industry is perverse. The political correctness has little to do with what is offensive to others, but more to do with the "you scratch my back, I scratch your back" practices between the food manufacturers and the US government.
Even as the media floods the airways with studies and confusing messages to the consumers, it cannot be dismissed that people are responsible for their own choices. Nestle admits that scientific nutritional advice, which basically boils down to "eat your veggies," can be dull. Such advice is also vulnerable to the food industry's well-funded efforts to undermine dietary recommendations. Our food surplus, combined with an affluent population, forces the food industry into a brutal competition for consumer dollars. To generate profits, food companies must accomplish one of two aims: They must persuade us to choose their products rather than their competitor's, or they must convince us to eat more than we should, in order to increase their sales. The foods that are most profitable to the industry are those high in fat, sugar and salt. So the bottom line of corporate profit relies on the expanding posteriors of the American public
Only a naive person would not admit that we are easy marketing strategy targets. Yet most of us think that we choose food based on taste, cost and convenience. Dr. Nestle quickly dispels this concept by providing countless examples of how the food companies are at the root of subliminal messages enticing us to make choices that are often contrary to sound nutritional choices. As the reader continues through the book, it becomes more and more clear that we have been practically hypnotized by the food companies, thus becoming their mindless puppets.
Increasing personal awareness is blossoming out of individualistic goals for improved health, food security and the public's demand for food industry accountability. While people cannot shed their own personal accountability, Dr. Nestle does not overlook that food science cannot be the solution to food politics. She does not leave out all of the influences of our nutrition culture - we have traditions that are intertwined with food and nutrition. Read this book only if you want your eyes opened to the relationship of politics and food - two unlikely, but very surprising bedfellows. You won't regret the journey Nestle takes you, the reader, on as she meticulously opens your eyes to aspects of food politics that you may have never thought or considered.