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Gourmandiary...October 18, 2003

Book Review:  
Food Politics by Marion Nestle

Click
here for link to Amazon's page for Ms Nestle's book.
What distinguishes Marion Nestle's Food Politics from other similar exposés on
industry influence of government policy is her hypothesis that the influence of big
epidemic.  Unlike energy or forestry policy, food policy directly affects the health of
all Americans.  As America grows fat and unhealthy, Ms Nestle’s book and the
information she reveals regarding the handcuffing of America’s food and health
policies, is as timely and vital as Upton Sinclair’s work was one hundred years ago.

out and eating in), in the year 2001 that figure had dropped to only 10%.  
American food producers are so efficient that they have saturated the market too
much food out there for all of it to be eaten.
out and eating in), in the year 2001 that figure had dropped to only 10%.  
American food producers are so efficient that they have saturated the market
with their products.  Demand is static, people can only eat so much, and there is
too much food out there for all of it to be eaten.

How shall a food producing company stay in business in such an environment?  
Where annual growth in this industry is one or two percent, how can a food
producing company reward its shareholder’s with reasonable profits?  There are
many strategies to be employed, but as Ms Nestle’s book amply documents, the
primary and most important strategy is to prevent government from doing
anything that might increase the cost of producing food in the first place or unduly
influence consumers to change their consumption patterns.  The rules are simple;
government must never tell people to eat less food, it should never require any
sort of labeling that informs consumers of the true healthfulness (or lack thereof)
of a particular food, nor should it require food companies to invest in expensive
equipment or implement costly procedures to improve on the food safety
practices in place today.  To do any of these things would reduce the razor thin
profit margins of today’s food producers which is why the food industry is so
ferocious in its defense of the status quo.

Yet this status quo that food companies fight so hard to protect has begun to
make America one of the unhealthiest food cultures on the planet and the
consequence of this are enormous.  The 1994 National Health Interview Survey
estimated that the direct and indirect cost of dealing with American obesity was
99.2 billion dollars.  Of that total, our nation spent 51.94 billion healthcare dollars
treating coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and other obesity
related conditions.  If this is how bad things were in 1994, how much worse has
the situation grown today?

In the end the statistics above will increasingly inform America’s attitude toward
the food industry.  We will be forced to choose that which is more important;
protecting the profits of the food industry or decreasing the burden on the
taxpayer who must pay for the healthcare of an increasingly obese population?  
In the same way that large tobacco companies were eventually called to account
for their marketing of unhealthy products, I believe that in our lifetime food
companies will eventually suffer a similar form of societal backlash against their
unhealthful practices.  Sure, as individuals we choose whether we eat healthy or
unhealthy foods, but when information regarding just what foods are healthy is
either suppressed or presented in such a confusing way as to become useless,
making healthy choices becomes an undo burden on the consumer.

This is a courageous book written by someone who is informed to the point of
utter frustration.  As a academic in the field of nutrition Ms Nestle is in a unique
position to be independently critical of both industry and government’s response
to the problem of American obesity.  Hopefully this book will be the first of many
that bring these issues the type of notoriety that will allow a new, detached,
dialog to emerge regarding how best to address American obesity.