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Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (California Studies in Food and Culture) Paperback – September 30, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the U.S., we're bombarded with nutritional advice--the work, we assume, of reliable authorities with our best interests at heart. Far from it, says Marion Nestle, whose Food Politics absorbingly details how the food industry--through lobbying, advertising, and the co-opting of experts--influences our dietary choices to our detriment. Central to her argument is the American "paradox of plenty," the recognition that our food abundance (we've enough calories to meet every citizen's needs twice over) leads profit-fixated food producers to do everything possible to broaden their market portion, thus swaying us to eat more when we should do the opposite. The result is compromised health: epidemic obesity to start, and increased vulnerability to heart and lung disease, cancer, and stroke--reversible if the constantly suppressed "eat less, move more" message that most nutritionists shout could be heard.

Nestle, nutrition chair at New York University and editor of the 1988 Surgeon General Report, has served her time in the dietary trenches and is ideally suited to revealing how government nutritional advice is watered down when a message might threaten industry sales. (Her report on byzantine nutritional food-pyramid rewordings to avoid "eat less" recommendations is both predictable and astonishing.) She has other "war stories," too, that involve marketing to children in school (in the form of soft-drink "pouring rights" agreements, hallway advertising, and fast-food coupon giveaways), and diet-supplement dramas in which manufacturers and the government enter regulation frays, with the industry championing "free choice" even as that position counters consumer protection. Is there hope? "If we want to encourage people to eat better diets," says Nestle, "we need to target societal means to counter food industry lobbying and marketing practices as well as the education of individuals." It's a telling conclusion in an engrossing and masterfully panoramic exposé. --Arthur Boehm --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Nestle (chair, nutrition and food studies, NYU) offers an expos‚ of the tactics used by the food industry to protect its economic interests and influence public opinion. She shows how the industry promotes sales by resorting to lobbying, lawsuits, financial contributions, public relations, advertising, alliances, and philanthropy to influence Congress, federal agencies, and nutrition and health professionals. She also describes the food industry's opposition to government regulation, its efforts to discredit nutritional recommendations while pushing soft drinks to children via alliances with schools, and its intimidation of critics who question its products or its claims. Nestle berates the food companies for going to great lengths to protect what she calls "techno-foods" by confusing the public regarding distinctions among foods, supplements, and drugs, thus making it difficult for federal regulators to guard the public. She urges readers to inform themselves, choose foods wisely, demand ethical behavior and scientific honesty, and promote better cooperation among industry and government. This provocative work will cause quite a stir in food industry circles. Highly recommended. Irwin Weintraub, Brooklyn Coll., NY
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: California Studies in Food and Culture (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 472 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520240677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520240674
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,010,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, which she chaired from 1988-2003. She also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

She has held faculty positions at Brandeis University and the UCSF School of Medicine. From 1986-88, she was senior nutrition policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health.

Her research examines scientific, economic, and social influences on food choice and obesity, with an emphasis on the role of food marketing.

She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (California Press, 2002, revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (California Press, 2003, revised edition 2010), and What to Eat (North Point Press, 2006). Her latest book, Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine, was published by California Press in 2008. Feed Your Pet Right, co-authored with Malden Nesheim, will be published by Free Press in May, 2010.

She writes the Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle, and blogs daily (almost) at and for the Atlantic Food Channel at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

721 of 753 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For what it's worth, potential readers of Nestle's book should note that the first three "reader reviews" of this book are pretty obviously cranked out by some food industry PR campaign. To begin with, they were all submitted on the same date, February 22 -- "reader reviews" of a book that isn't even scheduled to go on sale until March 4! For another thing, they all hit on the same food industry "message points": that critics are "nagging nannies" whipping up "hysteria" on behalf of "greedy trial lawyers," etc. February 22 is also the date that noted industry flack Steven Milloy of the "Junk Science Home Page" (...) wrote a review trashing Nestle's book. Milloy is a former tobacco lobbyist and front man for a group created by Philip Morris, which has been diversifying its tobacco holdings in recent years by buying up companies that make many of the fatty, sugar-laden foods that Nestle is warning about. (...)
I haven't even had a chance yet to read Nestle's book myself, but it irritates me to see the food industry's PR machine spew out the usual (...) every time someone writes something they don't like. If they hate her this much, it's probably a pretty good book.
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152 of 157 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on December 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nutrition expert Marion Nestle's "Food Politics" explains how the formula for a healthy diet hasn't changed. She advises that one should eat more plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and less meat, dairy and sweets. But this message collides with the interests of the food-industrial complex, which makes the bulk of its profits by selling relatively expensive processed foods. The book examines how corporations have successfully fought the health message by using a number of overt and covert tactics to further their objectives at the public's expense.
In fact, this business success story has resulted in a generation of Americans who are significantly overweight compared with their predecessors. Nestle shows that public relations and government lobbying result in obfuscation and mixed messages about the relative values of certain foods; this generally confuses Americans and makes it difficult to get the "eat less" message. Interestingly, she reveals that the amount of sweets and snack foods consumed are in almost exact proportion to the advertising dollars spent promoting these foods, suggesting that limits on advertising junk food to children might be a reasonable first step in addressing this problem.
But Nestle is particularly critical of the criminally poor quality of the nation's public school lunch program and the "pouring rights" contracts struck with soft drink companies by cash-starved school districts. Our country's apparent unwilingness to provide nutritious meals to our schoolchildren is shameful, and Nestle should be congratulated for bringing the situation to light.
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132 of 141 people found the following review helpful By K. Pierre-Louis on June 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Here's the thing.

As one reviewer mentioned I think the bulk of negative reviewers have not actually read this book.

The author is a nuritionist, who says that despite the really basic nutritional advice of most nutritionists which has not significantly changed over the course of a half century, the public still views nutritional advice as difficult to understand.


Because the food industry makes more money when it sells more products. It has a vested interest in getting people to at least buy (if not eat) more food. Most importantly, the least healthy foods (i.e. highly processed foods) have the highest profit margins. To ensure profits, they pressure the government to avoid informing the public in an easily understandable format that they should eat less and avoid processed foods.

Is she saying this is the ONLY reason why americans are fat? No. But the fact that many, many, many americans have problems figuring out what the heck to eat is heavily due to the food lobbyists, a fact which she goes into in nauseating detail.

And therein lies the problem.

Nestle is an Academic and she writes like one. Anyone familiar with non-fiction in the style of Nickle and Dimed, Fast Food Nation, or even Island of the Colorblind will find Food Politics irritating. Not because the book is poorly written, per se, but because it's dull.

She obscures critical points between reams of facts, her narrative style plods along instead of floating or skipping, and I frequently felt like hurling the book across the room screaming get to the point already.

But I did finish the book.

Because the message is far more important then the limited medium. This book is critically important in that it hi-lights the sad reality that billions of dollars being spent vying for a place on the tip of your fork. Sadly very little of this money bears your health in mind.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Pumpkin King on July 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Eric Schlosser writes about FOOD POLITICS, "If you eat, you should read this book." But while Schlosser revealed to a mass public the disturbing business of fast food, Marion Nestle takes on most of the food industry, and not without consequences (you can view a letter she received from a lawyer representing the sugar industry on the website for this book).
She argues that basic nutrition science is simple. Yet there is mass confusion about what to eat and what effects foods have. And the reason for all of this misinformation is that it benefits food producers to have an innocent flock of customers who are left uncertain of how to judge what is healthy from what is not. She clearly explains what means the food industry uses to influence policies to their benefit, often at the expense of public health. And she gives detailed examples that illustrate the extent to which some companies and industries go to sell their products.
While her suggestions for reform may be somewhat wanting, her descriptions of how decisions about food get made on political levels is masterfully researched and she is always respectful of science. While those people with vested interests in certain industries may label her a communist, she is merely critiquing a history of policies and marketing strategies that have, to be sure, provided us with an abundant food supply, but have also led to increased obesity and high rates of chronic diseases.
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