Summary: What to Eat by Marion Nestle takes the reader through the supermarket to help inform shopping decisions based on the questions we all have when we shop for food. Is this healthy? Is it safe? Is it “green”? If you’re confused about those issues, there is good reason — it takes a 600 page book to answer those questions!
Capitalism does many things well, but it does not do all things well. Where it fails is where the greater good meets the greater profit. Corporations have to choose the greater profit. They have no choice because that’s what they have been set up to do. Marion Nestle explains this on page 13 of What to Eat:
As publicly traded corporations, most food companies must file quarterly reports with Wall Street. Investment analysts not only demand profits, they demand growth. It is not enough for Kraft Foods to generate $32 billion in sales in 2004. If that company wants its stock prices to rise, it has to increase sales by a sizable percentage every ninety days. Companies must sell more, and then more, and even more. In this kind of investment economy, weight gain is just collateral damage.
It’s my contention that companies are disingenuous when they claim that regulations kill business. Companies don’t need an unregulated playing field, they need a level playing field. Zero regulation is only one way to achieve a level playing field. Government regulations that have not been overly influenced by the most powerful players in the industry is another way to achieve a level playing field while meeting the obligation of the People of the United States in the preamble to the Constitution to promote the general Welfare. Particularly in the areas of food safety, health claims on unhealthy foods, and the long-term sustainability of our food systems, I believe stronger regulations than we currently have are in order.
I would like to see three things come out of the Occupy Wall Street movement:
- a much lowered profile for corporations in funding political campaigns, probably as part of a campaign finance reform so that issues like soda in schools is not unduly influenced by campaign contributions from Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
- a law stating that corporations are not entitled to the same free speech rights as individuals so that efforts to stop marketing of junk food to children during an obesity epidemic are not stopped cold in their tracks by corporate free speech.
- a climate of regulation to promote the general Welfare so that each corporation can focus on its job of making money while the government focuses on the job of making sure that the trajectory is toward the good of all, including a food system that is safe.
Appeal: This book is not nearly as political as I’ve made it sound. If you want a political book on the topic of food, check out Appetite for Profit by Michele Simon or, presumably Food Politics, another book by Marion Nestle that I have yet to read. If you want a book that helps you figure out what to eat in a confusing environment, while also explaining some of the political and corporate reasons for the confusion, then What to Eat is the book for you.
What to Eat is a daunting 600 page book but it turned out to be very readable (and most of the last 100 pages are appendices and notes). It’s easily read in small chunks, a few sections or a chapter at a time. I read it while eating my lunch and afternoon snack and had no trouble following the arguments from one day to the next.
I’m looking forward to Marion Nestle’s next book due March 2012, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, a topic that is even more closely aligned with my interests because I lost 70 pounds in the last couple of years and it was harder than it should be.
Challenges: This book is another good addition to the varied titles collected at the Foodie’s Reading Challenge. And this is my post for Weekend Cooking. See today’s post at Beth Fish Reads for more Weekend Cooking contributions.