This 2003 James Beard Foundation award winner is a weighty examination of the role politics has played (and is playing) in the evolution of our food supply and its regulation (or lack thereof).
Nestle (no relation to the same-named company), a nutritionist, exhaustively examines a number of aspects of food policy: dietary advice (the Food Pyramid), food lobbying and the revolving door, food advertising to children, dietary supplement deregulation, and so-called techno-foods (eg. Olestra).
Although short’ish at 375 pages plus notes, this is by no means a quick read, as it’s densely-written with a fair bit of industry jargon to decipher, and there’s a lot to get one’s head around. Although I’ve read several other food philosophy books (Fast Food Nation, Omnivore’s Dilemma), I was still surprised at the tenacity of food industry in seeking deregulation and in doing everything they can to prevent any message of “eat less” from coming out of the government.
Government disfunction is also discussed, from turf wars between the USDA, FDA and FTC, congressional hamstringing of the FDA, insanely pro-industry legislation (introduced by congressfolk who received campaign contributions from said industries – coincidence, no doubt). In particular the wrangling between the USDA & FDA over the publication of the Food Pyramid was painful to read.
If, like me, you’ve ever wondered how the heck supplement manufacturers get away with making seeming health claims, then showing the FDA-required disclaimer that “this product is not intended to diagnose, blah blah blah,” you will find enlightenment in part 4, which goes into much detail about how the current confusing regulatory situation came to be. Turns out, they can claim that a supplement “promotes bone health,” but not “treats osteoporosis,” even though nearly anyone would treat the two as equivalent statements.
There are many statistics and charts throughout, and many of them are quite alarming, from the increases in the average caloric intake per capita per day to the exponentially increasing budgets for advertising to children and expenditures in schools. Without these charts, the book would have been unbearably scholarly.
Nestle is decidely more pro-regulation than she is pro-business, and that comes through in her writing (this suits me fine, but might not suit you). Although I did enjoy reading this book, it would not be enjoyed by many, as it is pretty dry and as mentioned above, quite dense.
“The Valley of the Kings” by John Romer
“Words and Rules: the Ingredients of Language” by Stephen Pinker