Marion Nestle is a consumer activist, nutritionist, and academic who specializes in the politics of food and dietary choice. Nestle received her BA, PhD, and MPH from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1988, Nestle was appointed Chair of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. She held that position until 2004, when she became the Paulette Goddard Professor in the same department.
Nestle is the author of numerous books, including "Food Politics," which explored the way corporations influence our nutritional choices, and "What to Eat," an survey of how to navigate the modern American supermarket. Aside from her books and teaching, Nestle writes a popular blog for the Atlantic Food Channel.
Well I think there are two ways of approaching the problem of too much food and too much food industry pressure for people to eat more. One is grassroots, bottom up social movement kinds of things, and there’s a lot of that going on in this country. And I hope you’ll ask me more about that because I really want to talk about that. Part of it certainly is government regulation. We have a food system . . . a food industry that has been largely unregulated in the way they market, for example – particularly in marketing to children. I think there’s a lot more we could do in that area. We’ve allowed the food industry to move into schools and to essentially take over the kinds of foods that children are exposed to in schools with vending machines, and competitive foods, and snack bars, and all that sort of thing that raise money for financially handicapped schools; and that have allowed junk foods to get into schools in a way that they didn’t used to be. And I think we could put some restrictions on that. And there’s so much public concern about issues of childhood obesity right now that the food industry is on notice about it, and they are scrambling like mad to try to self-regulate and put in their own sets of guidelines in order to keep regulators from regulating, you know?
Question: Why is the grassroots effort so important?
Well I think we have an enormous grassroots effort now that is focused on trying to reverse some of the things that have happened in the last 15 or 20 years in which food companies have been allowed to market their products in any way they want to. And government agencies have allowed them to do things that didn’t used to be allowed, like have vending machines in schools or have completely ridiculous health claims on products so that the most absurdly junky foods are advertised as having whole grain, or no trans fats, or low in fat, or whatever that gives people the ideas that they don’t have any calories. And I think we could have some changes there. And what has happened, because the government is not taking as firm a stance on this as a lot of people think is necessary, consumers themselves have started grassroots efforts to try to make changes, particularly in schools, and particularly around child . . . about marketing to children. Because marketing to adults, you can argue that if a food company markets to adults, one of the great things about being an adult is you can make your own decisions about things. You’re responsible for your own actions. You can exercise informed, personal responsibility if you want to. But kids it’s different. There they’re being manipulated, pure and simple. And so a lot of the efforts of people to try to reverse some of the marketing efforts of food companies is focused on children quite naturally. And there people have moved into schools to try to change the school lunches; to get vending machines out of schools; to get junk foods out of schools; and in many places have been very successful.