What was it like working for the Department of Health?
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.
Marion Nestle: I was Senior Nutrition Policy Advisor in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Department of Health and Human Services. And this was an agency that was set up within Health and Human Services to work on chronic . . . The particular things we were interested in were chronic disease prevention – diet and chronic disease prevention. And my main job was to edit a very, very large report called The Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health which came out in 1988.
I came there from a masters degree in public health nutrition, and this was my first job after my masters degree. And I love to tell this story. On my first day on the job, the person I was working for said . . . and I was to edit this report on diet and chronic disease prevention. And he said on my first day, “No matter what this report says, and no matter what the research says, this report will never say, ‘Eat less meat.’” And I said, “Oh?” He said, “You can’t say, “Eat less meat.’ That’s too controversial. The Department of Agriculture is opposed to that kind of recommendation. They will go to Congress and have the report suppressed if it says anything like that.” So right from day one this was going to be a compromised report that was going to state everything in euphemisms. And so the first thing I learned on my first day on the job was if you wanted to get politics done in Washington you have to speak in euphemisms.
If you want to get anything done in Washington, Nestle says, you have to speak in euphemisms.
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