When did food spark your interest?

Marion Nestle: I was given a nutrition course to teach when I was teaching undergraduate biology at Brandeis University.  And the rule in that department was that you had to teach anything that the department needed you to teach, whether you knew anything about it or not.  My Ph.D is in molecular biology, and the students were clamoring in those days for a course in nutrition.  It was my turn to teach and they said, “Here it is.  Do something with it.”  And on my first day of preparing for, when I started reading about nutrition and reading books about it, it was like falling in love.  I’ve never looked back.


Question:  Were there any other pivotal moments?

There were two moments.  This was in the early 1970s or the mid 1970s.  Frances Moore Lappe had just come out with Diet for a Small Planet.  Linus Pauling . . . which was a book about how if you eat low on the food chain and eat a largely plant-based diet it would be better for you and for your health as well as for the planet.  And Linus Pauling had come out with a book called Vitamin C and the Common Cold, and I wondered . . .  I was trained in science.  I wondered if there was any science behind that . . . any real science behind it.  And that kind of formed the way I thought about it as I went into this course to teach it.  The second book was the diet . . . The Recommended Dietary Allowances, which was a book put out by the National Academies of Science, which is a compendium of research information on diet and health, and the amount of nutrients that humans require in order to stay healthy.  And I opened up that book, did one of these random, stick your finger on a page things, and started reading the background literature for it.  And I realized that much of the basic research on nutrition and health was based on studies that used very, very few subjects and weren’t controlled very well.  And I have fabulous examples of some of those studies.  And I was completely hooked.  I thought, “This is how public policy on nutrition gets made.  This is really interesting.”  And I loved the idea that you could go from basic science to public policy in one subject and do it in one class.  And that really formed the way I think about it even to this day.

Trained as a molecular biologist, Nestle recalls how she found her way to nutrition.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less

What the world will look like in the year 250,002,018

This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now

On Pangaea Proxima, Lagos will be north of New York, and Cape Town close to Mexico City
Surprising Science

To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists are studying your Twitter slang to help AI

Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
  • Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
  • The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.
Keep reading Show less