Marion Nestle Book: Beware Processed Foods

In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Dorothy Kalins reviews two new books about food, one of which is by Marion Nestle--an NYU nutrition expert who has been mentioned on DiseaseProof before. Here is some of what Kalins has to say about Nestle's book:

For Singer and Mason, the loveliest phrase in the English language may be "family farm." For Marion Nestle, the most unsavory would probably be "processed foods." For her this means "adding value" through clever (and expensive) marketing, tricky packaging and the employment of harmful salt and sugar. If you find the supermarket increasingly alien, that's because it is. A bewildering 20,000 new products appear on grocery shelves each year. Take Whole Grain Cocoa Puffs, for example. Even sweetened with Splenda (Nestle is not a believer) and with its scant one gram of fiber, this so-called healthy cereal still has the same calorie count of the original. Deep into the more than 600 dense pages of "What to Eat" is a chart showing how added value works: a raw Idaho potato costs $.79 a pound; Terra Yukon Gold chips, $10.21. But Nestle is not the food police. This professor of nutrition and public health at New York University and well-known author of "Food Politics," likes her potato chips just fine. With a calculator in hand and a scientist's skepticism, Nestle shoots straight though food industry hype. She pulls no punches: "The science is complicated," she admits. Then she parses that same science for us with good-humored common sense backed up by file drawers of research. She shakes her head over the American diet: "One third of all vegetables consumed in the United States come from just three sources: french fries, potato chips and iceberg lettuce."

Her book is radiant with maxims to live by: "All margarines are basically the same," she reports, "mixtures of soybean oil and food additives. Everything else is theater and greasepaint." She prefers a bit of butter. She's dismayed that there are more than 400 kinds of yogurt, a product she calls "a fast-selling dairy dessert with the aura of a health food." Most flavored varieties are loaded with sugar. Nutritionally, she finds "the focus on protein is silly Americans are anything but protein deficient." On chicken: "if you eat the skin, you might as well be eating a hamburger."

Despite their decidedly dark view of where we stand, in terms of eating well, both books give reason for hope. Both see the environmental baby steps taken by McDonald's as steps, nonetheless. If Singer and Mason's stories of animal abuse make you weep and they will they also might make you reconsider your position on sirloin. The food world is fraught with ethical choices. As Nestle puts it, "you cast your vote for your choice of food environment every time you put something in your shopping cart or order off a menu. If enough people vote with you, changes will happen."

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anet - May 29, 2006 9:07 AM

With interest I read Dorothy Kalins' reviews of Singer's and Nestles food books.
I suspect that these writers (Sanger and Nestle) are basically preaching to the converted, because most of the people I know...my coworkers, friends do NOT read books about food or nutrition.

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