Source – scheerpost.com
- ”…A recent report by The Guardian underscores just how powerful the food industry is in the U.S., finding that, “A handful of powerful companies control the majority market share of almost 80% of dozens of grocery items bought regularly by ordinary Americans” and that “only 15 cents of every dollar we spend in the supermarket goes to farmers. The rest goes to processing and marketing our food.”
Marion Nestle: Something’s Rotten in the Science of Food
The food expert joins Robert Scheer on “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss her book “Unsavory Truths” and its surprising revelations about how the science that influences what we eat is corrupted by corporate interests.
Leading nutritionist Marion Nestle has spent much of her long illustrious career writing about what we eat and the science of food. The James Beard award-winner and author of the blog Food Politics has written a whopping 14 acclaimed books on subjects related to nutrition, including “Soda Politics” and “What to Eat.” And yet, “Unsavory Truths: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, ” a book journalist Robert Scheer calls one of her most important books to date, has gone largely ignored by mainstream media. On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Nestle joins Scheer to discuss some of the shocking revelations the author uncovered about the links between food science and the incredibly powerful food industry.
Nestle, who is also Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, describes how scientists, who largely depend on private funding to do their research and keep their jobs, don’t often see the flaws in a system in which food corporations fund work that ultimately helps them sell products.
“Scientists don’t believe that they’re biased,” Nestle tells Scheer. “They think that science is science and as long as the science is good then there’s nothing wrong with the study. But as I got more and more involved in the research [for my book], I could see how the biases are built in from the beginning.
“[For example, food trade associations] are not going to fund anything that’s not likely to demonstrate the benefits [of their product]. So from the get-go, the studies are being designed to give the trade associations and the companies the kinds of information that they want, that they can use in marketing, or to use in fending off federal regulation, or to use for whatever commercial purposes they need.”
A recent report by The Guardian underscores just how powerful the food industry is in the U.S., finding that, “A handful of powerful companies control the majority market share of almost 80% of dozens of grocery items bought regularly by ordinary Americans” and that “only 15 cents of every dollar we spend in the supermarket goes to farmers. The rest goes to processing and marketing our food.”
Scheer, who describes reading Nestle’s book while at a supermarket, tells the food expert that she changed his entire understanding of food and nourishment. Highlighting Nestle’s numerous scientific degrees, including a PhD in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist argues that part of why Nestle’s work “irritates” powerful corporate interests and is ignored by media is her courage to talk about the politics of food.
“Reading your book,” Scheer tells Nestle, “there was a certain clarity to it. It’s all bull. Most of the stuff that’s done about food, the regulation, is totally compromised by politics, by money. The food industries control most of the regulation; they control the dialogue. And suddenly things that I was reaching for as a customer, that I thought were going to do me some good, I doubted.”
Listen to the full discussion between Nestle and Scheer as the food expert describes some of the most egregious examples of companies interfering in science and proposes a different funding model for the research at the heart of everything we eat. You can also read the transcript of this episode below the credits.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where I hasten to add that the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case it’s Marion Nestle–not “Nestlé” as in the fast food company or whatever it is that she periodically has criticized. But Marion Nestle is probably the most important food critic that has a scientific background, let me put it that way. She got her PhD at UC Berkeley in molecular biology, and then she got a master’s in public health and so forth after. But she’s comfortable in the scientific realm. And I was long familiar with her work; in fact, full confession, this is the first conversation we’ve had in 60 years, because we overlapped at Berkeley in graduate school; I was in economics and Chinese studies.
But let me just begin, Marion, by asking about your own background. You basically are a product of UC Berkeley; your undergraduate, you were a Phi Beta Kappa there, from I guess ’55 to ’59 or so, and then you went into sciences. And for your time that was not typical, even though biology had obviously had many famous women biologists. And then you have pursued that career; you basically founded a very important, after being at Brandeis you founded a very important–and being, I guess, at the UC San Francisco medical school, very famous–you then founded a very important program at NYU, where you were a distinguished professor for many years, and still writing a lot.
We’re both–let’s have full confession here, I’m a little bit older than you; I turned 85 in April, and you’re going to be 85 in September. But I was so impressed reading your book, for a number of reasons–one of your more recent books, in 2018, Unsavory Truth. And I was reading it, the final pages, I was reading it on my Kindle at Trader Joe’s, and it stopped me from purchasing about seven items, including dark chocolate, that I would have otherwise bought. It is such a great revelation about the hyping and the politics of food, as well as all of your other work; I think you’ve written nine books. So why don’t we just begin there? How you segued into this field, and how you became really probably the best-informed food critic, from a certainly scientific point of view, that we have.
MN: Ah, well, thank you, Bob, for that introduction. And yes, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? Yeah, I got interested in food because I was given a nutrition course to teach at Brandeis University when I was teaching there in the early 1970s. And it was like falling in love, and I’ve never looked back. I love the way that nutrition involves everything about food and science and politics all mixed together; it’s the perfect place for interdisciplinary studies of any kind, and that’s been something that I’ve just really enjoyed about it.
RS: You have a solid scientific background; you know about molecular biology, you have a PhD, and then you even added a master’s in public health. And so you’re not a chef spouting off, and you’re not some angry consumer talking. You know the science. And because you know the science–first of all, you’ve been featured very prominently in the major movies about food; you’re the go-to person to quote in the New York Times and elsewhere. But you also irritate the food industry, because you dare discuss the politics of food.
And what I was saying, anecdotally, yesterday when I finished your most recent–well, not your most recent; you have [Let’s] Ask Marion that UC Berkeley published, but the one in 2018, Unsavory Truth. I found that a fascinating book, and you’ve written, as I said, nine books altogether; you’ve had a body of literature. But what I found fascinating, finished it on my Kindle in Trader Joe’s and suddenly I didn’t want the dark chocolate; I even questioned the yogurt. I had thoughts about everything, and all I really wanted was some simple vegetables and maybe some old-fashioned meat and unprocessed food. And suddenly–you know, and I thought I knew a lot about this stuff, and I’m actually friendly with Alice Waters, and I know Michael Pollan and a lot of food critics and so forth.
But reading your book, there was a certain clarity to it. It’s all bull. Most of the stuff that’s done about food, the regulation, is totally compromised by politics, by money. The food industries control most of the regulation; they control the dialogue. And suddenly things that I was reaching for as a customer, that I thought were going to do me some good, I doubted. I thought, OK, they’re guilty pleasures; dark chocolate still tastes good, you know. But is it helping me? Honey! My god, when I was at Berkeley, when you were there, I mean, I remember Judy Collins had a song about cooking with honey. Reading your book, I don’t believe in honey anymore. You know, it tastes good, but it’s just sugar, you know. And so why don’t you take us there? You became a great skeptic about this whole industry; you’ve been attacked for that. And yet you’re probably, as I said before, our most prestigious academic expert on food that we have.
MN: Well, part of it is longevity. I’ve just been around for a long time. But it was never my intention to make people be concerned about foods that they love to eat. I’m a consummate foodie; I love food, I love to eat it. I never would advise anybody to not eat foods they like. I eat foods I like; I eat junk food, I eat all kinds of things. I just try to keep them in moderation. But the food industry, like every other industry, is something where you need to follow the money. Food industries are not social service agencies; they’re not public health agencies. They’re businesses, and they’re businesses with stockholders to please. And once you understand that about the food industry–that it’s not there to promote your health or promote environmental health or do anything good for society, it’s there to make money for the stockholders–then a lot of things follow from that and make perfect sense. And you begin to be much more skeptical about claims made for food, but also more skeptical about the way this industry acts. And there’s plenty to be skeptical about.
RS: Well, let me push that a little bit. Because, OK, we expect the food industry to be interested in making money. But there’s supposed to be government regulation; this is a health matter. And particularly when claims are made for food that they advance your health, that they can defeat cholesterol, they can prevent cancer, they can make you sexually potent, all of these things that are discussed in Unsavory Truth. I’m trying to get people to read this book, because I found it devastating in its clarity. And you know, what you’re really talking about is the government process being hopelessly compromised. Hopelessly. The money that pours in–and not only the government, academic life. Your book is devastating on the corruption of academic life. If that’s too strong a word, you can take issue. But I came away thinking, wait a minute–what are we doing in these universities? If it’s all paid for by Hershey’s chocolate or something, what can we trust? And you really go through major, major studies that make claims for food that are bogus or distorted from beginning to end. And I just want to know why there isn’t more outrage about that.
MN: Well, I think people don’t know about it. Or if they do know about it, they think it’s perfectly normal, because there’s so much of it around. I mean, if you look at the sort of big picture of the way this operates, we have a government that’s largely sold out to corporations. This was something that happened beginning with the Reagan administration–obviously beginning with the Reagan administration, we have a shift in the way our entire society operates since then, where everything is designed for profit. And a lot of stuff follows from that. And we have a government that is largely captured by corporations, and I don’t just mean food corporations; it’s all corporations. Enormous intimacy and cozy relations between food companies and the agencies that are supposed to be regulating them. And a situation in which the universities have become corporatized, if that’s a word, and everybody has to bring money in, or they can’t keep their jobs or they can’t get tenure or the academy doesn’t work. And so this has happened across the society as a whole, and I think the big surprise is, yes–food, too.
RS: Well, you know, you bring a lot of expertise on that, because you are a major academic and you’ve done pioneering work. And yet you had one paragraph that I read–because I just happened to be on a graduate committee for somebody’s doctorate, and I do teach at the University of Southern California, and you make a point that if you’re an academic you’re dependent upon getting research money most often. Your success rides on it. And a lot of this money comes from the private sector, in every area, and the private sector gets to dictate an awful lot of how these studies are conducted. And you just had egregious–one example, I mean, it was the fifth quarter milkshake or something, I forget, what was that? In Maryland, that you told–here we have concussions, we’ve had a great exposé of what football does to the brain and so forth, and there was this product brought in, if you just drink this chocolate drink after getting banged around in the head, it’s going to bring back your cognitive abilities. And that was treated as scientific truth until it was shown to be a fraud.
MN: Well, it was certainly shown to be paid for by the company that made the product. And you know, this is a complicated issue. Scientists–I have to say that my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, has been greeted with absolute silence by the nutrition community. I’ve gotten no feedback on it at all; it’s been largely ignored, it hasn’t been reviewed in nutrition journals, and everybody wishes it would just go away.
And the reason, I think, is because scientists don’t believe that they’re biased. They think that science is science and as long as the science is good then there’s nothing wrong with the study. But as I got more and more involved in the research, and egregious examples like that one–and there are many, many others–I could see how the biases are built in from the beginning. I get, for example, letters from food trade associations all the time, saying we’re looking for research studies to demonstrate the benefits of our product. Well, OK. They’re not going to fund anything that’s not likely to demonstrate the benefits. So from the get-go, the studies are being designed to give the trade associations and the companies the kinds of information that they want, that they can use in marketing, or to use in fending off federal regulation, or to use for whatever commercial purposes they need.
And this happens all the time. I’m still doing that; I write a daily blog during the week at FoodPolitics.com, and on Mondays every week I post some marketing study that some company has paid for to demonstrate the close relationship between that company’s interests and the outcome of the studies that they fund one way or another. Sometimes they just give grants to academics, and the academics do these studies. And they have to; the university is set up where you just can’t get tenured if you’re not bringing in money. And with the government giving less and less money to research, a greater proportion of research funding is coming from the private sector. I think this is not good.
RS: Well, actually, I have to tell people listening to this, I’m sorry that your book has not gotten a bigger reception; maybe I can help reverse that a little bit here. But I–first of all, no one can doubt your expertise. Let me just stress this, that you not only have a solid academic background, you have a PhD in biology–but you were the associate dean for human biology, taught nutrition at the UC San Francisco school of medicine, very prestigious, you know. You were the senior nutrition policy advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services. You were an editor of the Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. I mean, you couldn’t come better credentialed. You were a chair of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU, a position you held from ’88 to 2003. I’m stressing this because you’re not some angry consumer or some, as I said, some foodie who’s outraged because we kill cows or something. I’m not saying that’s not a legitimate thing to be outraged about, but the fact of the matter is, you paid your dues. And you’ve written nine very important books, you’ve been–
MN: Actually, it’s 14. [Laughs]
RS: Fourteen, OK.By the way, that’s a number I claim also. [Laughter] So I don’t like to see them lost; I was going by Wikipedia. But the fact of the matter is, you were way ahead of your time. Your first book, Food Politics, I think, was what, 2002?
RS: And so we’re not talking about somebody who’s got thoughts about food. We’re talking about somebody who paid their dues–and by the way, Forbes magazine once said you’re the second most important food expert in the world, or something. You’re credentialed, you’ve been celebrated. And I read this book, and I thought, wow–how come I didn’t know this, OK? I’ll give the title again, Unsavory Truth. Why isn’t it reviewed? Why isn’t it commented upon? And in a way, it’s a tribute to how a consensus is developed by big money, in just about every area, but food particularly. And everybody forgets, we’re talking about public health here, right? That’s the real issue.
MN: Yeah, we’re talking about food and public health. And what I did in this book was what has been done for the pharmaceutical drug industry for 50 years. Mine is the first one to take on food in this way, and I think it just makes people really uncomfortable. And certainly the food industry is uncomfortable about it; it was meant to make the food industry uncomfortable about it. I would like the food industry to stop funding marketing research and calling it science when it’s not about science. You know, I don’t know what to do about my research colleagues who feel that they need to do this kind of research in order to keep their jobs.
You know, I was in a very fortunate position; I had a job at NYU as a full professor with tenure, and the kind of work that I do doesn’t require external funding. I can do it just with a computer in the university library and a telephone. So not everybody who does research is as fortunate as I was, and I felt that with that position of great privilege came responsibility, and that it was my responsibility to write about these kinds of things. Which I continue to find shocking. I mean, you would think that by this time I wouldn’t be shocked by it, but I am constantly shocked by the fact that most industry-funded research comes out with results that favor the sponsor’s interest.
That’s the basic observation. It was made by climate scientists, it was made by scientists in the chemical industry, in the pharmaceutical drug industry, in the tobacco industry: that research that’s paid for by industry comes out with results that favor the industry’s interests. And why would food be any different? It’s not.
RS: Well, why don’t you summarize–we’re going to run out of time here, and I want to get people to buy the book, I’ll say, or read it, certainly; share it, whatever. So why don’t you take me through the high points in this. Because, again, I was blown away by it. And I don’t want to exaggerate its impact; I don’t want to distort what you wrote. But frankly, I now am an agnostic about everything I eat. Because of your book. I don’t trust any–I don’t trust yogurt! My goodness, yogurt was the staple of my whole diet; I believed those stories that in some mountain in Eastern Europe people lived to be 140 because they ate yogurt. And then I read your book and I thought, well, not quite. Cheese–I had a great cheese lunch yesterday, and I find out it’s worse than meat. You know, take us through–I mean, what is unsavory about this truth?
MN: Well, I’m surprised that you got that out of this book, because I wrote about specific food products in a book called What to Eat, that came out in 2006. That’s the supermarket book. This book was about food industry funding of nutrition research. And the basic observations are that industry-funded research comes out with results that favor the sponsor. That people who do this kind of research are completely unaware of the biases that are embedded into that relationship with sponsors; they don’t see it, they don’t recognize it, they didn’t intend to be biased. It just somehow comes out. The bias is mostly expressed in the way the research question is asked; there’s a big difference between asking for a research study to demonstrate benefits, and a research study to find out information that we don’t know. There’s a big difference there. And so those are the major findings, with example after example after example, that industry funding produces biases that are not recognized by the recipients.
Now, this information has been in the literature for 100 years, and has certainly been demonstrated over and over and over again in studies of the tobacco, chemical, and pharmaceutical drug industries. And there have been endless books and things written about that, that are still coming out. Why not food? Same thing. So what I did in this book was just to give examples. Starting out with, you know, the story about how, of all things, the Hillary Clinton emails that were hacked by the Russians, something about a talk that I had given about Coca-Cola’s funding of research ended up in those emails. That’s how I start the book, because I think it’s an incredible story, where I was giving a talk about Coca-Cola’s funding of research, which comes out favoring Coca-Cola, at a university in Australia, and there was somebody there who took notes, and those notes went to somebody who worked with Hillary Clinton, and her emails were picked up in that hack. That’s as close as I’m ever going to get to the presidency or to somebody running for the presidency. But this is big news! And you know, the book is about example after example after example of how this works, including the ways in which food companies sponsor nutrition professional societies. Which is another thing that really bothers me, is that what this does to professional societies is to keep them from making any kind of statement that will criticize a food product, no matter how bad it is.
So this is about health, but it’s mostly about money. And I think, you know, what I hoped the book would do, which it most certainly has not done, is to encourage my nutrition colleagues not to do this kind of research, and to encourage food companies to figure out another way that they can fund research, if they’re really interested in science. They could pool their money into a common pool, and set up an independently administered pool like NIH does, and that would take a lot of the biases out of the way. I think unconscious biases are really easy to understand if you’re looking at them from the outside. If you get money from somebody, you don’t want to turn them off. I mean, that’s pretty simple and human. So I was hoping that the system would change as a result of the book; it has not. But I still hope people will read it. I think some of the stories in it are pretty amazing.
RS: Well, let me push back a little bit. I think Unsavory Truth, your book–I don’t know, it brought it home for me in a way that has not [happened] before. Because what you really do here is you show that all the so-called regulatory agencies, the FDA, everyone else, that industry–and after all when we’re talking about food we’re talking about health. For example, there’s a lot in the book about obesity. And do, you know, these drinks and dieting and fast food–does it contribute to it. And the pushback is, well, no, because you could exercise and you could do other things, and so then a parent will feel less guilty–as I did the other day! I bought, I let my grandchild buy a huge, and his cousin, huge soda drinks, you know. Why? It was offered at a discounted rate along with the sandwich, and blah blah. You know, and we all get lazy.
And reading your book, I felt guilty in a serious way. And I do count on–you know, I do read the labels, and I do count on government regulators to keep this stuff straight. And what you’ve basically said is: No–it’s a circus out of control. Totally out of control. And that every major study, whether it’s about obesity or about, you know, how do you control–what are they, statins or something, that many of us take for controlling our cholesterol. Well, why aren’t we doing it through food and proper dieting? Because that battle has sort of been won by, you know, pill makers.
And, you know, I think you’re underestimating the power of this book. Maybe that’s what happens when you write 14 books; you think you’ve said it all before. But what you really unmask is that we do not have effective government or even academic inquiry into what is happening with food. And what we have are fads; we have profit-making. And you know, I just think this is a book about irresponsibility, you know, very much like the Ralph Nader book Unsafe at Any Speed, when he exposed the automobile industry. That basically the people who are in charge of labeling and everything else don’t care about the truth of the matter.
MN: Or they don’t want to. I mean, it’s very hard to know. It’s just, the corporations have so much power in the United States government that agencies are terrified to do the right thing. I mean, you hope that there are people in these agencies who know what the right thing is, but we saw examples of this during the COVID pandemic over and over and over again. Where corporations ran the show even though there were people in those agencies who knew what should have been done.
So this is a problem throughout American society. I think food is a really, really terrific way to understand it. It’s hard for people to understand chemicals; it’s hard for people to understand how the drug industry works. It’s not so hard to understand how food works, because it’s something that we choose to put in our own bodies. And so it has a very personal meaning. That’s why I like food so much, and I’ve liked working with it and studying it and writing about it so much, because it’s so personal for people. And I want everybody to be eating healthier. I want us to be eating diets that are healthier for people and the planet; I think we should have a food system that makes that easy for everyone, and that it’s tragic that it’s not.
RS: Well, and it’s global. You know, on the previous show that I did, on Technically Food: Inside Silicon Valley’s Mission to Change What We Eat, there was the example of harvesting all these peas and soybeans and then shipping them off to China, where the starch is pulled out, and then it’s sent back as protein, and much of the value of the pea is lost. And, you know, this is a global crisis of how we produce food, and leaving people unhealthier, leaving the environment damaged, the whole industrial production of food.
And what your book does is reveals the power of industry associations in every aspect of food production. So we’re not just talking about some minor inconvenience; we’re talking about basically brainwashing people into what they should buy, thinking they’re going to do the right thing, as I did with dark chocolate. I’ve read your book, and I’m sure you’ve said it many times, and people have said it before, but when I read it in your book I realized that dark chocolate is not going to help me. It may be good to eat, but I’ve bought a lot of dark chocolate the last years, thinking it was good for my heart somehow, you know. So I feel lied to. And you don’t seem to have the kind of outrage that I felt when I read your book.
MN: Well, I had enough outrage to write the book.
RS: Sure, I’m not denying that.
MN: So that’s how the outrage got funneled. I was of course outraged by that. I was particularly outraged by what Coca-Cola was doing, which you know, there’s a whole chapter on Coca-Cola in the book. And I’m outraged enough to do a blog post every Monday.
RS: Well, tell us about Coca-Cola. Tell us more about what the book reveals.
MN: Well, the book has a chapter on Coca-Cola which, you know, in 2015 the New York Times had an enormous, revelatory investigative report on Coca-Cola’s funding of something called the [Global] Energy Balance Network. And this was a network of researchers who were arguing that obesity isn’t a function of what you eat; [that] it doesn’t matter what you eat or drink, what matters is how much physical activity you do. Which is a lovely idea, except that most evidence completely contradicts it. It matters a lot what you eat to whether you’re going to be gaining weight or not.
And this group turned out–what a coincidence–to be funded by Coca-Cola; they just didn’t mention it. And that was the basis of the New York Times account; I was quoted in it. I got called by a lot of reporters who were absolutely shocked. They couldn’t believe that Coca-Cola would fund research like this. They couldn’t believe that academics would take money from Coca-Cola for doing this kind of research. And they couldn’t believe that universities would allow their faculty to do this. And I thought, if this is what reporters believe, I’ve got another book to write, and I’d better get on it.
And that was really the genesis of the book. And I had been, during the period that that article came out, just by coincidence, I had been collecting industry-funded studies on my blog, and posting them five at a time. Every time I had five industry-funded studies with results that favored the sponsor’s interest, I posted them. And I did this for a year, and at the end of the year I had 168 studies and 156 of them had results that favored the sponsor’s interest. What’s going on there? How is this possible? And that was when I got into the drug industry literature and realized that for 50 or 60 years, people have been writing books about how studies of drugs that are funded by the makers of those drugs show how effective and safe those drugs are. Big surprise!
So that was when I got into it and started researching it. And what I found was that any food product that you can think of is now sponsoring research, some of it cosponsored by the Department of Agriculture, to demonstrate that the product has wonderful benefits for health. Well, all fruits and vegetables are good for health; it doesn’t really matter which one you eat, it matters that you eat a lot of different kinds. Coca-Cola is sugar and water, and really less of it is better. If you’re going to buy sodas for your grandkids, at least make sure they get the small. Do that, at least. And every food company is doing it; I’m going to write one next week about the meat industry, which is funding people to demonstrate that meat is healthier than plant-based products. Give me a break!
And, you know, I think that I’m done with outrage, but every week there’s something out there that I think is so incredible to the point of being funny. Some of these things are just funny. And you think, really? You can’t believe that people would be doing this, but they are, because there is so much money at stake.
RS: Give us the blog post that you put out.
MN: Ah, FoodPolitics.com.
RS: Great. And so people should check that. Let me just say something, I want to take it back to the beginning. You arrived at Berkeley, I guess, in 1955, and Berkeley was not–did you grow up in California?
MN: Ah, I moved to California when I was 12.
RS: Yeah. And you were born in ’36, which was the height of the Depression; I was born the same year. And I don’t know what your family situation was–
RS: Poor. So was mine. And food was a real issue, how could you get it. And I remember in my own case being dependent upon organ meats, because they would spoil quickly, and we knew a guy who was selling them, and so if he couldn’t sell it by the evening he would bring over some liver or something, and then we would get meat. Otherwise we never got meat. And you know, the whole question of food was–let’s just get it. Let’s just get it. And then a consciousness developed–and some of it came out of Berkeley–over, you know, what is natural food, and what is healthy food, and is a vegetarian diet.
Reading your book–and maybe this is a good way to wrap it up–but reading your book, there was a word we used back in the sixties: co-option. Reading your book, I came away thinking, my god, this whole food sanity movement that people like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan and others have been associated with, and great movies have been made about it and so forth, has been co-opted. Has been effectively co-opted. And that’s what I’m experiencing at Trader Joe’s. I am suddenly being besieged by appeals to my health consciousness that are betraying me.
And that’s why I found your book so powerful. I have been had. I’m going by–oh, this is going to help me, and this is going to help me, and so forth. I’m willing to pay more for it. And I read your book, and I said, no–the honey is not going to help me. It might taste good, but it’s not going to help me. And you know, really, let’s just end with that. There’s a power in this book that needs to be shared, and that is basically, we’ve been had. And this enlightened food revolution has been undone; it’s been betrayed.
MN: It’s been taken over by the corporations and used for their own purposes, the way they always do.
RS: Well, let’s not be blasé about that, because we’re talking about a seven-year-old’s health. We’re talking about obesity, we’re talking about your experience of how you’re going to live, and waste, and we’re talking about the world’s diet–
RS: –to control global warming and so forth, we have to have saner views of how we raise food and how we produce things, instead of just–Fruit Loops is an example I got out of your book. You know, you read a label–oh, it’s better than this or better than that. No, but it’s not good in itself! Fruit Loops, you know. I mean, I don’t know, that jumped out at me. Just about everything I was going to pick up at Trader Joe’s, you were disparaging in a way. Not as, yes, we can have our indulgences, we can have our tastes. But don’t have the illusion that this is somehow helping you to lead a healthier life.
MN: Absolutely, and thank you for being a close, critical reader of my book. I’m greatly honored.
RS: Well, first of all, I found it compelling. You know, I mean, I do this show, this podcast, because it gets me to read books that I might not have read. But I want to tell people, Unsavory Truth, it’s a page-turner. I don’t know why–I mean, I would like to know, the New York Times didn’t review it?
RS: Well, that to my mind is a scandal. It’s a scandal.
MN: Well, local NPR did.
RS: Well, and we are local NPR; hopefully the KCRW Santa Monica people will hear about this, and other stations maybe. But–
MN: But, well–the New York Times didn’t touch it. And certainly my colleagues have ignored it.
RS: Well, I mean, do they argue that it’s old news? Because it wasn’t to me. And I’m pretty sharp about this stuff, you know. And then I turn to my wife, who used to be the associate editor of the L.A. Times and deputy editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and I was reading pages from your book to her, and it was news. And she thinks she’s health-conscious, you know. Let me just zero in on that for the last two minutes that we have here. The control, the capture of the regulatory boards, the capture of university research by these corporations, I know it’s been written about before by you and others; your major book was on that. But still, the way you describe it in Unsavory Truth–it excludes reason and logic and fact. That’s what it is. They have taken over all of the air in the room, the industries, and they do it in a very sharp, persuasive, PR style, and they deny that they’re biased. And yet enormous–there was one group where they get $13,000 a year for being on some advisory board, just as pocket change. I mean, tell us, what is the norm? Why aren’t these nutritionists commenting on your book? Do they have a self-interest here that’s compromised?
MN: Well, they get money from food companies, and they need it to keep their jobs. Or their organizations get money from food companies, and as the organization that I belong to, the executive director explained to me: We want to cast a wide net, we want a very wide tent, we want food industry people included in our tent. And with no sense that there are conflicted interests at stake here.
RS: OK. Well, Unsavory Truth–that’s the unsavory part of it, that you have very smart people, nutritionists, academic people, people in government, and they are basically distorting the reality that most affects us. What you eat defines you, and has the basic force in terms of your life. And that whole discussion, according to Unsavory Truth, has basically been systematically co-opted, on the government level, on the academic level. And I think it’s a scandal. Read the book, Unsavory Truth. Marion Nestle, Dr. Marion Nestle, and incredibly credentialed.
And so that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. I want to thank Marion Nestle for taking the time to do this. I want to thank Christopher Ho at our NPR station, KCRW, for posting these shows, and hopefully we can broaden the public radio audience for this book. Joshua Scheer is the producer of Scheer Intelligence. Natasha Hakimi Zapata writes the intro. Lucy Berbeo does the transcription. And I want to thank once again the JWK Foundation, which in the memory of a really important author, Jean Stein, helps provide funding for the show. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.