In the U.S., we're bombarded with nutritional advice--the work, we assume, of reliable authorities with our best interests at heart. Far from it, says Marion Nestle, whose Food Politics absorbingly details how the food industry--through lobbying, advertising, and the co-opting of experts--influences our dietary choices to our detriment. Central to her argument is the American "paradox of plenty," the recognition that our food abundance (we've enough calories to meet every citizen's needs twice over) leads profit-fixated food producers to do everything possible to broaden their market portion, thus swaying us to eat more when we should do the opposite. The result is compromised health: epidemic obesity to start, and increased vulnerability to heart and lung disease, cancer, and stroke--reversible if the constantly suppressed "eat less, move more" message that most nutritionists shout could be heard.
Nestle, nutrition chair at New York University and editor of the 1988 Surgeon General Report, has served her time in the dietary trenches and is ideally suited to revealing how government nutritional advice is watered down when a message might threaten industry sales. (Her report on byzantine nutritional food-pyramid rewordings to avoid "eat less" recommendations is both predictable and astonishing.) She has other "war stories," too, that involve marketing to children in school (in the form of soft-drink "pouring rights" agreements, hallway advertising, and fast-food coupon giveaways), and diet-supplement dramas in which manufacturers and the government enter regulation frays, with the industry championing "free choice" even as that position counters consumer protection. Is there hope? "If we want to encourage people to eat better diets," says Nestle, "we need to target societal means to counter food industry lobbying and marketing practices as well as the education of individuals." It's a telling conclusion in an engrossing and masterfully panoramic exposÃ©. --Arthur Boehm