If Marion Nestle could impart any lasting knowledge on her audience, she would want it to be how larger portions have more calories.
“You laugh, but we asked an introductory nutrition class at NYU (New York University) what the difference in calories was between an eight-ounce soda and a sixty-four ounce soda,” Nestle said. “The average multiplier should have been eight. It was three. They thought eight hundred calories in a soda was ‘impossible.’”
The award-winning author, consumer advocate, nutritionist and food studies professor at NYU presented on the subject of “Food in Politics” to a modestly-sized audience Monday night in the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.
Nestle’s argument against the current state of agriculture and nutrition policies stemmed from data showing an overwhelming trend toward obesity since 1980.
“As someone trained in nutrition, it never occurred to me that agriculture had anything to do with what we eat,” Nestle said.
She said in the U.S. alone, 14 percent of the population is food insecure, meaning that they are unable to access reliable, legal food sources. She pointed out that the statistic included one-fifth of all children in the country.
“The growing socioeconomic gap has a dietary component as well as a monetary component,” Nestle said, citing research that shows a paradoxical trend in obesity and low incomes.
Her mantra for inciting personal dietary change is to eat better, eat less and move more. That being said, Nestle believed the deregulation of agriculture, including a movement toward massive farm subsidies in the 1980s, has made those goals difficult if not improbable.
“If you’re a food seller in an economy where there are twice as many calories, you have to compete fiercely to sell your product,” Nestle said. “This social environment makes the idea of eating better and eating less really difficult. If you’re an individual, you’re trying to take on the entire food system yourself.”
The 2014 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, written by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, stated that a diet higher in plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods promotes an increase in health and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.
While Nestle said the data had striking scientific evidence to support it, the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, dubbed the “Farm Bill” by the United States Department of Agriculture, chose to reject the guidelines. Nestle saw the bill as visionless, mired in politics and failing in terms of public health.
“This would all be very depressing, and I would be depressed if I didn’t think we were in the midst of an incredible food movement,” Nestle said, addressing recent gains in the public sphere for the sustainable food movement. Those gains included Coca-Cola’s transparency movement, rising sales of organic food and a recent Mexico sales tax on soda that correlates with falling sales of soda in the nation.
Both Jake Faiella, a sophomore sociology and criminology major, and Maya Schneiderman, a sophomore political science major, attended the presentation for their Food Matters class.
“This is the field I want to go into,” Schneiderman said. “I have a lot of food allergies which led me into the study. This class has shown me a lot of different ways to get involved.”
Faiella found the event very informative, especially in terms of the failings of the agriculture industry.
“I think the ‘Farm Bill’ and how much money was put into the grain and corn and not the vegetables and fruits was the most striking part of the presentation,” Faiella said.