By Juliana Scheiderer ’16
Acclaimed author and NYU professor Dr. Marion Nestle visited Ohio University to talk about food politics, as part of The Kennedy Lecture Series.
Nestle ended her talk reminding attendees to “vote with their forks,” when it came to food politics, but not to forget to also “vote with their vote.”
She used her talk, titled “Food Politics: From Personal Responsibility to Social Responsibility,” to explain problematic food systems and how these systems can lead to issues such as obesity, food insecurity and environmental damage.
Speaking first on food insecurity, Nestle said they are currently 795 million malnourished people in the world, a number that is counted as a success by some, as it was a large decrease from previous years. Inefficient food systems worldwide cause this food insecurity, a fact that is particularly important to the impoverished communities in Athens County, as one attendee later pointed out.
Moving on to the issue of obesity, Nestle commented that many fast food and soda companies are fearful of the growing public discourse surrounding the obesity epidemic. As conversations on obesity typically advise individuals to eat better and eat less, sales for junk food suffer, she explained.
This point led in to the bulk of Nestle’s talk centering on how industry regulations may help citizens become healthier, but they will not be achieved without push back from manufacturers and producers of food. This disconnect can be explained by the differing approaches to food policy currently in place in the United States. The first approach, Consumption Policy, focuses on health and the consumer eating less. The second, Agricultural Policy, focuses instead on a constant increase in food production.
Nestle then moved on to the different types of legislation in place to address food issues in the United States. Criticizing the Farm Bill, Nestle explains that although it lays out some regulation, it fails from a public health standpoint. Quoting President Obama, she said, “The President said the Farm Bill is like a Swiss Army Knife. By which, I assume he means it has a lot of tools, but none of them work very well.”
This discussion prompted what Nestle called The Big Question: Can the food industry play a constructive role in solving the obesity epidemic?
A solution may be found in advocacy, Nestle explained. Advocacy can link agriculture to public health concerns. Organizations like Community Food Initiatives, The 30-Mile Meal Project, Farmer’s Markets, and other groups help out on a local level. Nestle also cited gains brought on by increasing numbers of food studies programs at universities, making a special note of the Food Studies theme here at OHIO.