Freshmen and other Convocation attendees learned about market forces that affect American eating habits during the Convocation ceremony on Aug. 21.
Marion Nestle, a Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, spoke about the methods American companies use to market their products.
“Food marketing encourages people to eat the most profitable products,” Nestle said, “not the most healthy. They also encourage people to eat larger portions.”
Nestle said these are natural actions for food companies and agribusiness to take.
“All food companies are in the business of making money,” she said. “They’re doing what they have to do.”
According to Nestle’s speech, America’s policy toward farm subsidies changed in the 1980s and encouraged farmers to grow more food, thus increasing supply and driving agribusinesses to raise the amount of product sold to turn a profit.
Wall Street also changed how it evaluated companies, forcing farmers to grow their profit margins every 90 days to keep their stock high, again creating a need to move more products, Nestle said.
Nestle stressed that she doesn’t believe in conspiracies about controlling America’s food intake.
Linfield’s freshman read for the summer of 2010, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen, cites Nestle as a source.
Nestle said she agrees with Pollen that food cannot and should not be simplified to a set of nutritional facts on the side of the box.
She said advertisers have co-opted the nutritional information to make their products appear appealing.
For instance, Nabisco-brand Teddy Grahams are fortified with iron and supplements that made the chocolate crackers appear healthy when they are not, she said.
Nestle said that it was during the ’80s when she first made the connection between food advertisements and nutrition problems in America, citing similarities with smoking advertising.
Nestle recommended naturally grown, organic foods because they are better for the environment, which will keep humans healthier, she said.
However, Nestle cautioned that organic food is not necessarily more nutritious than non-organic alternatives.
Nestle is also not against genetically modified foods, but she is not enthusiastic about them.
“Even if genetically modified foods are safe, it does not mean they are acceptable,” she said. “I have serious concerns about monoculture and control over the food supply. One company should not control the food.”
Monoculture is, in agriculture, the use of a single crop species rather than multiple species of crops — that is, a single sub-species of a food crop.
She also said she supports the labeling of genetically modified food.
“I have strong opinions about food,” she said. “Food is important to health, the planet and society.”
Joshua Ensler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org