Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Converation with the author: Marion Nestle

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Today we have two special posts on WIMFD: a interview with Marion Nestle and a report on her book, What To Eat (following post). I'd like to thank Dr. Nestle for her time in responding to my questions. And I'd like to invite you, my readers, to join in the discussion with your own comments.

Adriana: Shortly after the February 18 beef recall Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro was on WNYC with Brian Lerher. She pointed out the conflicting missions of the USDA -- something you've very clearly described in your books -- and suggested that what we need is a "food safety administration" which would operate independently from the USDA and any industry lobby groups. Do you think this is a good idea? Or do we already have plenty of food-related agencies -- and what we need more is better coordination and accountability? What do you think would be most effective in ensuring food safety?

Nestle: We do have plenty of food safety agencies, and that’s the problem. They have different missions and methods and have many overlaps and gaps, some of them so absurd that they would be hilarious if the problems weren’t so serious. The Government Accountability Office has been screaming for decades that we must do something to fix the system, and the only likely fix is to establish one food safety agency to oversee the whole food system, from farm to table.

Adriana: We're starting to see more and more big food companies getting into the organic market (mostly by buying small organic companies). Ideally this would broaden the organic market and provide the smaller, organic companies with greater marketing power and a bigger financial safety net. The more the merrier, right? How do you think this has been working out? Have there been adverse affects?

Nestle: Organics are the fastest growing segment of the food market. The upside of this growth is the increasing availability of organic foods and the reduction of chemical pesticides in the environment and in our bodies. The downside is the usual result of success: everyone wants to get into the action and it’s hard to maintain the original values under all those pressures to make money. One result is organic junk food. Another is pressure to weaken the organic standards.

Adriana: I heard somewhere that raw nuts are much better for you than roasted nuts. I believe the reasoning is that heat damages the oil and negates its nutritional benefits. Have you heard of this, and is there any truth to it?

Nestle: Cooking destroys some nutrients but makes others more available. Roasting doesn't do all that much damage unless the nuts are burned.

Adriana: Among Americans there seems to be growing interest in nutrition and in fresh, local, and organic foods. Yet obesity and diabetes are still on the rise. What do you see as our greatest sources of resistance to changing our diets?

Nestle: It’s hard to change diets when everything in the environment encourages us to eat more, not less. Everyone—even me—eats more calories when presented with large portions.

Adriana: As you speak with people about changing their diets for the better, are there certain key ideas that seem to inspire a real paradigm shift?

Nestle: Once people understand how our food system works, they can better recognize when they are being manipulated. Most people want to be healthy so it’s not all that hard a sell.

Adriana: In your chapter on fats you mention diglycerides as a food additive created from fat. What is the nutritional impact of these additives? Are they harmful or generally neutral? What about guar gum and carrageen?

Nestle: Diglycerides are fats and are metabolized as fat. The others are thickeners made from beans and seaweed, respectively. They are a sign of processing so I usually try to avoid foods containing them, but I’m not aware of evidence that they are harmful.

Adriana: I've been thinking a lot about fish lately since reading that chapter in What To Eat. I recall Peter Hoffman describing bivalves as a good choice because they are lower on the food chain and they help clean the water. He warned that we should be careful to eat them in season, so they have time to reproduce, etc. I was left wondering about their safety, however, since most of our waterways are so polluted. What questions should we ask when we buy bivalves?

Nestle: How fresh are they? Where were they raised? How does the fish seller know they are safe?

Adriana: Speaking of seafood, perhaps you saw the article on cooking octopus in the New York Times last week. I wondered, is it too high up on the food chain? What do they eat, and are they endangered? What's you're opinion on eating octopus?

Nestle: I’m not sure they are on the endangered species list but they are definitely endangered. They are unusually intelligent invertebrates and I don’t choose to eat them very often. They are good though, especially when prepared in good Greek restaurants.

Adriana: In What To Eat you admit to liking sugar! What's your poison? Cupcakes? Drug store candy? Boutique chocolates? Homemade caramels?

Nestle: I’m an omnivore. I can’t imagine that anyone would even suggest that a homemade caramel would be anything other than heaven on earth.

Adriana: What did you last make for dinner?

Nestle: An omelet.


MissGinsu said...

Adriana, this is just terrific... well-considered questions and a fascinating food personality. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this!

ks said...

Ditto that. What an excellent, informative interview. I Loved that you asked the raw v. roasted nut question--I am so very pleased with the answer you got.

Swizzies said...

Awesome interview. Thanks!!

Hey -- what does it say about tuna? I'm addicted to tuna in olive I a walking pollutant/mercury receptacle??

Anticipating sadness and bad answers on this one. It's my favorite protein delivery system.

Cafe Johnsonia said...

I totally loved this. I'm going to get that book and start reading.

Adriana Velez said...

Thanks everyone, glad you enjoyed it!

Swizzy, I'm afraid there is mercury in tuna. Any large, predator, top-of-the-food-chain fish is going to have higher concentrations of mercury. Shark and swordfish are the worst. Albacore (or "white") tuna is not as bad, but can have nearly three times as much mercury as the smaller tuna typically labeled "chunk light."

The Institute of Medicine says that children and pregnant women shouldn't eat tuna at all. The FDA says all other adults shouldn't eat tuna more than once a week -- that means one serving a week. Keep in mind that their statement comes after pressure from the fishing industry.

We eat tuna maybe, MAYBE once a month, perhaps even less often.

Sorry. Try canned wild Alaskan salmon.

Anonymous said...

Fab. Sounds like both you and Professor Nestle need a box of my homemade caramels. :)