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Vol. LXV, No. 14
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
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Marion Nestle to Speak at Princeton Academy About Food Marketing’s Impact on Children

Ellen Gilbert

“It is not an accident that five dollars at McDonald’s will buy you five hamburgers or only one salad,” observed Marion Nestle recently in her blog Ms. Nestle will discuss this and other child-related nutritional conundrums in her upcoming talk, “The Politics of Childhood Nutrition: How the Food Environment Undermines Healthy Food Choices” on Thursday, April 7, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart. The free public lecture is sponsored by Princeton Common Ground, a collaboration of the Parent Associations of fourteen area independent schools.

Ms. Nestle is often called on to comment on issues and developments in nutrition. Area residents may already be familiar with her work from radio and print interviews, as well as from her appearance last fall in a Princeton University panel that included former former Food and Drug Commissioner David Kessler and food writer Ruth Reichl. The Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and Professor of Sociology at New York University, she has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley. Her most recent book is entitled Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.

“The big problem with kids’ diets is food marketing,” said Ms. Nestle in a recent interview. “Although everybody is always talking about parental responsibility, that is really difficult to do in an environment in which billions of dollars a year are being put into getting kids to eat foods they shouldn’t eat. The French fries are not even real French fries; they’re just warmed over. Real French fries are delicious; you have to go to Belgium for them.”

“The color business is astonishing to me,” she said in response to a question about the recent New York Times article in which a food industry spokesperson defended the use of food coloring as part of the “eating experience.” It doesn’t matter that Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks without artificial coloring don’t appeal to people; she simply doesn’t want kids eating Cheetos in the first place. “Apples don’t need any color to make them edible. Food is food. Colors are put into what Michael Pollan calls food-like objects. The purpose is to sell food, and disguise the loss of taste and flavor as a result of processing. The food industry needs them badly.”

Ms. Nestle’s number one tip for parents concerned about their kids’ caloric intake? “Stop drinking soda. Get the sweet drinks out of the house.”

Fast Food Nation

“It’s broccoli, dear,” says the demure mother to the moppet-headed child in Carl Rose’s famous 1928 New Yorker cartoon. “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it,” responds the little girl.

Choosing between spinach or broccoli would probably be a welcome problem for many parents today, when the lure of Happy Meals and overstuffed pizza makes it hard to convince kids to eat any vegetables.

“You would never know it by going to the supermarket, but children are supposed to eat the same foods their parents eat,” wrote Ms. Nestle in What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating. “Children do not need added salt or sugars,” she continued. “They do not need soft drinks, juice drinks, desserts, candy, sweetened cereals, or fast food.”

“The idea that government has no role in food choice is ludicrous,” observed Ms. Nestle on her blog. “The government is intimately involved in food choices through policies that make the cost of some foods — those containing subsidized corn or soybeans, for example — cheaper than others. Agricultural policies are the results of political decisions that can be changed by political will. If we want agricultural policies aligned with health policies — and I certainly do — we need to exercise our democratic rights as citizens and push for changes that are healthier for people and the planet.”

Does Ms. Nestle ever indulge in junk food? Yes, she said, but not frequently. “I follow my own advice, which is to eat less, move more, and don’t eat too much junk food.”

Each year CommonGround sponsors a lecture series featuring distinguished speakers who address contemporary educational and parenting issues. Talks this year are focusing on Sports, Play, and nutrition.

For more information on Common Ground, visit Princeton Academy is located at 1128 Great Road.

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