Wednesday, October 22, 2014

INTERVIEW: Marion Nestle, author of "What to Eat" and "Eat, Drink, Vote"

Marion Nestle 

  Last weekend, a small fury of excitement ensued up in the Northeast Kingdom. At Sterling College, author, NYU professor and food activist Marion Nestle held forth on GMO's, the rise of fast food, the Farm Bill and home economics. Visit Marion's blog Food Politics for more information. 

Q. You speak of federal regulation. And you speak of the need for people to learn to cook. Do you think that cooking education can be regulated into the public school system or at least should it be?

A. I learned to cook in 8th grade home economics.  Nobody at the time expected kids to learn cooking anywhere else.  We learned basic skills and produced surprisingly good cookies, meals, and salads, as I recall.   Home economics seems too old fashioned to resuscitate but I know lots of people who think courses in basic life skills—cooking, clothing repairs, household repairs, checkbook balancing--would be much appreciated. 

Q. The statistic that a salad at McDonald's is $5 and for the same money, an individual can get five burgers is an argument for getting young people to learn how to grow their own food. Do you think it would be possible to require all public schools to dedicate at least three parking spaces for a garden for nutritional and educational purposes?

A. All seems extreme, but certainly most.  I’ve been in schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City that managed to construct gardens.  If the principal thinks it’s needed, somehow gardens happen.

Q. Do you envision reform to the Farm Bill that would make small scale organic farming a reality in our lifetime? 

A. It depends on your life expectancy.  Even in my lifetime, I think improvements in the farm bill will happen, but incrementally until they reach some magical tipping point.

Q. Are GMO's the enemy? I hear from college age students that there are good GMO's out there. Do you agree? 

A. The GMO arguments are so polarized that it’s impossible to say anything good about them without being attacked as sellout.  The industry has brought the polarization on itself by refusing to label its GMO products.  If GMO foods had been labeled from the beginning, it might be possible to discuss pros and cons more thoughtfully.  The industry promised to feed the world and solve third world agricultural problems.  It hasn’t done that and I’m not sure it’s tried—there’s no profit in such problems.  With that said, I can see some value in the Hawaiian papaya bioengineered to resist ringspot virus.  But I’m hard pressed to think of much else that’s useful to the public.  It’s hard to tell because there’s no way to know what’s GMO and what’s not.

Q. Really enjoyed the thoroughness of your presentation with respect to trends in food marketing and sales. Can local food and sustainable eating be marketed as effectively by the government as, for example, the Keep America Beautiful campaign of 1971?

A. It could.  But there needs to be real money behind the campaign.