Weekend Eating Reading: Marion Nestle

…the Saturday post!

Weekend Eating Reading briefly discusses at least one good book that’s somehow related to ‘joyful eating.’

This week, I’d like to introduce two books by Marion Nestle, who is Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. You may recognize her from the film Supersize Me or Truck Farm.

{That's Marion "Ness-ull" not "Ness-lee"}

Although Dr. Nestle is a legit scientist and scholar, her writing is clear and readable, even entertaining. The first book of hers I read was Food Politics, a book that outlines the ways in which the food industry (aka ‘Big Food’) influences government policies–by employing lobbyists who fight hard against any government message that clearly targets any of Big Food’s offerings–and shapes nutrition research (by funding “research” studies that are thinly veiled advertising campaigns). In short, Nestle shows us how Big Food wields its re$ource$ to keep the public as confused as possible as to what constitutes a healthy diet.

(Meanwhile, basic dietary advice never changes and is adequately summed up thus: “eat less; move more; eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and avoid too much junk food.”)

My reaction on first reading Food Politics 5 years ago:

{Re-enactment based on factual events. Grandma's portrait looks approvingly on.}

Nestle’s more recent book, What to Eat, was called “indispensable” by none other than Michael Pollan, and it’s close to that. It’s basically an aisle-by-aisle guidebook to the typical American grocery store–more practical and even more readable than Food Politics–and she patiently runs through the wealth of choices available and shows you how to make sense of competing nutrition claims and other industry mumbo-jumbo.

Along the way, she provides clear, sensible answers to questions like these:

Is yogurt healthy? Which bread should I buy? Which baby formula is the best, and how do I decide between organic, conventional, and locally grown produce? (And many, many more.)

Always, always, her understanding of nutrition grows from a deep awareness of ecological, social, cultural, and ethical concerns–and as a result, her recommendations are wise, warm, witty–never dour or doctrinaire.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Marion Nestle, illustrating the futility of isolating one nutrient (for example, lycopene) and studying its effect on health:

“The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science … is that it takes the nutrient out the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.”

Get that? It’s the lifestyle–not this or that micronutrient–that brings wellness–lifestyles, I’d venture, that include eating with others and with joy.

And I think Dr. Nestle would agree. The last words of What to Eat?

“Watch out for the Big Bad Food?”


“Go and eat healthfully!”


“Enjoy your dinner.”

{Marion Nestle blogs at www.foodpolitics.com and tweets @marionnestle}

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  • Shari

    I don’t know Rachel…you’re writing is persuasive without being invasive…I just might go out and buy (or stay in and order) a book on nutrition…the one that ends with “Enjoy your dinner”!