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Behind the Plate


September 19, 2016
Photo credit: Bill Hayes

Photo credit: Bill Hayes

Professor Marion Nestle teaches in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. She is an internationally known and acclaimed public health advocate, and has authored a number of award-winning books such as Food Politics, Why Calories Count, Eat Drink Vote, and Soda Politics.

Want to meet her in person? Please join us tomorrow night (Tuesday, September 20th) in NYC for a riveting book chat with the one and only Dr. Marion Nestle! We’ll be discussing the soda industry, sugar, who’s doing what, and what we can do to change the paradigm. In the meantime, you can check out Marion and follow her on Twitter @marionnestle to whet your food politics appetite. See you tomorrow!

Please tell us about what you do.
I teach, give lectures, do research, and write about issues related to food politics.

How did you first become interested in good eating?
I learned to love food when I discovered how terrific it tastes when fresh. I’ve told this story many times. I was at a summer camp run by a fabulous cook—everything she made was wonderful and based on produce from a large kitchen garden. It was my turn to pick vegetables for dinner. I had never tasted string beans straight from the vine before—a revelation!

What’s one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop better, longterm eating habits?
Eating healthfully is not all that hard: eat vegetables and fruits, balance calories, don’t eat too much junk food and enjoy what you eat!

What is the main thing we should know about big food, and how it controls what we eat?
Food companies are businesses, not social service agencies. Their primary job is to sell their products and make as much profit on them as possible.

Countries across the world are taking action on their nation’s food systems—what is one thing you would like to see the US do to help the American people eat better?
Put some restrictions on marketing to children.

How do you define good food?
Minimally processed, as fresh as possible, grown sustainably.

You take on the soda industry in your book Soda Politics. Do you think the soda industry can change for the better?
Yes, but whether it will is another matter. It could stop marketing to children, stop marketing to minorities, stop fighting public health initiatives, and stop lobbying against public health measures—for starters.

If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
Smaller portions! Understand that larger portions have more calories.

What’s always in your fridge?
Milk for coffee, cheese, peanut butter, eggs, lemons, and whatever fruits and vegetables I’ve just picked up.

Is there any aspect of your diet that you’ve been trying to improve? If so, how have you been trying to improve it?
I follow my own dietary advice above. It leaves lots of room for pleasure.

How do you incorporate a variety of vegetables into your diet?
Fortunately, I love salads.

Good eating is more than what you eat, it’s also being mindful about how you eat it. What is your favorite way to enjoy a good meal?
Much of my social life involves dinners with friends and colleagues.

How do you manage to eat well when traveling or on-the-go?
It’s always possible to find something good and healthy on the go, even at airports. As I said—fortunately, I love salads.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I think I’m so fortunate to have a job that pays me to teach, do research, and write about food and food politics. I love doing all of that.

Good eating isn’t about perfection, it’s about habits and progress. From time to time we all eat something we don’t feel so great about later. What is your advice for those oops moments?
Enjoy them!

Behind the Plate


June 6, 2016


Dana Gunders is a Senior Scientist at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) whose work to rescue food waste has been featured by CNN, NBC, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, NPR, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and many more. She is also the author of the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, the ultimate food waste-reduction tool for the home cook.

Please tell us about your job at the NRDC.
These days, my focus is on reducing the amount of food that goes to waste across the country. I look at it from the highest level and then try to push on levers that could make a difference. So, in the last year, I’ve written a consumer guide with tips on wasting less, launched “Save the Food,” a national public service campaign to raise awareness around food waste, helped craft a bill to standardize food date labels, and testified in Congress as to the importance of policy solutions. I have a great team that’s working on other solutions as well.

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If the future President were to consider food waste solutions, how should they be addressed?
Fortunately, the current President has at least set national targets to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. Those are hopefully starting to set our federal agencies on a path to explore what they can do. They are also sparking a larger discussion about what entities outside government can do. A few of the things I’d like to see the Executive Branch pursue are better measurement and data collection, targeted grant set asides for farmers and others who are innovating to reduce food waste, and standardization of food date labels.

How do you define good food?
The kind you feel good about eating both before and after putting it in your mouth.

How did you start working on food waste reduction?
I actually stumbled upon the issue as part of work in the sustainable agriculture space. I kept reading these staggering statistics and thinking to myself, “these can’t be true because if they were, everyone would be talking about it.” From that, I wrote a report that got a lot of press coverage for the topic, and I’ve been all food waste all the time ever since.

Do you think that food waste is the largest issue currently surrounding our food system?
Ooh, hard question. I think there are a lot of big issues related to our food system, and food waste is one of them. Ultimately, if we don’t start wasting less, we’ll need to use even more resources to feed future populations. However, water availability, food insecurity, toxicity of pesticides, use of antibiotics in livestock feed… these all are serious issues as well.


What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The call for reducing food waste has resonated tremendously, and people seem to really care. I’ve loved watching this issue spark so much passion in people.

What’s one of your first food memories?
Grandma’s chicken noodle soup.

If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
Cook more.

We are currently promoting our second #NoFoodWaste campaign. What are some #NoFoodWaste practices that you incorporate into your daily life?
I definitely recommend marrying someone who’s willing to eat almost anything. Besides that, I try to keep my fridge relatively empty and shop more frequently. It allows more flexibility and also means fresher food.

What’s always in your fridge? What do you use it for?
Maple syrup. I put it on/in everything.

Who is one famous person, dead or alive, that you want to share a meal with?
Jane Goodall, my forever hero!

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Probably building small, energy-efficient homes with my husband.

What’s your go-to breakfast?
Multigrain hot cereal with cottage cheese (sounds strange, I know).

Your good food wish?
That we all eat alone a little less.

Behind the Plate


June 2, 2016

Photo credit: Paige Green

Anna Lappé is a bestselling author and food educator, focusing on food systems and sustainability. She has started numerous highly acclaimed food sustainability projects, and her latest book was named one of the best environmental books of the year. As one of TIME magazine’s “Eco” Who’s-Who and a mother of two, Anna is a total #ladyboss.

Tell us about how you got your start as a food author and educator?
Becoming a food author and educator was kind of like going into the family business: My mother, Frances Moore Lappé, wrote her 3.5-million copy bestselling book, Diet for a Small Planet, more than 40 years ago when she was 26 and has been a leading voice in addressing the root causes of hunger ever since. I never thought this would be my career, though. In fact, I had graduated from Brown and was getting a masters at Columbia on a path to work in public education and economic development, when I leapt at the chance to help my mom write a sequel to Diet. The process ultimately led to my first book, Hope’s Edge, and a journey around the world with my mother that sparked a lifelong passion for promoting food justice, sustainable food systems and a world where everyone everywhere has access to life-supporting foods.

How do you define good food?
Good food is healthy; it supports local economies; it’s raised in ways that promote environmental sustainability, biodiversity and animal welfare alongside worker well being. Not so coincidentally these are the five values at the heart of the Good Food Purchasing Policy, which I am working to help expand from the city of Los Angeles… to the rest of the country!

We just launched our second #NoFoodWaste campaign. What are some #NoFoodWaste practices that you incorporate into your daily life?
On a weekly basis, I try to make “dinners from the back of the fridge,” incorporating leftovers or wilting produce into some delicious dish. Luckily, there are countless ways to do so: revive old veggies in a pot of risotto; make a fresh stock with old onions; cook a soup with yesterday’s broccoli. The list goes on. In addition, we try as much as possible to cook from whole foods: packaging is one of the biggest forms of “food” waste we can kick out of our home.

Your book Diet For A Hot Planet addresses the climate crisis in relation to our food system. What’s one aspect of our diet that really needs to change?
By “our” if you mean the average American, the one aspect of our diet that could stand to change—and it would be a boon to both our waistline and the environment—is the amount of meat and dairy we consume. Americans consume three times more meat and dairy than the global average, with over half of that coming from red meat. (Check out this white paper from the Culinary Institute of America and their new project called The Protein Flip.) From the environmental impact of industrial meat production to the inhumane treatment of the workers in the industry, there are countless reasons to reduce our consumption. Thankfully, there is a growing market of sustainably produced meat and dairy, so consumers can choose, should they want to, less but better meat.

Who is your food inspiration?
My kids. It’s cliché, I know, but my two daughters are my inspiration: I see how happy and healthy they are eating nutritious and sustainably grown food and so I fight hard every day to ensure they can have access to food that nourishes them and so that our food system brings more of this kind of food to more kids.

Tell us about the Small Planet Fund.
My mother and I started the Fund in 2002 on the heels of our research for Hope’s Edge. We were so inspired by the groups we met on the ground; we wanted to give back—and more than just a book. We ran the Fund as a project of love for years, hosting an annual party at a friend’s loft in SoHo. For the past six years, we’ve received an annual grant from an anonymous donor to support the most exciting change agents we can find. All told, we’ve given away more than $1 million since our very humble beginnings.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve had?
There are challenges, sure, to the work I do. My colleagues and I are going up against some of the most ruthless and deep-pocketed corporations out there. (Don’t believe me, check out examples of these companies infiltrating grassroots groups, and pounding farmers and non-profits with lawsuits and attacks—and those are just two of many). But I don’t pretend my job is “difficult” in the truest sense of that word: Difficult are the jobs of the Tyson poultry processors who risk injury and death every day on ever-faster processing lines. Difficult are the jobs of farmworkers who toil in the hot sun, who risk sexual assault and harassment to do their work and are rarely fairly compensated. Those jobs, and the more than 20 million other in the U.S. food industry, are truly difficult.

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
Yes, the candidates—all of them—have been mostly mute when it comes to food. Though I would argue many of the topics that have gotten some attention—energy, climate change, fracking—are also food issues. There are so many issues that need to be addressed, but if I could have them consider one, it would be to promote across the country—in ever municipality and school district—what’s known as the Good Food Purchasing Policy. The Policy, developed by the LA Food Policy Council, and passed there in 2012, allows vendors for government contracts to be evaluated along five core values: nutrition, local economies, animal welfare, the environment and worker well being. This policy has unleashed millions of dollars for the kind of food we all should be eating and farmers should be producing. Embraced nationwide it would spark the food system changes so desperately needed; from getting antibiotics out of meat production, to boosting the wages of food sector workers and more.


You launched your annual Real Food Films contest three years ago. What have you learned from the submissions you have received?
Wow. So much. When we launched the Real Food Films competition three years ago for short videos under four minutes, I was honestly afraid we might just get a handful of entries from hipsters in Brooklyn making odes to their artisanal kombucha. What we’ve received has blown us away: more than 400 films from dozens of countries. 260 Pop-Up Film Fests have been hosted from Denmark to New Zealand and across the United States. We’ve discovered countless stories of farmers and communities bringing to life a food system that’s better for our bodies, producers and the planet. Now, we’ve got a library of more than 70 films online that anyone anywhere can watch and get inspired by—and not one of them is about bespoke kombucha.

What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
Hmmm… that one really makes me think. I’m guessing it would to be the boiled cabbage and rugelah my great-grandmother Hench would make for my brother and me. When we would visit her small apartment in New Jersey, the smell of the cabbage would waft down the hall before we even rung the doorbell and would envelop us along with her huge bear hugs. The smells and the tastes connected me to my family and to our great-grandparents who had made their way from the eastern borders of Poland across the continents and the ocean to Ellis Island.

You have a project called Food MythBusters—what are your favorite three myths that you’ve busted?
My favorite big myths pushed by farm chemical giants like Syngenta, agribusiness companies like Cargill and junk food peddlers like Pepsi include: “We need industrial agriculture to feed the world.” “Organic food is no better for you than chemically grown food.” “Junk food marketing to kids is harmless free speech.” We launched Food MythBusters to fight back against these myths.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I would be a singer in a rock band. I can’t carry a tune or remember lyrics to songs, so it would not be very successful.

What was your biggest #foodfail?
When I moved to California after 17 years in New York City, I finally had a kitchen and dining room big enough to host family holidays—and we’ve hosted Christmas dinner ever since. There have been a few mishaps. One such #foodfail: I was making my favorite apple pie and just about to throw the apples tossed with cinnamon, lemon zest and sugar onto the awaiting pastry dough, when I sneakily grabbed a slice to enjoy. Luckily, it turns out: the bulk sugar I had pulled from my pantry was actually bulk salt and the entire bowl of apples was ruined. A few phone calls later and a sister saved the day: dessert was on its way and the apple pie was never missed.

What’s always in your fridge? How do you use it?
Sriracha. On everything.

What’s your favorite meal-on-the-go?
Nuts. No recipe required.

Favorite new recipe?
My favorite new recipe is the soba noodle soup from Mark Bittman’s new (wonderful) cookbook, The Kitchen Matrix. When my kids took the first sip, they both looked up wide-eyed and happy. The little one said: “Mom… I love you.”

Behind the Plate


May 11, 2016

Photo credit: Daniel Sheehan

Michael Moss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who has most recently developed an important and successful career writing about health, marketing, policy and corporate interests relating to the food industry. His illuminating book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is a #1 New York Times bestseller and a must-read. In fact, Michael will be joining Foodstand’s Food Book & Film Club to discuss the book on Tuesday, May 17th—please join us!

How do you define good food?
It’s all good to me. Seriously. Well, maybe not okra, just because my mom made a pretty slimy version that still sits in my 8-year-old memory bank. And maybe not soda, which I’ve pretty much written off as pure evil. But just last week I made a cake for my 12-year-old’s birthday, and it was all salt, sugar and fat. And yesterday, I wolfed down some potato chips, also salt, sugar and fat (the sugar in the form of potato starch that our bodies convert to glucose.) For me, the issue is controlling that stuff rather than letting it control me. So day in and day out I’m looking to eat food that I cook from scratch, lots of vegetables (with the above mentioned exception) grown by farmers and farmhands who are fairly compensated, meat from animals that are treated as kindly as possible before they have one really bad day, and I try to keep a damper on the raging bliss point for sugar that both my boys have because they are kids.

Do you think big food can be part of a better food future?
No. Well, yes, but indirectly. The Food Giants have never been good at true invention. About the last thing they invented, in fact, was instant pudding, and that happened only because the company panicked that it was going to get beaten at this by a competitor. Their idea of a new product is one with a new package color. What they can do is buy up small start-ups that do invent stuff, and it’s these little entrepreneurs who are now racing to reinvent processed food to be low-cost, convenient, tasty and actually good for you, too. So if the Food Giants are smart, they’ll buy the best of these entrepreneurs and hopefully won’t ruin them by scaling up.

What was your biggest challenge writing Salt Sugar Fat?
Cravings. I’d be spending time talking to the guy who figured out why potato chips are so irresistible, and it would take all the effort in the world to resist grabbing a bag for myself and pigging out. Just the talk, and extraordinary science the companies use, would send the reward centers of my brain into overdrive. (Once I finished, however, things changed, and now I can walk through the grocery store and just laugh at those chips, knowing all that goes into their design and marketing, which oddly enough empowers me to make smarter decisions about what to buy.)

What first inspired you to write about health and food?
A couple of FBI agents and a really smart editor at the New York Times. In 2008 I was in Algeria reporting on militants there when the agents showed up at the paper in Manhattan, looking for me. Since 2005 I had been traveling to Iraq, tormenting the Pentagon for failing to equip American soldiers with body armor, and then reporting on how the war was empowering terrorists to recruit new help, which the agents said had landed me on an Al Qaeda hit list. I hustled back to New York, and right into another war, this one over food. My editor, Christine Kay, had spotted an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts processed at a factory in southern Georgia that were sickening thousands of people, used by a $1 trillion processed food industry that had lost control over its ingredients, and Christine recognized this for the huge story it was. A year later, after investigating the industry’s shoddy handling of hamburger, I started looking at three things the industry intentionally adds to its products with huge repercussions of public health, namely salt, sugar, and fat.

Talk a little about “bliss point”—what is it? And how did you react when you first heard the term?
Well, as the food scientist who coined this expression, Howard Moskowitz, said, “What are you going to call it, `optimum sensory liking?’ ” You have to love the language the processed food industry uses to describe its efforts to maximize the allure of its products. Its people talk about “engineering” products to be “craveable,” “snackable” and have “more-ishness.” And the bliss point is right in there. It’s the perfect amount of sweetness, not too little and not too much, that sends us over the moon and their products flying off the shelf, and when I first heard Moskowitz describe this, I was sort of blasé. I mean, well of course the industry does this. We are creatures born to love sugar. Just look at our taste buds. The ones that like sweet are all over the tongue.

Do you think it’s possible to reset America’s bliss point?
The problem with the bliss point and sugar is not that industry has perfected the sweetness for cookies and ice cream, things we know as sweets and should be treating as treats. The problem is that the industry has marched around the grocery store adding sugar to, and engineering bliss points for, things that didn’t used to be sweet. So that bread now has added sugar and a bliss point for sweet. Some yogurts came to have as much sugar per serving as ice cream. And pasta sauce, forget about it. Some brands ended up with a couple of Oreo cookies worth of sugar in a tiny half cup serving, and what that has done is create an expectancy that everything we eat should be sweet, which is a problem especially for those little walking bliss points for sugar called kids when you drag them over to the produce section and try to get them to eat some of that okra. Instant rebellion.



What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I’m first of all a reporter, and so I still get a big kick from crawling inside the underbelly of the processed food industry to discover some new, totally surprising scheme on its part to get us to not just like its products, but to want more and more. But I’m also spending time these days working on my speaking, with some pretty good success, and so I’m having great fun holding an audience captive for an hour or more, telling my food story, and the most rewarding moment is when someone tells me the book or the talk has changed their life.

Are you making a food resolution this year?
Not to make tacos for dinner more than twice a week. My kids are actually pleading for this. My wife is working long hours, so cooking has fallen to me, and boy is it hard to go week to week without boring the shit out of the family with the same old recipes.

Food issues have barely made it into the race for President. If you could ask the future President to consider a food issue that needs to be addressed, what would it be?
What do you mean barely? Didn’t Cruz say he loved eating cheese on cheese? He would have been perfect for the dairy marketing schemes I wrote about that tripled our consumption to 33 pounds a year on average by moves like stuffing cheese in the crust of pizzas. And Clinton recently came out for the soda tax, which I’ve come to like. I’d ask the now-presumptive Republican nominee to champion the use of smarter marketing practices by the produce industry to sell more vegetables, and thus nudge us all toward better health. Didn’t he hear they were all aphrodisiacs?

If you could get the general population to change ONE aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
I can tell you what one Food Giant’s chief technical officer did when he blew out his knee and could no longer run marathons to burn off calories. He stopped eating his company’s own products, cold turkey, knowing that he was one of the many of us who couldn’t stop eating snacks until the whole bag was gone. He also stopped consuming calories in liquid form, that is drinks, which I think is really interesting. I’m trying to do the same, and thankfully everyone knows that wine and beer don’t have calories.

What’s one of your first (and most memorable) interactions with food?
I was a latchkey kid at age 10, and loved to come home to strawberry Pop Tarts. Then just a while ago, I was visiting the secret R&D facility of Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, where way off in the corner someone was cooking up a huge batch of Pop Tarts, and wow, the aroma wafted over and took me right back to childhood. It’s incredible what those memories can do.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Taking pictures. In a war zone. I was so glad I went to Iraq as a reporter, not a photographer, because they have to shoot while the bullets are flying and that’s totally addictive. It was hard enough for me to give up reporting on war, and I wasn’t even a war reporter, but rather just dabbling.

What’s always in your fridge? What do you use it for?
I’m a little nuts about sourdough bread these days, so in my fridge is a starter, and in the freezer is a variety of flour. Friday night after family movie time I’m usually in the kitchen plundering the starter for a Sunday bake.

What’s your favorite meal-on-the-go?
Lately, walking down the street, I like a nice handful of pistachios in the shell.

How have your eating habits changed since writing the book?
Not terribly. We started eating better in my house when my now 16-year-old son was born, thinking that was one thing we could do to avoid ruining him. More recently, after reporting on some shocking experimentation undertaken by the Department of Agriculture to make farm animals more profitable at the expense of their well-being, I’m pretty ruined even for taco trucks unless I know the chicken or ground chuck is not industrial and instead comes from animals the USDA hasn’t ruined.

Sugar, salt, and fat continue to be at the forefront of food discussion—e.g. “sugar is the new fat, fat is the new delicious…” What are your reflections on the book given the current environment?
I love that “salt sugar fat” has become a thing. But I have a confession. As much as I focused on them, and the industry’s own deep reliance on them has been getting us into trouble, the solution is not to just dial back on salt sugar fat, which all the Food Giants are now racing to do, concerned about losing the trust of consumers. The biggest way to better health, nutritionists tell me, is getting more vegetables and other good stuff into your mouth, which the companies have lots of trouble putting into their products.

Your good food wish?
That we should all be so lucky as to be in love with food and with eating.