How to Change Our Food System with Marion Nestle : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Wednesday Sep 14 | BY |
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food system local farms
The local farm needs to survive in order for us all to be saved from frankenfoods.

This timing of this could not have been better…

I’ve been chatting you guys up on food policy for the last couple of days with mixed response.

Last night, Ann and I went to see Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and Food Politics, speak at UC Berkeley.

She basically echoed many of the points I had been making the last two days. (Much more eloquently… or maybe I echoed hers, LOL!)

Anyway, this lecture is a must see if you feel there needs to be a change in the way food is sold, grown and regulated across the U.S. as well as the globe.

Take a look here (my thoughts about the lecture follow)…

(NOTE: Please fast forward to 4:48 where the presentation starts.)

My thoughts…

1. Food insecurity has increased since 2007.

In the very beginning of this presentation, Marion shows a graph on food insecurity in the U.S.

Food insecurity means in specific terms “inadequate consumption of nutritious food.” Since 2007, the rate has increased to over 16% of the population. What this means is that about 50 million people aren’t able to access good, clean and natural food on a regular basis.

As the economy worsens, it will be interesting to see where the trend goes – up or down.

The fact that 16% of people don’t have access to nutritious food, while I eat it every day, makes me wonder what I don’t see on a regular basis (and need to.)

This also reinforces the point that when we live in a bubble (in this case the natural health one), it’s hard to see outside of it.

2. Personal vs. social responsibility.

This couldn’t have come at a better time.

My last two articles caught a little bit of criticism because I feel we need to have social policy to help end our health crisis. Some of you didn’t agree.

In this lecture, Nestle talks about personal responsibility and how it is not the answer. During the Q & A at the end of the lecture, a woman raised a question about how economically strapped people in West Oakland could have access to good food as well.

Her premise was that everyone here sitting in a lecture at UC Berkeley is in a slightly different mindset and economic bracket. They’ve basically exercised their personal responsibility and there are still people starving in our major cities. The woman was right.

Nestle, to paraphrase a bit, states that in these cases we don’t need more health education. We need well thought out policy and well trained activists to help create movements around getting everyone better food.

This is our collective social responsibility – to hold up others in need. You’d help someone hurt on the street, so why can’t we help entire communities?

There are two ways to support this food movement (or transition of power). The first is at the individual level where you can opt-out of the system as it is – which is only half of it. The second is to start a social movement and make changes at a policy level.

As I was sitting in the lecture, I found myself anxious to share this video with you, because it supports my last 2 days of commentary with the credibility (at least on a policy side) of someone who’s been fighting for food policy for a long time.

3. Eating less and moving more is a basic understanding of nutrition.

I say credibility on the policy side specifically because of this…

Nestle, I have to admit, has a very basic understanding of nutrition. The two ticks on her dial are “eat less, move more” and a variation of this “eat less calories.”

She’s been in food policy for a long enough time, so to me it seems like she’s stuck in the ’70’s with her knowledge of calories and exercise. The equation just isn’t that simple. Endocrine system issues, genetic expression and combination of macronutrients all play a role in how a person holds weight and their overall health.

Though at the same time, many people would benefit from her advice.

4. Cost of beer, butter and soda decreases… Veggies up 40%!

Since 1980, the relative cost of vegetables have increased by 40% and costs of beer, butter and soda has decreased by 15-30%.

This supports my comments yesterday and the day before that we need to find out a way to reverse this trend. Policy seems to be the only solution as long as crops are subsidized. (And any removal of subsidies is a public policy act anyway.)

5. “Ho-Ho’s Now a Good Source of Omega 3’s” (?)

Functional foods are processed products that have nutrients added to them. An example of a functional food would be Vitamin Water or energy drinks with herbal infusions.

The food company marketing departments have hit this one out of the park. Add a nutrient to the food like omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D and it’s perceived as healthy.

6. Good news!

There are more farmer’s markets! In 1994, there were approximately 1700 farmers markets around the U.S., in 2009 there were over 6000.

This means the local food movement is growing and if there isn’t a market by you yet, there will be soon. (Sooner if you start it!)

7. Food Safety Modernization Act.

Nestle is a strong proponent of farm regulations and food safety.

She feels regulations should be a one size fits all process for all farms – large or small.

I tend to agree that all farms should be safe and have third party inspection – no one wants to get sick from healthy food contamination – but I do think that the smaller farmers should be allowed certain exemptions or even grants to help pay for the cost of some of the third party testing.

(This doesn’t need to be government testing, just third party monitoring.)

Nestle’s position here is somewhat unpopular, even to me.

Nestle, to her defense, does say that the government agencies seem to be focusing in the wrong places. She mentions a small Vermont cheese farm that was doing everything right, but still was the subject of a very sterile inspection. This was a process she feels to be excessive, particularly since just last year over 380 million eggs were recalled in one Iowa incident.

The impact of this widespread contamination is significantly greater than any small Vermont cheesemaker will likely ever have. Resources need to be spent to police the awful conditions that cause these outbreaks in large factory farms, not wasted on the little guy.

8. Hard to be vitamin deficient?

To end the talk, Nestle stated that she hasn’t seen much evidence to show that Americans are vitamin deficient. At least 4-6 people around us (including Ann and I) gasped – I’m pretty sure the whole audience did as well.

The comment was in passing, but it definitely shook up the room a bit.

I’ve come across many studies that show vitamin and mineral deficiencies including magnesium, vitamin D, B12, folate, vitamin K, and more. I’ll be sending them to her for her own reading pleasure.

Like I said in the beginning, I think we should listen to Marion for her food policy work, not nutrition advice.

I want to know your thoughts: What did you think about this lecture? Do you know of any studies that I can pass along that show nutrient deficiencies in the general American population?

Live Awesome!

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. Thomas says:

    On vitamin D, scroll to the “deficiency” heading:


    and I found the sponsor of this study to be a bit ironic:

    “The four most prominent micronutrient deficiencies worldwide concern iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc.

    Ideally, these essential nutrients should be obtained from a normal, varied diet. However, for a number of reasons many people do not consume a healthy balanced diet.

    While developing countries are most severely affected, the problem is widespread and micronutrient deficiencies are also significant in certain populations within industrialised countries.”

  2. Thomas says:

    If you can’t get to a lab to get tested, this site allows you to do it (Vitamin D test) at home and mail it in for $65:

    on Vitamin C deficiency:

    Vitamin B12:
    an overview:

    Some studies mentioned where diets and medications cause B12 deficiencies:

    Gosh Kevin, you could send her a boatload of studies . . . 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It seems like you two picked a really cool place to live. You seem to be near so much.

  4. sadly Michael Pollen who chairs this series supported the most egregious (to-date) and counter bill to his career’s premise, that would be the SB510. What is more, to say that Michelle Obama’s “organic garden” is sincere when her husband is responsible for the most heinous GMO agreements to-date, is suspect…I see Obama’s garden as sheer PR and I think food politics leaders like Nestle and Pollen (who applauded Tom Vilsack, a Monsanto supporter to the zenith, on Democracy now) who do not underscore the horrific over-reach, Big Ag agenda and general criminal behavior in the face of independent artisans and farmers who are trying to get the good food to all people (do you know about urban farm challenges from the government in NYC, arrests of independent home gardeners wanting to share veggies with neighbors and with no illnesses ever seen, arrests of food club directors and small farmers?)….Nestle’s talk here is stale (I’ve heard it more than once…used to like her now I question her uber-soft approach) and now, hearing that her one comment is that the FDA did not get properly funded? What? Hmmm…You want to put the ownership of nutrition on the government? We need to talk.
    Laurie (

  5. Peter says:

    I feel that as long as there is no reversal of food subsidies to favor and promote organic and local products, then people will always attempt to blame personal responsibility. When survival is in question, there is no personal responsibility, as those people have no choice.

    So, rather than feeling sorry for the poor who can’t afford to pay for healthy, good foods, take action to your politicians to reverse food subsidies on GMOs and mass-produced grains. I organized local community swaps (people bring in their trash foods like white flour in exchange for wheat or organic flour, etc). It got a bumpy start, but it quicky caught on. What initiatives have you done in you commit in your community to promote healthy food choices?

    “Be the change you want to be” – Gandhi

  6. Ira Edwards says:

    FDA’s two top people, Michael Taylor and Margaret Hamburg, are on a mission to turn the supplement industry over to Big Pharma, and to destroy small farms. They are making progress, aided by the Obama administration and our representatives, who will vote for anything billed as “safety.” Unless a massive public uprising stops them, we are in trouble. Please act.

    Eat less and move more? No one needs to hear that for the ten thousanth time. I don’t know any overweight person who has not tried that and failed several times at least. Many them suffer from deficiencies because of eating less. Starvation diets before long result in weight gain, because the body demands nutrition.
    If they can find and eat nutrient dense foods, they may feel good enough to move more and may not need to eat less.
    Carbohydrates are not nutrient dense.

  7. I believe that this is false:

    Eating less and moving more is a basic understanding of nutrition.

    Here’s my revision:

    Eating as many calories from fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruit as you desire, eating fresh, ripe, raw, organic greens (at least a head of lettuce and / or celery per day), and moving more is a basic understanding of nutrition.

    Eating less probably has the side effect of eating less protein and less fat, which is optimal, but eating less carbohydrates is not our natural instinct in the wilderness where you need fuel to survive. Follow nature. I follow Douglas Graham, the author of The 80/10/10 Diet book, which follows nature. The 80/10/10 raw vegan diet is a high-carbohydrate (> 80% of calories), low-protein (< 10% of calories), low-fat (< 10% of calories) diet. It is a species-specific diet for humans, regardless of where you live. It is followed in nature by anthropoid primates. All species that are anatomically and physiologically similar thrive on a similar diet, which are the anthropoid primates for us humans. Essentially, the diet consists of low-fat fruits and greens. Optionally, you can eat very few nuts and seeds, but they usually are not raw in the store and will not sprout. I don't eat nuts and seeds.

    Michael Arnstein won the Vermont 100-mile race in 15 hours 26 minutes on July 25, 2011. He eats the same diet as me, the 80/10/10 raw vegan diet of low-fat fruits and greens. See for the whole story. There are many other athletes on this diet. This demonstrates that we 80/10/10ers are thriving. I'm starting to do running and weight lifting, and the diet has supported these activities.

    Your body will tell you that it has had enough food through symptoms. From my experience, I notice that I get mucus and pimples and need to use the bathroom more if I eat too much. Definitely do not undereat. That's the anorexia diet. Eat low-fat raw carbohydrates from fruit until full. Wait until you are hungry again.

    We 80/10/10ers want everyone to get their carbohydrates and eat low fat so that they can think clearly and have plenty of energy to be lean, fit, strong, and healthy, regardless of your current condition. Sweet and juicy is what we humans desire. Don't go against your instinct. You are born with everything that you need to gather your food in the wilderness just like every other species on earth. No tools are needed with this species-specific diet, although they are convenient. Follow what nature does. Breaking the laws of nature will break you.

    • Kevin Gianni Kevin Gianni says:

      @Christopher: Thanks for you comments here! I don’t agree with her either. At the end of the video (not sure if you watched the whole thing) she discusses a question that asked if you eat less calories of processed oils, sugars and grains would that be OK. Nestle said yes. While I think the 80-10-10 diet isn’t for everyone, I’m in complete agreement that your calories should be nutrient dense and the majority (if not all) from fresh fruits and vegetables. 🙂


  8. Ingrid says:

    Good lecture, thanks for sharing this!

    I was also surprised about the vitamin deficiency comment, like you guys. But I suppose she hasn’t done much research in that area. Not that I have either, but it’s common sense to me that if a person is eating ‘food’ (I don’t like to call bad edible stuff ‘food’) that has little to none nutritional value, they are going to have deficiencies.

    And this got me thinking. It’s probably not an original thought, but I realized that most overweight people’s bodies are actually starving – for nutrients. There are piles of calories going in, but the cells of the body are yearning for real food.

    And that’s really sad. We say they’re over-eating, and they are, but they’re also starving. And by doing so they’re creating health problems that are not only decreasing the quality of their lives but also shortening them.

    I’m glad that there are people like Marion Nestle (and you Giannis) who live to make a positive change in people’s lives by raising awareness about good quality food. Thank you, and more power to you!

  9. Edith says:

    Well, I question her statement regarding cheap beer and soft drinks. She obviously doesn’t come to WA state. There’s no reduction here.

  10. Devi says:

    I will have to agree with you Kevin about the vitamin deficiency. I have a feeling Marion Nestle is trying to be politically correct on some issues and for the sake of the bigger good she is not addressing certain issues-just an impression. I believe in taking small steps to improve our lives and of our love ones, the real challenge is what step will I take today to improve life as I know it. Good Health to all!

  11. Lisa says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been working in public health for about thirty years and have also benefited from the wonderful information on sites such as this one focused on raw/ whole foods. It has been frustrating to me that the two ends rarely meet.

    Listen: those of us who do public health usually are looking at population health. Therefore, our expertise is on things like equity, community organizing and yes, policy. Techniques for improving individual health are not always our forte. In contrast, the raw and whole foods movements have brought forward invaluable information about improving personal health. Generally, it has also been much weaker on questions of equity and of scaling up health access to underserved populations. I don’t think that the two groups are identical in their goals and objectives. But there is enough commonality that we should be talking more. Thanks for moving us forward.

  12. nils says:

    *statement not approved by the FDA, FBI,

    funny. i liked the nba

  13. nils says:

    i know nestle.

  14. nilsholgerson says:

    kevin.ask this at paleohacks they love to help eachothers. there are so heartful people.

  15. pe says:

    Yes, activists are needed, and that takes care of the moving; good to see the first 5 comments contributed so much, and implied activism. You two did the right thing too, thinking about correcting Nestle’s errors on deficiencies.
    Oakland has food activists, at least in the northern part, harvesting neglected plants and pushing good diet. The basis is there. Join it.
    Live elsewhere? You know your problems; fix them. Can’t? Too big? Won’t get smaller doing ‘pure’ withdrawal. We are on the same planet, will share diseases, crime in the streets, crime in the suites, war crimes in the fleets. There is no escape, not even death.
    We must teach the kindergarten lesson of sharing toys and ideas, and in the process learn that lesson.
    Recall the Arab Spring in Egypt? Presented as a Facebook triumph, it was the opposite. Organizers gave 20 p[laces to assemble, and the police (gasp) read and went there, arresting some. The 21st wasn’t listed; the people are poor, few computers or ipads, so leaflets were used and word of mouth, to assemble at a well-known place. (It’s a neighborhood, people assemble without electronics.) They went to Tahrir Square, where survivors of the police action joined them. It was the UN-Facebk revolution.
    Go thou and do likewise. Help is on the way.

  16. Niraja Golightly says:

    I’ve been repeatedly pointing out that most people don’t have access to healthful, affordable, local food and I was pleased to see Nestle make just those points. The whole “food as medicine” approach to advertising has left me with more expensive nutritionally-dense food that I used to count on most people not really being interested in. Sometimes I drive myself crazy with the education all the while knowing that only what I call “the special people”–(on my bad days)–can access the resources needed to live a healthy life, and many times these are the very folks who speak for me–all the while not really understanding how it is for me and other folks with limited resources. We need to support more participatory action research so that the correct policy questions are even being asked and the shared wisdom of resource-challenged folks like me can be utilized to make effective policy that works for everyone, not just well-off folks.

  17. Thomas says:

    As Ira stated above, the FDA is controlled by industry people. Check his bio:
    Michael Taylor (“Mr. Monsanto”):

    We actually need an “American Spring” like the ones the Arab nations are undergoing to clean out government corruption and eliminate dictatorship. 🙂

  18. @Kevin Gianni: Thank you for posting this video and for your response about eating less calories.

    The example that comes to mind about being thin while eating large amounts of calories from fruit is Freelee, Harley Johnstone’s (also goes by Durianrider) girlfriend. Freelee had a weight control problem until she went 80/10/10 raw vegan. Now she is lean, fit, strong, and healthy. That demonstrates that what you eat is more significant than calories and shows another low-fat raw vegan diet (80/10/10 raw vegan) success.

    I disagree that the 80/10/10 raw vegan diet isn’t for everyone because it is a species-specific diet for all humans. It has already been tested over time on very sick people and on very healthy athletes, both ends of the spectrum. There are no contraindications against low-fat raw fruits (anything with a seed) and greens. The problems are:

    * motivation
    — People think that it’s not for them.
    — There seem to be three reasons for lack of motivation: (1) fitting in with everyone else, (2) a strong attachment to their current foods, and (3) not being convinced that it will work.

    * getting the fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruits and greens
    — People either can’t afford to eat this way or don’t have access to these foods.

    Here are some of my ideas to address the problems:

    1) Be athletic on the 80/10/10 diet to be an example for others to see, which I’m starting to do. People like Michael Arnstein and Douglas Graham inspired me with their athletic abilities, so I want to inspire others with my athletic abilities.

    2) I haven’t thoroughly thought this out. Have urban farms like they do in Cuba. See the video called Havana Homegrown: Inside Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Revolution: “”. In urban neighborhoods, there’s a need for fresh produce that can be eaten raw and pool of people who need a job. It seems reasonable that if you put the people to work to grow their own food, you’ve solved the problem. They become lean, fit, strong, and healthy. I believe that farming is the way out of unemployment. At the very least, it supplies high-quality food for the unemployed. Heated greenhouses will be needed in cold temperatures, perhaps heated by renewable resources.

    3) Talk to doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes about eating 80/10/10 raw vegan. Any of these who adopt this diet for their patients will outcompete their competition. If you change the body’s internal environment to be non-toxic and full of nutrients from being toxic and deficient in nutrients, then the body will heal itself provided that the damage is not irreversible. The problem is not the germ (disease). It’s the environment in which the germ (disease) exists. If a hospital has a high success rate with cancer, for example, it can put up a billboard showing its results. In Hartford, CT, we have billboards advertising hospitals. That will attract patients from other hospitals to the succesful hospital, and those other hospitals will have to do the same to be able to compete.

  19. Michael Pollan on Food Rules: An Eaters Manual on Democracy Now! 2 of 5

    Michael Pollan said at 09:35:

    Only 1% of Americans are feeding the rest of us by using fossil fuels for labor.

    We used to have 40% of the country involved in agriculture.

    Imagine how many jobs that we would have if we went back to an agricultural society. There’s always a need for fresh produce, especially now that we know that you can live on exclusively raw produce. If you lose your job, you go back to work on an organic farm until you can find a new position in your profession. Homeless people? Put them to work on an organic farm and give them raw produce to eat. Farms can be grown on lawns. Make the lawns edible. They can be on the top of buildings. There are many creative ways.

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