Main Page CJLY
Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
recent showslisten live
Read a Transcript & Donate to Support our Work:

The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Link to Audio and Episode Info Here

Show Transcript

Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada


September 27, 2007


Title: Soil Matters CSA II / Marion Nestle


Producer/Host - Jon Steinman

Transcript - Rebecca Blair


Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio program and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY, in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman, your host for the next hour.


Local food is indeed the new organic. The topic has been adopted by the mainstream media on an ongoing basis. But what many Canadians taking on this new focus of seeking out local foods have certainly begun to discover, is that such foods are very hard to find. We still don't live in an age where local farmers and small-scale producers can market their products as aggressively as the major retailers and producers are able to do. But one model of accessing local food and ensuring farmers can receive a fairer price for their products is the Community Supported Agriculture or CSA model that we have been covering here on Deconstructing Dinner on an ongoing basis.


Back in July of his year we launched an ongoing series titled Soil Matters CSA, a series of short segments that document a farm here in the Nelson area of British Columbia that launched a CSA this year. Our July broadcast heard from farmers Laura Sachs and Craig Smith on what it takes to launch a CSA, why they chose to adopt such a model, and what difficulties they needed to overcome. And for the first half of today's broadcast we air part two of the series, where we will hear from the members of the CSA, and how being a member of a farm, receiving a weekly box of fresh produce, and having the ability to lend a hand on the farm has impacted the way they eat and live their lives.


As will be learned, the Soil Matters CSA has encouraged a new pattern of eating for many of the farm's members, including myself, who joined up back in April of this year, and during the second half of the broadcast, we will hear segments from a lecture given by well-known New York-based professor and author Marion Nestle, who addresses the other influences on the patterns of eating that Canadians and North Americans have fallen into-and those are the influences coming from the major food manufacturers and big advertising dollars.


It's the small family farm up against the processed food industry here on today's broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner.


increase music and fade out.


JS: Before we launch into today's broadcast I will provide you with an update on what you can expect on the program in the coming weeks. I did just return last weekend from a one-week road trip to the banks of the South Saskatchewan River and the city of Saskatoon. Located there was a two-day conference hosted by CropLife Canada, the trade association representing the major pesticide and biotechnology companies operating in the country. The theme of the conference was the Power of Partnerships, with the tone of many of the presentations being a call for more collaboration within this agricultural sector. The speakers addressed a number of reasons why partnerships are so important, with some being the ongoing threat of regulations that hinder the industry's ability to operate freely, and with another of equal interest, the role of the media in breeding what is referred to as misperceptions by the Canadian public, a concluding remark made by CropLife Canada's President Lorne Hepworth.


So my role at the conference seemed fitting, that there I was looking to give the industry the opportunity to share their views on the future of agriculture and to respond to the many skeptical concerns that Canadians have towards the chemical and biotechnology industries' increasing influence on our food supply.


Joining me at the conference were representatives of Agriculture and Agri Food Canada, Agricore, BASF Canada, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, E.I. du Pont Canada, Syngenta Crop Protection Canada and Conservative MPs David Anderson and Carol Skelton among others. You can expect exclusive interviews with myself and Sean Gardner, the General Manager of Monsanto Canada and with Len Penner, the President of Cargill Canada. Also featured will be recordings and interviews with Biotechnology advocate Juan Enriquez, Registered Dietician Leslie Beck, University of Toronto's Harvey Anderson, University of Saskatchewan's Ernie Barber, National Research Council's Wilf Keller, and the Canola Council of Canada's JoAnne Buth among many more.


I also sat down with the CBCs Ian Hanomansing for a brief Interview. Ian was invited to host a workshop at the conference titled, "The Media Today - an important partner in developing our vision". The workshop was founded upon an idea that the media can play a partnership role in helping to develop Canada's new bio-economy, and Ian Hanomansing shared his insights into how the industry can better integrate themselves into the media, as workshop participants made quite clear, they strongly dislike the influence of David Suzuki and Greenpeace. And Deconstructing Dinner will provide an outlet for the pesticide and biotech industries' message over the coming months, but you can be assured as usual, that we will take a very critical look at these messages that the Canadian public is receiving.




JS: Furthermore, you can also expect additional recordings and interviews from the Saskatoon road trip, including a segment with the owner of the Bed and Breakfast I stayed at, who coincidentally is a former plant breeder with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Darryl Petersen left the department in the mid-90s after his distaste with the direction the department had been heading - a plant breeding program that shifted from acting in the public interest and funded by public money, to one acting in the corporate interest and funded by corporate money. Quite the coincidence given the nature of the conference.


I also have some interesting recordings of farm radio that farmers across the prairies listen to every day, and it's a style of radio that those living in Canadian cities would rarely have the opportunity to hear. I also interviewed the owner and chef of a restaurant located in the city of Saskatoon that showcases ingredients from local farmers and producers, and that will make its way into an upcoming broadcast of our Conscientious Cooks Series. So you can stay tuned for all of these exciting recordings over the upcoming weeks and months, and one way to do this is through our website or podcast accessed at




JS: On to the broadcast for today, we start with part two of the Soil Matters CSA series. Part one aired back on July 19 of this year. The Community Supported Agriculture model is increasing in popularity across the country as an effective tool through which community members can secure a steady stream of food throughout the year or growing season, while the farmers are ensured of a market for their products, a stable income, and an influx of finances at the beginning of the season instead of the end of the season - which has long been a difficulty for many farmers. And so that's Community Supported Agriculture in a nutshell. We launched this ongoing series here on Deconstructing Dinner to act as a resource for other communities across the country wishing to launch their own CSAs, with segments documenting the opportunities and challenges such a model presents to those involved. I became a member of the Soil Matters Farm this year, and joined a few dozen others who also committed themselves to sourcing their vegetables, eggs and some fruit from a local farm just outside of Nelson, British Columbia. On part one we heard from farmers Laura Sachs and Craig Smith on why they chose to shift from supplying only grocery stores to instead focusing on supplying members. And today on part two, we hear from the members themselves, and how becoming part of a CSA has changed their eating patterns and their connection to food. As I too was a member, I will also be sharing some of my own experiences in being part of what continues to amount to a very different approach to where my food comes from, how I prepare it and how I preserve what has most recently been an over-abundance of vegetables.


On September 8th Craig and Laura hosted the members of the CSA at the farm for both a plentiful potluck and an opportunity to discuss how the experience for members has been and what changes could be made for next year's growing season. And so before the roughly 30 of us in attendance indulged ourselves in the buffet of great food, I handed a microphone over to members to share their experiences with being part of the Soil Matters CSA. Since April, members, including myself, have received a steady stream of weekly bins filled with seasonal organic vegetables and herbs, which, for many was a new experience running in opposition to the routine of choosing what to purchase, when to purchase it, and having the option of choosing foods at any time of the year thanks to our globalized food system. Members first lent their thoughts on this new approach to sourcing food.


anonymous members: "I'd just like to say that for me the whole experience was really profound. In particular, Alia normally figured out what to do with these things, so I would just end up tasting them, and the tastes were really diverse and quite extraordinary. For quite a while I've been feeling like I want to get back into the natural cycle of things-eating basically what's available, not getting kiwi fruit flown in from New Zealand or some other place. So it really resonated and I was able to appreciate the diversity of the tastes of the food."


"We found that we ate far less meat, which is actually a good thing. Some of the things were a little bit overwhelming, like initially at the beginning of the season, all the parsley-wow. Parsley is usually just being a bit of a garnish, but when you've got so much parsley, what do you do with it? But it's been a great experience, and we're actually now right in the groove."


JS: Now one of the most significant impacts of being forced a box of fresh vegetables each week was how meals became increasingly determined by what was in the box as opposed to the more common approach of deciding what to eat and then going out to the store to purchase the necessary ingredients. All of this changed by being part of a CSA and here are just a few comments from members.


anonymous members: "At first I felt like I had too much, but then I realized that I was still going to the grocery store and picking up the things that I thought in my mind, 'well, we'll have this,' and that didn't come in the box so I'd still buy it. And then I kind of shifted, thinking, 'okay, what am I going to cook; I'm going to cook what we actually have.' And that shift took care of a lot of the extras that I'd found that I had. Yes, we're having cabbage again, because that's what we have in the house right now."


"The idea that the food dictates the menu would be a helpful shift for all communities to begin to make. The amount of energy that is spent to bring food from afar because we want our menu to dictate what we're going to buy, it would be a very different paradigm shift to say, okay, we've got some cabbage now, and we've got some kale, and we've got broccoli; what are we going to do with that? I think environmentally, I think socially, the fact that you have a co-op of people who-I don't think I've ever seen a Japanese turnip until I have one now, and we had it in a stir-fry the other night based upon someone's recommendation, or something like that. There's a group of people who now are sharing recipes, ideas on what to do with extra food, ideas what to do with the new food... I think letting the food dictate the menu does great things environmentally and socially as well. It'd be nice to see larger communities, larger cities, making shifts like that. Not only in food, but in everything we consume."


JS: The sharing of recipes that was referred to was one of the most interesting benefits that came out of being a member at a farm. While the more common organic food box delivery programs are structured around a similar concept of receiving a box of food each week, the Soil Matters CSA encouraged members to communicate with each other and provide suggestions on how to use vegetables that were never before used.


anonymous members: "The most surprising item for us was the bok choy, which was interesting because the kids had always eaten it, but in the restaurant. But with the members being on e-mail access, we've been getting recipes from different members. I have a friend that's a vegetarian and she was always my source, 'what do I do with this.' And our oldest two got hooked, and it's-'are we getting more bok choy this week?' So it's great for expanding the choice of vegetables that the children and the whole family being exposed to. Difficulty using anything, I didn't find that happening for us because of being able to e-mail people, and people are willing to share their recipes, so that was great. The favourite, and the easiest, was to wash it, chop it up, cut up some garlic, fry that up a little bit, and steam-fry it, and just eat it out of the bowl. That's what my kids would do."


"I also found all the greens that we had at the very beginning were overwhelming, and what do you do with it all? But I found you can make pesto out of almost anything. You can use mustard greens, you can use turnip greens, you can use all kinds of things and make pesto out of it, and it's great!"


"We discovered gomae. It takes a whole bag of spinach, cooked spinach, the whole bag just disappears into half a cup. And then making the gomae dressing. It's just such a great way to eat those greens. Gomae is a Japanese salad, you get it in Japanese restaurants, it has a miso sesame dressing. I'll send the recipe out if the spinach ever starts pouring in."


JS: The abundance of greens that members received at the beginning of the season was I can say from personal experience, overwhelming. I too began discovering new ways to incorporate greens into meals, which was an enlightening experience as it was then that I recognized how the seasons were beginning to force a new approach to eating. In a sense, this experience was one in which nature and my local climate was becoming more of a guide in determining my diet, an idea that runs in opposition to the conveniences provided through the globalized food system-one that is not dependent on seasons. The dominant food system is also one that sees eaters trying to sneak around natural systems by relying on an environmentally taxing system of transportation.


And all of these efforts to begin finding new ways to use vegetables was also, in the end, a more environmentally friendly approach to eating. Other members discovered the same thing, that the abundance of certain foods forced new and innovative ways to utilize these extras, and I asked members how they coped with their surplus.


Did anybody have trouble getting too much food? And I think now is probably the time where, if at any time, you're probably getting too much food and you don't know what to do with it. Is anybody having that trouble?


anonymous members: "We found that as the weeks went on, sometimes there were things from last week that are still hanging around in the fridge when the new bin arrives. There was a feeling at first that I felt terrible when things would go to the compost, and I thought, 'What a waste.' But we have chickens now, we started an egg-laying operation about two months ago, so it's a joy to know now that when I do have excess, I can cut it up and my chickens love it and then it goes right back into our eggs. I feel like it comes full circle, with even the waste."


"I learned that you can can almost anything, and so I dilled green beans, and canned tomatoes, and that's the best way to use it and not have any waste."


"I guess my earliest memories are of my mother canning all sorts of things, like moose meat, and making cranberry jam, and stuff like that. And this year, outside of the CSA, we decided to can some peaches, and that was pretty cool. We made some peach jam, and then we threw that at a friend's place who bought a canner, and so our next objective is to make some salsa, because we've got lots of tomatoes coming in right now."


JS: What many members began to realize is that within our cold Canadian climate, the abundance of food that a small piece of land can produce is not necessarily a sign that more members should come on board, but a sign that this abundance needs to be preserved for the months when fresh vegetables are not available. The canning of food was not so long ago here in Canada a necessity to ensure a stable supply of food year round, and for Canadians to shift to this more secure practice will be a difficult one to justify unless a crisis were to arise. The amount of time required to preserve food is also a deterrent to Canadians wishing to adopt such a practice, as the time when food is most abundant, is also the time vacations are usually taken, it's when the sun is shining all day, festivals seem to take place a few times every week, and some of these activities as I learned this year, are no doubt required to be sacrificed in order to find the time to preserve food. Now of course it doesn't necessarily have to be individuals that preserve food, but local canning operations could certainly alleviate such a burden, and when in Canada the canning of food is centralized at a handful of cities across the country, the creation of such facilities on a smaller more community level would be an ideal way to foster a more environmentally responsible food system.


How the amount of time spent in the kitchen varied for members who became part of the Soil Matters CSA this year was a topic of discussion. Some members spent more time, others less, with this first comment being from a member who found herself spending less time in the kitchen, and the second comment from a member who spent more.


anonymous members: "Because we're eating fresh rather than taking things that take a long time to prepare, I'm doing a lot more stir frying and tossing vegetables with some pasta. Certainly when we've got all these nice greens, that's our meal."


"I come to harvest every Thursday, and when I come home I do spend a couple of hours that I wouldn't normally. Because when you go to the grocery store, everything's in bags and it's all cleaned. Now I have to snip off the carrot tops and I have to make my compost buckets of the radish leaves and whatnot that I don't use. So it takes a little while to wash everything up, and put it in the crisper and whatnot, more than it would if I were at the grocery store. So that's some time. But I find that that's all a pleasure, because when I have everything on my counter all laid out in one go, it's a pretty joyous moment."




JS: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner and part two of the Soil Matters CSA series. I'm Jon Steinman. In April of this year, residents living in and around Nelson and Castlegar, British Columbia became members of a local farm, through what is known as a Community Supported Agriculture program. I too became a member of the farm, with the hopes of documenting how a CSA operates, how it benefits farmers and communities, and what challenges can both the farmers and members face when adopting such an innovative model of sourcing food. Members receive a weekly box of fresh organic and seasonal vegetables, all of which are grown on the farm, and on September 8th, I joined a members potluck at the farm where we discussed these new experiences.


In the second half of today's show, we will hear more on the influences that shape our diets, but these influences are not those of nature, or the seasons, or abundant harvests as has been the topic up until now, but those influences are from the advertising of industrial food manufacturers. We will hear segments of a lecture by New York University's Marion Nestle on the ethics of food marketing.


But first coming back to our segment on the Soil Matters CSA, what has long been a dilemma for Canadian shoppers, is weighing the cost/benefit of purchasing organic versus conventional foods. Organic and local options have long been more expensive given the sheer size of the conventional food system and its ability to take advantage of economies of scale. And while one may expect that becoming a member of a local farm offering only organic produce would be more expensive than buying such foods at a grocery store, the complete opposite was the case at the Soil Matters CSA. Between April and November, weekly boxes work out to cost a little over $21 each. Now I began tracking how much I would have spent for the same organic vegetables at our local grocery store. For the first month and a half, the value of the boxes hovered around this $21 mark, but since then the value has often been over $30 with some boxes being worth upwards to $40. Now when spanning this out over the season, being part of the CSA has resulted in savings of hundreds of dollars. But, we do have to keep in mind that farmers Laura Sachs and Craig Smith are not surviving solely on farming, and they do subsidize their operation with off-farm work. This has become the norm among many farmers across the country. So what these figures illustrate, is that even if Soil Matters were to be charging members more along the lines of what the items would cost at a grocery store, the increased revenues would be minimal, and that the price Canadians pay for food is far below what it really should cost-that is what could allow farmers like Laura and Craig to grow food for a community of people and make a living off of doing it. This is hopefully a concern that can be addressed as this CSA evolves, and we will be sure to document how this plays out in the future.


I posed this very question of the economic impact of the CSA to members, and here are a couple of responses, including one rather humorous one.


anonymous members: "It's a nice way to force yourself to have organic vegetables. Sometimes when you're on a limited budget, you do make sacrifices and say that the organic is just over the top. Organic broccoli, I can't be going four or five dollars for a head of broccoli. And so that might be the one thing I buy conventional because I just can't do it. So this is one way to-everything's organic, and it's just coming."


"If they could figure out how to grow Captain Crunch here, our food budget would easily... [laughter] I'm trying to propagate some of them right now, but nothing, they're just getting soggy."


JS: We've now heard of the impact the CSA has had on an environmental and economic level, and on eating patterns, but another component of the Soil Matters CSA has been the option for members to lend a hand on the farm in exchange for a reduction in the cost of being a member. Throughout the season every hour donated to the farm in work resulted in a $5 discount off of the cost of membership. Members lent a hand in weeding, planting, thinning and harvesting of food, and this provided a social impact that is not found in the modern grocery store. Many families including young children visited the farm on a weekly or periodic basis and I asked members how this has impacted their connection to food. Take a listen to some of these comments.


anonymous members: "This summer it's been a bit hard getting all the kids up, because you have to harvest early enough before it's really hot. We're on summer hours, the kids are used to getting up at 9:30, and dragging them out of bed earlier.... But it's been good, although sometimes I leave and I'm feeling like I've just created this huge amount of chaos, and we probably didn't get ahead with me coming here. They've enjoyed it. The kids love picking the vegetables, it's so much fun. Mostly we've been coming out each week this summer."


"I've only come out once earlier in the summer, and the two most impressive things to me was one, I met some very nice people. I heard a lot of talk about what to do with different vegetables, and thought that was a very nice community-building aspect. The second and sort of surprising thing I learned-and this is going to speak to my roots as someone born in the city-I realized that different vegetables are picked differently. I thought when you pick beans, you pick beans; and when you pick tomatoes, you pick tomatoes. But each of them has its own subtle way that you pick a bean, or a tomato's got a twist. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and it enriches my relationship to what I eat a little bit, to know that not only do they have individual tastes and individual ways they grow, but the way you handle, it was enlightening."


"We came out lots because Joey's one and Claire's four, so we came out probably twice a week to see the kittens, to pick cherries, to see baby chicks. It was a big, big part of our lives since we started, so we're always coming. We never joined in the harvesting, but we include the farm as a big, big part of our lives."


JS: As we wrapped up our member discussion, we spent quite a bit of time discussing ideas for how the CSA could function and be managed more effectively in the future. More on this will be discussed on part 3 of this Soil Matters CSA series, but here is a sampling of some suggestions and the discussion that ensued.


anonymous members: "Next year there's some possibilities of doing some other things. I'd love to find some space that's refrigerated in Nelson that we can keep some bins in. I'm going to let people explore that. Mostly everybody's been able to pick them up pretty regularly."


"Just this past week we had talked about that idea of extras, so that when you show up to pick up your bin, if there's something that you really don't want, just leave it behind in a basket, and someone else who really does want it can pick it up. I think that would be helpful. I think that this week I'd probably not take another zucchini because I still have one or two in my fridge. That's a good way to cut down the waste."


"I just wondered about extra food, whether you have tons of tomatoes, more than your family's able to use, more than you're putting in the boxes, I just wondered whether if that was happening we'd get an email with an opportunity to buy ten, twenty pounds of tomatoes or something. I always meant to ask you about that and I never did. Beyond our shares, if there was extra food for people who do want to preserve some food, I'm interested to know how it worked for you with dividing up the shares and the amount of food you produced. Some of the boxes were really huge and beautiful."


"I think I probably overplanted this year because I didn't want to underplant. I was freaking out in May, thinking, what if I don't have enough food in August? I wasn't sure because this is my first time doing this and I know what I have for my own garden. Usually I'm swamped in all the things that we're swamped in. Craig and I picked a whole bunch of tomatoes for canning last weekend, and I canned half of it, and I got fifteen cans of tomato sauce. That's enough because I still have a lot left over from last year. So we certainly have a lot. Cherry tomatoes, I think it's going to be a U-Pick, I picked a whole bunch of them, if anyone wants some help yourself. I picked a whole bunch of them today, a huge basket. I swore I wasn't going to plant so many cherry tomatoes this year, because when I do it for myself it's just a burden-oh my God, I haven't picked the cherry tomatoes, and you're overwhelmed. They're great to put in the dehydrator, too, that's one way that I like to do that. But I still have some dried from last year. Certainly if someone wants some extras, you can talk to me about it."


"I think it's a good idea that we might put an e-mail out to our members when we obviously have too much of something. We could say, okay, members, we have a couple extra hundred pounds of tomatoes that are for sale to the members, at this price per pound, or whatever vegetable it might be. We've got the e-mail network set up and we have the vegetables here so we know what we have, and I think that's a great idea."


"I'd just like to see a system where there's a jar in the root cellar too. When you've got those melons, they're so good! If there's extras, I'd happily pay for extra produce on top of what comes in a fair share box. Something for you to think about maybe, for next year."


JS: And in wrapping up this first half of today's broadcast and the second episode of the Soil Matters series on Deconstructing Dinner, I'll leave you with these final comments from some members on how being a part of a Community Supported Agriculture program has impacted their lives.


anonymous members: "I was involved in a CSA before, I think this is much more of a community. There's a better feeling with this particular one. I thank Laura for that, she's kept everyone connected by e-mail, and I think that's really important. You feel more part of what's going on and what's happening, and that's a big part of the whole CSA."


"I just feel our family's fortunate to be part of the CSA. We're one of the few extra families that were added on when Laura realized she could accommodate a few more families. When I pick up my bin at the end of the day and realize this was something that was picked out of a garden today, I just feel really good about providing my family with that, and feel lucky that it's available to us."


"I feel really, really blessed that we can do this. I went on a vacation this year and was saying, there's just no place like home now that I have the availability of the food that's just five minutes from my house, and it's fresh. That I can have it my fridge for a maximum of a week. I made a big, beautiful salad last night, and had guests, and they're like, 'Wow, all this came from the farm? I gotta join!' They were so excited. It's just really special that this is here and we can do it."


music - George Formby


JS: And those were recordings compiled on September 8 at a potluck hosted for members of the Soil Matters farm located between Nelson and Castlegar, British Columbia. And that last musical segment was the late British singer and comedian George Formby.


On a sad note, Soil Matters lost one of its CSA members over the course of the summer, and I'd like to dedicate the previous segment to the family of Anne McInnes. Anne was known as a vibrant and positive addition to the farm this year. She will be greatly missed by her husband and three children, and her involvement in helping launch this important model of community will not be forgotten.


And you can keep track of this ongoing series by visiting the Soil Matters CSA page on the Deconstructing Dinner website at




JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.


In the next half of today's broadcast we continue on this topic of what influences our meals. As the Community Supported Agriculture model proves, restricting one's vegetable diet to those items only available in season has a tremendous impact on what meals are consumed at home, and how meals are prepared. But such influence pales in comparison to the power exerted by the advertising campaigns of big food, that is the industrial food system that dominates Canada's food supply. Whereas a CSA provides healthier and more environmentally responsible produce picked at the peak of ripeness, an outlet for physical activity, a place of community, an environment where education is hands on and members can interact intimately with the natural world, the conventional grocery store does little to provide such enrichment to one's life. This is an ongoing topic here on the program, and one we will revisit with again as we listen in on segments from a recent lecture recorded at New Jersey's Princeton University in November 2006. The lecture series was titled "Food, Ethics and the Environment," and was sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Institute, the University Centre for Human Values, and the Science, Technology and Environment Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.


In these segments we hear from Marion Nestle. Marion is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University in New York City. Her research focuses on analysis of the scientific, social, cultural and economic factors that influence the development, implementation, and acceptance of federal dietary guidance policies. She is the author of Food Politics and her most recent book, What to Eat.


Marion's lecture was titled, "The Ethics of Food Marketing"-a topic that nicely connects to some of our recent Packaged Foods Exposed episodes.


And here's Marion Nestle speaking about the confusion among the public towards nutrition and health.


Marion Nestle: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here at this wonderful conference in this gorgeous space. My presentation is entitled, "The Environmental Determinants of Food Choice," and it's going to pick up on a theme that Eric Schlosser dealt with last night. My starting place for it is a paper written by my old friend Kate Clancy in 1982, in which she asks some fairly serious questions about food supply. This was the first time I had ever heard those questions asked. Is it ethical, she asked, to make junk foods and profit from them? Is it ethical to urge people to consume such foods? Is it ethical to market such foods to people who are in no position to evaluate them, such as children? Well, 25 years have gone by, and here's the New Yorker asking the question, "which entree raises the fewest ethical issues?"


Ethical issues and food choice have become mainstream. And so there are further questions that I think we need to ask. Is it ethical for food companies to promote highly-processed foods as healthful? Is it ethical for food companies to sponsor self-serving research, to lobby government agencies in their own self-interest, to lobby health professionals in their own corporate interest, and to attack critics of their policies, a subject to which I am exceedingly sensitive? The asking of these questions, it seems to me reframes the discussion about food and health in a very different way, and I'm very grateful to Peter Singer for reframing the dialogue.


I think these questions are important because the issue that drives my work is public confusion about nutrition and health. This was a Newsweek article from last spring that talked about how confused the public is about what to eat, based largely on the exceedingly contradictory research that comes out all of the time. I think that's too bad because, as Time magazine put it, you don't need to be an Einstein to figure out what to have for dinner. And to me, nothing could be simpler. I think it's just simply a matter of eating less, moving more, making sure you get plenty of fruits and vegetables, and not eating too much junk food, and enjoying your food. And that really takes care of most of the problems about diet and health. And if they seem more complicated than that, it's surely because of the single public health nutrition issue that drives everything in the field these days, which are the very rapidly rising rates of obesity. I just got the latest report from the Journal of the American Medical Association this morning, and rates of obesity among adults of the United States have increased by six percent just since 1999. And it's not just a cosmetic problem, it's also a problem because of rising rates of the health consequences of obesity.


So this drives the field. And there are two ways of dealing with the whole obesity question. The first is to say, okay, if you're fat, it's your fault. And this is what the Economist said a few years ago. Somebody in there said, if people want to eat their way to gross it's their fault and their problem and we shouldn't need to bother about it. Of course, if you think that personal responsibility is what drives eating behaviour, then the remedy is simply to educate people. You just tell them the right thing to do and hope that they will do it, and I have public health nutrition students from my class here today, and they know that education is not enough. It doesn't work. The alternative approach is to change the environment. The New York Times described the environment as the, "gorge yourself environment" a few years ago. More food and more choices and more eating. And here the remedy is, if you want to improve the way people eat, you change the environment to make it easier for people to make more healthful choices. So the default is a healthy choice, rather than the default being what it is now.


So I want to talk a little bit about the factors in the environment that research-and more and more research-demonstrates encourages people to eat more calories, even when they don't want to, even when they're on diets, and even when they know better. The first is variety. It's referred to in the trade as "buffet syndrome". If you go to a buffet and you taste everything that's in there, you're going to consume more calories than you would if the food were less varied. The second and in many ways the most important is large portions. This is my formal doctoral student now, Lisa Young, with an indication of her research on cup sizes for soft drinks. The one on the left is an 8oz standard department of agriculture serving size for a soft drink. It's eight ounces, you can't even get one anymore. The others were bought at our local movie theatre. The largest contains 64oz of drink, if it doesn't have too much ice in it, and provides 800 calories worth of soda, consumed by one person.


The work of Brian Wansink, who's just published a wonderful new book called Mindless Eating, shows that even if you give people food, if you just give people a larger container, they'll consume more calories than they would if the container were smaller. He's very interested in studying environmental cues that trigger overeating, and he can show that people who are given a 4-quart bowl of popcorn will eat almost twice as many calories out of that bowl as they would if it were in a 2-quart bowl, and their estimation of the numbers of calories they're eating lags significantly behind the actual number.


Another one is ubiquity. There's food everywhere, and I like to ask the question, when did it become okay to eat in bookstores? I can still remember the days when they made you leave your drinks outside. The closer food is to you, the more you will eat of it, the more frequently you eat, the more calories you will consume. And all of these are determinants of eating behaviour, as is low price, as we heard a lot about low prices last night. The example I like to give is a very simple one. If you go into McDonald's with five dollars, you have a choice: you can buy five hamburgers, or you can buy one salad. There's something wrong with that picture. And this is not just because of McDonalds' clever pricing strategies; it also has to do a lot with federal policies that support the production of some foods rather than others. It's a policy, policies can be changed.


So these are the kinds of things that I talked about in my previous books, Food Politics and Safe Food, which came out in 2002 and 2003. As I was going around the country talking about those books, people would come up afterwards and say, oh, very interesting work, but you didn't tell us what to eat. I was very surprised by that until I really got into it and started asking them what they meant, and they started telling me how for them supermarkets were ground zero for anxieties about food. Supermarkets, they said, made them anxious. For example, when they went into a supermarket, they saw danger everywhere. When they went into a supermarket, they were overwhelmed by the number of choices. They just didn't know how to make those choices. What they really wished for was that people would just tell them which foods were good for them and which foods were bad for them, and make it simple to make those kinds of choices.


So I started going around supermarkets and doing a critical analysis of supermarkets. I learned a lot about them very quickly. This is a map of a store in Ithaca, New York. It's a typical mid-sized supermarket, it could be anywhere in the country, or for that matter anywhere in the world, because all supermarkets are based on the same research. You come in where the arrow is, at the door. You go around the store, and those big aisles are in the middle. All stores start with produce sections. The produce sections entice you in and are what Michael Pollan calls "supermarket pastoral." I love this photograph, Michael, because it's got a picture of the poster for my book on your desk, so I always like to show this one. Thank you for that.


The periphery of supermarkets is set up not only for the convenience of the store, because it's easier to manage the refrigeration and the stocking of the fresh foods from the periphery, but milk is always in the far, distant corner because the object of the game is to get you to do as much walking in the store as possible. Because rule number one of supermarkets is that the more products you see, the more you're likely to buy. And let me tell you, this is backed up by very substantial research. Not only the more products-if it's true that the more products you see, the more you buy, then you want to make sure, if you're a food manufacturer, that your product gets seen. So companies pay supermarkets to put their products in prime real estate, at eye level, and at other areas where people are likely to see them. But where the profits are really made in the stores is in the centre aisles. That of course is where the junk food is. And by "junk food", which is a rude term for highly-processed foods that are high in calories, rather nutritionally depleted and are highly profitable to the store, those are going to be in the centre aisles. One of the things you want to do in the centre aisles is put plenty of sugar in the products-sugars, plural-because you can easily add value to sugars, which are very cheap, and sell them for a lot more money. And so you see big aisles devoted to candy in supermarket, and that candy will be prime real estate at the ends of the aisles and at the cash register. None of that is accidental.


But the place where you really want to see food sold is in soft drinks. I was taken last May by a reporter for the Los Angeles Times to a supermarket in downtown Los Angeles, in an extremely low-income area in downtown LA. I was stunned by the displays of soft drinks in that store. There were soft drinks in a whole huge aisle, and at the end of one aisle. There was a wall of soft drinks when you came into the store. There was a soft drink display at the terrific real estate at the end of an aisle. There were soft drinks at the end of another aisle. There were soft drinks available at the end of another aisle. There were soft drinks available in a freestanding display. There were soft drinks available at the end of another aisle. And my favourite was that there was this platform of soft drinks on which they were displaying garden furniture.


You could not walk out of that store without buying a bottled drink of some kind or another. And the pricing strategies also encourage overeating because it costs much less per ounce to buy soft drinks from a large container-three cents or less per ounce-than it does from a small container, more than ten cents per ounce. I once asked a conference of supermarket executives how come the difference was so big, and they said, well, if you want small containers you should be willing to pay for them. But these pricing strategies encourage people to eat more.




JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, where we are listening to segments of a lecture recorded in November 2006 at Princeton University in New Jersey. This has been Marion Nestle of New York University and author of the recently released book What to Eat. In this next segment Marion speaks more on advertising. But I will note that she refers to the ownership of Kraft Foods by Altria (better known as Philip Morris) and since this recording, Kraft is no longer owned by this cigarette company.


Marion Nestle: And then I haven't even gotten to the issue that of course encourages people to eat more and more than anything, which is advertising. American food and beverage companies spend about $12 billion a year in total on food and beverage advertising. That's just for direct media-radio, television, print-because it's measurable by Advertising Age and other industry groups. But then they estimate that in addition to that there's another $2 spent, for every dollar spent on direct media, for things like trade shows, coupon campaigns, and point-of-purchase kinds of things. And so the total is somewhere on the order of $36 billion, a number that's far too big for me to comprehend. So I've picked one example of a single product. Kellogg's Cheez-Its had a $32 million advertising budget last year, just for direct media, just for one product. I can assure you that this greatly exceeds the total federal expenditure on any kind of healthy eating campaign.


Rule number four is to use health claims to sell products, and I want to make it very clear that I am not against companies selling products. Where I start balking is when they start advertising these products as particularly healthful. Here's a product that isn't bad-it's a cracker, for heaven's sake-this product has ten health claims on it. It says it's heart-healthy, it's reduced in fat, it's got whole grain and no trans fats-oh, that's good-it may reduce the risk of heart disease, it's low in saturated fat and cholesterol, it meets the criteria of the Department of Agriculture's pyramid, it's heart-healthy, and it's a weight management tool.


Okay. The only thing missing on that was the American Heart Association's endorsement, and the reason why there's no American Heart Association endorsement on this is that Triscuit is owned by Nabisco, Nabisco is owned by Kraft, Kraft is owned by Altria, and Altria owns Phillip Morris, and the American Heart Association won't put its logo on products owned by cigarette companies. But it will put its logo on products that are sugary cereals, because it doesn't care about sugar, it only cares about fat in products. And so here's the American Heart Association logo on a frosted cereal in which four of the ingredients-half the ingredients, roughly-are added sugars of one kind or another. The other thing that this particular product does is in the upper right hand corner, it has self-endorsements about its healthful qualities. I want to say just a few things about these self-endorsements, because all companies are doing this these days.


Here's Pepsi-Co's, "Smart Choices Made Easy", in an advertisement in the journal of the American Dietetic Association, so that dietitians will promote use of these products among their clients. Kraft does the same thing, it has a "Sensible Solution" logo, because this is an excellent source of calcium because it has cheese in it, I guess. Even though it has 25% of the daily value for saturated fat and sodium, and has a full ounce of sugars in it. Not exactly what you might think of as a health food.


When a company does independent criteria for evaluating products, as Hannaford Supermarkets did this year, they hired an independent group of nutritionists and scientists to develop a fairly stringent criteria for the healthfulness of products. They discovered to their dismay that three-quarters of the products in their stores didn't qualify for even one star. They have a one- two- three-star program, depending on how healthful the foods are, and three-quarters of the twenty seven thousand products in their stores did not qualify even for one star. And almost none of the "Sensible Solution" and "Smart Spot" products qualified.


Rule number five is to target what the industry refers to as "LOHAS". I'm guessing that's you-it's certainly me. They're people who follow lifestyles of health and sustainability, and are likely to look for products that appear healthful in stores. This is a picture of Safeway's new line of organic foods that just came out last spring. They have organic carrots and organic milk, priced very nicely, and then they also have organic macaroni and cheese, organic frozen burritos, organic fruit-flavoured cereal with no fruit in it, and all of the other kinds of things that you expect to see in supermarkets. My feeling about this is, an organic junk food is still a junk food. And that's why you have things like organic tortilla chips, and my favourite candy, which is classic organic gummy bears. Vegan. So you can buy healthy candy for your kids.


This brings me to the whole question of marketing to children. And I should say that all of this is legal. Whether it's ethical is something we can argue about. And certainly when it comes to marketing to children, we cross, I think, a very serious ethical line. It's not just me who says so. In December the Institute of Medicine, a think-tank in Washington, came out with an extraordinary report on marketing foods to children, in which they reviewed 123 studies, did a really serious research job, and in which they describe the research enterprise that is devoted to marketing to children, the methods that are used to sell things directly to children, the amount of money that's spent on marketing to children, the sales that result as a result, the effects that marketing to children have on children's requests for products, and the effects on their health. You cannot read this report without coming away from this thinking that business can't go on as usual. This situation has to change.


There are three reasons why companies want to market to children. The first is brand loyalty. Get them hooked early and they'll want those foods for life. The second is referred to in the trade as the "pester factor": you want kids to ask their parents or their caretakers to buy these foods for them, and any of you who have young children experience this on a daily basis. But I think the third is the most insidious, and it's the one that troubles me the most. And that is, you want to convince kids that they're supposed to be eating kids' food. Kids' cuisine. They're not supposed to be eating the boring adult foods that their parents eat; they're supposed to have their foods like this, in special cartoon-illustrated packages, in funny colours and shapes, so you have these unidentified food objects in there. And this is very effective. Kids are barraged with foods that are made just for them. You take a two-year-old into a supermarket and that two-year-old goes right to the products that are made just for kids. Kids' foods.


These are interesting foods. Here's a box that is candy that is designed to look like food. And then you have a cereal that is designed to look like candy. So it's very, very confusing for kids to try to figure out. They just think they're supposed to be eating candy all the time.


This starts very early. Gerber's now makes a processed finger-food for kids, that's made for children who are just being weaned, these are their first foods. And the companies themselves are getting into an amazing collection of activities to make their products look healthier, that are designed for kids. This is a Kraft Sensible Solution macaroni and cheese, just covered with illustrations about how many vitamins and minerals it has in it and how it's made with whole grain. You don't want to read the label on this thing too carefully. Here's my favourite example, brought to me by a student who's here-thank you, Lauren-she bought these two boxes on the same day in Manhattan. The box on the left, Fruity Pebbles with 12g of sugar and 0g of fibre, is the standard product in the line. But they've made a Sensible Solution version of it, that has half a teaspoon per serving less of sugars, and that adds 3g of polydextrose, an artificial fibre, so they can advertise this as a good source of fibre.


Pepsi-Co has a product, a snack food, that is made just for kids. It has 0g of trans fat and it has the Smart Spot on it. And I've illustrated the ingredient list because any time you see an ingredient list this long, it's a dead giveaway that this is not something you'd want to feed your kid.


Here's a new innovation: Kellogg's has come out with a new breakfast pack for kids who are on the school breakfast program. This is made so the schools don't have to do any work for it. This breakfast contains Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, and apple juice. And the reason for doing it is given in this advertisement-this is in a trade publication-it reduces your labour costs while supporting more participation and more profits. Guess what this is about?


Here's my last example. This is a General Mills cereal. It's self-endorsed with 75% less sugar, and it's sweetened with Splenda, an artificial sweetener. Whether this is a good idea for feeding kids is something we can debate later. I would say no. Why does everything need to be sweet, I don't know. Part of the effort to make foods look healthy, Nickelodeon has licensed the SpongeBob character for carrots. Many people think this is a terrific thing to do because it will encourage children to eat more vegetables. I think it's part of the whole environment of trying to teach kids that they're supposed to be eating kids' food, not real food, and I don't think it's a very good idea.


JS: And that was Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University in New York City. You can learn more about Marion by visiting her website which will be linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner website at This show will be listed under the September 27th episode titled, "Soil Matters CSA part II / Marion Nestle".


ending theme


JS: That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.


The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.


This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at or by dialing 250-352-9600.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.