As far as I'm concerned, What to Eat by Marion Nestle ought to be required reading. Not just foodies, or people in the food industry, or food bloggers, but everyone who eats food should read this book.
Marion Nestle (no relation to the food industry giant) is a nutrition professor at NYU who you may have already met if you saw Super Size Me. So, she knows something about food and she probably shares some of the same political preferences as me, which information totally did not prepare me for the tour de force that is What to Eat.
Now, the first thing you might notice when you pick up What to Eat is: it's a really big book. You may ask yourself 'Do I really need to know over six-hundred pages worth of information about food?' Yes, as it turns out, you really do. Fortunately, not only is it informative and thorough, it's also well-written and easy to read and understand. It's also not without its moments of black humor, exasperation, and outrage.
Nestle's take on healthy eating is refreshingly simple; in fact, she boils it down to just ten words (with a five word addendum): "eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables (go easy on junk foods)". In fact, this has been pretty much common knowledge in nutritionist circles for over half a century. That this message so often gets obsured by constantly updated superingredients and revolving fad diets would be laughable if this nation didn't have serious, enduring health problems stemming from inadequate nutritional education.
The book is organized into supermarket sections (Produce, Dairy, Meat, Fish, and Grocery (i.e. Processed)), each of which goes into nutritional health and safety issues that you might want to be aware of, and how to go about choosing what's best for you. Nestle points out, as Pollan did in The Omnivore's Delimma, that the sheer volume of choices that are available to us in the average supermarket shopping experience makes it really hard for the average shopper to determine what's best for him or her.
It's really hard to suss out what's best for you, even if you do keep up to date on the latest research: "Nutrition topics are often controversial, and here is the short reason why: the science is complicated. Complicated science is subject to interpretation, and interpretation depends on point of view. And point of view can reflect vested interests." Throughout the book Nestle is very clear that most of what we know about food represents a battlefield between corporate and public interests, and you can guess who wins out more often than not.
She asks, "What industry or professional organization might benefit if you ate more healthfully? Try as hard as I can, I cannot think of a single one (well, organic food producers, maybe)," and "What industry or group benefits from public confusion about nutrition and health? Here the list is long and includes the food, restaurant, fast-food, diet, health club, drug, and health care industries, among many others."
Not only are an army of marketers, think tanks, and lobbyists working against us, but our own government isn't really helping, either. "In the United States food safety oversight is largely shared by two agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The FDA is under siege by Congress, which has given it too much to do and not nearly enough money to do it with. And the USDA is in constant conflict of interest: its primary mission is to promote sales of American agricultural products, and public health is decidedly secondary to these agribusiness interests."
So, it is up to you and it is up to me to educate ourselves about issues of food health and safety. Fortunately, we have Nestle to help us out.