Marion Nestle
Key Player

Former board member, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Chair, New York University Department of Nutrition and Food Studies; author, Food Politics and Safe Food

Marion Nestle is one of the country’s most hysterical anti-food-industry fanatics. The New York University nutrition professor is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, in which she writes: “Sellers of food products do not attract the same kind of attention as purveyors of drugs or tobacco. They should.”

Nestle’s vision of a brave new food world includes the notorious “Twinkie tax,” federal price controls on high-calorie foods and beverages, restricted food advertising, print advertisements that warn consumers of calorie content, and nutritional labeling on fast-food restaurant packages. She believes that “food is too cheap in this country.”

To accomplish her radical goals, Nestle has worked with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the uncontested leader among America’s dietary scolds. When an interviewer asked Nestle if CSPI is her “covert ally,” she replied: “Overt is more like it. I was on CSPI’s board for five years, then slipped off quietly, but I’m a big supporter of what they do. By and large, they’re the major game in town.”

Speaking to the New York Times in 1996, Nestle made it very clear that her primary agenda is not pro-nutrition, but instead anti-corporate: “I like it better when Mike [Jacobson of CSPI] takes on the big corporations like McDonald’s,” she said. “I like it less well when he takes on mom and pop outfits like Chinese restaurants.”

Nestle is so obsessed with blaming corporations that she doesn’t believe parents can exercise responsibility over their children’s diets or that adults are able to regulate their weight. When Nestle said she eschewed such common sense on CNN, an incredulous Kristin Nolt of the National Restaurant Association asked her, “You don’t support balance, moderation and exercise?” Nestle responded, “Only in theory. Only in theory.”

In 2003, Nestle addressed an event sponsored by the Socialist Caucus of the American Public Health Association (yes, the APHA has a “Socialist Caucus”). She also spoke at the 2003 “Socialist Scholars Conference.” And she was a keynote speaker at the June 2003 trial-lawyers’ conference “intended to encourage and support litigation against the food industry.”

Nestle’s attacks on the food industry have recently branched out to include scare-mongering about food safety. In her book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism,. she took brazen advantage of an isolated mad-cow case to call for a boycott of US beef.

Nestle’s zeal would even trample free speech rights. An Albany Law School professor warned in 2010 that an outright ban on health claims or front-of-package nutrition labels on food products, advocated by Nestle, would violate the First Amendment.

What was Nestle’s response? Sue ‘em till you win. “We hope that legal scholars will examine current food marketing practices in the light of the First Amendment and establish a firm legal basis for bringing this issue back to court,” Nestle and co-author David Ludwig replied. Her beef is that marketing certain foods does not “promote the public interest,” in part.

But it would seem that Nestle has no qualms about other food labels, even mandatory ones—just so long as they support her agenda. Nestle is a big supporter of mandatory labels on foods that use genetically modified ingredients—even though these foods are not inherently materially different from non-bioengineered foods and have no adverse health effects.

Further, Nestle has attacked food companies’ proposed front-of-package labels that tell consumers what’s “good” in their foods (like omega-3 content). Instead, ever the anti-pleasure nutritionist, Nestle prefers an overly simplistic “traffic light” labeling system that assigns red, yellow, and green lights to foods—one that highlights what’s “bad” in food. You might think Ph.D. would know better than to advocate dumbing down food and nutrition to a few colors, but you don’t know Dr. Nestle’s opinion of the average Joe. “Ordinary mortals cannot count, see, taste, smell or feel a calorie,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 2010. Translation: You’re dumb, and you need “betters” like Nestle to tell you what to eat.