Joan Gussow
Key Player

Overseer, Chefs Collaborative; former chair & professor emeritus (nutrition), Columbia University Teachers College; director, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation; advisory board member, Center for Food Safety and Ecology Action; author, This Organic LifeIf you could wrap up all the elements of the Nanny Culture in one person, it would be Gussow. She has been able to wield considerable influence in academia (as a nutrition and education professor at Columbia University), in government (as a member of the National Organic Standards Board), and in the foundation world (as a board member at the Jessie Noyes Smith Foundation). Gussow has also been embraced by the nonprofit sector, sitting on the Center for Food Safety’s Advisory Board and the Board of Overseers of the Chefs Collaborative. To top it off, she’s been something of a media darling for over ten years.

A zealous defender of all things unprocessed, Gussow argues passionately for organic foods but says that we’ve gained nothing if we have organic popcorn in a microwaveable aluminum container. She makes no attempt to hide her disdain for the extravagant abundance of food choices that modern technology has brought, both in and out of season. In her book This Organic Life, Gussow pines openly for an America where she could mass-produce signs reading “this is a winter-tomato-free community.”

At a recent Iowa State University seminar, Gussow acknowledged that “people need to know they may have fewer choices if they eat locally and by the seasons.” She seems happy, though, to remove consumer choice from the food equation, even when those choices affect human health. Speaking to a Chefs Collaborative event, she advised attendees to “stop obsessing about your own health and worry about the health of the planet.”

Gussow’s views echo the typical Nanny Culture positions that some foods are inherently better than others, and that we need “experts” like her as the arbiters of what we should and shouldn’t eat. Complement this with an arrogant insistence that organic-only foods are inherently superior, and you have Gussow figured out. She argued in a 1995 speech: “If professionals are led to agree that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ foods, then we can’t object to any food product that’s put on the market, however wasteful or useless it might be.”