Marion Nestle's book, "What to Eat"

On one of my previous posts I mentioned Marion Nestle as a professor of nutrition who had commented on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. I read two of her columns in the Atlantic Monthly and a blog post she had written and was struck by her intimate and detailed knowledge of the process by which the Dietary Guidelines, initially put together by an committee of experts, get subtly altered before they reach their final form.

Subsequently I purchased two of her books and have been reading my way through her absolutely superb book, "What to Eat." I've been stunned by her depth of knowledge and have learned many new facts. Today I looked at her bio and realized she's been directly involved with the Dietary Guidelines in the past, has both a Masters' degree in public health nutrition and a Ph.D in molecular biology.

The book itself is stellar and won the James Beard Foundation award for best food reference in 2007. Dr. Nestle examines the trillion dollar/year US food industry and walks you through the sections of a supermarket commenting as she goes. I'll mention a few of the more striking areas today, but will try to pick out more over the next few posts I do. I think you should read this book yourself.

When you enter an average supermarket in this country, you're confrounded with an enormous array of choices. She estimates you have 30,000 plus to pick from. So how do you get to the items on your shopping list? Well first you have to pass artfully, probably a better term is cunningly, arranged shelves and more shelves with food items you didn't plan to buy.

The placement of those food choices is far from random. If your goal, like mine, is to shop the periphery, mostly purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables and a few dairy items, you'll still pass through a gauntlet of deliberately placed, often highly processed, foods, many of which have lengthy ingredient lists. And you'll likely find the things you do wish to buy have less carefully been arranged.

Why is this? Well to start with the government subsidizes the production of a few items: corn, soybeans, sugar beets and sugarcane, but not that of other fruits and vegetables. And the major food companies (that includes a much smaller number of them than I had once thought), don't make as much money from the items on my shopping list, but lots more from foods that have been augmented, processed and made to appear appetizing to adults and, in some cases to children.

So the next time you're in a supermarket, go there with your own shopping list and try to stick to it. Look at ingredient lists if you do buy processed foods; check out the fat, sugars (sic) and salt contents of anything you buy. And start to look at what is placed where in the store. Decide what's been put there to catch your attention and to tempt you to buy.

Happy shopping.

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