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For her latest incursion into the dizzying world of food politics, award-winning author and public health advocate Marion Nestle didn’t so much have to choose her words wisely as draw from the flood of animated commentary already flowing through the daily news cycle.
In “Eat Drink Vote,” Nestle does just that, shining a light on the ink-stained satirists who so cleverly skewer society’s obsession with our most basic of needs: food.
“Because food is such an intense focus of public discussion and connects to some of the most important issues facing societies today — and because the food industry acts in its own self-interest and government agencies act inconsistently — political cartoonists have plenty of material to work with,” Nestle writes of the wealth of material human consumption habits present to trained observers.
Nestle firmly believes that cartoonists get it. And she loves that they so succinctly, and often quite beautifully, make their points and — in the book — help her make her own.
Assembling the most poignant pencil drawings, however, took quite some doing. Nestle said her discussions about teaming up with ’toon scion Sara Thaves, daughter of the creator of the ongoing “Frank and Ernest” strip and head of The Cartoonist Group, went so swimmingly that she found herself with more than 1,000 insightful artworks to choose from.
She whittled it down to the 250-plus illustrations sprinkled about her case study on the way, and why, Americans feed their faces. Nestle breaks up the assault on our alimentary inclinations into easy-to-digest chapters ranging from general history (“The American Food System: From Farm to Table”) to nutritional doublespeak (“Food Labels Versus Marketing”).
Along the way, Nestle attempts to respect everyone’s opinion — “Because everyone eats, everyone has a vested interest — a stake — in how food is produced, sold, and consumed, and, therefore, in how food issues are interpreted,” she counsels — but she doesn’t shy away from pulling out her soapbox on topics she is particularly passionate about.
She cannot, for instance, hold her tongue, when it comes to the rise of obesity of America.
Nestle lays the corpulent carcasses of frighteningly unfit Americans squarely on the doorstep of profit-chasing corporations.
“From my public health point of view, obesity is fostered by a food environment that encourages people to eat more often, in more places, and in larger amounts than is good for maintaining a healthy weight. As I explain in ‘Food Politics,’ this environment evolved from the need of food companies to increase sales and to report quarterly growth to Wall Street in an enormously overabundant and competitive food marketplace,” she writes.
She also explores how the Supreme Court empowered corporate food giants via the polarizing Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision (“One inarguable result of unlimited campaign spending is that Congress often appears to be more concerned with the health of corporations than with the health of the public,” she warns.) She also takes a look at the target Michelle Obama strapped to her back by launching the “Let’s Move!” campaign.