(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

kat: Nutrition education’s a total bust, according to a recent AP report. Supposedly, our government will spend more than $1 billion this year to fund programs designed to get kids eating more fruits and vegetables, but the AP reviewed 57 such programs and found that most of them failed: "Just four showed any real success in changing the way kids eat--or any promise as weapons against the growing epidemic of childhood obesity."

What's your diagnosis? Is nutrition education a waste of money, a la abstinence-only sex education? Can we win the war on blubber?

Dr. Nestle: I hardly know where to begin on this but let's start with the $1 billion figure. Where did that come from? The last I heard, the federal government spent $2-3 million--a tiny fraction of a billion--on nutrition education for the public and that was for the now obsolete 5-A-Day campaign. When that campaign started in California, it worked pretty well to raise the number of fruits and vegetables purchased in that state, but only as long as the advertising continued.

The same was true of the campaign run by Center for Science in the Public Interest to encourage people to choose 1% or no-fat milk. So if you don't have ongoing funding for such campaigns, the benefits slack off after a while. This is no surprise. It's why food marketers spend $10 billion or so every year just to push junk foods and beverages on TV or the Internet (and about twice that much on other forms of marketing). My current favorite: the $24 million Kellogg spent in 2006 just for media promotion of one product: Cheez-Its.

I suppose some of the government’s hypothetical billion goes to the Department of Health and Human Services campaign using Shrek to encourage kids to be more active (but not to stop eating foods with Shrek on the packages). I’m just back from Australia where supermarkets were packed with Shrek-labeled junk foods. The side panel of one such cereal promoted the “goodness of vegetables.” The cereal O’s were bright green so I guess kids could pretend they were vegetables.

But I digress. According to the AP report, when researchers stop giving kids prizes for eating fruits and vegetables, the kids stop eating them. And when kids were given free fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the year, they stopped eating them by the end. Why am I not surprised? I’ve seen wildly successful school food interventions in action and it’s obvious what it takes to change kids’ food choices: adults who care.

Success requires a principal who thinks it’s important for kids to eat well, a school food service director who takes it personally if kids don’t eat the food, teachers who are convinced that kids learn better if they eat better, and parents who support the program by not having junk foods in the house. If any one of these elements is missing, the program is doomed from the start. When the elements are all there, you see kids eating adult food, asking for cooking classes, and complaining that the food in school is better than what they get at home.

The whole point of marketing to kids is to get them to believe that they are supposed to eat food made specially for them—kids' food in funny shapes and colors and boxes. The idea is to get kids to think that they know more about what they are supposed to eat than their parents do. No wonder parents have such a hard time with food issues.

If the government is serious about wanting to do something about childhood obesity, it ought to be putting some curbs on marketing to kids—on the Internet and cell phones as well as on TV—and funding decent school lunch programs that make it easier for kids to make healthy choices. One little intervention program will not do the trick without fixing the food environment so healthy choices become the default. As my Columbia University colleague Joan Gussow once famously stated, nutrition education—real nutrition education—has never been tried. If the government really does have a billion to spend on nutrition education, it ought to be using it to teach kids to critically evaluate food marketing and recognize when they are being sold something that isn’t good for them.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Net Neutrality

Laughing Liberally comic Lee Camp gives his take on Net Neutrality.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Obama's Name

Laughing Liberally comic Costaki Economopoulos figures out if he can vote for a President named Obama.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Suspicious Package

Laughing Liberally comic Costaki Economopoulos explains the latest on a suspicious package found at the John Edwards Head Quarters.


One thing Hurricane Katrina taught us is that a cabinet stocked with cronies is a recipe for disaster in a disaster. That’s why Eating Liberally encourages everyone to keep a well-stocked pantry. In case of calamity—manmade, natural, or a doubly catastrophic combination of the two (i.e., Katrina)--we’re saddled with an ungallant government that’s more likely to gallop off into the sunset at the first sign of trouble than race to the rescue. Just call them the First Absconders.

The Department of Homeland Security does, however, offer a website with advice about what to have on hand for an emergency. It’s chock full o’ half-helpful hints, such as “Choose foods your family will eat,” and “Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty,” followed by a shopping list of sodium-saturated stuff like canned foods and crackers.

You’ll do better to consult a couple of cookbooks that specialize in calamity cuisine: Apocalypse Chow! by Jon and Robin Robertson and The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times by Albert Bates. Both books offer plenty of practical tips on preparing for all kinds of emergencies, but they also have recipes that sound so appealing you might be tempted to try them out before the next power outage.

And if you find yourself cooped up ‘cause of a bird flu quarantine, wouldn’t it be comforting to break out a bag of pretzels and dunk them in Sterno-softened chocolate fondue? What if a dirty bomb renders your region radioactive and you can’t get take-out? Apocalypse Now tells you how to make “High-Road Lo Mein” using a couple of canned ingredients you can keep on hand (well, OK, and maybe some fresh ginger and a carrot if you’ve got ‘em.)

Both of these books tackle a serious subject with a dash of humor while providing tons of useful information about the best ways to weather these worst-case scenarios.

But maybe you have trouble imagining the kind of apocalyptic events that call for cookbooks like these. Is The End of the World As We Know It just a jaunty REM jingle to you? If so, we have another book to recommend—Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us. Weisman speculates on what would become of the world if mankind disappeared entirely. Apparently North America would become a haven for herbivores, one gigantic deer habitat--not to be confused with Deer Park, the Nestlé-owned behemoth of bottled water. “As forests would become re-established larger herbivores would evolve to take advantage of all the nutrients locked up in woody species,” according to Weisman.

The world-famous jungle of Manhattan would reportedly revert to a forest. And there wouldn’t be any humans to clear-cut it to make chopsticks and grow GMO crops for livestock. Sounds like the face of the earth would finally clear up, if we cleared off of it. But I’m not rooting for the Rapture, unless you mean the one Debbie Harry delivered on Blondie’s AutoAmerican a couple of decades back. Now there's a timeless soundtrack; it’s got “The Tide is High,” too! What an awesome mix Bush counselor Dan Bartlett could have made for W.'s iPod, as a companion to that groovy highlight dvd of Hurricane Katrina he put together five days after it struck, so the president could be almost as up to speed as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Anderson Cooper. Songs like Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” or Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927 ”. Something to drown out the sound of people drowning.


Lee Camp on Nature

Lee Camp at the Tank in NYC

Lee Camp on Food

Lee Camp at the Tank.


Blueberries are almost unbearably good for you—they’re one of the finest sources of antioxidants known to man (and beast.) That’s because anthocyanins, the phytochemicals that give blueberries their deep, beautiful purple-blue pigment, also do wonders for our bodies and brains, helping us fight heart disease, cancer, and aging, among other ills.

So most of us know that berries are one of the best—and tastiest—fruits we can eat. But nobody seems to realize that they’re also one of the easiest and most rewarding shrubs to grow. There’s even a dwarf variety called Tophat that’s so small you can grow it in a window box, and it’s self-pollinating, too, unlike most blueberries, which require a second variety for cross-pollination. We planted four different kinds, so they ripen a few at a time over the course of the summer, giving the birds—and sometimes us, if we’re lucky—a steady source of delicious berries.

Blueberries are a near-zero maintenance plant, and they’re ultra-ornamental; they give you something to look forward to three seasons out of four. In spring there are delicate little flowers that look like lilies of the valley, which turn into tasty berries in the summer, and then in fall the leaves go all autumnal.

Those weary rhododendrons and azaleas standing sentry in suburbia just make me sad--I say yank ‘em out and replace ‘em with blueberries. It’s a no-brainer, which people would realize if only they ate more brain cell-boosting blueberries.

Liberal Shot of Political Whiskey - Coca-Cola

Laughing Liberally Comic Lee Camp rants about Coca-Cola and Politics.


Here’s a brain teaser for ya: when is a law that President Bush has signed into law still not a law?

Answer: when lobbyists object to the enforcement of the law on the grounds that it will be too costly for their corporate clients to implement.

The Decider’s decided to take a backseat to K street lobbyists and allow our food safety policies to be driven by beefy bullies like The American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If W. were a real cowboy, instead of somebody who just plays one on TV, he would have cleaned up Dodge by now,” as Maureen Dowd noted Wednesday. But he can’t rope ‘n’ ride, much less catch Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

The awful truth is that the Leader of the Free World’s been lassoed by lobbyists and roped into doing their bidding at every turn. He’s a docile little dogie, but this gittin’ along is gittin’ kinda old.

As CNN anchor Kitty Pilgrim reported last Monday on Lou Dobbs Tonight:

Kitty Pilgim: The USDA said even though the law has been passed, it's not a final rule. It's still only a proposed rule…

Lou Dobbs: All right, help us all out here. Is this thing the law or isn't it?

Kitty Pilgrim: You know, I went through this about six times with the USDA. They said, it is a law, but it's still a proposed rule. And, so, until the USDA acts on it, it will not be a final rule.

Lou Dobbs: So, these incompetent, cowardly people--I am going to be generous; I am going to call them people -- at the USDA are not implementing a law signed by the president, passed by the Congress, and it's been five years?

Kitty Pilgrim: And they say they're still soliciting comments…

Lou Dobbs: OK. I have got a comment.

USDA, listen to me. Start protecting the American consumer. Do your jobs.
And, if it's the Bush administration, Mr. President, why don't you just get one thing right in your administration and start protecting consumers? Is that a fair comment?

But Lou was just getting warmed up about COOL on Monday. By Wednesday, his head nearly popped off:

Lou Dobbs: A Consumers Union poll in fact shows 92 percent of Americans want to know where their food comes from. Now, there's a law on the books that calls for country-of-origin labeling of meats and other foods. But implementation has been delayed because of pressure from special interest groups, food industry lobbyists, and others…and, as Kitty Pilgrim now reports, the lobbyists, well, they are still trumping the public interest…

Jay Truitt, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: We have asked for delays in this law from the very beginning. And the law that was passed as a part of the 2002 farm bill has some significant flaws with it.

Kitty Pilgrim: Now, with the House Agriculture Committee working on a new farm bill, some in the beef industry lobby are trying to change country-of-origin requirements by changing the definition of livestock eligible for a "Made in the USA" label. This would allow an animal born and raised in another country and brought to the United States to be slaughtered and be labeled as a product of the United States. And the lobbyists are also pushing Congress to rewrite rules for ground beef, which is sometimes mixed with meat from Canada, Mexico, or Australia, with just fat trimmings from U.S. cattle. Then there would no telling if the package contained meat from Mexico or Canada in so-called U.S. beef.

Some are calling attempts to water down country-of-origin regulations an insult to consumers.

Patty Lovera, Food & Water Watch: What we are afraid of is, instead of delaying it, the beef industry will try to weaken it and get themselves off the hook and not be totally covered.

Kitty Pilgrim: The beef industry says they are fighting country-of- origin rules because they cost too much. Now, the House Agriculture Committee is currently working on the new bill. And the worry is, amendments are being proposed that will basically weaken the country-of-origin labeling rules -- Lou.

Lou Dobbs: Will weaken the country-of-origin rules?

Kitty Pilgrim: They have been delayed twice, basically through appropriations, and now they think they will be diluted -- they will be put in place, but they won't be effective.

Lou Dobbs: So, once again, Congress is filled with gutless wonders rolling over for lobbyists on K Street, in this case, the beef industry fighting these country-of-origin labels.
Has anybody in this Congress got the guts to enforce this law?

Kitty Pilgrim: Well, let me tell you, this is in markup right now in the House, and the consumer groups are watching this like a hawk. When those amendments go in, there is going to be a public outcry...

Lou Dobbs: Well, let's get here tomorrow night, let's get those groups that are watching, Food & Water Watch, for example…the Consumers Union, all of them, and give them some credit, and show our audience where they can write, and try to get some -- and the idiot congressmen who would be blocking the enactment of this law. But let's also get the USDA. And who is the fellow from the Cattlemen's Association?

Kitty Pilgrim: Yes, Jay Truitt? He…

Lou Dobbs: Jay Truitt?...Well, Jay Truitt -- Jay Truitt, I want to talk to you, pardner. You're all bull and no beef. And we're going to call you on this. And we're going to go through every one of your objections. And if you don't start thinking just a little about the national interests, you are going to hear from us daily, nightly, hourly. I don't care what it takes, because I have had a bellyful of this. This is outrageous, a gutless administration on this issue, a gutless Congress, and lobbyists rolling over the will of the people.

Kitty Pilgrim: The public will is very clear on this. They want country-of-origin labels.

Lou Dobbs: It's a law, for crying out loud...millions of Americans that have just had it with this nonsense. This is no longer funny. And they are putting the public health at risk…let's see if we can get the existing law enforced and roll back the influence of lobbyists in Washington.

Yeah, let’s see! Food safety advocates and consumers have been huffing and puffing about this issue for years without getting anywhere, but with a prime time populist like Dobbs hyperventilating, maybe we’ll start to feel the winds of change. Tune in to CNN tonight at 6 for more fireworks. And if you think it’s unfashionable to be a Lou Dobbs Democrat, just call yourself a Kitty Pilgrim Progressive.

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