“Eating well is not all that difficult to do,” says Marion Nestle … on the 518th page of a 611-page guide to eating well. Professional food scold Nestle’s new book, What to Eat, hit stores this week, and it’s nothing but 2.1 pounds of contradiction. Food choices “are not all that complicated — you do just need to eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and go easy on the junk food.” And yet, Nestle’s excruciating level of detail over forty chapters (and two appendices) implies she doesn’t think that food choices are so simple after all.
Speaking of choice, Nestle’s not exactly a huge fan. She complains that “there are far too many choices; about 320,000 food and beverage products are available in the United States, and an average supermarket carries 30,000 to 40,000 of them.” Sounds good to us, but then again, we’re biased in favor of consumer freedom. In the same pages, however, Nestle writes about the power of choice: “You cast your vote for your choice of food environment every time you put something in your shopping cart or order off a menu. If enough people vote with you, changes will happen.”
Exactly. The core contradiction of her book is that Nestle spends many, many pages assaulting the businesses that are the very engine of the changes she praises. It’s those businesses which make food available at affordable prices (as consumers have demanded), and it’s those low prices which make choices viable. Nestle has lamented that “food is too cheap in this country,” which could very well be true if you’re a tenured professor at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.
What’s most amusing about the book, however, is that it gets you to shell out thirty dollars to read that you are not personally responsible for your purchasing decisions. Apparently the section entitled “Beyond Personal Responsibility” applies only to the helpless food consumer, as opposed to the perfect wisdom of someone willing to pay thirty dollars to hear something (eat less, move more) that anyone could have told you for free.