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The Green Life: Slow Food Nation Thinkers

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August 29, 2008

Slow Food Nation Thinkers

Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat and a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at NYU, lives in what she calls Junk Food City. More commonly known as Manhattan, the city has some competition for the title, but Nestle today used her experiences in the Big Apple to illustrate for attendees of a Slow Food Nation forum how she sees nutrition and public health connecting with waste and the environment.

In January, New York City passed legislation requiring all restaurants in the Big Apple to post calories on their menus. With full enforcement in effect since last month, Nestle knows that a blueberry-pomegranate smoothie sold on her street contains more than 1,100 calories, and a personal-sized pizza has more than 2,100 calories. Eat both, she said, and you've had more calories in one sitting than most people need in an entire day (Michael Phelps excluded).

Here's where the environment comes in: Nestle noticed (and the Economist recently reported) that when the calorie count became readily available, "it immediately stopped [many] restaurants from serving such large portions." That meant fewer calories per plate, she said, and less food going to waste.

Fellow panelist Andrew Kimbrell, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, said he would like to see more than nutrition labeling. "Food is the most intimate relationship we have with the environment," he said, citing labels for genetically-engineered or irradiated ingredients (approved by the FDA last week for lettuce and spinach) as information that would help consumers make more educated decisions about food. Meanwhile, forum moderator and Rodale Institute executive director Timothy LaSalle, said organic labels already signal foods produced with fewer negative effects on the climate: "Eating organic and regenerating our soil matters more than anything."

"Agriculture is at a bit of a cross roads in the face of global warming," said panelist A.G. Kawamura, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "This is the vehicle that got us to today, but will it take us into the next century? Absolutely not."

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