FoodPolitik: Free Speech, digested

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision was a post-election punching bag. Pundits railed against political spending by corporations, conveniently overlooking the fact that labor unions were top spenders. Now the First Amendment is again under assault —this time from a food-policy academic who wants to cram a left-wing, anti-business philosophy into every grocery bag.

Nutrition professor Marion Nestle’s particular ivory tower is at New York University, where she dishes out anti-food-industry fanaticism. If it tastes good, she’ll find something wrong with it. If it’s also profitable to sell, she’ll go berserk.

We live in a food culture full of labels. Much of what we eat carries a claim that it’s vitamin-fortified, high-fiber, low-fat, organic, trans-fat-free, heart-healthy, low-sodium, or free of added sugar. These are all marketing gimmicks to a certain extent (especially “organic”), but the government tends to permit them as a form of commercial speech, as long as they’re truthful.

Not Nestle. She thinks the First Amendment ought to be gutted, to make way for restricting food companies she doesn’t like from touting their products’ virtues. Apparently, cereal can no longer be considered part of a balanced breakfast.

In a recent letter in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), she and co-author David Ludwig write:

The founding fathers clearly intended the First Amendment to guarantee the right of individuals to speak freely about religious and political matters, not the right of food companies to market junk foods to children and adults … We hope that legal scholars will examine current food marketing practices in the light of the First Amendment and establish a firm legal basis for bringing this issue back to court.

This isn’t really about stopping “junk food” marketing. Not even “for the children.”

For five years, Nestle sat on the Board of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you may know it by its more common name: the “food police.”

CSPI’s grouchy leader has called for higher taxes on practically everything that tastes good, including butter, milk, cheese, chips, and meat; his group advocates government-mandated limits on salt and federal taxes on soft drinks. CSPI wants the FDA, the IRS, and the rest of our governmental alphabet soup to raid your pantry.

What’s Nestle’s take on CSPI? “I’m a big supporter of what they do. By and large, they’re the major game in town.” Speaking to the New York Times, she said: “I like it better when [CSPI’s leader] takes on the big corporations like McDonald’s.”

Wingnut attacks on corporations are a specialty for Nestle. She has spoken at events sponsored by the American Public Health Association’s Socialist Caucus. (Yes, there is such a thing.) She also presented at the 2003 Socialist Scholars Conference.

  • mapletree

    Welcome to the age of “government fundementalism” where the government knows best how to manage every part of your life, your healthcare, and now even the food you put in your mouth. Today Michelle Obama’s said “we can’t just leave to parents” regarding children’s lunch choices. I’m sure all of these decisions made by bureaucrats will be done for our good and the “common good.” I’ve recently noticed that on my grocery bill it already shows the items that are acceptable purchases under a certain government assistance program. Perhaps in the future foods that are “unacceptable” to the government will be taxed to pay for healthcare “for the children” or some such noble cause.

  • truebearing

    The left hates Christianity and mocks the Fundamentalists, but when it comes to politics, governing, or eating, they are every bit as rigid and fundamentalist as any Muslim jihadist. They are atheistic, collectivist, Puritans, constantly condemning anything that doesn’t emanate from the Deities of Dogma, and it is all just another leverage point for more power.

    This idiot, Nestle, is typical of the self righteous dogmatism and messianic delusions that are typical in leftists. They know everything, they have all of the answers, and everyone else is simply too mind numbingly stupid to decide what they should eat or think.

    How does that jingle go?…..N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle makes the very best buullllshit!

  • samac

    She is exactly as I would expect a government worker trying to dictate my diet to look like.

  • kbull

    Yum, I think Ill have some High fructose corn suryp.

  • chuck in st paul


    A truly world class oxymoron in a single word.

  • cl696

    Consumers and the market place keep fraud in check…just like voters keep fraud in check for politics…that’s how it works

    …get your government off my freedom

    • chuck in st paul

      I certainly agree. I don’t mind that there is an agency that will verify food claims, but I know how they tend to shift from blind justice to advocacy. It usually happens once the danger that cause their creation has basically passed. They then start looking for justification for their existence. So… they create it. EPA. NTHSA. FDA. QED.

  • riseabove

    Wow. What ever happened to public awareness campaigns as a way of educating people without invading their privacy and intefering with their right of choice? These wingnuts and their followers go too far, all because they need to find ways to reduce the costs of providing universal healthcare. It won’t stop. It’ll never stop. They will never, ever stop. It’ll keep getting more extreme and more ridiculous. If they get their way, someday our hospital visits will include tests to determine our bodily salt and sugar intakes so that they can decide which treatments to administer. If we were naughty and had a couple of donuts, we’ll be penalized somehow.

    This is dominance and abuse to its core. It screams dictatorship. It’ll lead to total control over every aspect of our lives. We will be bribed and manipulated in ways we cannot even imagine.

    There’s fraud and misrespresentation everywhere. We’ve established a judicial system to rectify criminal and civil situations. There’s this little thing called “due diligence” where people can study up on products and services before making purchaes or entering into contractual agreements. It isn’t now, nor has it ever been the government’s responsibility to protect people from themselves.

    Consider this a warning. We will not go down easy. Socialists, please relocate to a better suited environment. Get out of our wallets, our houses, our heads, our bodies and our lives!

    • pastiche

      Well written. I agree.

    • GeniousIQ

      Give me a break.

      • truebearing

        “Give me a break”? That was basically admitting you couldn’t rebut riseabove’s comment. Try saying nothing next time, you’ll appear far smarter, or at least less dull.

    • truebearing

      Great post, Tammy!

      I guess the Borg have to control everything or the collective won’t be mindless enough. The truth is that they see every aspect of life as a fulcrum to leverage power. They see everything as a way to get people under their evil control, and you are absolutely right about their robotic relentlessness. The left is peopled with atheistic Puritans, delusional, imbalanced, and maniacally self righteous.

      • hampton

        Try saying nothing next time, you’ll appear far smarter, or at least less paranoid and delusional.

        • truebearing

          That you, hamster? You do love chewing shoe leather, don’t you. Why don’t you run along and find some other rodents to play with.

  • ZevForFreedom

    Another reason that I do not give money to my Alma Mater. The Constitution does not give individual rights. The First Amendment does not say: “Citizens have a right to free speech…” it says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Again, that is “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEAK”. It limits the government not the people. People individually, and grouped together as political or commercial enterprises do not forfeit their rights. However, fraud and deception are clearly illegal by all legal standards, and liability for a poor product or a product that causes harm generally is remedied in the marketplace or in the courts. Having the government start micromanaging commercial messages will lead to micromanaging political messages (as the Federal Election Commission has found and lost at the Supreme Courts) and ultimately drive us towards all of us having to get permission from the government to post opinions on sites this this one.

    • GeniousIQ

      Free speech doesn’t protect you when you’re lying about a product you’re selling. That’s called fraud.

      • ZevForFreedom

        Read my message: “However, fraud and deception are clearly illegal by all legal standards, and liability for a poor product or a product that causes harm generally is remedied in the marketplace or in the courts.”

      • bigalsouth

        That is the point, isn’t it? When does “puffing” or “marketing” become fraudulent misrepresentations?

        Sure, it is a gray area, exactly why the government needs to stay out.

        • GeniousIQ

          So who then is going to enforce false advertisement? This is exactly where we do need government. I’m all for limited government, but NO government is just stupid.

  • GeniousIQ

    Wow… talk about manufactured outrage. What is wrong with expecting food companies to be honest what they’re selling? Do we let car companies claim 50 mpg for a car that gets 15 mpg? There’s nothing wrong with asking companies to be honest so that consumers can make informed decisions.

    • didacticrogue

      … so it’s somehow inappropriate (and should be made illegal!) for companies to point out that the foods they sell are “vitamin-fortified, high-fiber, low-fat, organic, trans-fat-free, heart-healthy, low-sodium, or free of added sugar?”

      Please explain to us why these “marketing gimmicks,” if true (as they are required to be under current regulations), should be made illegal. Because this one socialist is on a witch hunt to bring down the evil corporations whose food exemplifies these attributes? I don’t think so.

      • GeniousIQ

        If the claims are true, there’s no issue. The problem is that these food companies are making claims that are simply not true. Go read about this topic somewhere other than this article, because this article is intentionally screwing the facts to make an inflammatory headline.

        • Satchmo

          Intentionally screwing the facts? So this woman doesn’t want to limit First Amendment freedoms?

        • didacticrogue

          “Go read about this topic somewhere other than this article …”

          Done. Perused her website (as well as another where she is featured, cutesily named “eating liberally”) and read the full JAMA article referenced in this one … not the most fun I’ve had today. Nestle seems to have the same answer for every question:
              • ‘vitamin-fortified?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘high fiber?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘low-fat?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘organic?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘trans-fat-free?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘heart-healthy?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘low-sodium?’ “yes, but …”
          • ‘no added sugar?’ “yes, but …”

          Her problem doesn’t seem to be that these are lies, but that they do not portray the entirety (warts and all) of the foods’ nutritional makeup.

          Nestle seems to think that marketers of products should (be forced to) word their claims like “vitamin-fortified, but also contains refined sugar, which can make you fat” or “no added sugar, but too much naturally-occurring sugar, which can make you fat” or “trans-fat-free, but plenty of fat (which can make you fat).”

          Those of those who have brains tend to use them – and decide for ourselves what we put in our mouths. Dr. Nestle proudly advocates for the reminder of humanity.

          • hampton

            “Those of those who have brains tend to use them – and decide for ourselves what we put in our mouths.”

            True enough. Well, good for you, God blessed you with brains. But there are plenty of people who do not share your level of intelligence or discernment and may need more help than you do. What do you say to them? Fuck you?

            The yes-but about “trans-fat free” for example is that the food can still include trans-fats and is still allowed to carry that label. “No sugar added” means that all other sweeteners, in megadoses, may still be contained? Do you blame less-educated, less-discerning people for being fooled? Do you SEE how many morbidly obese people are in our population now? If you have lived on the earth a significant amount of time, you know there has been a huge increase in the number of people — including children — who are morbidly obese. Anyone with an ounce of sense knows this is because we are eating more packaged, processed food, and that although labels don’t necessarily lie, they do push the truth. Sugar-coated mini-wheats make you more likely to pay attention in school, they said, until they were made to stop. I’m for anything that makes labeling on food extremely clear — warts and all. Then consumers can make a choice based on real information, not marketing.

          • truebearing


            I can see why you were disturbed by the notion that people with brains can decide for themselves. My condolences.

            Has it occurred to you that the government is not infallible and frequently gets things wrong? Why do I want a bunch of gold bricking bureacrats with a lemming mentality, and a detectable goose to their step, telling me what I can eat when they have been wrong at least as much as they’ve been right? Remember how they scared people away from eggs? Now eggs are considered wonderful for your health, and that is only one of many mistakes they’ve made. Wake up and stop being such an intellectual milk sop.

          • didacticrogue

            What do you say to them? Fuck you?

            I rarely say that to anyone, actually. To them I say “caveat emptor.

            If something is chock full of trans-fats while claiming to be “trans-fat-free,” that’s a problem. Please edify us: exactly which products are those?

            On the other hand, if somebody buys a particular brand of orange juice because it says “no added sugar” and believes that to mean that it is either low in sugar or calories, they undoubtedly have far more difficulty with the concept of life and its living than will ever be addressed by statutory food labeling.

            If people don’t know that frosted mini-wheats are going to spike your blood sugar and help keep you regular … well, they probably voted for the current administration.

            I do not believe it is the job of any government to tell me (or anyone else) what I (or they) may and may not eat. Give people information that lets them make informed decisions … whether or not they choose to “eat liberally” (or “progressively”) is up to them.

          • hampton

            truebearing: Since when is labeling telling people what to eat? You do know you can get drugs to quiet those voices you hear in your head, don’t you?

            didact: Well, so sorry that the entire population of the United States isn’t as brilliant (and pompous) as you are. Perhaps you have a job writing obfuscatory directions, policies, and labels and you’d like to keep your job safe? Products labeled trans-fat free are allowed, by regs, to have trans-fats in them. So I guess you approve of lying, and pity the poor fool who thinks the label actually means what it says.

          • truebearing


            Why is didacticrogue pompous?

            It looks to me like yet another incidence of your rodent sized brain being inadequate to debate intelligent human adults. Instead of having the humility, and common sense, to stop expecting to win these debates with your limited arsenal, you get all steamed up and feel sorry for yourself.

            Instead of reading the comments of others for their merit, you are repeatedly reacting with a predictably dogmatic knee jerk. You can’t fully use your intellect if it is clouded with rigid ideology, as you have so generously demonstrated.

          • didacticrogue

            Products labeled trans-fat free are allowed, by regs, to have trans-fats in them. So I guess you approve of lying …

            Perhaps you missed my previous question while preparing your screed of personal aspersions. If not, pardon me for repeating myself, but … “Please edify us: exactly which products are those?” I ask because if it is, as you assert, commonplace for companies to label their trans-fat-ridden products as “trans-fat-free,” I have a problem with that, and believe that it should be addressed.

            This appears to be a subject for which you hold great passion. As I do not (and have little interest in revisiting Dr. Nestle’s writings in a second attempt to wring out the details of her charges), I think it’s reasonable to rely on an apologist such as yourself to provide some concrete examples for consideration. I’m not looking for an exhaustive list; a couple of the most egregious examples will do just fine. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.