Marion Nestle Q & A

Marion Nestle is a Professor in NYU’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health and author of What to Eat, Food Politics and more. Marion was kind enough to share her insights on food waste and American’s eating habits in this e-mail courtesy of

WF: Not knowing when things go bad and what to do with past-its-prime food often leads to waste. To what extent, if at all, do you think Americans have lost their food knowhow?
MN: Did we ever have it? I am not aware of any research on this point.

We’re a nation that demands homogenous, perfect produce. Who’s most to blame for this—Growers? Wholesalers? Retailers? Consumers? Aryans?
Aliens? My impression is that it’s just something that happens. Retailers can’t sell produce that looks bad.

Do you think more restaurants might follow T.G.I. Friday’s lead and start to serve smaller portions for less money? Why/why not?
If people don’t buy smaller portions, companies won’t serve them.

Do you see the USDA reinstating its Coordinator of Food Recovery and Gleaning that existed under Secretary of Ag Dan Glickman and the Clinton administration? If so, would you support my underdog candidacy?
I didn’t know it had one then but I can’t imagine the USDA would see this as a high priority. I most definitely would.

I’ve found that a perceived abundance of food leads to waste. How much, if any, will today’s global food shortages and rising food prices affect how Americans value their food?
We already see signs that package sizes are decreasing, people are eating out less, and restaurants are getting stingier. That might help.

Did your parents use the ‘Clean your plate, there’s children starving…’ command? What’s your take on that tactic?
Yes, but it always seemed irrelevant. Lots of research now shows that people eat more when more food is on their plates and the bigger the portion, the more eaten.

So your advice to parents would be to serve smaller portions and avoid the ‘Clean Your Plate’ command?

Any advice from your own kitchen on how to avoid food waste?
Buy small amounts more frequently.

You’ve told us ‘what to eat’ and you’re always getting asked what you eat, so I have to ask: What do you not eat? What ends up getting wasted in your home?
I follow my own advice in letter and spirit: eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food. I don’t worry so much about waste because I grow vegetables on my terrace and have a great compost bin. Anything wasted gets recycled.

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