Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food PoliticsPosted: March 30, 2023 Filed under: Audiobooks, Books Leave a comment
Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics
read by Maria Marquis
Audible Studios (October 04, 2022), 7 hours and 35 minutes
print edition published by University of California Press
$17.35 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with an Audible credit
I am baffled. How is it that a foodie like me had never heard of Marion Nestle, one of the foremost advocates for healthy eating and a top whistleblower against the negative effects that corporations have in what ends up on our grocery store shelves? It was only when I came across a mention of this book that I first became aware of Nestle and her work. (Nestle pronounces her name like the verb “nestle” and makes clear she is in no way affiliated with the Swiss food manufacturer that places an accent on the final “e.”)
Nestle recounts her childhood as the daughter of two Communists. Although this was the time of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, they stayed under the radar as they were rank-and-file members and not leaders. Nestle’s father was a promoter of left-wing entertainment acts, but he was not long part of her life, as he and her mother divorced when she was young. She had a difficult time growing up as the daughter of a single parent but was eventually able to get away to college. She married young and abandoned her education to be a housewife and mother. That marriage (where she got the last name that she still uses) ended, and while a single mother herself she was nonetheless able to return to school and get a doctorate in molecular biology.
Her second marriage eventually took her to the University of California, San Francisco. Her husband accepted a job there on the condition that the university also find Marion a job as well. What she learned the hard way was that faculty spouse jobs were not taken seriously and that the departure of the hiring dean meant she was expected to resign her position.
That second marriage ended as well and she ended up in Washington, DC doing a report on nutrition for the government. There she also learned the hard way about politics and bureaucracy, and that corporations and lobbyists had undue influence on what the government published about nutrition. This was in the Reagan era of the eighties so the corporate world had a lot to say about government policy.
After a year in Washington, Nestle got a position running the flagging nutrition and home economics department at New York University. She had her work cut out for her, given a faculty set in its ways and a shoestring budget. But part of her taking the position involved her having tenure from the start, so she dove in and turned the program around. By the time she retired she was running a highly respected nutrition and food studies program.
Nestle also writes about her experience in book publishing. She has written both academic and trade books and is candid in discussing which books sold well and which ones were not successful. But her goal was always to advocate for healthy nutrition and call out corporations for prioritizing profit over the health of the American consumer.
Marion Nestle has had an amazing career, and although she is technically retired from New York University, she still makes public appearances, teaches, and writes a blog every weekday. You can find her blog at https://www.foodpolitics.com/.
I found Slow Cooked both fascinating and enlightening. Maria Marquis’s narration is nuanced and highly listenable. If you have any interest in food, food politics, or nutrition take the time to read (or listen to) this book.