what to eat by marion nestle

book review: what to eat

If the last food/nutrition/heatlh/wellness book I read hit me like a wet blanket, this was the antidote to it. Marion Nestle’s What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating is a thoughtful guide to health claims on packaging, certifications, and what’s behind each major category of food item in American supermarkets. From much discussion of what it means to be “organic” to why all infant formula must be virtually the same, to the fact that “vegetable” oil is most likely “soybean” oil whenever we see it on shelf, I learned something new in each chapter, if not more frequently…and I’m someone that gravitates to toward these topics.

Nestle notes from the outset that navigating food choices is a veritable minefield, and even she found the exercise of reading labels and trying to sort out claims and calories and ingredients to be basically impossible to do in a straightforward way. If she can’t figure it out, we’re all doomed, but What to Eat is her best attempt and one that I found helpful.

What to Eat isn’t exhaustive, but it’s the survey course that ties together what’s happening across aisles, companies, and government agencies. As in Skinny Bitch, What to Eat includes quick histories of why certain claims are or aren’t noted — obviously mentions Congress, the USDA and/or FDA, and others — on foods, and what the fine print really means in some cases. However, Nestle runs laps around the Skinny Bitch authors with her analyses; I would not say there’s a lot of thinking so much as opining that comes through in Skinny Bitch, correct as its authors might be on certain points.

For those if you that follow Marion Nestle and her blog, Foodpolitics.com, or even if you don’t read her but knew at the start of this post that she’s one of the world’s leading RDs/nutritionists (and Critic #1, if not #2 if Michael Jacobson of CSPI is #1 of the Big CPG/processed food and Big Ag industries), this book is a wonderfully educational read — and surprisingly not dry. I think one of the reasons I didn’t go down the RD route was because of the looming threat of years spent reading horribly mind-numbing academic papers (same general reason I probably didn’t end up at law school but that’s a post for another day) and dealing with medical environments (I get queasy super easily), so books like this help to satisfy that interest.

The verdict: read Marion Nestle’s What to Eat and be smarter and more in control of what you put into your body because of it. This book isn’t about proselytizing a way of life; I appreciated that Nestle isn’t totally monastic and mentioned the pleasure she derives from a candy bar now and again (amusingly, while talking about the fact that in many cases we’re better off going for a Snickers instead of many “energy bars” on the market parading as health foods).


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