When Big Soda Started Stalking Me
I love nutrition science. On my first teaching job, I was assigned to teach a nutrition course, and it was like falling in love. To this day, I love the intellectual challenge of figuring out what we eat, why we eat what we do, and how diets affect our health. I love the complexity of food issues and the passion people bring to every one of them. But I do not love the way the food industry has added an unnecessary complication: engaging nutrition professionals in marketing objectives, sometimes against the interests of public health.
My new book, Unsavory Truth, is about how food, beverage, and supplement companies (collectively, food companies) fund nutrition researchers and practitioners and their professional associations, with the ultimate goal of promoting sales. This book appears at a time when scandals created by such funding make front-page news. Let me plunge right in with an unexpected — and highly surreal — example of why this topic should matter to all of us.
You may recall that during the especially contentious U.S. presidential race of 2016, hackers linked to the Russian government stole a trove of electronic messages from Democratic Party officials and posted them on the WikiLeaks website. They also stole emails from people working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and posted them on a new website, DCLeaks. International intrigue like this ought to seem light-years removed from food-industry funding of nutrition professionals, except for one truly bizarre coincidence: The cache on DCLeaks included messages exchanged between Capricia Marshall, an adviser to the Clinton campaign, and Michael Goltzman, a vice president at the Coca-Cola Company. While working with Clinton, Marshall was also consulting for Coca-Cola and billing the company $7,000 a month for her services.
The Coca-Cola emails may have been collateral damage from Russian interference in the U.S. election, but for my research, they were a gift — not least because I turn up in them. The hacked emails included a January 2016 message from the director of an Australian agency doing public relations for Coca-Cola with notes taken at a lecture I had just presented to the Sydney chapter of the Nutrition Society of…