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Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and…
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Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)

by Dr. Marion Nestle

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I became a fan of Marion Nestle from her appearances on nutrition-focused television, radio, and film documentaries. She has a strong voice in the field and has written on many topics related to the intersection of food and politics.

This book takes on big soda, which is a huge industry that reaches almost every corner of the earth. Soda companies do not just sell sugar-sweetened beverages. They sell an image and a lifestyle. A lot of their tactics sound eerily similar to another big industry: tobacco.

The soda industry tries to throw doubt on the negative health implications of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages by paying doctors to conduct questionable studies. In order to hook people young, they target marketing to children. In order to continue to grow their reach, they also target to minorities and the poor. They like to frame their debates around individual choice while using tactics that limit public access to research and information that would be in the public’s health interests. They also provide funding to some great causes and organizations with the goal of making people feel good about the very companies that are harming the public good.

Just like big tobacco, the soda industry thrives on confusing the public and throwing doubt on hard science. Basing their tactics and strategies on the tobacco playbook that was used to harm the public for decades, big soda works hard to keep people drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. Nestle outlines all of the ways that big soda lies, conceals, creates subterfuge and confusion, and spends billions of dollars to prevent taxing the beverages. She also point by point shows the reader what they can do to advocate for change to benefit public health.
  Carlie | Jan 31, 2017 |
It's an old story. A product, like tobacco, is on the market and causes harm. Corporate entities, those that make these harmful products, deny, fight, threaten, buy-off, pay-off, have research that shows their products are safe, though they are sponsored by scientists who are beholden to them. When these entities find themselves losing a share of the market these products are then sold to less developed countries and the poor. Now, we have a serious health risk, nationally and globally and the stakes are high. This is what is happening with the soda industry and Marion Nestle in Soda Politics, step-by step, clearly and concisely shows how the soda industry has become a public health concern and the tactics it has used to fight back against its critics. In this big, weighty book Marion Nestle unsparingly lays it all out and I was especially absorbed by the many ways that the soda industry has been challenged by health advocates and how they have gained traction in the public sphere.

One major disagreement I have of the strategies used by health advocates, however, is the strategy of denying SNAP clients the right to buy soda (or tobacco or anything else that is not forbidden to the general public). It reeks of paternalism, classism and belittles poor people. The poor in general are scapegoated for conditions they are not able to control, especially food desserts and lack of quality, convenient food. Strategies should be inclusive and not pit one group of people against the other especially when one group, poor people, have less power. It is not right.

Nevertheless I enjoyed reading this eye-opening book and I especially loved the seeing the subtitle "Taking on Big Soda and Winning."

Thank you to Netgalley and Oxford University Press for allowing me to review Soda Politics for an honest opinion. ( )
  Karen59 | Dec 21, 2015 |
The other cola wars

From the woman who told The New Yorker: “The best thing Pepsi could do for worldwide obesity would be to go out of business.” comes the ultimate, complete explanation of why sodas and the firms behind them are bad, who is doing what about it, and how you can help move it all along. Marion Nestle has long been the rational, thorough and fair rapporteur of food crime. Soda Politics is a standalone compendium of her personal knowledge and direct and indirect experience in the battle to corral it.

As with tobacco, soda makers know to start ‘em young. Kids meals come with sodas by default. A child’s portion is 12 ounces –their new normal. Big Soda has been paying schools a pittance for “exclusive pouring rights”, plastering the campuses of even elementary schools with dispensing machines, posters and signs – not just for their drinks, but for their even more unhealthy snack foods. It’s the kids’ normal environment. For this, the school gets $2 per child. $4 for highschoolers. Nestle calls this an unprecedented attack on schools. Interestingly, kids who aren’t allowed sodas at school don’t then go home and guzzle them to make up the deficit. They can live without, and if we could simply substitute the default drink, everything would improve.

Despite the “voluminous, consistent and compelling research”, Big Soda maintains there is no direct link to all the new obesity and diabetes we see here, and in every nation they invade. In the USA, the amount of sugar they sell works out to 13 teaspoons for every man woman and child – per day. But then, some theaters sell a 44 ounce “medium”.

The soda companies recognize that health advocacy has become the single biggest threat to profits. And that the Big Tobacco playbook is not enough. So while they still claim soda is beneficial and limiting it will have no effect on obesity, they are also busy weaving themselves into the landscape, donating money to all kinds of nonprofits, paying off scientists and politicians, and ensuring that pretty much anyone who might bring harm to their bottom line has been the recipient of their largesse at some point. For example, Nestle says the president of the 16th World Congress of Food Science and Technology cancelled a debate on the causes of childhood obesity explicitly because it might drive away food company sponsors. It’s that overt. It’s that saturated.

Big Soda also enjoys some success from all the pop-up (fake) grassroots groups they set up wherever anyone tries to rein them in. Soda is, they claim “capitalism in a bottle” and no blow is too low to shame it. So they pay locals to march in protest over proposed sales taxes, or portion caps. They create websites and petitions allegedly from locals who would grieve over such horrors.

I particularly appreciate Nestle’s “translation” of corporatespeak in the many lists of goals, activities, and principles the companies espouse publicly, seemingly daily. She dismisses “Corporate Social Responsibility” as a self evident conflict. If our aims were aligned, it would be automatic. That it is such big deal shows the inherent conflict between their goals and society’s needs.

In some ways, Soda Politics reminds me of the Opium Wars, in which the huge multinationals of the day forced the Chinese to buy and consume Indian opium. They got the British government to fund whole wars to make them take it. Today, Big Soda spends millions fighting any hint of a sales tax, bottle deposit, cap on serving sizes, advertising to children, the default drink with a fast food meal or any effort to impose healthy logic. Their strategy has been to get everyone to consume more every day (“share of stomach”), and nothing and no one can be allowed to stand in their way.

The good news is that people recognize the nonsense. Soda is in a long term decline in the USA. More and more groups, towns and states are leaning towards regulation and taxation. Soda Politics collects the successes and the failures to help anyone wanting to carry the torch in their own community. It’s all presented sensibly, rationally and usefully in this one valuable volume.

David Wineberg ( )
1 vote DavidWineberg | Jun 2, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0190263431, Hardcover)

Sodas are astonishing products. Little more than flavored sugar-water, these drinks cost practically nothing to produce or buy, yet have turned their makers--principally Coca-Cola and PepsiCo--into a multibillion-dollar industry with global recognition, distribution, and political power. Billed as "refreshing," "tasty," "crisp," and "the real thing," sodas also happen to be so well established to contribute to poor dental hygiene, higher calorie intake, obesity, and type-2 diabetes that the first line of defense against any of these conditions is to simply stop drinking them. Habitually drinking large volumes of soda not only harms individual health, but also burdens societies with runaway healthcare costs.

So how did products containing absurdly inexpensive ingredients become multibillion dollar industries and international brand icons, while also having a devastating impact on public health?

In Soda Politics, Dr. Marion Nestle answers this question by detailing all of the ways that the soft drink industry works overtime to make drinking soda as common and accepted as drinking water, for adults and children. Dr. Nestle, a renowned food and nutrition policy expert and public health advocate, shows how sodas are principally miracles of advertising; Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spend billions of dollars each year to promote their sale to children, minorities, and low-income populations, in developing as well as industrialized nations. And once they have stimulated that demand, they leave no stone unturned to protect profits. That includes lobbying to prevent any measures that would discourage soda sales, strategically donating money to health organizations and researchers who can make the science about sodas appear confusing, and engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to create goodwill and silence critics. Soda Politics follows the money trail wherever it leads, revealing how hard Big Soda works to sell as much of their products as possible to an increasingly obese world.

But Soda Politics does more than just diagnose a problem--it encourages readers to help find solutions. From Berkeley to Mexico City and beyond, advocates are successfully countering the relentless marketing, promotion, and political protection of sugary drinks. And their actions are having an impact - for all of the hardball and softball tactics the soft drink industry employs to maintain the status quo, soda consumption has been flat or falling for years. Health advocacy campaigns are now the single greatest threat to soda companies' profits. Soda Politics provides readers with the tools they need to keep up pressure on Big Soda in order to build healthier and more sustainable food systems.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:45:53 -0400)

How did products containing absurdly inexpensive ingredients become multibillion dollar industries and international brand icons, while also having a devastating impact on public health? In Soda Politics, Dr. Marion Nestle answers this question by detailing all of the ways that the soft drink industry works overtime to make drinking soda as common and accepted as drinking water, for adults and children. Dr. Nestle shows how sodas are principally miracles of advertising; Coca-Cola and PepsiCo spend billions of dollars each year to promote their sale to children, minorities, and low-income populations, in developing as well as industrialized nations. And once they have stimulated that demand, they leave no stone unturned to protect profits. That includes lobbying to prevent any measures that would discourage soda sales, strategically donating money to health organizations and researchers who can make the science about sodas appear confusing, and engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities to create goodwill and silence critics. Soda Politics follows the money trail wherever it leads, revealing how hard Big Soda works to sell as much of their products as possible to an increasingly obese world.--From publisher description.… (more)

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