The latest issue of The Nation features an excellent article by Bridget Huber which details Brazil’s food revolution; specifically, how the country challenged the junk food industry and became a global public health leader.
Highlights (it’s a longread, so these are just a few of many important details):
- “Dr. Carlos Monteiro (professor of nutrition at the University of Sao Paulo’s School of Public Health) is part of a cadre of leaders who are turning Latin America into a sort of food-policy laboratory. Some of the reforms they’ve enacted have also been proposed in the United States, but have been thwarted by the food industry and its political allies.”
- “Latin America’s food industry isn’t backing down. In recent years, in fact, it has been increasingly organized, fighting regulations in an ever more coordinated way. Trade groups from several countries have banded together as the Latin American Food and Beverage Alliance, and have been joined by the powerful US-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has fought efforts to ban soda sales at schools and restrict food advertising that targets children. The alliance opposes taxes and marketing restrictions that authorities like the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) recommend, instead advocating voluntary measures that health experts say are often inadequate and impossible to enforce.”
- “On a hot afternoon in the industrial city of Guarulhos, Maria de Lourdes Coelho huffs a little as she pushes her cart up a steep grade. Coelho is a door-to-door saleswoman for Nestlé, one of about 6,000 nationwide. Nestlé began deploying these sellers 10 years ago as a way to get its products—things like yogurt, candy bars, and instant noodles—into the hands of lower-income consumers. At the top of the hill, Coelho’s customers, a young couple with a toddler, are waiting. They ordered two variety packs of sweetened yogurts and puddings; the man says his daughter asks for the yogurt by name.”
- “Customers don’t have to pay right when they get the product; the retail model caters to poorer customers by giving them two weeks to pay. (Unfortunately for Coelho, it’s the sellers who eat the loss if customers default.) The model is particularly popular on the urban periphery, where there are few supermarkets. Nestlé entices customers with gifts like cell-phone minutes and Frozen-themed backpacks.”
- “Monteiro came to believe that nutritionists’ traditional focus on food groups and nutrients like fat, sugar, and protein had become obsolete. The more meaningful distinction, he started to argue, is in how the food is made. Monteiro is most concerned with the “ultraprocessed products”—those that are manufactured largely from industrial ingredients and typically replace foods that are eaten fresh or cooked. Even by traditional nutritionists’ criteria, these sorts of products are considered unhealthy—they tend to be high in fat, sugar, and salt. But Monteiro argues that ultraprocessed foods have other things in common: They encourage overeating, both because they are engineered by food scientists to induce cravings and because manufacturers spend lavishly on marketing.”
- “In the past, Brazil has tried to enact more ambitious policy changes, like a 2006 proposal that would have limited food advertising directed at children and required warnings on ads for unhealthy foods. A weakened version was adopted in 2010, only to be stalled by industry opposition. The industry has also managed to weaken or forestall regulations in other countries, says Jacoby, although this opposition was fairly uncoordinated at the regional level until about three years ago, when the Latin American Food and Beverage Alliance was formed.”