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Marion Nestle. Photo credit: Bill Hayes.

MARION NESTLE

November 2017

Marion Nestle is the founder of the Food Studies program at New York University (NYU). She is a researcher and prize-winning author of various books, including Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning), Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, and What to Eat. Marion graciously helped me with this project via email. 

CZ: Please provide a brief description of your career trajectory. What led you from one thing to the next? You shared with me during our conversation yesterday that you were in Washington, DC working for a couple of years, while searching for opportunities in New York, until the position of Chair of the Home Economics Department came up.

MN: My doctorate is in molecular biology.  After finishing a postdoc in developmental biology, I took a teaching job in which I was asked to teach a nutrition course.  As I’ve said many times, it was like falling in love and I’ve never looked back.  I then taught nutrition to medical students, did a master’s in public health nutrition, and worked for the government in Washington DC as senior nutrition policy advisor to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.  The NYU job came after that.

CZ: What about food, nutrition, and policy intrigued you? Why did you decide to work in food?

MN: I was handed a nutrition course to teach and loved it.  I also love to eat.

 

CZ: What are three major challenges of the work you do?

MN: Keeping up with the literature (I read a lot), trying to get the facts right, and communicating knowledge and opinions as clearly as I can.

 

CZ: What are three major pleasures you derive from your work?

MN: Food politics is a full employment act; there is always something new and amazing going on.  It’s fun to be in the middle of it and to hear from students, colleagues, and the public about what they are thinking.

 

CZ: Describe the main operations/tasks of your vocation. This can be both as a writer and researcher, and as a professor.

MN: I’ve just retired, so I won’t be teaching as much.  I spend half the time writing, the other half in meetings, keeping up with email, and talking to journalists.

 

CZ: How did the idea for the Food Studies program come about and how did you turn the idea into a reality? Who was involved?

MN: I had been traveling with a group that brought food writers, chefs, and academics together.  They all wanted to learn more about food.  Clark Wolf and I dreamed it up, and we got lucky.

CZ: What obstacles did you face in creating the Food Studies program and how did you overcome them?

MN: We were starting from scratch and had to figure out what to teach and who would teach it.  There were the usual startup bumps.

CZ: You shared with me that you had no idea there would be a food movement when you first thought of the program. What was the original intention of the program and how has that evolved? What are your hopes for the program and the students of the program today?

MN: The purpose of the program was to teach about the role of food in society. Later, it expanded beyond food and culture to encompass food systems.  It will continue to change to meet the changing needs of students and society.

CZ: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their career in food? What skills do you think a self-starter needs?

MN: As an academic, I obviously think that history has much to teach us.  If you want to be treated as an expert, you have to become one.  Read.

CZ: If you could change one thing in terms of law, regulation, tradition, education, location, your life, what would you change? I like to think of this question as relating to the food world, so what's the most important challenge you see right now?

MN: I wish I could communicate how easy it is to eat healthfully (Michael Pollan’s famous seven words: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants").