When you think of the world’s most famous foodies, one of the first names that come to my mind is Marion Nestle. Which I suppose is why Forbes listed Marion as the number 2 most powerful foodie in the world. Currently, Marion Nestle holds the position of the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health at New York University. As well as being a highly respected professor at NYU, Marion is also a prolific author on the topics of nutrition and sociology, a regular fixture in forward thinking documentaries and has also received the John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service from Bard College in 2010. For me, her most amazing achievement was in 2014, when she was awarded the highly prestigious James Beard Leadership award! When Marion agreed to speak to me about the books that have inspired and influenced her, I was not only excited but, honoured. She is a one of a kind. I’m proud to present you my interview with Marion Nestle…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a professor at NYU where I teach, lecture, and write articles and books about food politics.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just started working on a new book on the effects of food industry funding on nutrition research and practice so I’m deeply engaged in the preliminary review of a daunting stack of books. The one I’m reading right now is Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research by Sheldon Krimsky. It’s so good I want to plagiarize every word of it.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I so envied Jo’s independence.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I just wanted to survive childhood. It never occurred to me that I might have choices.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
Disbelief. I could not imagine that I would lead a life like this.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. It’s everything anyone wants to know about human lives, even in translation, and takes ages to read.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I read constantly and professionally, morning, noon, and night. It’s what I do for a living and for pleasure.
I think it must have been Food for People, Not for Profit by Catherine Lerza and Michael Jacobson, an edited book of readings put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 1975. Looking at the table of contents today takes my breath away. It covered so many topics we are still arguing about. It came out just in time for the first course I ever taught in nutrition, and I used it in that first class.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
I have a whole collection of books of poems by my first cousin, Stanley Moss. He’s in his 90s and still writing them. My daughter, Rebecca Nestle, just published an annotated English translation of a book written in Yiddish by a relative of her grandmother, The J. Abrams Book: The Life and Work of An Exceptional Personality.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Everybody should read Michael Pollan.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I spend most of my time reading non-fiction, but I love immersing myself in someone else’s fictional world whenever I get the chance.
Do you think reading is important?
Yes, of course. That’s how I learn. And escape.
I mostly read books in my field, which these days is Food Studies. How about a tie between The Ethnic Restaurateur by Krishnendu Ray and Ten Restaurants that Changed America by Paul Freedman. Read these, and you will have a whole new appreciation for restaurants and who owns and works in them.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real. I’ve never learned to read online. Too distracting.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Everyone can relate to its basic human values.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Dozens. I post mini-reviews of books on my blog at Food Politics, usually on Fridays for weekend reading. There are so many good books about food issues coming out that I can’t possibly keep up with them.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
As I mentioned, I’ve just started working on a new book of the effects of food industry funding on nutrition research and practice. I already have a daunting stack of books on conflict of interest that I must read before proceeding much further.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I’m asked all the time when I intend to do a memoir. I have no such intention, mainly because I write non-fiction but any memoir I did would have to be mostly fiction. Whenever I think I remember something verifiable, I look it up and realize that I got it wrong. I’d have to call it An Imagined Life in Food Politics, I suppose.