Stephen Colbert: America's Newest Food-Awareness Crusader

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I would have loved to be in the room when Stephen Colbert testified before Congress a few days ago.

I've been to congressional hearings. They are a peculiarly American form of Kabuki theater, full of posturing, entirely predictable script-following, and institutionalized rudeness. Colbert, in character, took perfect advantage of the opportunity.

I thought his testimony was brilliantly funny. But I can well understand why the members of Congress stuck with Kabuki rituals—stony silence and hiding behind their equivalents of fluttering fans, BlackBerrys.

All of this must
include concern about who works in the fields, raises the animals, and works in the slaughterhouses.

Mr. Colbert gave devastating testimony, well worth five minutes to watch. One of the Times' bloggers (Sept 24) made a point of what he said at the end when he went out of character: "I like talking about people who don't have any power, and it seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don't have any rights themselves."

In character, his testimony offered some ideas about how to stop undocumented farm labor: "The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables—and if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you'll see that many Americans have already started."

He's right on about that one. Kim Severson of The New York Times reports:

Despite two decades of public health initiatives, stricter government guidelines, record growth of farmers' markets and the east of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren't eating enough vegetables.

Quoting CDC statistics, she reports that "only 26 percent of the nation's adults eat vegetables three or more times a day ... and no, that does not include French fries." We do better with fruit: 33 percent of Americans eat two servings of fruit a day.

All of this is why concern about our food system and where our food comes from also must include concern about who works in the fields, raises the animals, and works in the slaughterhouses. Immigration is a food issue, big time.

Thanks, Colbert, in character and not, for taking this issue to our government. May it do some good.


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

Colbert's full congressional testimony:

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Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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