In May this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labels that will have to be printed on most packaged food products by July 2018. In a presentation at the White House, Michelle Obama praised the label as making “a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.” Recent posts on this blog have discussed notions of transparency and choice. Today, I want to add some remarks on the history and politics of the gauge on which a lot of today’s food talk is based: on calories. The new food label includes a line on added sugars as well as changes in serving sizes. Its most visible change, however,…

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The food world is abuzz with the promise of transparency. Radical transparency. Authentic transparency. Trust-building transparency. The promise comes in many forms – from clear packaging to ethical corporate engagement, “clean” ingredients panels, supply chain traceability, hand held scanning technologies that can tell you “what is really in your food,” video tours taking consumers inside production plants, and real life opportunities to “see for yourself” where your food comes from. What is the problem that transparency seeks to solve? What is transparency? And can it solve those problems? Transparency is the food industry’s answer to consumer concerns about processed food and the industrial food system that produces it. It’s a version of the same ethos that has animated much of…

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