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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Food research is a kind of extreme sport. For one thing, it seems to have more than its share of converts whose enthusiasm for what they do borders on the evangelical. But most of all, food research is risky. Its intellectual terrain is seismically volatile and deep hidden chasms await the careless at every step. Peaks of euphoric discovery seem always to be followed by bottomless uncertainty and confusion. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I can think of no other area of enquiry that produces and destroys so many orthodoxies, or where common sense ideas turn to chimera with such regularity. George Johnson, the American science writer, recently recounted the curious example of food research and cancer. Johnson recalls that by…

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