Marion Nestle Lovably Blunt in her Berkeley Farewell

At a talk in Berkeley yesterday to flog her latest book, Marion Nestle showed why she’s the Bea Arthur of food-science journalism. In an informal talk at Elephant Pharmacy, the NYU prof and former Berkeley mom told a crowd of about forty that the USDA’s revised food pyramid resembles the gay pride flag. “It’s got these stripes of beautiful colors, and a very thin man, like, running up one side of it,” Nestle said. “My gay friends just adore it.”

Nestle said her Elephant appearance was a farewell to the Bay Area. The James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement honoree is returning to New York on Sunday, after spending the last several weeks as guest lecturer at UC’s Graduate School of Journalism. She read a passage from What to Eat, her anthropology-like study of the hard-to-decipher landscape of supermarkets. Despite the cluelessness of the modern food shopper – preyed on by food manufacturers fixated on selling more and more product – Nestle described her optimism about repairing the nation’s broken food system. “It’s one of the few areas where you can make a difference,” she said. “People are helpless about the war in Iraq, helpless about climate change – I’m very optimistic about all this.”

Nestle said she was heartened by the recent public dialog between journalist Michael Pollan and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, calling it “an extraordinary performance” overall. “It was very clear that John Mackey was making a lot of changes because of Michael Pollan’s book,” she said.

Nestle acknowledged that, at home in Manhattan, she regularly shops at Whole Foods. But during her recent tenure in Berkeley, it was Monterey Market that charmed her. And what about Berkeley Bowl? “I went there once and decided it was too chaotic for my system,” admitted the blunt-speaking New Yorker. “It’s so competitive – so scary,” she said.

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