Food, Inc.

A Robert Kenner Film
PBS Premiere: April 21, 2010Check the broadcast schedule »

Eating Made Simple

Supermarkets as "ground zero"

Supermarkets as "Ground Zero"

screen shot from film of grocery store aisle

No matter whom I speak to, I hear pleas for help in dealing with supermarkets, considered by shoppers as "ground zero" for distinguishing health claims from scientific advice. So I spent a year visiting supermarkets to help people think more clearly about food choices. The result was my book What to Eat.

Supermarkets provide a vital public service but are not social services agencies. Their job is to sell as much food as possible. Every aspect of store design--from shelf position to background music--is based on marketing research. Because this research shows that the more products customers see, the more they buy, a store's objective is to expose shoppers to the maximum number of products they will tolerate viewing.

If consumers are confused about which foods to buy, it is surely because the choices require knowledge of issues that are not easily resolved by science and are strongly swayed by social and economic considerations. Such decisions play out every day in every store aisle.

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Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health and professor of sociology at New York University. She received a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley. Nestle's research focuses on scientific and social factors that influence food choices and recommendations. She is author of Food Politics (2002, revised 2007), Safe Food (2003) and What to Eat (2006). She also writes a popular nutrition blog, Food Politics.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2007 by Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved. For more information about the issue, go to: