I am thinking of making Tuscan bean soup for dinner tonight. (My wife is from Birmingham and prefers her beans with sausage, egg and chips, but I have my limits.) If this were an ordinary day, I'd just get on with making the soup. I've got the things I need: the beans, pancetta, garlic, olive oil, parsley and chicken stock. I've made it dozens of times, and, after I've decided that this is what I want to eat, I don't usually think any more about it. But today I'm writing about the history and current politics of what and how we eat, so I thought I'd look at the panel of Nutrition Facts that appears on the label of practically any packaged food you can now buy in America - something I can't recall doing before, or at least not with much attention. In the States these labels were mandated by the Nutrition Labelling and Education Act of 1990, and in Britain a similar sort of thing - though with significant category differences - is administered by the Food Standards Agency, established in 2000. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these labels are meant to be 'helpful for people who are concerned about eating foods that may help keep them healthier longer'. I'm all for that.
LRB 22 August 2002 | PDF Download