Soda Politics : Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)

Marion Nestle Oxford University Press, 508 pages, $29.95


Marion Nestle’s heavyweight polemic against Coca-Cola and PepsiCo comes at an odd moment for the industry. Americans are drinking fewer sugary sodas — in 2012 production was 23 percent below what it had been a decade earlier. Even sales of diet drinks are losing their fizz, as consumers question the merits of artificial sweeteners. From one angle, it would seem that health advocates such as Nestle have won. Yet companies in the U.S. still produce 30 gallons of regular (not diet) fizzy drinks per person per year. In many countries, particularly developing ones, consumption is on the rise.

Nestle, a professor at New York University, is both heartened by recent progress and dissatisfied with it. Her first book, “Food Politics” (2002), remains a bible for those who bewail the power of food companies. “Soda Politics,” she says, is a book “to inspire readers to action.” As a rallying cry, it is verbose. When readers learn on page 238 that she will pick up a particular subject in chapter 25, it is with no little dismay that they realize they are only on chapter 17. But what the author wants most is to craft a meticulous guide to the producers’ alleged transgressions, and how to stop them.

Nestle is impatient. To the casual reader, her suggestions can seem extreme. This zeal threatens to overshadow her stronger points: Fizzy drinks offer no nutritional benefit and impose clear costs — on individuals’ health and on society.