Mélissa Mialon’s

Aug 26, 2022

Big Food & Co

Thierry Souccar Editions 2021

In the 1960s and 1970s, the exposure of Big Tobacco’s aggressive lobbying and internal efforts to obscure science showcasing the harmful effects of smoking changed U.S. public opinion of the industry and of product safety protocols, both of which had largely obscured these harms from public view for decades. Public awareness grew, triggering regulation on disclosure related to political influencing strategies, marketing tactics, and transparency regarding the devastating toll of tobacco products on many communities, including and especially children. As similar approaches to assessing the public health impacts of Big Oil and Big Pharma, among other industries, have gained traction in recent decades, Dr. Mélissa Mialon’s new book, Big Food & Co (Thierry Souccar Editions, 2021), adds the amalgamation of multinationals and transnational supply chains that make up Big Food, to that list.

Rising health inequities across race, class, and geography are subtle, yet central themes throughout Dr. Mialon’s meticulous accounting of a complex puzzle in which the marketing and distribution strategies of soft drink companies and ultra-processed food manufacturers are quietly but steadily ushering in a new globalized era of related public health crises – measured by increasing rates of of diabetes, cancers, and heart disease, etc– a crisis that has long been felt in the United States.

Whether branding t-shirts and games at summer camps in France for underprivileged children or blanketing entire streets in Mauritius with the unmistakable bright red and white flag of Coca-Cola, Dr. Mialon describes a taxonomy of commercial determinants of health common to nearly every example – whether multinational food companies’ policy advocacy in Colombia, public-private partnerships in Brazil, or culturally responsive branding for holidays in Southern Africa.

Between academic research and investigative journalism, the survey of trends in Big Food’s operation, marketing, and regulatory capture, offered throughout the book are additionally grounds for laying out a policy roadmap with public health indicators at the center of a wide range of potential reforms including campaign finance and heightened disclosure protocols for public-private partnerships to mitigating conflicts of interest in scientific studies related to food, agriculture, and health, among many others.

Dr. Mélissa Mialon is Research Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland. She is a food engineer with a PhD in nutrition and co-coordinates the « Governance, Ethics and Conflicts of Interest in Public Health » (GECI-PH) network, based out of the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. Her research focuses on commercial determinants of health, and particularly on the practices used by corporations to influence public health policy, research and practice.

NB: In the introduction, the interviewer has incorrectly named Dr. Mialon as Associate Professor. She currently holds the title of Research Assistant Professor, as noted above in her bio.

Anna Levy researches and teaches on emergency, crisis, and development practice & politics at Fordham & New York Universities. She is the founder and principal of Jafsadi.works, a research collective focused on advancing structural and participatory accountability in non-profit, movement, multilateral, city, and policy strategies. You can follow her @politicoyuntura.

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Anna Levy

Anna Levy researches and teaches on emergency, crisis, and development practice & politics at Fordham & New York Universities. She is the founder and principal of Jafsadi.works, a research collective focused on advancing structural and participatory accountability in non-profit, movement, multilateral, city, and policy strategies. You can follow her @politicoyuntura.
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