The food warriors

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Lauren Helper

Food justice warriors! This article is for you! Learn about this arena of the food justice movement in the article below.

Robert Lustig sparked a global conversation on health and the effects of sugar-loaded food.

The Bay Area, long a bastion of resistance to Big Food, becomes an epicenter for new models of nutrition and sustainable production as experts track how climate change and other factors are raising the stakes.

Robert Lustig traces his big breakthrough in the science of food consumption to a 2006 symposium convened by the National Institutes of Health. The focus was environmental health, and the UCSF professor of pediatrics briefly considered giving a talk on a topic like lead poisoning, or maybe delving into the link between air pollution and asthma. Instead, he went off script — to a substance synonymous with childhood.

Lustig argued that a modern dietary staple was actually dangerous, leaving an audience of otherwise orderly academics in disarray. “They were all milling around outside by the bathroom saying, ‘Oh, my god, he’s right,’” Lustig remembered. “Sugar is a poison.” Since then, Lustig, an endocrinologist by training, has refined his research on how sugar contributes to serious conditions like type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, particularly among children. In the process, he says, he has experienced intense skepticism and smear campaigns, and he witnessed the fallout from death threats to a colleague at UCSF.

“I didn’t do this because it was cool or it was retro or it was lucrative,” says Lustig, who now runs a website encouraging resistance to a “pandemic” of diseases linked to unhealthy diets. “The science is my sword and my shield.” Lustig also isn’t alone in his crusade to change the way people eat in the name of their own self-preservation.

Though the Bay Area has long been a center of gravity for movements against animal cruelty and in favor of food access programs like community-supported agriculture, the region is also home to several poster children in the quest to change the way people eat from the ground up.