Transparency for Food Consumers: Nutrition Labeling and Food Oppression

16 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2015

See all articles by Andrea Freeman

Andrea Freeman

University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: October 14, 2015


Regulations requiring nutrition labeling on packaging and in restaurants are centerpieces of efforts to improve health outcomes and decrease obesity. These attempts to increase transparency about food ingredients have led to some changes in industry practices and allowed many middle- and upper-income consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase and consume. Unfortunately, however, research reveals that increased information does not improve health.

Most consumers do not use nutritional labeling to improve their food choices, and those that do are already in good health. Further, low-income consumers who select foods based entirely on availability and affordability derive no benefits from transparency. Transparency may thus in fact be a decoy, providing the appearance of meaningful policy reform while instead serving to preserve the status quo. Upholding transparency as the gold standard of United States food policy allows the government to cater both to its health-conscious, wealthier constituents, who benefit the most from access to greater information, and the food corporations, which profit from a focus on transparency instead of substantial structural reforms, such as bans of harmful food additives or stricter requirements for healthy public school lunches. The result of transparency’s primacy in food policy is thus a deepening health divide between wealthy and poor individuals, and between whites and other racial groups.

Structural changes that universalize access to healthy food and regulation of harmful foods are necessary to eliminate or decrease socio-economic and racial health disparities. Nutritional labeling should therefore be the last, not the first, step in a transformative food policy that would raise the United States to the health standards of other nations with similar resources. In fact, the goal of transparency should not be to provide consumers with information about food ingredients and processes, but to expose the partnerships between the food industry and the government that prioritize private profit over public health.

Keywords: Food Policy, Food Law, Food Oppression, Food Justice, Health Law, Critical Race Theory

Suggested Citation

Freeman, Andrea, Transparency for Food Consumers: Nutrition Labeling and Food Oppression (October 14, 2015). American Journal of Law and Medicine, Vol. 41, No. 315, 2015, Available at SSRN:

Andrea Freeman (Contact Author)

University of Hawai'i William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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