Thursday, February 27, 2014

Added Stupidity



This still needs to be confirmed by the FDA, but NPR has released a first look at the updated nutrition facts panel.

In a jaw-dropping example of knee-jerk Food Hysteric capitulation, the FDA has added added sugars as an added row under sugars. Of course, these are proposed changes which may go in effect after a 90 day public comment period.

Expect many comments, especially from the food industry.

Not because the industry has some sort of shame about the amount of sugar in foods, but about the impossibility of validating added sugars for the nutrition facts panel. You see, food companies know what amounts of what ingredients go into a formulation, and therefore, are able to calculate the amounts of sugar added; that's not the problem. The problem is that food companies have to send samples out to be validated every year to make sure the amounts on the NFP are accurate.

How could you possibly test for added sugars, though? You can't. You can only test for total sugars.  This means that if these changes are codified into regulation, the FDA would have no choice but to take each food company's word as to the amount of added sugars in foods.  Sure, they may be able to estimate the amount and check that against the amount of sugars in the formula; the difference would be added sugars. 

But those estimates, like the amount of sugar naturally occurring in concentrated orange juice used in Mnt Dew, could vary by several grams. The FDA, therefore, would have to spot PepsiCo those grams of sugar, giving them the benefit of the doubt. I wonder if the Food Hysterics thought of that when they peddled this nonsense.

They claim added sugars lead to increased fatality from cardiovascular diseases, cited in only one JAMA study.  What's more troubling is that the study only shows a coorelation, not a causation.  The study refers to increases in mortality as sugar intake exceeds 10% of total caloric intake. The study's authors claim they were able to isolate added sugars from total sugars and weed out other conflicting sources of mortality.

Of course, there are a couple problems with this...

First of all, there is only one study, and one study proves nothing.  The second issue is with the data, which was gathered using a survey... I'll give you a moment to sit and think about that....

.....

............

Yeah. The study's authors depend on surveys from patients who remembered what they ate and how much, so the data is unreliable. Even if the data is accurate, we still have a correlation and not a causation. Scientists would still need to explain how consuming a specific amount of sugar - above what is naturally found in a food - can cause cardiovascular diseases. This is not likely.  The likely explanation is that people eating excessive sugar also were more sedentary, carried higher body fat, et cetera.

The science is not strong and there is little science involved in the proposed changes to the NFP.

There were changes I did like though, like the addition of potassium and vitamin D.  Currently, these are only voluntary, but Americans don't get enough potassium and that may even be a cause of some heart trouble.  They should have also added phosphorous to the list, which is something people with renal diets have to watch very carefully. 

They proposed reducing the amount of sodium, which can be good or bad or pointless, depending on whom you ask and what time of day it is.

I guess the other big thing was the reshuffling of serving sizes, which I have no problem with.

All in all, this may prove to be a cautionary tale in how we need to make changes such as these based upon science and reason, not Food Hysteria.

smh...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Misinformed & Disingenuous.



I once heard the winning strategy of debate competition explained as quickly taking the other side's argument to an outrageous extreme that shows how flawed it is; usually by tying the viewpoint to nuclear war or the Nazis. Of course, this is a horrible method for making an argument in the real world, and often leads to a much more polarized debate, because both sides quickly drift further away from reason.

This is exactly what Chipotle has achieved in their latest marketing vehicle entitled, 'Farmed & Dangerous'. In this Chipotle sponsored video series, a marketing firm is hired to help clean up the image of a Big Ag company.  The company has a new form of feed called a 'PetroPellet', which is somehow a petroleum based feed. One of the cows eating the pellets is caught on security video exploding, and a massive effort to cover up the deleterious effects of PetroPellet is put into place.

A few things...

What Chipotle is attempting to get away with is constructing an allegory to show how evil Big Food and Ag corporations are, but since the truth is fairly benign, they have to resort to wild hyperbole. The Petroleum tie in is meant to associate agriculture and big oil, obviously.  More subtly, the series aims to tie Big Ag to Big Tobacco - an inaccurate comparison that many activists have already tried to make. The problem with this comparison is that Big Tobacco tried covering up science that showed the ill effects of tobacco, while the vast consensus of all available research regarding food & ag supports the technologies and processes that are currently on the market.

Tobacco was the tobacco industry's only commodity, and there was an irresistible urge to protect that commodity.  The Food Industry and the Ag Industry as a whole has many more commodities and thousands more products made by individual food and ag companies. My point is that they can make money from anything, therefore there's no incentive to fool anyone about the safety of any one product or commodity. Also, food and ag scientists eat the end products and many have their own farms, so their incentive is towards safety. Food and ag scientists are also incentivized to conduct research that will stand up to peer review, since it's the scientist's name on the research and scientists typically work for more than one company or university in their life. A scientist proven to be dishonest will see their career cut very short.  Lastly, the individual food and ag companies have a major incentive to produce safe food and ingredients. If one of these companies fails or is dishonest about it's products, their very existence may be at stake.

This all may sound incredibly naive to someone who isn't involved in food and ag, and that cynicism is owed to tactics from groups like the CSPI and companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle. If Chipotle is right and all of us in food and ag are evil co-conspirators out to poison humanity,then why all the hyperbole? Wouldn't the truth be more than enough?  Of course, that's assuming that the truth is on the activists side. It isn't, and that's why you see Chipotle's Chief Marketing and Development Officer, Mark Crumpacker, Executive Producing non-sense, non-science, fact free propaganda.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Debate Prep.



Those of us eagerly awaiting the Bill Nye vs Ken Ham debate on Creationism need to manage our expectations.

First off, it's a debate, not a dry reading of facts.  Ken Ham is much more studied expert of Creationism than Nye is an expert on Evolution.

Ham doesn't have to be right to win a debate.  I see this all the time getting into online flame wars with food hysterics. They concentrate much more on small or even anecdotal evidence rather than the big picture or scientific consensus.  This works in the activists favor in a debate because they will continually ask for immediate evidence that contradicts the study/anecdote they just cited.  The actual expert didn't prepare to rebut specific examples other than the most obvious, so to the audience, it would appear that the expert was stumped by the activist.  This is what is so hard about debating on social media.

Activism and debates are more about emotional appeals than they are about what is actually true.

All of this puts Bill Nye at a disadvantage.

For Bill Nye to win, he must have already anticipated every bit of evidence and anecdote brought forth by Ham, and be able to cite a source refuting it from memory.  If they have the benefit of visual aids, then Bill Nye would count on an assistant bringing these sources to the screen as he mentions them.

But in the end, Bill Nye is unlikely to convince anyone that believes in Creationism that they are wrong, just as Ken Ham is as unlikely to convince anyone who believes Evolution is true, that they are wrong.



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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fat Shame.



We've all heard the saying that kids are cruel, but adults aren't much better.  One of the worst things that happens when we grow up is that most of us forget what it was like to be a kid.  If we remembered what it was like, then maybe we would treat each other a little better.

When kids are cruel, it seems to me they are doing 2 things. First, they are experimenting in methods of verbal communication. Second, they are learning how to deal with emotions and emotional arguments.  They learn what language or inflection is threatening, coercive, or hurtful to others.  We learn to be mindful of other people's feeling, but as kids, we hurt a lot of feelings in the process.

Calling someone fat or ugly, or saying someone is ugly or stupid because they are fat is a part of kids figuring out boundaries.  What we are seeing now is adults engaging in the same hurtful rhetoric that they should have gotten over as children.

Adults are cruel.

The way I see it, fat shaming among adults stem from 2 things. Some adults engage in this as a push-back against what they see as political correctness run amuck. 'You can't make fun of anybody anymore!' Adults also see Fat Shaming as some sort of tough love for all of us fatties out there. Fit or even just average people can't wrap their heads around fatness and tend to oversimplify the causes of fatness.

If you think being thin is only as simple as, 'not eating so much' or 'putting the fork down', then you may logically conclude that fat people are just lazy or unaware of how fat they've become.

There is also some dubious health information out there that enable these attacks on people of heft.  We see many stories online where every conceivable ill in society is 'linked' to obesity.  So adults may feel they are fulfilling some duty as a citizen to make you understand that you or myself are just lazy and gross.

Regardless of the reasons, there really isn't a pathology ascribed to fatness where you can pinpoint the exact weight or body fat percentage where heart disease or diabetes starts.  Keep in mind that all the literature talks of 'links', not a causation.

You can't tell someone's health just by looking at them.  Rubenesque Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, was given a clean bill of health that runs contrary to conventional wisdom concerning his large frame. He made a joke at himself by coming onto a late night talk show and eating a donut.  

But notice that despite being healthy, Chris Christie quietly had bariatric surgery done.  Why? Because being fat means you are not taken seriously.  This is a stigma aided by misinformation from public health advocates and fueled by a push back of what some perceive as an overwhelming amount of political correctness.






Here, you see Joe Rogan reacting to fat advocate's reaction to a picture posted by a fit mom with the phrase, 'What's your excuse'.  


Listen to the inflection in Joe's voice and how he talks over his guest who tries to tell Joe that it isn't quite as easy as they think to lose weight.  Unfortunately, his guest is a 'biohacker' with some pretty interesting and unproven theories about weight loss and supplements.

Joe Rogan was a national Tae Kwan Do champion in his youth and working out has been so normalized that he feels ill if he misses a workout.  So from his perspective, anyone can do what he does because he does it.  His guest tried to make a point that certain exercises are probably too hard on large people's joints, but was talked over by Joe's tirade.

So you have this sort of unempathetic 'bro' attitude toward fat people as well as a lashing out against fat people if they speak up about being marginalized.  Athletes get a high from exercise, and fat people feel run over by a truck.  Do these guys think that their tough love really motivated people to go out in public and run/walk/lift weights?



'It's so great to be associated with people feeling good about themselves'

So is Adam Richman saying that fat people feel bad about themselves?  Some do, sure, but our body size is a lot more complex than some mental issue.  The trouble with this statement is that success and confidence are associated with a body shape, and nothing else.  Does Adam Richman really think that he got so big during Man Vs. Food because he lacked self esteem?

We can't all afford to have a dietician design a diet for us and we all don't have the time to break our day's eating down to a 150 calorie mini meal every 2 hours like Adam did to try to recharge his metabolism.

Metabolism is often the answer, too.

I can safely say that I eat much less than I did when I weighed 100 lbs less.  This doesn't seem possible until you account for metabolism.  I used to eat way more, and this, added lots of weight.  At a certain point, I started eating less with only brief moments of hero eating mixed in.  It didn't work.  My metabolism slowed.  Eating doesn't energize me, it makes me fall asleep.  To lose weight is arbitrary, but if I make an effort to weigh a lower number, then the best bet is to do it slowly and incorporate exercise and surround myself with people who won't snicker at me in a gym or make fun of my bike with the oversized seat.

People who have their pictures mocked online aren't motivated by the abuse, they are withdrawn further... depressed, not really wanting to join the cruel world that waits to mock them in person.

In the end, this debate on fat shaming has nothing to do with what people look like, it's about treating people with kindness and dignity.  Don't laugh at a big person trying to lift weights or ride a bike or run...or just go for a walk.  Befriend them.  Introduce them to your girlfriend's single friend.  Let them know it's ok to be a person and exist in the world.


This sums up the feelings many normal sized people have, unfortunately.



I'll leave you with an image of what is in all of our best interests to fight against.  This is Hollywood actor, Nick Searcy.  He plays the Chief on Justified.  Patton Oswalt guested on this show... How would he feel about working with Nick Searcy, knowing how vile he is?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

McRibbed



This is a perfect example of the problem with the food industry...


The problem is not that this is a formed pork patty that is individually quick frozen in a spiral freezer, packaged, shipped to a distribution center, then trucked to individual McDonald locations... those are all monuments to the advancement of modern food technology.

The problem is that people seemed genuinely surprised at the appearance of the uncooked patty.  It shows the genuine disconnect that people have with their food.

What did they think, anyway?  Did they think that we have ribless hogs?  Did they think that raw pork would be shipped great distances while ONLY being refrigerated?

How do I think the McRib is made?  I could be a little off... but I'll give it a shot:

1. Lean pork w/ trim(skin, fat) is boxed in 40 lb blocks, frozen, and shipped to a further processing facility.
2. That frozen pork is put into large grinder mixers w/ various other seasonings and ground in to a frozen mixture.
3. That frozen mixture is put into stainless steel tubs and those tubs are loaded into a Formax or similar type machine that presses the patties into the familiar McRib shape.
4.  Those patties are individually quick frozen in a spiral freezer, packaged, shipped to a distribution center, then trucked to individual McDonald locations.

It's really no big deal and not at all shocking.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Investment In Future Shoppers.


I've already blogged about the #GMO debate many times, but I think it's important for me to bring some clarity to the issue, to paraphrase the great Todd Glass.

Ok, so we have the Washington state #GMO labeling initiative I-522. If this passes, then most foods that have genetically modified ingredients will have to have a label stating so.

Why do farmers, scientists, science writers, and people in the industry have an issue with this?

First of all, the label serves no safety or educational function. If you buy the wrong kind of flour, your bread may turn out horrible. If you buy something with an undeclared allergen, you could go into anaphylactic shock and possible die. So it's important to label things like what kind of flour because cake and all purpose flour and flour made with summer or winter wheat may function differently.  We label allergens so people can easily see what to avoid... for obvious health reasons.

If you accidentally buy a food with a #GMO ingredient, nothing different will happen to you. Nothing.

So why label it?

Why would the Organic Foods lobby be funding I-522?

For those of you that don't know, foods classified as 'Organic' must not use #GMO inputs in their production.  So at first glance, it would appear that the Organic Foods lobby would have no dog in this fight... so why be involved?

This is where the label's purpose comes into focus...

Ok, so let's say you are Whole Foods and business is pretty good.  Organic food as an industry has been growing at around 25% a year for at least the last 5 years now. Pretty soon, that growth will reach a lag phase and start to level off.  Whole Foods is aware of this and know that they need fresh customers to sustain year over year growth.

Well, one way to guarantee more customers is to tell people your food is intrinsically better because it isn't #GMO.  

So how do you do that?  

You could list all the ways that non-GMO foods are demonstrably better... but what if you can't prove that?  The other option is the tried and true practice of propaganda.  You don't tell them why your food is better, you tell them the other food is so much worse.  Doubt is easy to grow and impossible to discount completely because one cannot disprove a negative.

So you spread propaganda about #GMO and you associate #GMO with big corporations(unlike mom & pop stores like Whole Foods).  You introduce doubt by saying the studies aren't big enough or long enough or independent enough.

The next step for Whole Foods is to warn people about every product you don't want them to buy... a label.

The label serves as a warning or to put it mildly, a reminder to choose a different food.  Now here's the catch: most grocery stores sell conventional foods and have a small organic section.  The organic section isn't really the big money maker and is subsidized by all the regular groceries. Grocery stores in general operate on a pretty thin profit margin.  So when people read what is essentially a warning label, they will start to buy USDA Organic foods, which means that regular grocers will see sales drop on about 90% of it's inventory.

This is where Whole Foods comes in...

Stores like Safeway and QFC will take a big hit to their private brands as well as the nightmare of having to segregate stock for Washington stores from it's distribution inventory for Oregon, Utah, Idaho, etc.  They may even have to close some Washington stores because of this.  But who will be there waiting with their mostly #GMO free inventory and a distribution system already designed to keep certain foods separated?

Whole Foods.

And you can bet Whole Foods can expect to pick up major market share as sales from their competition drops. It will be a major windfall for them.

Soon, Washington residents may have no major grocer to go to except Whole Paycheck, and Whole Foods will be waiting with open arms.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

False Start.


[Warning: This post is not directly related to food science/food industry]

As I awaken 30 minutes ahead of my 10am alarm and start to prepare for an interview, 2 words entered my brain.

False Start.

In HS, I was either going to be a gym teacher or a chef. I left HS and entered one of the top culinary institutes in the world, but my aversion to 70 hr work weeks and onions made me realize that chef wasn't my dream.

False Start.

I transfer from Johnson & Wales to Ohio State for one quarter before being informed that I didn't get any financial aid, so I became a member of management at KFC where I had been working.

False Start.

A couple years later, I decided I wanted to go back and get my degree no matter what, even if it broke me. I was pushed by family to take any kind of job opening, even if it was something I didn't want to do. I talked myself into accepting a role as a plant manager trainee for Cargill in one of their feed mills... in Vermont.

False Start.

Back to Ohio, I moved in with a friend in his mom's basement. It was the loneliest place in the world. I finally got a job in Fairfield and moved to scenic Norwood. 3 months later, I left that job.

False Start.

I worked several other short term gigs, selling cars, driving rail workers, helping with the Census until I was no longer able to pay rent in my bed big ridden Norwood apt.

False Start.

I moved in with my poor parents living in Ashville, OH(where we had NO roots) and eventually worked a few short term jobs until I got hired on by Kroger for their Quality Training program in Cincinnati. I moved into The Banks luxury apartments on the Ohio river for 30 days, then into my current Clifton apartment. After 5 months of disagreements with how my training was being(or not being) handled, I left.

False Start.

Several short term jobs later and here I am, about to interview for a seasonal position with Macy's on Fountain Place, unloading trucks. I'm actually debating whether or not to wear a suit. Every minute of today hurts. I'm sad and bitter and want none of this. While I'm tired of the false starts, I know there has to be something better than unloading trucks for $8.15/hr. I have a value that is somewhat intangible and doesn't appear on a resume, but nobody is hiring a 'Sit In On Meetings, Make Sarcastic One Liners, and Come Up With Great Ideas' Specialist. I'm hoping another interview comes along to save me from this job IN CASE I am offered it, or from the shame of NOT being offered it.


[Despite what I know about food, I am not awesome at other parts of my life.  I'm just putting my experiences out there, so that maybe other will identify with them and feel at least a little bit comforted.]