Friday, December 25, 2015

Fat Activism, Empowerment, Overreacting & Blocking.

Tonight, I had an unfortunate exchange that hit on several annoyances that really set an activist movement back.

So, perhaps it wasn't as dramatic as the last sentence implied, but I do think there are real lessons to take from what happened.

So what happened?

I'll get to that, but I first want to discuss a group I've been getting to know a lot better in the last year: the fat acceptance movement.

I first heard of this group on Penn & Teller's Bullshit! series on Showtime. The movement seeks acceptance of fat people in society instead of discriminating against them or applying tired, old stereotypes. 

On Twitter, I started following and occasionally conversing with several people involved in the fight against fat stigmatization.

I think it's important for fat people(myself included) to start asserting ourselves and feel empowered to demand to be treated as the human beings we are.

Having said that, a movement such as this can be damaged by those who are abundantly defensive, but don't engage in discussion.

This brings me to this evening.

Let me preface this by saying I firmly believe I use Twitter correctly; meaning that I use tweets to further engage people in a particular discussion.  I do this by responding to tweets and quote retweeting certain things.

I follow many dietitians, so I'll quote RT a tweet about some food pseudoscience or some provocative study and tag specific Twitter handles to get their thoughts.

That's what Twitter is made for.

Earlier, famed astronomer and science educator, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted the following:

That's a typical NDT tweet, where he takes popular lore and applies some scientific reasoning to it.  I felt there was a good prompt for discussion amongst the fat acceptance movement, because a common refrain from smaller people is to just eat less sweets and you'll be thinner.

It's not that easy, by the way, and contrary to popular belief, fat people aren't constantly eating sweets. This was the exact type of exchange I was hoping my quote retweet would bring about.

The response to my quote RT was much less enthusiastic than I had hoped...

Not entirely clear how I was forcing her to  read a tweet, but ok, I won't send her anymore tweets like that, but I did feel it was necessary to explain myself, given her reaction.

Fair enough, but...

I will defend that statement.  No, I don't assume her only concern in life is fat acceptance or body positivity. I would, however, assume someone with a Twitter handle of FatBodyPolitics has - at the very least- a passive interest in FatBodyPolitics...

She would later go on to accuse me of changing who she is as a person, but that's confusing, since her handle is a subject and not her name. If she so strongly identifies with FatBodyPolitics, then why refuse to engage in a tweet that touches upon that subject?

I'll post the next several exchanges without comment...

Admittedly, the bit where I said I was responding to her handle and not her as a person was poorly worded and allowed her to twist that comment into an accusation of being treated as an inanimate object.

Clearly, I was referring to the name of her handle and not at all attempting to dehumanize her. This should be evident in the example I give of BadAstronomer. 

If my Twitter handle is MufflersAndManifolds, then I can't get too pissed if someone sends me muffler and/or manifold related tweets... Sure, there is much more to MufflersAndManifolds than exhaust alone, but the handle represents more than just the person.

In the scheme of things, this exchange has little bearing on the outcome of the fat acceptance movement, but it's a sign of things to come if people of a movement aren't happy warriors for that movement. You must engage to be heard.

Also, blocking is the Twitter equivalent of a nuclear bomb or erasing someone from the history books.  Nothing is ever resolved by blocking someone, which is why I very rarely block.

Another major annoyance is people who like her overreacting replies and comment only based on her skewed side of the story.

This was a friendly quote RT; not intending to hurt, belittle or troll. Her response was beyond disproportionate.

If you in any measure pretend to care about a particular movement, then you have to engage with people or your super on-the-nose Twitter handle is pointless.

And for fuck's sake, don't block someone unless it's absolutely necessary.

As for the 3 women I tagged in that original quote RT; I genuinely like you.  I don't follow people to harass them.  While I'm a little hurt and bewildered by how this turned out tonight, I still like you all and the parts you play in the movement.

Had I not been blocked, this post wouldn't have been necessary.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. I promise I won't block you.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving At Golden Corral.

Buffets have a bit of a reputation. Buffets are basically thought of as the futons of the restaurant world. Just as a futon is a mediocre couch and a mediocre bed, buffets are often a mediocre chicken place and a mediocre pizza place and a subpar steakhouse.

Buffets used to be called smorgasbords and people would go there a few times a year with family.  Suddenly, we plateaued and the basic smorgasbord wasn't good enough.

The next evolution was the steakhouse/buffet hybrid. Earlier versions of Golden Corral, Sizzler, Ponderosa, and Bonanza sold you a steak for $8 - $15 and for an extra $5 - $7, you could add the buffet. In some places you could order the buffet, then pay extra to have a steak brought out, which I think was Golden Corral's early model.

But that wasn't good enough after a while...

The next evolution was steak night. On Friday & Saturday nights, patrons got free steak(and seafood) with their buffets.  This was popular enough to be expanded to every night.  The latest evolution is the addition of breakfast on the weekends.

My apartment's cooktop doesn't work, so I've been eating out more than I should.  I stopped at Golden Corral last weekend and saw that they were serving Thanksgiving Dinner starting at 9am.

"How sad." I thought.  All those lonely people forced to settle for Golden Corral on Thanksgiving Dinner.

As fate would have it, I decided not to go to my aunt's for Thanksgiving due to car issues.

So I headed to the Golden Corral in the East Columbus suburb of Whitehall.

First of all, it was packed. It was busier than I have ever seen a Golden Corral.  Inside, I notice all the people, who completely defy the stereotype which buffet patrons have unfairly earned.

I saw all shapes and sizes of people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  There were families, singles, young, old, white black, Asian, Latino.  Everyone.

People were happy too, talking to each other, laughing. It wasn't sad. At all.

Then there was the food.

Despite it being Thanksgiving, I went for a fried chicken thigh which, for the record, is the best cut of chicken. Golden Corral's chicken is usually... Ok. It's a buffet, so it's normally greasy from being piled together with the breading broken off.

This was easily the best fried chicken I have ever had at a Golden Corral.  Not the best ever, though.  Full disclosure, I worked at KFC for 7 years, so that is the best fried chicken when I cook it. That Golden Corral chicken was a close second though.

The steak (yes, you can still get steak on Thanksgiving) was better than it normally is and just a step below a steakhouse.

The turkey I had was fucking devine. I went with the pan of pulled dark meat instead of the carved breast. They left bits of the skin mixed in with the turkey, which may sound gross, but was incredible.

I also had chicken wings coated in a plum sauce, which were some of the best wings I've ever had.

I think the reason things went so good was because they were ready.  It was all hands on deck and not too different from KFC on Mother's Day, which is that chain's busiest day.  The food was turning over so fast that nothing sat out for more than a few minutes.

The employees weren't stressed or panicked or angry with the capacity crowd- all were friendly.

I know you missed it for this year, but I highly recommend Golden Corral for next year.  Also, give them a shot next weekend while you're out Christmas shopping. They're better when they're busy.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Knee-Jerk Reactions To Monsanto Hurts GMO Advocacy.

While the science supporting the safety of GMO is all but settled(no credible, reproduceable studies showing harm exist), public opinion seems to be less open to the technological process.

I blame Monsanto...

Well, let me be more specific; I blame people's knee-jerk reaction to Monsanto, and in turn, our knee-jerk reaction to people's knee-jerk reaction to Monsanto.

I'm sure that, like myself, many science communicators find it odd that the same people who support science when it comes to climate change, and support science when it comes to evolution, put their fingers in their ears and go 'la la la, not listening... la la la, Monsanto' when it comes to #GMO.

I think anti-corporatism explains this.  Many people who haven't read the literature on Climate Change are all too happy to support it because it's an indictment against 'Big' fill-in-the-blank, namely, Big Oil.

They're not pro climate change(phrasing?) so much as they're anti big oil.

While religion isn't a corporation per se, it is structured like one, and organized religion is certainly not without its series of scandals.  So while many people are against evolution because they see it as an attack on their religious beliefs, I would argue there are at least as many people who support evolution because it disrupts religion, just as climate change disrupts big oil.

For years, when arguing in favor of GMO, I would preface the argument by divorcing the issue from Monsanto.  In hindsight, I was handing the anti-GMO activists a winning debate strategy.

For years, we never bothered to challenge claims that activists would make about Monsanto: they go after small farmers, their products have lead to suicides in India, they're the ones responsible for agent orange, et cetera.

So when anti GMO activists engage in a debate, they've been able to stake unchallenged claims FOR YEARS that we ceded to them in order to get to the meat of the argument, science.

The trouble is that we never got to the science because Monsanto was the Skip, Reverse, and Draw Four of their Uno deck.

Monsanto gets worked into every counter-argument, and we couldn't do anything about it, because we tacitly accepted the premise that Monsanto was some evil, corporate monster.

If we want to reach more people, eliminate the activist driven stigma against GMO, and as a result, eliminate the labeling efforts meant to silence that technology, then we need to fight back against all the anti Monsanto nonsense, which is really just anti-corporate nonsense.

When we neutralize that argument, the activists have nothing but discredited studies from anti Monsanto activists parading as anti GMO activists...

And we can beat them, every time.


I'm not paid by Monsanto, but I did solicit them, tongue-in-cheek, for a donation, so I could get a place to live.  Even if they give me money in the future, my views on GMO are already complimentary to theirs, so no COI would be possible.

That being said, I really am homeless, and would not turn down any donations that would help me get an apt.  I'm not trying to get a fancy downtown loft, just a decent place in a walkable neighborhood.  

I have zero savings and a new job, so it's going to take a while to save up money for an apartment.

If you would like donate, please visit the link on my Twitter profile page.

If you want to read more about my sad, strange misadventures in poverty and homelessness, check out my other blog, 
Poor Blog:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

USRTK: Sneak Peek At How GMO Labels Will Be Used.

Hey everyone.  It's been a while, because I haven't really had much new to write about. if you are finding this blog for the 1st time, please go back and check out past posts where I discuss all the major food and ag issues.

A lot has already been written about the USRTK's Freedom Of Information Act requests aimed at 14 publicly employed academic researchers, and I'm not the news. For those not in the know, here are some links to read up on the story:

Discover Magazine - Keith Kloor
American Association for the Advancement of Science - Keith Kloor
Wired - Alan Levinovitz
Biofortified - Karl Haro von Mogel

In making these requests, the US Right To Know campaign has tipped their hand at how they would behave if #GMO labeling went into effect.  Allow me to explain...

The FOIA is widely acknowledged to be somewhat disingenuous in this case.  Despite what the USRTK claims, that researchers are doing the bidding of some corporate master, they know better.  If they had evidence strong enough to prove a direct pay off of(or veiled threat to) academic researchers by ag/food corps, then they would have blown the lid off that story long ago.

This isn't about that.

This is about guilt by association.  Food and ag scientists are employed all over the world in their area of expertise: food companies, ag companies, and public universities.  These researchers often communicate with each other about research, perhaps asking for guidance when something stretches beyond their very specific area of expertise, or to get help with experimental design, or to ask other scientists to elaborate further on recently published research findings.  If we had these methods of communication even 20 years earlier, we would be light years ahead in our understanding of food and ag science. 

Communication between scientists is a very good thing.  

Also, people doing this type of work tend to already cross pollinate the public/private divide through switching jobs.  Two scientists may have already been co-workers, students, or old advisers when the other was doing post grad work and are still keeping lines of communication open.

What USRTK will do with the information retrieved on the tax payer's dime is run a simple keyword search, then publish those emails, regardless of how innocent they are, and try to say that big food/ag is in cahoots with university researchers.  Do not expect anything to be published in context. The USRTK will exploit the highly conspiratorial mindset of the Food Hysterics that follow them. 

Let's say they find an email where Kevin Folta contacts a former student of his who now works for Monsanto about going biking, perhaps their vacation times line up or they both are participating in the same biking event.  In reality, this is nothing... just two people riding bikes, but to a suspicious and cynical food activist, this could be some sort of smoking gun they will show to everyone they are trying to turn against food and ag science.

That brings me to the issue of labeling #GMO.

Labels will be used in the same way the emails obtained through the FOIA will be abused. Watch how USRTK handles the benign, routine communications between scientists and see whether they try to make mountains out of mole hills.  My guess is that they will and this is the same type of strategy that would be employed if #GMO labeling becomes law.  It doesn't matter what the label is, it only matters that it's a label, Just like it doesn't matter what the emails say... only that there are emails.

Please keep in mind that labeling isn't the end of USRTK's strategy, only the very beginning; after which, you will see a massive and very product specific campaign aimed at strong arming companies into dropping ingredients developed using a genetic modification.  Ultimately, they want to end #GMO


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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.


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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