Friday, December 11, 2009

The Illusion of Facts.

Hello. It's been a while since I last posted on here. The things I write about aren't current events as much as it's science. Apples fall from trees just as they did in Newton's time. The same sort of thing is true of food science. So these musings can also serve as a reference. That also means that I don't really need to do one of these every day (unless web traffic increases 100x).

This isn't easy subject matter to be prolific about. I know what I know because I learned it. I sold my textbooks because I'm poor and it becomes difficult to cite things. Many studies are done every year, but then again, you have to pay to get these studies. I had access to these things at Ohio State in a huge database through OSU's great online library system, but I don't now. That hurts the food industry if you ask me. All studies should be put out for easy access. The other thing that hurts the food industry is that you train for it only after you've decided on it as a profession. It's kind of like pro wrestling in that respect. You only go to wrestling school if you want to be a wrestler.

Anyway... There is a lack of background knowledge in the area of food science. The only people that learn food science are academics who will go on to teach and people that go on to work in the food industry. So most industry people just chuckle when a Michael Pollan comes along with his theories about food. To the general public that doesn't have this general knowledge base, however, Pollan looks like the expert.

This is a situation I call the Illusion of Fact. This phenomena happens in many sciences where the general public has been starved of education about an industry. Any voice they hear will resonate and ring true, especially if you need a functional background in some other discipline to understand it. Jenny McCarthy goes on Oprah and talks about how vaccinations cause autism. It doesn't, but when this first came up, doctors ignored the low level rumblings because they seemed silly. Now we have parents refusing to vaccinate in the midst of a major flu outbreak.

I was listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast when he had on people affiliated with the Raw Food movement. At no point did anyone call in or did Adam question what they said, so I'm sure it was understood to be fact by many. They referred to cheese as being horrible for you and attributed what bordered on special powers for eating raw nuts and veggies. At one point one of the people, in talking about the time before he went raw, said that the lettuce was probably the only thing that was keeping him alive. Does anyone else realize how insane that is? He's making it up as he goes along!

Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief for Prevention magazine put out what is truly one of the most jaw-droppingly ignorant articles I think I have ever read. @LizVacc as she's known on twitter, put out an article called, 'The 7 foods experts won't eat'. She listed the bad food, then the 'expert' that knew better than eating that food. See if you can detect a pattern here...

Canned tomatoes
"The expert: Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A

The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes.""

This seems somewhat legit until you start to wonder:

Is 50mcg the upper limit (theoretically possible)? If so, how much leaching actually occurs? Is it 50 mcg or is it 50mcg/kg bodyweight? Big difference.

This is from [ ]

'Government and industry researchers have reported that bisphenol A (BPA) is generally not detected in canned beverages and only extremely low levels (generally less than 37 parts per billion) of BPA have been reported to migrate into some canned foods. At these levels, a consumer would have to ingest more than 500 pounds of canned food and beverages every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consequently, human exposure to BPA from can coatings is minimal and poses no known health risk.'

Since that site is pro BPA, I'll site another source:
[ ]

'The Consumer Union published its report after tests on 19 canned foods - including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans – found almost all contained “measurable levels of BPA”. The levels of chemical detected ranged from 0.3 parts per billion (ppb) to 191ppb. This highest level was detected in canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake with the lowest finding for this product less than a fifth of that at 35.9 ppb. Progresso Vegetable Soup, made by General Mills, showed a BPA level ranging from 67 to 134 ppb, while Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup had BPA levels between 54.5- 102 ppb, said the study.

A spokesman from General Mills said the BPA levels of up to 134ppb reportedly found in its Progresso Soup were not consistent with the company’s own findings.

However, even if that level was present, it would still be substantially below the advisory level of 600 parts per billion established by the European Union as a level of safe consumption for all ages – and below current U.S. guidelines that establish the daily upper limit of safe exposure as 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight,” he added. “A level of 60 or 90 parts per billion, if present in a product, is and would be safe.”'

I know this is true from how they phrased it. You see, all @LizVacc reported on was an out of context number - 50mcg, but that isn't how toxicity is displayed. Tox levels for any food additive is always listed as units per kilogram of bodyweight. The reason for this is because of lab testing on rats and they need to convert the number into a human equivalent. So when the biased bisphenol-a site said that you would need to ingest 500 lbs of it every day for a lifetime, I knew they weren't lying.

I did find something amusing when looking that up...

Check out this section of a story done by the Virginian-Pilot and reposted by [ ]

'the best option is to look for tomato products in glass jars, such as those made by Bionaturae, or in aseptic packaging, such as Pomi brand.'

Now compare that with what Liz Vaccariello wrote:

'Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.'

Plagiarize much, Editor in Chief?

More examples:

Nonorganic potatoes (her wording, not mine)

'The expert: Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board'

Really? You mean to tell me that the Chairman of the National Organics Standards Board is advocating for organic potatoes? You just blew my mind. Hey, I wonder if salt is good for me, maybe I'll ask the head of Morton Salt.

The Illusion of Fact.

Question what you are being told and why they are telling you. Use reason and logic. Autism is caused by vaccines and food dye? Wouldn't there by way more people with autism? I mean, everyone has had either an M&M or a shot?

I blame the food industry, and IFT, and our educational system. The industry should have seen this coming and should have reached out to educate. The Institute of Food Technologists could do more to educate our public so they don't turn to food hysterics and junk science. We eat every day, several times a day. Why isn't basic food science taught as real world examples of physics, agriculture, chemistry, and biology?

I have promised and I will do a thorough fact checking of Food Inc. I put it off because I know it's going to be a ton of work (not debunking, but a ton of writing because there is so much to debunk). I might break it down to a couple of fact checks per post. I dread doing it like I used to dread track conditioning in high school. I got so much anxiety that I would feel physically ill. I hated running and no amount of running gave me more stamina. I was a shot put and discus thrower, too, so running was extra pointless for me. Oh well, another story for a different blog all together.

Look for me on Twitter - @samvance

Comment on here as well. I get the comments in my gmail and approve them so I don't have crazies leave crazy comments. Plus it forces me to read the comments. Let me know if you like it and tell your friends/colleagues.


  1. Raw foods... how paranoid can someone get? I like my veggies and dip and fruits and such... but bread and meat needs to be cooked. Proponents of this movement can keep their cooties to themselves... I don't want to chew on those parasites!

  2. Right on Sam. Look forward to reading your comments. Too few experts who really understand food science are speaking out. I'm very glad that you are.

    I have often wondered when/why this concept of I think it or I believe it so it must be true came about. Lots of ideas have been blessed as fact just because someone thinks it up. And then they are set as it as the truth--you can't reason with them once they're convinced of these falsehoods.

    Keep it up, even if we can't convince some of them of the error of their ways, we can keep them from running amuck.


Put your comment here, kind sir/madame. Try to cite sources when stating facts and refrain from off topic comments or hateful/nasty rhetoric.