Thursday, December 23, 2010


Let's get this party started right.  Let's get this party started quickly... right?

I've had two food culture articles occupying tabs in my Firefox browser for a month now.  The first article appears in Newsweek and is written by Lisa Miller.  The other is an article in the Washington Post by Brent Cunningham & Jane Black.

Both articles assume things which are untrue and symptomatic of most American's ignorance about food.  Both articles make it seem that the best food you can get is at Whole Foods or a farmer's market and if you aren't lucky enough to afford that, you're stuck with high calorie, processed crap.  First off... everything is processed.  I know this is semantics, but the people who say this know nothing about how food is handled, so I know there is little room for nuance in their argument.  They really think some food comes out of a machine, but their Whole Foods foods come from some sort of virgin food birth.  It's Jesus after he's been individually quick frozen and packaged in environmentally responsible packaging... you know... like the pilgrims would do.

So they assume that A. everything else is processed and B. processed = bad.  They also assume that their foods are completely balanced and beyond reproach and everyone else's food is packed with calories and chemicals.

Brian Wansink from Cornell has been doing some very intriguing work on what he calls 'Health Halos' that may explain the Foodies ego toward their food and disdain for others.  Health Halo refers to the halo effect that is seen in sensory science.  For example a taste test on vanilla milkshakes may yield uncharacteristically high scores from someone who is a fan of vanilla.  The vanilla fan may give the shake higher marks for mouth feel and creaminess versus a fan of chocolate.  The Health Halo is where people grade food assumed to be of a higher quality or stature as healthier or lower in calories.  He demonstrates this perfectly in an experiment he performs on Showtime's Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Premium organic hypermarkets such as Fresh and Whole Foods exploit the ignorance of the liberal arts and Google Educated foodies that believe everything else causes obesity and disease.  Their ignorance costs them dearly.

In the Newsweek article, a family is said to spend $1,000 a month on their food.  What's more is the parenthetical caveat that states that $1,000 is roughly 20% of their monthly income.  Assuming this is post tax, that means this family makes about $80,000/year.  This is about 60% higher than the 2008 average income of $52,029.  So not only are they getting ripped off(organics are no healthier than conventional), but they get indoctrinated into this misinformation and talk people who are much less fortunate into forking over a much bigger percentage of their take home pay for these groceries.  These groceries then rake in the profits.  According to the Newsweek article(and because I'm too lazy to look this up myself), Whole Foods reportedly increased their profits by a whopping 58% last quarter.

People buy what they afford and if they live from paycheck to paycheck, watching calories takes a backseat to getting the most food for your dollar.  I've yet to make more than $29,000/yr(someone please help me right this wrong and hire me!) and have gone many weeks where I have to stretch my dollars.  I don't miss meals, though, and will readily buy dinner before making a credit card payment.  When my dollar is stretched the most, I buy ramen noodles, canned tuna, rice/pasta chub packs of 83/27 ground beef, whole pork shoulders, eggs, milk, potatoes, and apples/bananas.  Most of these foods are calorically dense.  If I go out to eat during an economic crunch, it'll almost always be a buffet and that will be the only thing I eat that day.  When I have more money, what do I do?  Less buffets, mostly the same types of foods, because I'm a picky eater, but I don't eat like it's the last day on earth. I also buy less groceries more often and will splurge on fancier items(like the Red Pepper Pesto at Giant Eagle).
I don't want to make this an Elite vs. regular Joe thing or a liberal vs. conservative thing, because I know conservatives that also blow their hard earned money on this bullshit.  I also don't want to come down on quality, but people must understand that quality has nothing to do with whether or not something is organic and is more a matter of statistical process control and sourcing better ingredients.  Of course, then we get into the industrial side and that's a whole other ball of wax.

Crap... I promised I was going to make this shorter.  Fuck.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How To Scare Kids And Influence People.

When arguing about food and food policy in this country, children are often used as pawns.  Nobody can stand the thought of anything bad happening to our kids.  This is why baby formula and school lunch food are some of the most heavily regulated things in the food industry.

But that is all about scaring the adults who are concerned for the kids.  To my knowledge, this is the first instance I've seen of scaring the children directly... and it sickens me.

Watch this video:

He's done this 'experiment' time and time again in his home country.  So he's experienced in scaring kids.  He then goes on to say that chicken nuggets are not made this way in the United States... just before he tells kids how the chicken nuggets they love are made.  Did you catch that?  In the intro for the segment, he admits he is lying to little kids.

Now body language is very important when interacting with kids.  Be aggressive or frown at the right moment and you make the impression that what you're doing is bad/wrong/disgusting. Look at what he does at about the 1:30 mark where, after explaining that everything else on the chicken was good and has value, he then asks the kids, 'You want to eat some?' as he waves the raw chicken at their faces.  Substitute the chicken with liver, asparagus, beans, cottage cheese, or triple cream brie while making those motions and you'll get the same reaction.

A couple things:

To me, this is no different than indoctrinating kids with... religion, racism, hatred, violence...ignorance.  He leads them with emotional cues and body language.  Amazingly, the kids still said they would eat it.

He took the very poorly deboned carcass(still lots of breast meat left on), cut it up and said it was horrible.  Are you telling us, Mr. Oliver, that you never make chicken stock?  You don't submerge those 'nasty bits' under a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to a simmer for several hours, reducing the liquid and extracting the flavor?  Hmm.  Interesting.  I only went to Johnson & Wales for a trimester and it's the first thing you learn in stocks and sauces.  Also, are we saying that using the meat on the bone is bad and throwing the ugly meat away is good?

Why not teach the kids how to make their own chicken nuggets or chicken fingers?  Why not teach them safe knife handling skills?  Why not explain what calories are and how our bodies deal with excess calories?  Why not do any of that instead of trying to scare children and adults?

It isn't the food, it's the quantity.  By dumping a bunch of prepackaged goodies on some fat woman's table and making her cry, are you really more effective than showing her how to use Excel to track and add the nutrients and calories of the food she eats?  Is it better than showing her how to shop for ingrediants that are cheap, nutrient dense, and last the week?  Is it better than showing her basic recipes, techniques, and tips to help her plan meals she never thought she had time for?

This show seems to be all about scaring kids and influencing people.  Jamie Oliver and his producers may mean well, but they go about it in the worst way possible.  Exploiting a region of people, a body type, and children is a high ratings, high trauma approach that will either create more misguided activists, or shame those people and make their situations even worse.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Carrot Schtick... Schtick

I just watched the @maddow 'Carrot Schtick' segment from her 9/23 show and had some thoughts. Before I begin, let me preface by saying that I subscribe to her video podcast version of The Rachel Maddow Show. I think the material presented is fair and factual, and she brings a level headed demeanor to our polarized world.

First of all, let's give the floor back to the experts. Nothing fries my melon quicker than scientifically illiterate people soap-boxing science. We take food education and advice from college journalism professors who never interview food scientists for his books about food (I'm talking about you, Pollan). People who graduated from college with a liberal arts education(I wrote about this before), tend to approach learning about science in the same way they learned about the classics and humanities. What I notice about these people is that they come from an environment where everything is abstract, so everyone can have an opinion on anything. Science isn't at all opinion friendly. I can believe that one giant cheeseburger and cheese fries will give me a heart attack, but it doesn't make it true. Eating this every day for years will give you an increased likelihood of a heart attack, but not the one and not even for several a month. I can say that the plastic bottle I drink water from will make me sterile from the BPA and give me cancer, but that doesn't make it true. The truth is a lot less exciting and sensational than that.

Trans fats are bad for you, but not to the extent it's been made out to be. A lifetime of far above avg consumption may cause problems.

My thoughts on Child nutrition:

1) Health is a relative term. What is healthy for one person may be too much for another and depends on what else that person ate the rest of the day/week/month

2) School lunches require a certain amount of calories and schools can't possibly be expected to be responsible for what the student's parents give them at home.

3) Calories aren't good or bad, only too few or too many are bad. A zero calorie diet is not a better diet than a 2,500 calorie diet. It's death. We need calories, just not too many... but it depends on the situation... again, not very exciting or sensational.

4) Fats are over-consumed, but not inherently bad. Fat is stored energy that also protects our bodies and keeps us warm. We shouldn't demonize a food just because it has a high fat content. We don't know what else the person ate that day or week. Maybe they're at an acceptable level when their whole diet is observed.

Don't conflate what some lobbyist says with what the science is. A Food Hysteric and a lobbyist will both sensationalize food to the same degree, just in opposite directions. Remember; the truth is very boring and 'blah'. I love food science and even I yawn when reading research.

So Glenn Beck talking about people taking fries away is nutty, but it doesn't make fries evil as well. Fries aren't evil, they're fries. Everything has a place with moderation. My food processing professor at OSU was an expert in dairy and had been teaching at the university level since the late 40's. He was in his mid 80's when I was his student. He drove to school, held office hours, and still ate ice cream every day. He wasn't fat or diabetic or any of that. He always said, 'everything in moderation'. To my knowledge, the only thing he had to cut back on was was pecans, because he found it harder to digest in his later years.

Honestly, even the things we agree aren't good in high amounts(fat, mercury in fish), still takes prolonged exposure to very high amounts of anything legal and not good for you to actually make you sick. This of course, is by design, because the amount's allowed per serving of things like BPA is set at a tiny fraction of the minimal amount it takes to cause illness.

For example:

Additive X causes illness @ 2 grams per kilogram of body weight(toxicity).

FDA sets the highest allowable amount @ 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Food Y contains 100 micrograms of X per serving & 2 servings per can(16 oz ).

Food Y then contains 200 micrograms of X per can.

So you'd need to eat 100 16oz cans of food Y to get ill from Additive X... and X metabolizes in 3 days, so you have that long to eat 100 cans of Food Y.

But that isn't exciting. It 's roughly in the ball park of how toxicity levels work for everything allowed in our food.

I think I got off track here, but let me restate a few things. I like The Rachel Maddow Show and I understand that her larger point for this segment was pointing out that the GOP may be testing the waters for a culture war. I'm just concerned that science will get lumped in with a political party, and because of that, people on the left will only grow more cynical about science and write off everything as 'Big' [fill in the blank].

To have a real science based discussion about anything in our society, especially food, requires people that, quite frankly, know what the hell they're talking about, not journalism Prof's or lobbyists. I would ask anyone affiliated with The Rachel Maddow Show that is reading this to look into utilizing food science experts in the same way you utilize astro-physicists to discuss space. Some great resources for interviews would be colleges with top food science programs, such as: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Cornell, Penn State, and UC Davis. Also make use of IFT(Institute of Food Technologists).

Above all else, we need a renewed interest in science education in this country so well intentioned ppl can spot sound science and recognize the frauds and misleading correlation studies.

[I apologize for the rambling nature of this post. It was late(or early) and I felt like saying some things that weren't all under much of a unifying theme.]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Total Recall: Food Safety Hysteria Gives Rise To Unnecessary Demands.

People are upset about a food safety bill that is currently stalled in the Senate.  The bill mandates regular inspections of food plants, which I also support.  But one of the strange things to come out of the recent salmonella outbreak and this bill stalling, is people's continued claim that the FDA is powerless to do any enforcement.

The New York Times ran a story about the bill and mentioned the egg recall, stating the following:

"...the F.D.A. never inspected the Iowa egg facilities at the center of the recalls. Even if it had, the agency would not have had the power to order that their eggs be recalled despite conditions it later found to be filthy."

I find this to be very misleading.  First off, the FDA absolutely has the power to order the eggs be recalled.  There are two things here.  Number one, the FDA can ask the company to institute a recall and as soon as they do, the FDA assists them and provides guidance to ensure the proper steps are being taken.  Yes, all recalls are voluntary, but I will challenge anyone reading this to find instances where a food company refused to issue a recall.  That brings me to number two and the reason why recall requests are always granted - seizure.

Under 21 U.S.C. 334 the FDA has the authority to seize food it believes to be contaminated or adulterated in some way.  Food companies absolutely do not want this to happen... ever.  Just on a P.R. level, any company would much rather look like they caught a mistake and are trying to make it right by recalling the adulterated product.  This is where the New York Times' story is so misleading.  No food company in their right mind, or with credible evidence that proves they are being unfairly treated, would ever risk an FDA seizure.  Under a recall, the FDA helps.  Under a seizure, the FDA takes over, in some instances keeping you from running production by clotting your supply lines and warehouse storage.  A seizure is like a crazy cat lady having her cats taken away because they're emaciated/diseased/abused... it's an indictment on the party involved.  Some companies didn't survive massive recalls because of the negative impact it had on their sales.  Under a seizure, you give up all ability to say you are trying to make thing's right.  This is why the New York Times article is so intellectually dishonest.

The power to demand a recall is unnecessary and in my opinion, does more harm than good.  Even to good facilities, bad things can happen.  A worker can fail to notify their supervisor they are ill and work their shift, contaminating food.  Temperature anomalies can occur in between regular temperature checks, preventing some of the product from reaching a proper kill temp for bacteria.  A packaging employee may grab a spindle of identical looking labels that don't have the allergen statement.  The voluntary recall gives the company a chance to own the problem and make it right.  Believe it or not, most people do give a damn about their jobs and the safety of their products.  A seizure is a last resort action meant to stop a rogue company from harming the public.  By harming a business that just made a careless mistake, you potentially put thousands of people out of work.

What I want to see happen...

The FDA has roughly 51,229 facilities to inspect but inspected fewer than 1,000 in 2008.  This is a big problem and this is the reason:

We simply need more Consumer Safety Officers, the boots on the ground that actually go to these facilities and carry out the inspections.  Specialists are the people that are technical writers, researchers, and food microbiologists that process samples.

We need to have close to 5,000 inspectors, but until recently, the FDA had been underfunded.  This is the biggest problem.  The next big problem that must be tackled is the hiring process. 

On there are no entry level Consumer Safety Officer positions to apply for.  None.  There are only GS-7 Through GS-13, which are PhD's and upper management positions, on up to director level.  The USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service, which inspects meat facilities, does have a GS-5 entry level Food Inspector position open, but this leads me to the next part of the problem.  The process for getting hired involves filling out a lengthy application and meeting certain educational requirements, which is understandable for a government position.  They also take at least 6 - 8 weeks after the posted job's closing date to get back to the candidates that applied.  This position's closing date?  01/31/2011  You won't even know if you made it to the first round of phone interviews nearly 6 months.  What food safety/food science talent(myself, for example) can afford to wait that long just to start the interview process?

So we need more people and the speed at which we hire those people needs to increase exponentially.  Notice that my solutions didn't involve any new laws other than requiring timely inspections.  It isn't the laws that are flawed, it's the execution.

The truth is, instances of food borne illnesses have been decreasing since the end of the last century.  That doesn't mean we can't do way better, but it does mean there is a fair amount of hysteria out there.  Hopefully, someone with the USDA and FDA addresses these human resource issues.  If so, I'll be the first to apply.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I've had a few notable quotables in my day.  I know of at least a handful of times where people grabbed a pen and immediately started writing down what I just said.  I've also had instances where people say things to me then wait for my reaction.  After a couple seconds, they say it again and look sad when I don't recognize what turns out to be a 'Sam Quote'.

Most recently, I came up with the combination of Terrel Owens and Ocho Cinco, which is T.Ocho Cinco.  Although, I didn't research that hard to see if that was ever used before.  Not bragging, just establishing a history of me classifying things.

My newest creation is a term that explains the ill logic and insanity of some Food Hysterics and Foodies.  The term did appear very briefly in New York Magazine a couple years ago, but it was kind of a suggestion...

Edible Brooklyn editor Gabrielle Langholtz suggested that bona fide food fans — those who read food books, travel to food destinations, and taste obsessively — could refer to themselves as “foodists,” as intense Star Trek fans go not by “trekkies” but “trekkers”
 The term is defined by other people and it varies from person to person.  Some people use it like you would use nutritionist.

I have added my own definition for the term/mindset.

Foodism:  A prejudice against a brand or type of food - for reasons other than taste - without rational or credible reasoning to back up your feelings.  Essentially, it's the same mindset that racists have.

This is where I ran into a little trouble.

People were telling me that I think foodies are racists and I never said that.  I said they have the same mindset.  A racist might hate black people, but his reasoning might be based on something that is factually inaccurate or completely illogical.  For instance, people used to think that getting blood transfusions from black Americans would alter their soul.  There is no science to support this and it's obviously false and irrational.

A foodist (as I define them) will make disparaging remarks about a food and when pressed for a reason, it never bears out anything credible.  This works for a type of food, or a specific brand.

I have long said that there is no good or bad foods, just things people eat.  It's the totality of everything in our diets that contribute - in part - to our total health.  The sodium in a Dorito is no worse than the equivalent sodium in French Onion soup or a risotto.  But if you eat the Dorito, someone will make some joke about you having a heart attack.  So when pressed on this, the foodist then says it's the preservatives.  Preservatives?  Which one?  ...Crickets...  

Look at all the obesity and diabetes and autism... autism!
 So the preservatives cause all those things? Each preservative causes all those or all those preservatives have to be combined?

Don't be a dick, you know it's the high fructose corn syrup and the fatty tortilla chip.
So all Doritos are bad or all tortilla chips are bad?

 So foodists are not racists, but the soundness and validity(or lack thereof) of their argument mimics the same structure a racist uses.  A racist has reasons, but they are quickly discredited and an underlying ignorance about that race is exposed.

Foodism also can involve elements of conspiracy theorists and what I call a belief in magic.  The evil CEO is sequestered in his fancy boardroom, plotting against their customers...  The best is when a foodist asserts something about food that cannot be explained by science. 

What started all this was someone saying that GMO foods cause infertility, then told me to keep eating my Doritos.  First off, foodists are so friendly.  Second, GMO foods cause infertility?  Really?  What gene, when altered, causes infertility? No answer.  Why?  Magic.  They hate GMO's so it must be true.  What really happens is that some researcher with expertise in an unrelated field does a correlation study.  Actually, a good 99% of foodists and food hysterics cite correlation studies as gospel.  The least scientific study you can do is a correlation study.  Then people add their own anecdotal evidence and confirmation bias and wala... magic.

You know who isn't a foodist?  A food scientist.  Food scientists know that food is food and if you eat a lot of fat and carbs, you'll carry more fat and be at a risk of having issues, but it isn't the specific food, it's the fat, sodium, et cetera.  Some foods are very nutrient dense, which is great if you need a lot of nutrients, and some foods are higher in fat or carbs, which is great if you're an athlete and carry a low body fat percentage and have a high metabolism.

Mozzarella Cheese sticks with marinara = bad, will kill you very fast.
Organic Goat Cheese coated in bread crumbs, sauteed in butter, served on a disc of fresh red sauce = fine.


That, my friends, is foodism.

The truth is that one Big Mac will not kill you.  It might cause a health problem if you eat Big Macs every day, for years... and only if the Big Macs put you over your limit on sodium and fat.  If you stay at or below your limit of calories/sodium/fat then you could eat Big Macs every day and be fine.  Why?  It's the totality of the diet, not a food, not a brand, and not a specific corporation's evil CEO that you think is petting a cat and staring at 5 computer monitors... and laughing maniacally.

So quit being such a foodist.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Response To The NYT Slow Food Article...

Click on the blog title to see the NYT article I am responding to...

Spam is merely SPiced hAM and consists of shoulder and ham cuts of pork mixed in a salt solution and pressed into shape.  Your dogs never ate so good [to the commenter on the NYT article page that said she wouldn't even feed Spam to her dog].

Much of the cynicism about the food industry and food science in particular, stems from scientific illiteracy that plagues our country.  This is why many of you believe whatever the Food Hysterics at Whole Foods tell you and it's why you read the books of a journalism professor and take them as fact.  Much of the college educated population have Liberal Arts degrees.  Nothing wrong with that, but the problem is that you go reading about science, the same way you went about learning the humanities.  Science is a little different.  Science requires background knowledge, patience, testing, and listening to credible sources.  Much of Liberal Arts is intangible; abstract ideas and philosophies... opinions.  Science is mostly concrete and in the cases where it is abstract, the basic ideas are testable.

I think this difference in education helps explain why people believe the things they do about food.  People don't have the background knowledge of toxicity or they haven't worked with numbers enough to understand the difference between a trace amount of something(BPA for example) and the amounts it really takes of the substance to cause illness.  This is also why people believe in homeopathy and shield their kids from receiving vaccinations.

Food today is safer than it has ever been.  Foodborne illnesses have been declining steadily every year since the implementation of HACCP principles in the mid 90's.  But still, people say that the food industry is poisoning kids.  People site discredited studies about food from everyone but food scientists, so you see the modern mythologies of HFCS and Food Dyes take hold.

I have a food science and technology degree and I get people who very 'matter of factly' tell me things that are dead wrong all the time.  Hot dogs contain meat/fat/nitrates & nitrites(for color and safety), not lips and asses.  Organic food has the exact same nutrients as conventional.  All meat and milk has  some hormones in it naturally.  All meat is antibiotic free so long as farmers follow the proper withdrawal periods.  Pesticide residues are very small and would require the consumption of hundreds of pounds of fruit/veggies in a day to get sick from them.

Nobody wants to listen, though.

For whatever reason, the Food Hysterics take comfort in their ignorance and they take comfort believing that all corporations are evil and want them dead.  The truth is that corporations benefit greatly from producing safe food and the larger companies have the means to implement safety controls and advanced testing that small operations can't compete with.

But nobody want's to believe that.

Of course, you are all entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Facts:  The old days were not any fun for the farmers.

Farmers needed more kids since the work was so labor intensive.  It took massive effort to pull weeds on large fields or to constantly move livestock from pasture to pasture and from creek to creek.  A return to this type of farming means you need more people per acre working the land.

You also need more land.  Yields 100 years ago were much smaller than today, so a return to that agriculture will require 2 to 3 times the land.  The late Norman Borlaug figured that converting the world to organic farming would only produce enough food for roughly half of the population.  Any volunteers to never eat again?

Educate yourself.  Find a food scientist.  Ohio State, Michigan, Cornell, UC Davis, and Wisconsin all have top notch food science departments.  Talk to the faculty, email them.  Pay attention to the sources of information.  Even doctors are unqualified to discuss matters of food science... as are environmental scientists.  Get your information from peer reviewed journals and pay attention to things like sample sizes.  Email a food scientist when you don't understand something instead of becoming cynical or inventing conspiracy theories.

And if all else fails, you can ask me.  I'm on Twitter @samvance and I have a blog

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Many Works of Fiction and Hysteria...

Hello blog world, haters, and curious eavesdroppers.  It's been a while since I posted, so I thought I would toss together a tolerable hodgepodge of food things...

Cloned meat has reportedly been found in the UK...  cue the music... dun dun duuuuunnnn!  Oh no!  Run everybody, ruuuun!  Cloned cows!  Holy cow!  Panic!  Freak out!

Don't worry... don't panic... and don't freak out.  There is no science that I am aware of that supports any theories about meat coming from cloned animals being anything less than safe.  Seriously, it's cool.  It's just more panic from the Food Hysterics that I think stems from a lack of fundamental science knowledge.  

Remember these simple rules when wading through these stories:
1.  Just because someone puts it in a book, doesn't make it true.
2.  Established science, and a consensus of credible, peer reviewed scientific studies can never be undone by one study.  Never.
3. Always pay close attention to the Expert's area of expertise before you consider what they're talking about.  Don't take medical advice from a food scientist, don't take environmental science info from a doctor, and certainly don't give much credence to what an environmental scientist says about food.
4. Chef's have almost zero food science knowledge.  Same goes for journalism professors.
5. Beware of percentages in the absence of hard numbers. Percentages often sound worse than they really are. i.e.  Grass fed cows have 60% more omega-3 fatty acids than grain fed cows....  but the grain fed has 1.2 and the grass fed has 1.92. When you see actual data, the percentages get less scary.

Hooter's update...
For those unaware of my writings about Hooter's, please read this as well as this.
I met someone that was going to train to be a Hooter's manager several months back.  I caught up with him recently and asked how it was going.  He quit the training and made several complaints about the company and told one interesting anecdote.  He says he went to get some raw wings to bread and fry from the cooler and noticed some had a greenish tint and smelled foul.  As any good kitchen worker does, he immediately alerted the manager in charge.  The manager took a look and advised him to go ahead and cook them.  For those concerned for their health, the training location was North of Columbus in the Polaris area and the store is located on Sancus Blvd.  I advise nobody to eat there.  Hooter's never got in touch with me and their training continues to be ignorant of the most basic food safety logic.  If anyone from Hooter's is reading this... I can help you.  You need to seek help from someone before your food kills someone, especially since more families and children are eating there.

School lunch...
I'm all for nutritious school lunches, but aside from the money needed to increases the free lunche program, it shouldn't cost more per person.  The school lunch bill being considered now is confusing.  It aims to simultaneously reduce childhood hunger while fighting childhood obesity.  The bill includes an increase in the number of kids eligible for free lunches, and also includes stricter controls on fat and sodium.  

Here is what Mrs. Obama has not considered... the other 18 hrs that the kid isn't in school.  They assume that kids blow their diets at school, which I'm not so sure of.  Kids get 1 meal at school in most cases, and while they may go for higher sugar, higher fat foods, are they eating more calories than they do at home?  Also, the law states that they must get a full 1/3 of the minimum daily calories from the school lunch... shouldn't calories be cut to reduce obesity?  I've heard they have provisions aimed at encouraging schools to go local and organic, so they'd be paying a premium for the same food without any health benefits.  

Who does this benefit other than organic farmers?  Here's a plan: offer a tax break to families that brown bag it.  That way, the parents have only themselves to blame for fat kids.  Secondly, simplify the menu with lunch meats, and fruits/veggies.  Less to cook means lowered energy costs and these foods are already lower in fat/calories.  You don't need to increase the spending on this, aside from what you spend to increase free lunches.  This seems to be another bill based on more emotion/opinion than logic, reason, and science.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bad Arnold & The School Lunch Examiner.

First blog of July and I have several mini-topics to go over.  I think this might be a better format, as the longer blogs I'm known for might be off-putting to people wanting some quick serve information.  It's ironic, because I was taught to be succinct in my writing and I'm a staunch opponent of length requirements in writing assignments.

First thing... Examiner.

I applied to write posts for the Examiner so I could at least make a little of what Adam Carolla calls WAM(walking around money).  Blogger has ad programs, but I've earned a whopping $6 in a year.  So I applied and submitted a writing sample, which I had to edit extensively because they didn't like anything written in first person.  It's such an old school, pre-blogging, pre-op-ed style.  It's like being asked to use a typewriter.  I submitted, I waited, I got fucking rejected.  Not bitter...nope, not at all.  How could I possibly compete with the award winning writing of the Examiner Food writers discussing the most ironic, bitter micro-brews, or some crazy lady talking about how Mountain Dew is destroying America...

IFT 2010 in Chicago has begun.  Have fun and mingle lots my friends.  For those that don't know, IFT is the Institute of Food Technologists, which is a professional organization for food science and food industry pro's.  IFT is a great resource if you have questions about food science and you can find them on Twitter @IFT

I need a career, folks.  I keep trying and I keep getting denied.  I have talents that are going to waste.  I can write, speak, present, sell, collaborate, investigate, or manage things for your organization.  I am very relocatable and willing to travel 100% for my job.  I'll work trade shows and live out of a suitcase if that is what you need.  If you are in need of a good addition for your team, please contact me on Twitter @samvance 

The House Committee on Education and Labor is holding hearings about the School Lunch Program today.  They want an $8 Billion budget for school lunches.  I'm not sure if this is the proposed budget or an addition to the budget, especially frustrating since I was just searching for the info on the committee website.

They seem to be having 2 hearings today.  One hearing is about how this bill(H.R. 5504) will help tackle childhood obesity and the other is about how we it will help end child hunger... What?  A couple things about this: The bill doesn't directly address obesity.  The bill makes it easier to use local farms and I think it updates the nutrition requirements based on professional recommendations.  By law, the school lunch program must provide no less than 30% of the nutrition and caloric value that a child needs in a day.  This is assuming the kid eats 3 meals a day.  

The way to battle obesity is to reduce calories, not increase the nutritional density of a food.  This bill can do little to that end because the kid eats whatever when he/she gets home from school.  Also, you can't force the kids to eat the food you make.  So what is the increase in spending?  I know some of the spending is a 6 cent increase in the school lunch reimbursement rate, but that doesn't account for all of it.  More of the money comes from increasing the number of kids that qualify for free and reduced lunches, but again, that doesn't account for all the money.  The rest is in buying more expensive food.  

This is directly related to the local farm provisions.  You see, 'local' farms charge a premium for the food and take advantage of your fear and anxiety over processed foods and corporations.  This creates a sort of halo effect for these operations, where consumers falsely conclude that local food is more nutritive and safer.  It isn't.  In fact, Dole and Del Monte have greater resources for ensuring that fruits and vegetables are safe.  Small operations can't afford these resources and don't intend to invest in them.  The whole reason they market themselves as local is so they can charge a premium on that food.  A large operation has to invest to protect itself against recalls and lawsuits.  Also, these operations are usually highly automated, meaning there are less people touching and contaminating the product.

I really think this just comes down to foodies and food hysterics being anti-corporate, anti-science, and pro-presentation.  They really don't like the way school food looks, which isn't the point of it.  I could make these foodies a school lunch that was more fattening and has more calories and they would choose it over the current school lunch.  Actually, Cornell has done research where they take fast food and reconfigure it to look like fine dining and participants had substantially higher opinions about that food and how many calories they thought it had versus the exact same fast food they just sampled.  This bill has a couple good things in it, but for the most part it's style over substance.

Arnold Foods makes a wide assortment of higher end breads.  They usually enjoy shelf placement right alongside Sara Lee and Pepperidge Farm.  I was shopping at the Bigg's Hypermarket in Hyde Park (Cincinnati) and noticed and unusual quality defect in a package of their sesame seed sandwich buns.

Can you tell which package doesn't look right?

The package on the left is barely done and has no color.  I am amazed that nobody working on the line or in QA for Arnold caught this.  The bottom of the package is soggy and a little doughy.  The process for these buns is pretty straight forward.  Dough is batched and loaded into a hopper where it is portioned, shaped, and sent through a proofing room.  Then the dough heads through an oven on a belt.  Most likely, the belt speed, oven temp was adjusted and a few of the buns were in the oven when the belt speed was too fast or the oven temp was too low.  This should have been picked up by QA though.

Bad Buns.

Good Buns.

FYI - I did take the bad buns to Bigg's customer service counter and explain what the issue was and told her the grocery manager could probably get a credit for them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Food Hysterics Are Taking Over.

It's been a long time coming, but we are now starting to see the food hysterics taking over.  It isn't just them though, but a larger movement that will never think we are safe enough or healthy enough.  You've heard stories of schools banning dodgeball and tag.  You've heard about the participation ribbons(losing is too negative).

This overreaction to life has fed the Food Hysterics and created a sense(to them) that they are justified in what they are doing.

So what are they doing?

The CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) is launching a lawsuit against McDonalds.  Apparently, CSPI told McDonalds not to put toys in Happy Meals.  McDonalds probably realized that CSPI has no authority over them and ignored the order.  So now they're being sued for what CSPI claims are deceptive practices.  By putting toys in Happy Meals, it entices kids to drive to McDonalds, open their wallets, and fork over their hard earned money for... what a  minute, that doesn't sound right.

Washington D.C. schools will now stop offering flavored milk to students.  There choices are now 1% & skim.


Let's look at the Happy Meals first:

Obviously, kids aren't buying the Happy Meals, the parents/guardians are.  The toy is as much for the parent as it is for the kid, since the kid stays put and is placated by the toy and not running a muck in the restaurant.  Sure, the kids can bug the folks to get them a Happy Meal, but even then, they can still ask them to omit the toy.  But it isn't the toy that the CSPI is really opposed to, is it?  Clearly, they are opposed to the food, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.

Look at the actual ads for Happy Meals:

Happy Meals used to be 4 McNuggets or a Cheeseburger, fries, and a soft drink.  Now they have the option of replacing fries with apple slices and replacing the pop with milk.  So you can get McNuggets, apple slices, and a milk.  That's a pretty good lunch and the kid can be treated to some hot fries every now and then or just have a few of mom or dad's.  I have a niece and a nephew almost 2 and just over 4 years old.  I have never seen them finish what's on their plate, not even close.  They eat like birds and I guarantee that they don't eat more than 200 calories out of their 430 calorie Happy Meal.  By the way, if you adults want to go on a diet without giving up your favorite foods, I have a suggestion for you... Happy Meal!  You could have a happy meal for 3 meals and still be at a caloric deficit.  They even give you a toy(while supplies last).

CSPI is being really short sighted here.  Sure they missed the fact that adults are in charge, and they missed the fact that Happy Meals are advertised with apple slices and milk now, and they missed the fact that many kids probably don't even finish the Happy Meal, and they missed the fact that for every fat kid eating a Happy Meal, there are many other kids who are just fine.  Despite all that, they missed a way these Happy Meals can be used in their favor.  What if the toy was a ball?  What about a jump rope?  How about one of those mind boggling logic puzzles?  Not only that but what about using toys to establish a lifetime of eating apples and drinking milk?  Sure they can still get the cheeseburger and fries if the parent allows it, but they should still have that choice, right?  Right??

CSPI is wrong about this.  The Food Hysterics are wrong about their issues.  On nearly every issue, they get the science wrong, or quote studies that have been discredited, or have too small a sample size, or only make a correlation(which you should know means nothing), or haven't been replicated or peer reviewed.  If you you tell the truth, that it all boils down to managing calories, then their life's work goes away.  They're not activists, they're Hysterics.  They take a trace amount of a food additive that would require you to eat 100's of pounds of that food a day to get ill and turn it into a huge danger to society.  They need these wild accusations to prey on the weak minded and the science illiterate so that The Food Hysteric's way of life can continue.  

They really need to settle down.  Maybe they need a Happy Meal.  You know, they do come with a toy...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Just Say Yes: An Open Letter To The Food Industry.

I remember the first job I tried to get.  A guy in my class was working at a Ponderosa Steakhouse as a dishwasher and was let go.  I overheard him telling someone about his firing so I knew I had a chance to capitalize.

I went down to the Ponderosa and filled out an application.  I was thrilled when they wanted to interview me.  'I've got this one', I thought to myself as I waited for the General Manager to join me in the booth.  I knew they needed a night time dishwasher and I had spent the last 6 years at family farm boot camp where I had to haul in firewood by the wagon full, shovel hog manure, and wrestle hogs down that needed castrated or moved to other pens.  Dish washing would be a cakewalk.

The manager interviewed me and towards the end posed some odd question where he asked me to interpret a quote.  It was a psychological test where the quote could be read in a number of different ways.  He told me there was no wrong answer.  I didn't get the job... as a dishwasher that they needed.  Maybe there was a wrong answer after all.

It's been many years since then, and I have gone from wanting to be the Chef-owner of my own restaurant to being interested in the food industry, to wanting a career in the industry.  I put myself in debt and went to college.  At one point, I had to take a couple years off because I had no money.  Once I was able to get financial aid I decided I would make sure I didn't leave without my degree.  It wasn't easy.

For many quarters I would start off on a full-time schedule, then drop a class just so I could have money to live off of.  It was also very routine for me to return books I had bought as I had run out of money.  Most of my college education was gleaned off of what was said in lecture and recitation, because I didn't have books.  I had some academic set-backs as well.  I struggled in a few classes where I had to take them over, which destroyed my GPA, although none of those classes(except accounting) dealt with my degree.

With one quarter left and the end in sight, I was informed that I had maxed out my financial aid and I would only get a small amount of grant money for my last quarter of school.  I was several thousand dollars short and had to get my sister to co-sign a private loan just so I could finish.

That last year I tried to get hired by several food companies ahead of time so I could start work right after graduating.  These companies would skim off the people with the highest GPA and most extra-curricular activities, which left me out.  Everything is computerized now, so instead of pleading with someone in HR to consider the grades I got in food science and ops management classes, a computer just automatically rejected me.

My sister pleaded with me to manage my expectations and take any job, anywhere just to start making money.  My argument was that it'd do more damage to work heavy hours in a job that is going to take my energy away from finding work that I really wanted to do.

So I've had a couple decent things here and there, but no real start to a food industry career.  The food industry was sold to me as a vacuum for graduates, that there are more jobs than food science & technology grads to fill them.  I was filled with thoughts of bidding wars over my valuable services.  I'm still trying to get my career going.  My aspirations don't seem very far-fetched to me.  I want to get hired into the food industry, preferably into a training program where I am able to learn about the company and move up.  I don't expect to be a regional sales manager or a plant manager straight away, but I also know that my skills aren't going to be put to good use as an hourly machine operator, either.

The food industry seems to be taking advantage of the recession.  In my 2 and a half years of looking, I've seen the job requirements change.  I recently saw a posting for a 3rd shift production supervisor in Eastern Ohio.  The ad stated that they wanted someone with at least 5-7 years of experience in a very specific manufacturing process.  Starting pay, $30,000 - $35,000.  Greedy.  First off, how many qualified candidates do you expect to find on the eastern border of Ohio... with 5-7 years of experience in a specific manufacturing process?  Second, what self respecting production supervisor with 5-7 years of experience is going to take a 3rd shift job for that little money.

Of course, this is anecdotal, but it underscores a troubling trend for the food industry.  This is an industry built on progress and innovation.  Food companies should have a minimum number of people that they train for management, R&D, and QA every year.  Sure, the smaller companies can't afford these training programs, but they get people a few years after those programs and other people that were in those companies.  This is how the talent cross-pollinates within the industry.  The trainee moves up after the seasoned manager moves on to the smaller company for a promotion in title and a raise in pay.  This is the circle of life in the food industry, or at least it was.  There is now something jamming up the gears of progress.  I have the solution though, if you want to hear it.

Just say yes.

Don't let the computer or the HR generalist making $25,000/yr hand out all those free 'no's.  The no's have a cost associated with them which lies in wasted talent.  In their place are people that are very good at being students.  Not to sound completely cynical, there are many very good candidates with 3.0 and above GPA's, but there are also many very good candidates with lower GPA's.  The inherent flaw is in selecting pristine candidates for an industry that isn't very pristine.  What happens when people that locked themselves in their rooms to memorize facts and figures to maintain there GPA encounter adversity and failure in the workplace?  How will they handle change and uncertainty?  

I'm a fighter, a cellar climber.  Nothing I got came easy and I don't have any successes without several failures to go along with it.  I learn from my mistakes and I've learned a lot, but I get passed up a lot, too.  How many more are out there just like me, who are smart, capable, creative, and know they can do a great job if given the opportunity.  My confidence is strengthened through the failures in my life.  Every time I couldn't, I learned why, so next time I could.

What is a company to do?  Talk to us.  Meet us.  Shake our hand and have a conversation.  If after that, you don't feel we're right for a position, then tell us why and we'll learn from it and be smarter for the next interview.  You don't like cookie cutter resumes?  Well we hate cookie cutter rejections.  Man up, and say why we aren't good enough.  It could be a simple misunderstanding that makes us a stronger candidate in your eyes.  It could be something we were unaware of and you would have just helped us tremendously.

About me:  I have a Bachelor's of Science from The Ohio State University in Food Business Management.  That's Operations Management with a heavy emphasis on Food Science.  I have several years of management experience in the restaurant industry, just under a year of experience in sales, and less than 6 months experience in Quality Assurance.  I retain technical information well and have no trouble with both written and spoken communication.  You need an idea, I've got plenty.  You need someone to travel, I'm there.  You need a problem solved, I'm your man.  My main interests are Sales & Marketing, R & D, and Operations Management.  My goal is to one day be in a position of leadership over a large food company.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Media Is like High School For Science...

Ever have a rumor stat about you when you were in high school?

Infuriating, isn't it?

Sometimes it's a half truth, and sometimes it's just something taken out of context.  Either way, the efficiency of the rumor spreading is way higher than the efficiency of you explaining the whole story or putting what was actually said into context.  You converted one or two people, but everyone else you confronted just laughed in your face, called you a liar, and repeated the rumor to more people.

Many things in life are counter-intuitive.  We anticipate one thing but the other thing is true.  Less is sometimes more.  You really do, on average, hit the golf ball farther and straighter when you don't try to swing so hard, and so on.  These same types of things exist in food science.  Although, it's not that they're counter-intuitive, it's that the public has a bad intuition.

Let's look at BPA, for example.  Does everyone remember the statement put out by the FDA in regards to BPA in January?  What did it say?  Some remember it as an admission that the government was wrong about BPA and that we need to take a careful look at how it's regulated.  This is one of those rumors that start by something being taken out of context.  What the FDA said was that BPA was safe, but there haven't been studies on very subtle effects and that effects on the very young warranted further study.  But in several stories that came out since then, it was reported as if the government changed their mind on all the established science.

This is also a great example of how efficient rumors are vs. explaining the whole story.  For those who've really looked into BPA, you'll know that BPA(like most chemicals including some vitamins) have a level at which they cause harm.  So it has the potential to do harm, and the article(rumor) reports that it's in everyone's bodies, so it must be harming our bodies, right?  Hold on.  This is the type of rumor where you need to explain, and most people don't sit still for it, but let me have a crack at it.  BPA is established as a GRAS food additive.  It's not mixed directly in food, but rather it makes up part of the packaging that the food touches, so it must be labeled as an additive.  Anything GRAS has a limit on how it can be used and at what quantities.  That's per the Code of Federal Regulations.  That limit is based on the Lowest Observable Effect Level determined in lab tests.  Just to be sure it's safe enough to use, they take the quantity that is determined to cause the LOEL and divide it by as much as 1,000.  Now, the studies on BPA all say that it can't be proven that BPA is a definitive danger.  Furthermore, some studies show us how much BPA was found in a particular canned product.  I've mentioned this before but one of the highest BPA concentrations was found in canned fruit.  Here's the part you never get to read.  At those levels, a person would have to eat several hundred pounds of the fruit every day to reach the LOEL.  But the published rumor is titled, 'BPA in Cans Poses Health Threat, Report Claims'.

This has been going on for a while with different things.  I remember a similar story about Tab years ago and they figured you'd need to drink hundreds of cans a day to get ill from whatever the chemical was.

Salt is one of the relatively new bad guys.  The way you hear it told, the food industry is poisoning us with dangerous levels of sodium and they say it causes 100,000 deaths a year.  Wow, that's a lot of people.  The trouble is that BPA supposedly causes a lot of death's too, as does HFCS, as does trans-fat, but where do the numbers come from?


Correlation got you into fights in high school.  Correlation caused your parents to punish you when you did nothing wrong.  Correlation is basically this:  A is true and B contains A and B contains C, so C is true.  Put another way...  From
"Let's take some other ludicrous examples to explain the problem of correlation vs. causation. Define $T$ as the temperature of a day in Manhattan, and $I$ as the number of ice cream vendors out on that day. The correlation coefficient between these two is almost certainly quite positive. (How many vendors are out there in January?). Does this prove that ice cream vendors cause it to be hot? Obviously causation goes the other way. Common sense tells you that. Unless of course you believe in conspiracy theories."
 So all the salt people's numbers are based on correlation studies.  Is salt killing us? A clue can be found by observing other countries.  This is helpful in the HFCS argument since sugar is cheaper than HFCS outside of the US and we can compare with obesity and diabetic rates to see how much healthier they are(in the case of HFCS, non HFCS countries don't fare better).  

"When all the surveys in Britain are considered, there has been no consistent downward trend in salt consumption in recent years, said Dr. McCarron, who has been a longtime critic of the salt reformers. (For more on him and his foes, go to He said that the most notable feature of the data is how little variation there has been in salt consumption in Britain — and just about everywhere else, too.

Dr. McCarron and his colleagues analyzed surveys from 33 countries around the world and reported that, despite wide differences in diet and culture, people generally consumed about the same amount of salt. There were a few exceptions, like tribes isolated in the Amazon and Africa, but the vast majority of people ate more salt than recommended in the current American dietary guidelines."
 So if we all eat about the same amount of salt but we have varying amounts of high blood pressure and heart trouble, then what does that say about salt causing problems.

A couple rules of thumb for reading news releases about studies:
Scientists don't generally brag, so take note of the ones that do and what their intentions may be.
Regardless of your opinion of the matter, judge a study on it's science and methodology, not it's source of funding.
Look for numbers and look for them in context.  Beware of studies were they are vague aboiut the numbers or use them out of context, as in percentages.
Read the whole study if possible.  Sometimes a researcher or writer of the article will say the opposite of what the study actually proves.
Beware of Meta-analysis.  These are studies of studies and they're never as good as well designed original studies.
Learn statistics. This will make you smarter and less likely to be taken advantage of by con men or people with an agenda.
One study proves nothing!  Reproducibility is king.  A good study can be duplicated and if it's true, the results will be reproduced.
Correlations are a starting point in a scientific quandary, not the end.  You need causation, not correlation studies and a lot of percentages to be validated.