Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stop Breaking Their Bell's.

Many people have been outraged over Taco Bell's new Drive Thru Diet ad campaign, but I think they are heading in the right direction.

We have this vision of what we think is the right way to live in this country. We have this for exercise, for morals, for ethics, and for food.

When it comes to food we tend to demonize and shun. How many times have you said or heard someone say, 'I'm being sooo bad' in relation to food? We have a certain level of guilt over things we eat. A lot of us, myself included, eat too much. What many people do in response to that is to completely shun.

'I stopped drinking pop.'
'I don't eat meat.'
'I don't eat anything processed.'

People shun out of guilt and misinformation. These people DO lose weight in many cases, but may be misled as to why. Pop is 170 - 200 calories a can. Meat(protein) is 9kcal/gram while carbs are I think 4kcal/gram, so not eating meat cuts out a lot of calories. 'Processed' - which is a loaded term - tends to have high caloric values as well. When people lose weight, they lose sight of that and think that it's because those foods were bad and now they are on the good graces of the food gods. It isn't the MSG or HFCS that makes us overweight, it's the extra calories.

OK, so on to Taco Bell...

The ad basically states that by eating certain items on the menu instead of other items, they can lose weight. It really depends on how much you were going there before and what you were ordering. So they aren't lying, it just depends on a couple factors. I do think this is a reasonable and realistic approach to weight loss for many people.

Let's face it folks, many of you are out the door w/out breakfast in the morning, hit a Starbucks drive thru on the way to work, out to eat for lunch, and everybody in your family is scattered going to practices, and games, and working different shifts come dinner time. You probably eat out a lot or eat a lot of frozen dinners/hot pockets and whatnot. Most people preach diets that involve steady meals, mostly eaten at home with some thought and planning put into them. But is that realistic for your life? Ideally, I would suggest planning the weeks menu, using the last off day before the next week as a grocery/prep day so you can quickly and easily make a planned meal every day of that week. Who can honestly commit to that?

Let's think about Jared from Subway for a moment. Remeber when you first saw him holding up his trophy fat pants? What were you thinking?

'Holy shit, I've got to eat more Subway!'

Why did Jared's diet work? Three C's: cutting calories consistently. When he went to Subway, he got one of the same one or two different subs the same way and he walked more. The calories he started taking in were less and they were less consistently. So every day he was running a calorie deficit. Every time that deficit hit 3,500 calories, Jared deducted a pound.

Many diets start off by cutting calories but are too militant, too fast. People get crazy hungry(hungry like the wolf, I say...well, me and Duran Duran) and then go overboard because everything in there body is screaming EAT!!! Jared was consistent. He probably could have cut way more, and shunned everything, but then his diet would have crashed.

OK, back to Taco Bell again... seriously.
If eating a meal or two at Taco Bell interests your taste buds and if the things you would get on the menu are less calories than what you honestly would eat anyway, then you can lose weight. However you can do this with any food. As a matter of fact, Ozzy Osbourne did this on the first season of The Osbournes on MTV. During an episode, Ozzy mentions being on a Chipotle diet, where he'd stock up on his favorite burritos and eat them every day. He would only eat half a burrito at a time and he said he lost 10 pounds. Bam! Chipotle diet. Hell, you could do a Twinkie diet if you really wanted to: All the Twinkies you want as long as the total calories consumed at the end of the day is at a 400 calorie deficit. I guarantee you will lose 1 pound every 8-9 days.

Legit issues with the diet(Taco Bell, not Twinkie) is that it doesn't factor in total fat consumption or sodium. Here's the thing though, were you watching those things before? No? Then worry about the pounds first then fine-tune the diet to factor in nutrients and sodium/potassium.

Takeaway (take out?) Message.
So the diet isn't bullshit, it just depends on what you were eating to begin with. Ricky Gervais does a great joke about a man that weighed 1,000 pounds and was about to have gastric bypass surgery. By the way, if we can live even for a couple years at 1,000 lbs then can we really call 300+ lbs morbidly obese? Really? Anyway, the guy talked about how he ate 9 pie n chips a day. Ricky's line was (while raising his hand) 'Ooh, ooh, I have an idea... 8 pie n chips.'

So quit bustin' the Bell's balls, will ya?

I predict a trend in the coming year will be reduced sodium. This is good, but as with calories, the goal is not zero. Calories are units of energy and you need a certain amount to keep the organs running. Don't believe me, ask Tracy Gold. Sodium plays a role cell fluid opposite of potassium. I would think that we may start seeing some functional foods promoted that contain elevated levels of potassium.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Debating an Etch n Sketch & Feeding a Mannequin...

Right off the bat, let me say this: I had the pleasure speaking to @follownathan on Twitter the last few days and today(Friday), I called him and did a recorded audio interview. The interview went well, aside from my rambling and my voice, which annoys even me. Also there was a feedback that, thankfully, didn't translate to the recorded audio but it did trip me up a couple times and caused me to lose my line of thinking. My blog title is the link to Nathan's website where you may hear the roughly 30 minutes of audio.

Just a note: my blog titles are usually clickable links relating to things that I'm talking about.

Normally, the people I talk to about food science and the food industry are receptive to what I have to say. Even when they disagree, they hear me out, ask follow up questions, and walk away with a better understanding of the subject at hand and more receptive to hear/reading/seeing more to educate themselves. That's how it should go, and most of the time, that's how it is... most of the time.

I've dealt with a couple people over this last week that approached the discourse with a certain amount of disrespect and immaturity. In both cases, they were convinced they were right and it seems like nothing will ever convince them otherwise.

This is completely at odds with how science works. It should start with a curiosity about something in the world that you can test...a hypothesis. This can be skeptical, but it's usually a scientists nature to be skeptical, so it shows in the design of the study, not in the hypothesis. We tests a hypothesis by eliminating all but one variable. We record all possible data in a consistant manner, report on that data, publish that report in a scientific journal, and other scientists (skeptics) try to duplicate the study and see if the results reproducable. If so, then until proven otherwise, this is accepted as fact. If not, then the experiment is tweaked to try to eliminate more variables, report more data, and tighten up the controls to reduce the chance of error.

That is science. When an idea survives the scientific method, a fact is born. At this point, it is the responsibility of any remaining skeptics to prove it's wrong , not for the scientists to prove it's right. Now imagine you are talking to someone less than mature about some study and it's outcomes. What do you do if they keep saying, 'No, that's wrong. Prove it. Prove it again.'?

We had #agchat on Tuesday and I hope it went well. I got a comment in before it was running too slow for me to follow. Many of you had a chance to interact with and I had an interaction with @culinaryhatchet.

My interaction was saying that on the whole, more people prefer grain fed beef to grass fed. This is a fact based on a test that Cornell did. I think it was a single blind forced preference taste test. I also mentioned that a grain diet offers a more complete nutrition, while grass fed is entirely dependent on the nutrient levels of the pasture land. Most of the time, some kind of supplements are necessary.

This person had a major fit and demanded to see proof. He's/she's right unless I can prove him/her wrong. I did as far as taste goes, but I never found an actual study for the remark about nutrition. My logic there was the fact that the roughage is sampled and tested with dairy cattle. You need to know the nutrient level of the silage so you can put what's missing in the feed you order. But anyway, the person never believed me. I also hit him/her with the fact that grass fed have a 50% larger carbon footprint. He/she wanted to know who I was working for. I guess in his/her mind, if you work for someone that supports the view you have... then your view doesn't count.

This is a fundamental fallacy in a scientific debate. Science has no employer. Just because a guy for the National Pork Council makes a statement about pork being safe, doesn't mean he's lying. He can be lying, but who he works for doesn't matter. There is this accepted idea that everything and everyone is in on some sort of fix. Somehow, everything is a conspiracy.

I'm getting off track here.

Many of you interacted with @culinaryhatchet in good faith that you were having an honest and helpful dialogue, that your views were respected and that person was listening to what you said as you were listening to them.

I found that @culinaryhatchet has a blog and posted excerpts from the #agchat discussion. Many of the remarks made were catty in nature and made me think that @culinaryhatchet is the type of person that reads those entertainment weekly's and makes catty comments about what the people in the pictures are wearing.

Here's some of what this person put in his blog:
'On to the players and their Tweets:

#agchat is hosted by Michele Payn-Knoper, principal of Cause Matters Corp.

#agchat is a “weekly moderated conversation on Twitter for people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel, fiber.”

Hmmm… distinct omission of “consumer.” And that’s how I felt on #agchat.

Last’s night’s topic was “Antibiotics and their use in food production.” A topic about which I am most passionate.

Question 1: Can someone explain why we use antibiotics in livestock?

Great question! Time for some honest answers…(NOTE: not in chronological order, well, except for the first one.)

First answer: AgriBlogger (Chuck Zimmerman is the professional agriblogger, farm podcaster and President of ZimmComm New Media): For the same reason we use them in people. Doesn't that make sense?

Pure genius. NOT.

'Time for some honest answers' Classic conspiracy theory. Only the answer he/she wants to hear is good enough, all else is a lie in his/her mind.

Of course, even though I was unable to participate, I wasn't immune to his/her vitriol.
'This guy is easily the most annoying person in #agchat (other than me), plus you just have to love his explanation samvance (Sam Vance Cincinnati, OH; Edible Intelligence OSU degree Re: Food Science & Tech. Also sarcastic/smells of cookies): anti-bio's used for herd/farm/food safety. You can't process an animal that is already dead or sick.

I think his blog name, Intelligence is an oxy-moron.

I'd like to point out that you need two things for an oxymoron, so no... Intelligence is not an oxymoron.

So what do rational, science minded, sane people do when confronted with such a person?
Take a deep breath, be patient, and don't give up.

Invite @culinaryhatchet to tour your farm.
We also need to share research studies.
Don't hide who you work for.
Admit when something you say is incorrect or where a company you work for has gone wrong.

Most of all, don't engage in debate when you are unsure of where it's going. Take a minute and be a little measured when you speak/tweet. Be professional. Keep links to studies that prove your point. Use tabbed browsing, it is your friend. If there isn't a study, explain the science and why something can't be the way someone is convinced it is. Don't lie.

We have to be at our best when engaged in conversation about food and ag issues.. Make sure you are drawing a distinction between an opinion and a fact.

And like I have been saying(borrowed from Al Franken):
We are entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Food Rules For Idiots.

I was catching up on episodes of The Daily Show and Monday's guest was the infamous Micheal Pollan. He was on to promote his new book, "Food Rules". This book is a continuation of his other food related work, which is light on science/facts and heavy on oversimplified advice based on a false premise.

The book is meant to be a series of quirky do's and don'ts that will help you lead a healthier lifestyle. One example of a rule he gave to Jon Stewart was not to eat any cereal that colors your milk. It sounds very sage-like and quaint but is not based on science.

What is he saying? Is he saying that the food coloring used is harmful to your health? Is he saying that those foods tend to be higher in calories? Is this another high fructose corn syrup warning? He isn't clear, but to leave to be sure, allow me to settle each of these issues.

I've already been over this. it's the same as sugar. No worse.

Too many calories are bad for anyone's health. The problem comes in demonizing a specific foods. It's not a specific food and it's not one meal, it's all meals over a long time. It takes 3500 calories to make a pound and many pound to cause health problems. An adult will burn at least 1800 calories in a day and up to several thousand more if they are very active or have high metabolism. A 3,000 calories Aussie Cheese Fries appetizer from Outback Steakhouse isn't something you should eat every day, but it isn't intrinsically bad. If you haven't had those, by the way, please do and be sure to share! It will have be a great source of fat, sodium, starch, protein, and other vital minerals/nutrients. A bowl of cereal, on the other hand, might have 200 calories including the milk. You have to eat a lot of cereal for it to make you fat. If I were trying to gain weight, it would be very low on my list of foods to eat.

Food coloring.
No credible studies link ailments to the use of food coloring, certainly not in the quantities used in production. This is one of my examples of the Illusion of Fact. it's said enough that people don't question the information, they just assume it's true because people are still saying it. 'Oh sure, everyone knows that.' is the response that you can get to these statements that aren't even true. Actually, Pollan's entire career of food writing can be attributed to this phenomenon.

This interesting exchange came up in the interview where Jon Stewart asked if there is going to be some big finding that shows food industry leaders lied and withheld info about how bad their food is just like with the tobacco industry. Part of Michael Pollan's response was to say that Food Science is very sophisticated.

I find this to be a very remarkable admission on his part. The context of the question was about proof of danger to the public health. He is either saying that food science is over his head or that 1,000's of food scientists the world over are involved in a vast conspiracy. He's making a ton of money doing this, folks. This isn't just a hobby for him.

He has the means to go to UC Davis in California, or to Cornell in New York, or even to my Alma Mater, Ohio State and learn from world class food science departments. He doesn't. Michael Pollan chooses to be willfully ignorant about food science. Think about it; what happens when he learns that what he's been telling people isn't true? He has now built a career on his claims about food and the food industry. He would be ruined. No more appearances on Good Morning America or The Daily Show, or Conan. His credibility would be shot.

And make no mistake, his credibility would be shot to hell because he is wrong about food. I think I should start an online petition for one of the schools I listed to give him a free ride scholarship so he can be a food science student. I'd love to see his face when they burst his bubble, and believe me, it will get busted early and often. I've seen it in students that have similar beliefs about food. Usually, they'll assert themselves and very matter-of-factly make some statement about food that they know to be true. The class pauses before the professor very calmly and patiently shows how that is false. And the instructors won't belittle them at all. They'll use math or draw pictures of chemical structures or refer to studies that they have been privy to and slowly the misinformation, like so much plaque on the brain is removed.