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.