Friday, December 16, 2011

Slow Food.

Slow Food USA is having some sort of problem, according to the article I read in Chow.  I think their problems are a little more... existential in nature.

The problem here is that the group itself is formed under a false premise.  Organic/natural foods aren't intrinsically better than conventional or 'mass produced' food.  You can think it tastes better as a sort of placebo effect, but nutritionally, an organic/natural version of a conventional food is the same.  Asking people in this country to pay more for their food is pretty insulting and shows a complete lack of understanding about economic development. 

Much of why we spend so little on food is because we have so much more money and spend it on other things, so as a percentage, we spend less on the food.  There's not a lot of people buying Xbox 360's and cars and flat screen tv's in Sub-Saharan Africa.  And many people there grow their own food, not because they're hip and socially conscious, but because they'd starve otherwise.  As subsistence level farmers, they HAVE to decide how much food they need to sell instead of eat.  Their incomes are practically non-existent.

Like most foodies, the Slow Food movement meant well, but were misguided, misinformed, and generally uneducated about food.  So what they did was substitute their opinions and feelings in place of facts and then built an institution around them.  To shore up that institution, they needed enemies and that's where corporations came in.  Most foodies are anti-corporatist, so for them, it was easy to direct vitriol and hatred to any 'big' entity.

Thoughts, feelings, accusations, paranoia, and conspiracy theories support the cause, not science.  They see science as part of the 'big' machine that exist only as Yes Men.  The problem with this is that any serious critique of a foodie movement like Slow Food shows that that they simply make oversimplified, and unsubstantiated good vs evil populist claims about food.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eggs-treme Pun-ishment

First off... hello.  It's been a little while.  I've been busy figuring out a career of some sort and thought now would be a great time to check in with some thoughts.

So I guess most of you have heard about all the trouble with eggs in the news.  Undercover video surfaced of some sort of animal abuse at Sparboe Farms.

I haven't seen the video, and I don't feel I need to in this case because my comments will be very general and only use Sparboe Farms as an example.

So here's the scenario:  a video surfaces showing [fill in the blank here] which seem to always be at a facility affiliated with a giant corporation.  Next, we have; public outrage, several righteous press conference by the investigative reporters involved, some threats of boycott & yada yada yada...  The next thing you know, the facility is closed or the company is severely damaged in terms of finances and public perception.  The secret videographers walk away proud that they've proven just how horrible a company is when it reaches a certain size.

Some things to consider:

1. The groups that film these things never seem to make their way onto a small farm... instead, they always end up on what they call a factory farm. 

Why is that?  Are 100% of the small to medium sized farm operations perfect, with no violations or atrocities?  No.  Small and medium farms are usually not associated with a corporation, so activist groups don't actively seek their demise. By the way, what is a factory farm?  I don't know, I always thought that's where Cabbage Patch Dolls were made.

2. We only ever see a video on the videographer's terms.

You could see a dark and dirty barn with animals crowded together, but you'll never see footage of the guy turning the lights off and filming when the animals are only temporarily close together because some other pens are being cleaned(the reason that pen may still be dirty).

Also, we can't accurately judge authentic footage vs. staged footage.  Remember James O'Keefe and those crazy ACORN undercover videos?  How did that work out for ACORN?  Out of business.  You know what else?  The videos were edited and made out to be way worse than they ever really were.  It didn't matter whether it was true or not, it enraged people, and they acted hastily.  Remember the Duke Lacrosse scandal?  Those guys had their lives ruined... and the accusations weren't true.  You get my point.

3. Bad organization or lone wolf?

Even if the video is true and the people filming just happened to be walking by with their cameras and film the horrors they saw, it doesn't tell us how the incident happened and why.  Did the abuser have marching orders or did they act alone?  Did we see a dirty facility on it's worst day or does it always look like that?  Was the person friendly with the person filming and wanted to give them something to go to the media with?  Of course, it can be a horrible culture where certain abuses are allowed, but you really can't gauge that from watching a video.  I will say that large companies spend a ton of money on training for things like food safety and animal welfare.  Does the careless actions of one or two employees speak for an entire organization?

4. Can a company recover from this?

This is a question about punishment.  Is it a lifetime punishment for an offense or can a company correct it's problems whether they are built into the culture or the result of a lone wolf? 

There was a debate last year about undercover videos and whether they should be protected.  My thoughts were that rather than picking up a camera and running to the YouTube or news station with the footage, you should start with the management.  The reason for that is because of #3.  Did you uncover a sinister corporation that beats animals or keeps them in filth because they're evil and that's what evil corporate syndicates do or did you uncover Steve, the disgruntled townie that kicked a hen because it pecked on his foot?  Believe it or not, people that raise animals or make food or even people in general want to do a good job.  Chances are, if that person who filmed that footage took his/her concerns with management, they would have acted to stop it.

By the way, Sparboe Farms had an SQF audit and passed.  I've been in an SQF audit, and trust me, they are no cake walk.  The auditor gets paid whether you pass or not and he/she worked for an approved auditing company that has it's own reputation to worry about, so they have ever reason in the world to call balls and strikes... and trust me, SQF auditors have a very big strike zone.  Even a facility on top of it's game will have a very difficult week with the auditor.  A bad facility will have a very short week with the auditor, because they'll fail quickly.

So are the abuses true?  Could be.  If so, Sparboe Farms should be singled out, but they should also be allowed to make whatever corrections they need to make and still exist.  Let's keep in mind that even-though we have plenty of activists that are essentially anti-corporatists, we have many people that work at these facilities and help run these facilities that are just regular people with bills to pay, not evil henchmen out to get you.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why We Need To Fund The FDA.

Food Manufacturing posted a story this morning about a seafood company having it's products seized due to non-conformance with HACCP.  I looked up the warning letter and was amazed at how horrible their HACCP plan was.  They had critical control points for holding raw fish that didn't include a temperature and a ccp for thawing frozen seafood that also had no temperature controls.


Then imagine my surprise when I found out they received another FDA warning letter way back in 1998.  It was then that I was even more disturbed to learn that this wasn't, Meiko, the seafood company whose products were seized... this was Schneider's Fish & Seafood Company.

I looked into it and a search for "seafood HACCP" of the FDA's Warning Letter's site yielded 997 results since 1998.  For those unaware, the FDA issued a final rule on Seafood HACCP in 1995.  40 companies were repeat offenders, many of which went 4 years or more between warning letters.  

I find a couple things troubling about this. First, it's unclear if these places were inspected during those 4+ year gaps.  Second, these are only warning letters that pertain to their HACCP plans either being inadequate or plans not being followed.

The fact that there are companies that lack complete seafood HACCP plans in 2011 is insane and points out a glaring hole in our food safety system... Inspectors.  These guys aren't consistently inspecting these facilities because they're stretched way too thin.  We didn't need the the new regulations that were passed earlier in the year.  What we needed and still need is the staffing to enforce the laws we already have.

This would have several benefits, the most obvious being jobs.  We need several thousand more inspectors in both the FDA and the FSIS(USDA).  The result of this could mean that more recent college grads with food backgrounds can get a solid position and they can start paying back student loans.  The money they'll get paid will go right back into the economy.  Increased inspections mean more hotel and airline bookings, more eating out at restaurants, which puts more money in the pockets of the service industry workers.  Government work means government benefits, which also means there will be more people insured in this country.

But even more than that is the growth this will spur in the food industry.  Many companies, while concerned about food safety, may not be too worried about an inspector showing up anytime soon.  This means that they get a little more lax on the cleaning and some of the upkeep.  With the promise of more inspections, capital projects are more likely to be invested in, which means more hiring and more overtime, more millwrights will be employed and processing lines will get updated.  As much as industry likes to complain about regulation, they also hate when a similar company has a major food safety issue because it makes them look bad by proxy.  Also, it's good for timely inspections to weed out the bad seeds, and give all the other players in the industry a chance to gain market share.

It's unfortunate that political ideology has gotten in the way of sound economic and domestic policy.  This, along with infrastructure spending, seems like a complete no-brainer to me.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Peak Organic

I was reading farmnwife's blog(@farmnwife on Twitter) and left a lengthy comment, as I tend to do at times.  I decided to post most of that comment since it was something I haven't really talked about here in any great detail.  No big drawn out intro, so if you're confused, leave a comment on here or find me on Twitter @samvance...

There is an economic tipping point that is in organic's future which will doom it, that I never hear anyone mention.  Basically, organic food started out costing about 75% more than conventional and as it became more popular, the prices dropped to about 40-50% more.  As more people use organic, the price will continue to drop until the price equals that of conventional foods.  Normally, this is where a business can finally start to compete and dominate the market, but we have to remember that organic is a more labor intensive choice to create a premium product.  Meaning that farmers really only grow it because it's more profitable. At the point where it costs more for the farmer to grow than conventional(meaning that they see less profit than conventional), they will stop growing organic and switch back to conventional.

This is the reason American beverage bottlers use HFCS primarily and Mexican beverage bottlers use cane sugar... not because of a difference on philosophy, but because HFCS is cheaper than cane sugar in this country due to some trade restrictions we put on Brazilian sugar.  Mexico doesn't have such restrictions, and thus, has cheaper sugar.

I'm not pro or anti-HFCS, I'm just using that as an analogy to explain what will eventually happen to organic food.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coming Clean About Dirty Fruit.

I'm sure many of you have seen the Dirty Dozen list that has been reported on in the media over the last few days.  Basically, they are warning us that these supposedly healthy fruits and vegetables are laden with evil deadly pesticides.  It's not that they want you to not eat fruits and vegetables, it's that they don't want you to endanger yourself by eating one of the Dirty Dozen.

Before I go forward, here is the Dirty Dozen:
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Imported Nectarines
7. Imported Grapes
8. Sweet Bell Peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Domestic Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/Collard Greens

For this Dirty Dozen list, they want you to switch to organic if you simply have to have any of these items.  The people that put out this list is the Environmental Working Group.  This is a group I consider very similar to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as both groups are non-expert activists that present their agenda with zero context.  For instance, Michael Jacobson of the CSPI put out an article in the Huffington Post about caramel coloring for cola where he derides the ingredient for causing cancer.  As I said, these groups tend to report what sounds horrific in the absence of all context. Why? Well, if he wrote that article and said, 'but you'll need to drink 18,000 20oz bottles of cola before you have enough coloring to potentially cause cancer', you would not freak out and give his organization money.

I find it interesting that the EWG advocates for organic without finishing their story.  The rest of the story is the context they are so sorely missing, so I'm here to help.  I am using the calculator on to show how much of each item an adult male will have to consume in a day in order to do themselves harm via the pesticides.  For those of you concerned with bias, I'd like to point out that both the EWG and Safe Fruits and Veggies use the USDA's own residue data.  So here for your reading pleasure is the full context version of the Dirty Dozen.

Dirty Dozen?
1. Apples                        - 571 servings/day
2. Celery                         - 133,951 servings/day
3. Strawberries                - 2,640 servings/day
4. Peaches                       - 318 servings/day
5. Spinach                        - 4,487 servings/day
6. Imported Nectarines    - 439 servings/day
7. Imported Grapes          - No figure given. Amt for cherries is 1,171 servings/day
8. Sweet Bell Peppers      - 845 servings/day
9. Potatoes                        - 12,626 servings/day
10. Domestic Blueberries - 306 servings/day
11. Lettuce                        - 15,227 servings/day
12. Kale/Collard Greens   - 3,265 servings/day

It's also very important to note that these figure are based on the highest residues reported by the USDA, so this is a worst case scenario.  Still scared?  Remember to keep these articles you read by groups like the EWG or CSPI in context.  Are they giving you numbers and context?  Also beware of correlation studies and terms like 'linked'.  So eat anything you want from this list.  It is virtually impossible to eat enough for the residues to make you sick.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I've been hearing a lot about our broken food system lately and haven't responded because I've been a little confused over the panic.   

It seems at the very least to be hyperbolic, and at most, a counterproductive and misinformed characterization of something somebody never actually understood in the first place.  Here is every article on 'Our Broken Food System': 

This one issue is happening.  This other person had this horrible or unfortunate thing happen. Our food system is clearly broken...

Major supermarket chains moved out of Detroit(gee, I can't imagine why...).  You can't get fresh tomatoes in this one place.  People still get food poisoning and people still die from it. We have fat people!  Did you hear me?? They're faaaaat!  Our food system is clearly broken.

I've had quite a bit of car trouble in the past year, but I don't flatly declare that automobiles are inherently designed wrong.  The thing is that people have their pet cause and that cause must compete with someone else's wacky theory, so they all must hitch their wagons to the 'Our Food System Is Clearly Broken' meme in order to make their pet cause seem relevant.

Our food system is not broken, but there is certainly room for improvement. Let's start with the issues I named; lack of access(food deserts), food safety, and obesity.

Yes, Grocery stores have left Detroit, but do you blame them?  It's a business and not a charitable organization, despite what you would be led to believe after watching Extreme Couponers.  There is a ton of overhead in running a grocery and you need a diverse group of customers to sell through the stock on the shelves while minimizing what they call 'shrink', which is waste from spoiled unsold, or out of date items.  This is a community problem, though, and not a sign of some foodocalypse.  What you should be seeing there are community gardens and farmer's markets popping up to fill the demand, if there is a demand.  Of course, they may have to deeply discount their overpriced food, but you'll never hear the foodies complain about that... it's always the big ominous corporations that gauge the common man.

Consumers also tend to get what they demand.  It's not unheard of for convenience stores to carry ripe fruits, some ripe veggies, and fresh frozen veggies or canned veggies.  That probably isn't good enough for modern Food Hysterics that believe organic food has greater nutritional value, but these are poor people, and they can't afford your snooty, over-priced food anyway.  It may be a challenge, but it is technically possible to get complete nutrition from 'C' stores and quick service restaurants.  As the city recovers and businesses start to return, so will grocery stores.  

 As far as food safety goes, it's been increasing steadily since the mid to late 90's.  We have the safest food supply in the world.  What we are outraged about and base a claim that 'Our Food System Is Clearly Broken' on, is the 1% to 2% that still has issues.  I agree that we should never stop improving in this area, but you are beyond delusional if you think that we will ever be 100% safe.  That is impossible under any system.  Even if you could theoretically guarantee 100% safety of all food that leaves food producers and processors, you still have ourselves to blame for poisoning each other.  We routinely paw at lunch meat in our refrigerators with hands we didn't wash, and the cold environment selects for things like listeria, which causes miscarriages in pregnant women.  We have manly men that insist on eating medium rare hamburgers.  We have raw foodists... and well, I really don't need to say anything more about them.

But hey, Sam, what about the fatness!?!  Look how fat everyone else is.  Hey, here's a fat picture of you I found in a Google image search, enjoy your shame, fatty!  Well, there are quite a bit of fat people in this country and I'm certainly no exception.  This is due to eating too many calories and not exercising enough, creating a caloric imbalance that resulted in steady weight gain over the years.  What it wasn't, was a some vast conspiracy to fatten America by the food industry.  How can I be so sure?   Well, the food industry makes Hot Pockets, but they also make Oatmeal, and veggies.  We have thin people that eat hot pockets and we have fat vegetarians.  You can lose weight eating potatoes, or snack cakes, or even McDonald's.  It's our choices, actions, and genetics that determine our waistline, not some evil cabal among major players within the food industry.

I've heard other arguments claiming that 'Our Food System Is Clearly Broken', like the fact that we don't have a regional food system and the unsustainable number of food miles that our groceries travel.
  Those assertions are either untrue or misleading, depending on the argument.  Take a look at breweries, bakeries, and dairies for example.  Anheuser-Busch has 12 breweries spread across the U.S.  Kroger has more than a dozen creameries and dairies in the U.S. as well as several bakeries.  McKee and Bimbo also have many bakery facilities.  In the meat industry, you find poultry, beef, and pork processors in every part of the U.S.  Regional food?  Yeah, we've got that.

Food miles and our carbon footprint is a legitimate concern, but the issue is distorted by people who barely understand it.  Let's take an honest look at the buy local movement and economics.  Advocates say that by supporting small, local farms, we can better impact the community.  Instead of going to the hypermarket to buy your peppers and tomatoes, you decide to go to your local farmer's market.  You feel the food is better, the economy is better served, and you are doing your part to reduce the carbon footprint.  The farmer you buy your tomatoes and peppers from brings about 30 lbs of each in his pick-up truck, along with his table, tent, and a chair.  He lives nearby, only 12 miles away and gets 12 mpg out of his truck.  You buy $6 worth of veggies and drive home.  Ok, he spends 2 gallons of gas to transport 60lbs of vegetables.  The semi that delivers the produce order to the hypermarket traveled several hundred miles to make the delivery and probably got 6mpg.  

So at first glance, it seems that the semi has made a much bigger impact on the environment, but did it really?  Let's assume the semi brings 1,000lbs of produce for a total round trip of 600 miles and gets 6mpg.  That means that each pound of produce at the hypermarket is responsible for .01 gallons of fuel.  The farmer's produce is responsible for .03 gallons of fuel per pound, or 3 times the amount of fuel per pound.

Now let's take a look at the economic impact.  In the community, the local market pays more because the money goes directly to the farmer, but is that really a greater economic benefit? Stay with me here... ok?  When you buy your produce at the farmer's market, you support the local gas station, shops where the farmer buys his stuff, and the help he may or may not pay.  When you buy from the hypermarket you support, the store employees, waste management services, utilities that the grocery uses, the driver that delivered the produce, the truck stop he fueled up at, the distribution center he picked the goods up from, the distribution center employees, the growers that sell to the produce buyer, the grower's local grocer, gas station, staff, places he/she shops, etc.  While the farmer's market certainly concentrates the funds from your purchase, the broader system supports many more jobs much more efficiently.

We have challenges every day when dealing with food.  We need solid regulations as well as a well staffed regulatory agency to ensure safety and to make sure all the major/minor players are playing by the rules.  We have problems that occur that we must deal with from time to time and long term goals we must work towards.  That in no way means 'Our Food System Is Clearly Broken'.  Don't buy into that doomsday speak, because it simply isn't true.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I thought I would share an analogy I've crafted in regards to eating and weight gain. It's one of the last things I haven't already written about so I can bring you people a new blog without repeating myself.

Imagine you have a day off and you decided to listen to some music while you do something else, like clean the house or rearrange your bedroom.

So you turn on the stereo/music choice channel/iTunes to a song you like, perhaps as part of a playlist.  You're really feeling the tunes so you turn it up a bit as you head bang and sweep or move your bed from one side of the room to another.

Next track is even better than the first so you turn it up a little more.  You're loving the tunes and getting things done.  It's a great day for you.  From here, you get a little more excited after every 3 or 4 songs and kick the volume up a notch.  

Later in the afternoon, your girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband/partner comes home and they are covering their ears.  'It's too loud!', they yell as they turn down the sound.  The problem now is that you can't hear it, so you turn it back up.  Eventually, the volume finds it's way back to where it was before.  Once again, the significant other turns the volume way down, but you complain that you can't even hear the music now and he/she just sort of gives you a raised eyebrow, 'Really??'.

Turning the volume up slowly is really how many of us increase our caloric intake.  You don't wake up one day and consume twice the calories.  If you do, you feel way too full and sluggish, and you don't overdo it the same amount the next day.  Imagine that you have a big lunch, but a normal dinner, and you follow this up with a little more food.  Then every few days or every other week, you reach a new peak for eating, slowly turning up the volume.

OK, so now is when the partner walks in and turns down the volume.  Instead of not hearing the music, with food, and you're still really hungry.  You can put it off for a couple days, but when you give in to hunger, you give in big, cranking the volume up to where it had been.  Imagine what would happen in my volume analogy if the partner walked in and turned the volume down by just a notch barely noticeable to the person listening to the music?  Then a few minutes later, he/she turns it down just a little bit more.  This is far more effective and works in the opposite way that turning the volume up slowly works.  Eventually, you'll be comfortable with a volume so low that the partner walks in and says he/she can't hear it and turns it up.

What too many people do is reach a breaking point where they just blame everything, and therefore, banishes everything.  They say no more meat, no more sugar, no more fruit, no more white foods because some journalism professor told them it was the problem.  So they turn the volume all the way down.  But none of us gained all the weight/fat in a day and our appetites are much stronger than our long term goals for body size.  So we fail and the yo-yo pattern begins.

A couple months back, I made the leap and cut regular pop, switching to diet in the home.  It's just a small step.  I didn't do this because hfcs is the devil or any weird conspiracy theorists explanation... and I didn't banish regular pop entirely.  When out to eat, I'll get a regular pop if I want, but I only buy the diet version for home.  I singled this out as a starting point because calories from pop are the most empty and easiest to replace.  I was drinking at least 3 cases a week which is 36 cans X 170 calories for Mtn Dew or 36 cans X 150 calories for Pepsi.  That works out to 6,120 - 5,400 calories a week... or 1.54 - 1.74 lbs a week.  It's a start and I'm not suddenly trying to run 10 miles a week and drastically cut portions, it's small steps, turning the volume down a little at a time. Next level will be adding some exercise or making a rule about only getting small sized combos when I get takeout.  Again, small steps.  Let me also say that this doesn't mean that you can't ever go to a buffet or have a big meal again.  You just take it easy the day of the meal and the day after, and in the context of that week, you are still ok.

So that's my analogy as well as where I am.  What you can do if you are what Kevin Smith calls normies - normal sized people - is not turn the volume down very far on someone else.  If you doubt me, try the volume experiment yourself.  Turn the volume all the way up and see how well you like it vs. turning the volume up slowly.  Also, don't snicker or mock fat people in public.  This one is huge... pardon the pun.  Ever wonder why you don't see fat people out running or at least walking?  Well, for one, they don't make tasteful athletic wear for big people(that's a whole 'nother blog) and second, they get laughed at and develop social phobias as a result.  So don't drastically adjust the volume, and be supportive.  See a fat person at the gym... give a high five... smile... spot them on the bench... give pointers on proper lifting technique... make a friend and stop shunning them because they are becoming us.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Creating Evil.

When you hear advocates for sustainable ag and organic production talk about what they do, you are left with the impression that conventional farmers do not do those things.
If you click the title to this post, you'll be directed to a WaPo article by Eric Schlosser, Author of Fast Food Nation and co-producer of Food Inc.  In the article, Schlosser writes a rebuttal to foodies being called elitist.  Within that rebuttal, Mr. Schlosser makes several broad statements about food and ag.  He says that modern ag is, 'overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels'.

Eric Schlosser wants the public to believe that modern agriculture doesn't use crop rotation, no-till, cover crops, wind breaks, grass waterways, etc.  He paints the picture of 1 big, monolithic building run by an evil villain whose only goal is to poison children.

I knew about crop rotation, no-till, grass waterways, etc, before I ever knew what organic was.  His charge against conventional ag is incredibly misleading, considering that organic farms also use pesticides, fertilizers, fossil fuels, and government subsidies.

I spent many years of my youth on a farm and my college education is specifically designed to give me the training to run a food manufacturing facility.  Given that, I have never seen a 'Factory Farm'.  This is meant as an expletive that is all too often said by people who aren't educated enough to recognize what they are looking at in a large operation.  Of course, ignorance leads to fear, and ultimately, name calling.

Large operations have insanely huge input costs.  To control those costs, farmers have invested in precision agriculture in the past 15 years.  Many tractors now have in cab computers, gps systems, and auto-steer.  Soil samples are taken all over the field and plotted with gps so variable rate spreaders can be used so the farmers don't waste a drop of the increasingly expensive fertilizer.  GM crop varieties reduce the amount of pesticides needed, which also means that farm equipment is run for less hours.  This means reduced consumption of fuel lowered maintenance costs over the life of the equipment.

The farm isn't the only place Eric Schlosser has fostered the view point that everyone else is evil.  He also takes several shots at the food industry.  He makes reference to consolidation among meat packers and then likens it to the climate that existed when The Jungle was written.  It's as if having more owners would magically improve the safety of the world's safest food supply.

He talks about the food and ag system being centralized.  While some companies only have one plant, most food companies set up plants in different areas of the country... you know... in regions.  Of course, this must be a lie if Mr. Schlosser insists that our system is centralized and if foodies all call for a regional food system.  Kroger is one of the nations largest grocer's and has it's own manufacturing, named Kroger Manufacturing.  Kroger Manufacturing has bakeries, dairies, and various other facilities spread all over the country.  In all, Kroger Manufacturing has over 40 facilities where food is produced.  That doesn't seem very central to me.

Mr. Schlosser mentions how sick everyone is getting due to our very unsafe food supply... actually, he only mentions children, which is kind of cowardly if you ask me.  He fails to mention that you can't go anywhere else in the world and find safer food.  He makes a mention of pesticide residues and how bad that is for kids, but leaves out the part where residue limits are set so far below the amount that can make people sick, that it's virtually impossible to get sick from the residues. For instance, a child would need to eat 154 servings of apples in one day to get sick from the highest amount of residue allowed in apples by the USDA.  To calculate your own limits, go here.

Foodies get called elitist because they advocate an antiquated method of farming that, if implemented, would leave a large portion of the planet without food(hunger is already a huge problem throughout much of the world).  Any volunteers to never eat again?  No?  Hmm.  They also scoff at how little we pay for food as a percentage of our income, which is an indicator of economic health, not personal health.  Ethiopians pay a huge amount of their income(for those fortunate to have incomes) for food and they are starving.  Many foodies brag about how much more they spend for food.  Sound elitist?  Yes.  The cost of food didn't make us fat, our abundance of calories did.  We're still wired to eat and screw as much as possible, so it takes a fair amount of education to get people to willfully waste calories by exercising and not eating so much.  The elitist solution is to make food even more expensive for the poorest people in this country.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Agroecology: Welcome To The 1800's.

Paula Crossfield from Civil Eater posted a story in the Huffington Post which references a UN study that claims to solve the challenges of hunger in an organic manner.

I suggest you all read the HuffPo article, then read the study.  What follows is an analysis of that study.

Allow me to decode this report for everyone:

*Eliminate animal feed and use those inputs to make more human food. - This is entirely unrealistic, especially since it advocates feeding animals the scraps of food we don't want.  Basically, there won't be enough food for the animals, so there will be less of them.  Meat will be a delicacy reserved for the wealthy.

*Revert back to farm labor of the 1800's when people had to work all day to barely produce enough food for their families and caloric intakes were between 1,000 and 1,500 kcal/day.

*Sell all the food locally... meaning that everyone has to be a farmer.   -  The few that aren't farmers will pay huge premiums for the labor intense, niche market food.  This also means you have to eat the food that is grown where you live.  That could be rice or that could be cassava.  Don't like either?  Move... I guess.

*Spend more money and research on plant breeding, but singles out 'industrial ag'.  -  This is a thinly veiled knock on fertilizers, pesticides, and biotech.  Replacing all that will be the way we used to breed crop varieties... when we were all starving.  Breeding desired traits into crops using conventional methods does yield the same results as biotech... except it takes much longer.  Years longer.

*In place of fertilizers, which add nitrogen to the soil, they advocate natural means... of adding nitrogen to the soil.  -  Of course, the natural methods will work(it's nitrogen too) but not as efficiently.

This whole report reads like a fantasy wish list written by a few activists without any regard for reality.

To sum up the plan...
Everyone grow organic since organic costs more money and farmers will make more.
More people will then be needed to farm this way and we'll need much more farms.
Unfortunately, we'll still be short of food so the only animal production that can be tolerated is animals fed the scraps of food we don't eat.
The rest depends on magic, apparently.

This couldn't have been written by agronomists and crop science experts.

There are some good things in here.  For instance, they advocate the use of ponds and nitrogen fixing trees.  They do allow for some fertilizer use where organic methods are unavailable.

The worst of what this plan does, however, is tie poor countries to subsistence level farming so that they may never develop and grow wealth.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Example Of How Food Hysterics Reason.

Mark Bittman wrote an NYT piece about McDonald's new fruit and maple oatmeal that was easily one of the dumbest attempted take-downs of a food item I have ever seen.

It was very Fox News-ish in how it conveyed facts without context.  By the time people figured out the whole truth? Damage done.

And damage was undoubtedly the intent here.  Sometimes it's foodists crapping all over whatever seems to be popular at the moment, but lately attacks are usually nothing more than thinly veiled anti-corporate vitriol.

The way Food Hysterics bring about a story can be understood in two recent examples; one example being Mr. Bittman's critique of McDonald's fruit & maple oatmeal... or rather, fruit & maple oatmeal's creator - McDonald's, and the other being Michael Jacobson's HuffPo piece on caramel coloring.

Food Hysterics start with their worldview and work backwards, shaping the story to meet their predetermined outcome.  Bittman's beef isn't really with the oatmeal, it's with McDonald's. He says, 'The leading fast-food multinational, with sales over $16.5 billion a year (just under the GDP of Afghanistan), represents a great deal of what is wrong with American food today.'  So right off the bat, you should know that everything you are about to read is a negative against McDonald's.

Food Hysterics then steal one of Fox News' more devious tricks by leaving out all context in the numbers they report.  Those numbers are reported in a way to reinforce the negative image they just established.  The reader leaves the article disappointed and outraged... but they really aren't too sure why.  Bittman starts naming the number of ingredients and calls them chemicals without explaining what they're used for.  Yes, I do realize he's being honest, but not totally.  See, everything is a chemical.  You're a sack of chemicals, your filtered water is chemicals(H2O), but he knows that people squirm when they hear that so it just fortifies his point.  He recalls facts that are out of context, saying that this oatmeal has only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald's cheeseburger.  

Correct, but let's do a quick experiment.  Without looking up the nutritional facts... tell me how many calories you think are in a McDonald's cheeseburger.  You have your guess ready?  It's 300 calories.  That means that McDonald's Fruit & Maple Oatmeal contains a gut busting 290 calories.  Oh my!!  That's a whopping 14.5% of your daily recommended amount of calories(based on a 2,000 calorie diet)!  Not very much, considering breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day.  But never mind the context... too late for that, he already has you running for the hills in fear of those massive cheeseburger calories.  If you order the oatmeal sans the brown sugar, you can get down to an ethereal 260 calories and only 18 grams of sugar(32 grams with).

Mark then makes a point that oatmeal should just be the oatmeal + water and we should have the options of whether we wanted our wholesome goodness ruined with things like fruit and 30 calories worth of brown sugar.  He even goes so far as emailing McDonald's to pose them this question directly.  Two incredible things followed: first was that he actually reported what they wrote back and second... he glosses right over it.

Incredible thing number one: “Customers can order FMO with or without the light cream, brown sugar and the fruit. Our menu is entirely customizable by request with our ‘Made for You’ platform that has been in place since the late 90s.”

Incredible thing number two... his response: 'Oh please.'

Oh please?  This must be the Food Hysteric's equivalent to, 'Yeah, but still'

'Did you hear that the moon landing was faked?'
No.  We really did land on the moon.
'No, it was faked.  They have multiple light sources and shadows where they shouldn't be.'
Actually, they recreated the lighting conditions and surface areas on the moon to scale and proved it was right.
'Yeah...but still'

It basically means you have no argument.

Yes the oatmeal is 10 less calories than McDonald's cheeseburger or the Egg McMuffin, but those sandwich's are only 300 calories, which means the oatmeal is only 290 calories.  Not only that but the Egg McMuffin is only 7.1oz while the fully loaded oatmeal is 9.2oz.  So for less calories you get a more filling meal.  If your lunch and dinner had twice those calories, you would have only consumed 1,450 calories for the entire day and would most likely be running a caloric deficit.

I know this is a long post but bear with me... on to Michael Jacobson and the Center for Science in the Public Interest( CSPI ).

Jacobson's story warns of the dangers hidden in cola(which they already have a huge problem with).  He starts by talking about food marketers as if there is some building in Minnesota where they all live labeled, 'Food Marketers' and they're in constant cahoots with one another.  He mentions how caramel coloring is made and is all too happy with telling us there is a reaction with ammonia involved, but doesn't go so far as explaining the science.  Funny, I thought science was in his organization's name?

You start to see the familiar pattern emerge of facts without context after giving away his true bias.  He goes on to mention how lab rats and mice were given the coloring and formed tumors.  What he doesn't mention and, more importantly, what he doesn't address in any of the comments was the toxicity.  One study put the minimum amount of 4-Methylimidazole that causes cancer in lab rats to be 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.  The most 4-Methylimidazole they found per 20oz cola was 213 micrograms or .213milligrams.  Let's say someone weighs 100 Kg, they would need to ingest 4,000 mg/kg of bodyweight to get cancer.  That works out to over 18,000 20oz bottle of cola in the same 2 year period as the rats.  Can you drink 9,000 bottle of cola a year?  If I really try, I can get down 48 12oz servings in a week.  So even though I am a heavy pop drinker, I would fall far short.

But it's not about the science, is it?  It's about scaring people into taking a specific action.  These food hysterics are using you and your misguided outrage to shape the world the way they see fit.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Brief Discussion Of Food And Income.

Fair Food Fight, a food activist blog has recently caught my attention.  They mean well, I'm sure, but the premise of many of their arguments is flawed.

The reason for their flaws seems to be that they need their ideas to always prevail while making sure certain people are always seen , not just as in the wrong, but part of a concerted effort do some harm.

So the food companies(corporations), ag companies(corporations), the products they sell, and even the government are all part of the problem in their eyes.  This leaves little room for facts, which they didn't consider when they formed their ideology.

What follows is a comment I left on their blog, The Devaluation of Food, Farms and Our Future.  The blog touched on other things, but I took plenty of room just responding to their call to make food a higher percentage of our income.  Enjoy.

If you look at the history of agricultural and economic development, the percentage spent on food is a fairly accurate indicator of wealth in a country.

It starts at 100% or very close to it, where nearly everyone is subsistence level farmers.  People were very poor because all of their money went to buying food.  They were the ultimate locavores... except they were perpetually starving.  The food they grew was barely enough to keep them going and that was before they had to sell some for money to buy other things. 

So that extreme doesn't work.  People can't go pursue other interest, because their labor is needed on the farm.  Speaking of which, we needed to have a lot of kids because we needed the labor.

Saying that we need to spend more on food, doesn't necessarily mean that we'll go backwards as a nation, but it also doesn't mean we'll all weigh less.  It's a flawed premise, assuming it's the cheap cost of food that makes people heavy.  Over-consumption of calories is what makes people obese.  We over-consume because food is much easier to find, ready to eat, and because we are too poor to be secure in our food choices. 

As humans, we have ALWAYS eaten whatever we could find.  Until recently, we couldn't eat enough, because we could never find enough food.  So the real problem is discipline and restraint, a concept which humans are relatively new to.

You can craft a caloric budget that allows for the foods you want along with exercise to help keep the balance.  You can do this with the prices of food now and especially if food is even cheaper.

I think the proper way to look at this is to say that people don't make enough money.  When we live paycheck to paycheck, you are never completely sure you'll have enough to eat in the future or have the money to buy the food(as cheap as it is).  So what we do is search for the best values for our money to stretch our dollars.

So if your theory is correct then paying more for that food will make people buy less of it, but that ignores thousands of years of human instincts.  More likely, we'd just spend the extra money and seek out more calorically dense foods, rather than more nutritionally dense foods.  When I have lot's of money, I am not so concerned with getting enough to eat.  I can eat a light meal, knowing that more is available later.  But as a poor person, which I most certainly am, I am much more likely to go to a buffet and consume larger meals. 

So that's it.  I was searching for specific ag econ graphs showing caloric consumption over the years as well as Engel Curves showing income vs food expenditures, but I got bored.  Link this blog, and follow me on twitter @samvance  If you already follow me, get someone else to.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Zero Tolerance Extremism.

Once again, my blog title is a clickable link that goes to a food science resource.  Today's resource is the faculty list of UMass' Food Science Department.  I chose UMass because they were ranked as the top food science department for PhD students in the country.

Today I'd like to address the problems concerning zero tolerance in  the conversation about food.  It's a pretty common practice when people argue about anything, that they take the arguments to the extreme boundaries to try to make a point.  So any discussion of guns leads to a world where jack-booted thugs are raping your  mother while you're watching and powerless because you have no gun... or it's like a John Woo film and everyone is diving sideways in slow motion shooting everybody until we are all dead.

Get the idea?

By taking arguments about food out to the extremes, Food Hysterics hope to make their point while making you defend the most ridiculous scenarios.  Just think of the movie, Super Size Me.  In that movie, Morgan Spurlock wanted to prove that our(Western, mostly American) fast food diets are making us very sick/unhealthy/giving us feline AIDS/etc.  

Morgan Spurlock could have set up an experiment similar to what comedian Doug Benson did in his stonermentary, 'Super High Me'.  What Doug did was smoke pot several times a day, every day, for 30 days.  He followed that up with 30 days of no pot.  So Doug had two sets of data to compare.

What Spurlock did was not only eat McDonald's every meal, but he also(as the title suggests) Super Sized those meals.  The end.  This is very extreme and is meant to prove a point rather than honestly explore an issue.  For instance, if he wanted to be fair, he could have maintained his normal caloric intake but only ate McDonald's and compared the results afterward.  He could've binged for 30 days and then tried to lose weight for 30 days eating only McDonald's.  He could have brought a registered dietitian the McDonald's tray liner with the nutrition facts on the back and planned out meals that met his needs.  Nope, just Super Size it... all day... every day.  Nobody does that.  Nobody eats out for every meal.  Hell, I'll say that most people don't even eat every meal(like breakfast).

I get flamed* by several Twitter trolls** who are anti-everything except a small garden. I have a theory that most of it traces back to an anti-corporate sentiment(which makes me appear pro-corporate for calling out their extremist views) more than anything, but they have some odd views about food nonetheless.

I was asked what my thoughts were on chemicals in food. ???  I wasn't sure how to respond because I didn't know how much they understood about food.  Do they realize that all food is made of 100% chemicals?  Were they referring to gras food additives and wanted to belittle them by just saying the word chemical?

So I explain that things are added to food to improve the: taste, texture, color, mouth feel, shelf life, safety, or nutritional value.  The troll then wonders how many people, if polled, would say they wanted any chemicals added to their food.  So now we already went to an extreme - 'any'.  Of course, if that's how the poll were conducted, everyone would vote no.  It's a leading question.  If I do a survey where I ask people if they want to be shot through the air at 500mph, I'll bet I get nearly all 'No' responses.  Does that mean that commercial air flight should be outlawed?

When I get pulled into these back and forths, I can usually see where things are heading.  So the interrogation breaks down into profits for the food companies.  So now I'm a shill because I explain why things are added to food.  If I were a food technologist working for a large company that was needlessly adding things to food without merit, I would be pretty happy.  Why?  Because I would get to be the hero after I reformulate the products, ditching the wasted materials and saving that company a shitload of money.  I explain that companies won't spend money on unneeded ingredients.  The conversation later evolves into that person referring to everything he doesn't eat as 'shit' and says, 'people eat shit they get sick. This can be backed by 10's of 100's of studies - but of course you disagree.'

This conversation goes nowhere.  It's a horrible circle that makes him crazier and more paranoid while making me dumber for responding.  What people need to realize is that there is a lot of nuance in food science and food issues.  Can BPA hurt you?  Yup, in high enough amounts.  Last I checked, the highest concentrations were found in a 15oz can of French Style green beans... and you'd need to eat 1,000 cans to get sick from the BPA.


People have died from drinking too much water, but we need water to live.  We actually need fat and salt, just not so much.  So the conversation can't be about banning or eliminating things, it has to be about moderation and educational outreach.  I need the help of food scientists and food science educators out their reading this.  

We have politicians wasting our time talking about the aforementioned BPA, and they have needlessly banned potatoes from the WIC program, even though they are great sources of fiber and potassium.  We have people suing Taco Bell because the filling isn't 100% beef, without considering that 100% beef leaves no room for seasonings.  We have a lot of hysteria out there and people are starting to just believe the negative because they haven't seen food scientists go on Oprah or The Daily Show or The Today Show, but they see plenty of Michael Pollan telling them not to eat foods that their Grandma wouldn't recognize.

We need to get out their and call out the extremists with science.  Call them out when they make silly arguments and explain the science behind what's in food.  If you know a food science professor or food science professional, get them on Twitter.  Have them follow me @SamVance. Be warned though, you'll get bombarded with trolls who seem to have all day to try to tweet you down and then discredit anything you try to say.  Hell, I even have a mock version of myself on Twitter @shitSamVancesez

* Flame - to pick apart someone's comments on the internet, usually resulting in the dreaded 'Flame War', a heated exchange that goes on for quite some time.
** Troll - A person who seeks out someone to flame.  Trolls are usually limited to specific topics and not at all random.  They find someone commenting on their pet subject, then they start internet arguments(Flame Wars)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Traceability: Jet Packs of the Food Industry.

Lyndsey Layton wrote an article about traceability in the Washington Post today.  For those unaware, traceability is the idea that food companies can trace exactly which of their ingredients went into each of their products.  Of course, they already know what type of ingredient is going into a specific product, but they may not be exactly sure when that ingredient was received or what lot # is associated with that exact ingredient where it was shipped.

It's confusing, I know.  I'll try to explain a little better and also give my ideas on how this can work.

When the major food safety overhaul passed, it contained a provision that food companies must be able to track where all their ingredients came from and where it's going.  It sounds simple in theory, but there are complications involved.  It's basically how we think about jet packs.  As Joe Rogan said in his stand-up act, 'Where's the jet packs, bitch?!'  We've heard about jet packs since the 50's and yet it never comes to fruition.  We have the technology... so where are they.  Traceability has the same sort of dichotomy involved.  Small problems and a matter of organization make this simple matter, simply complicated.

Here is the situation:  A wheat farmer brings his wheat to market, where it is bought by a mill.  This mill takes in the wheat, cleans it, and mills it into flour.  The mill then sells this flour to one or many food companies for a variety of applications.  The food company may use this shipment of flour on one product, several products, or even several different runs of several different products.  To further complicate matters, the wheat may be mixed with other winter or summer varieties from other farms before it's milled, so if there is a problem with the flour, it can come from anywhere.  This situation is the same for peppers, cilantro, onions, or whatever.

What each buyer/seller in the supply chain must do is track the place they bought from and the place they sold to.  I see the solution involving either rfid tags or upc bar codes.  The original source i.e. farmer, prints a code to affix to any paperwork as well as to the shipment.  This code or tag, when scanned, stores their farm's establishment number as well as a lot number for that item, as well as a time stamp. The next person in line must scan this bar code/tag then print their own.  The tag they print out contains the code from the original source.  This tag/code is printed and affixed to every shipment that contains THAT source. Fast forward to a bakery that is baking multiple products that day and multiple products the next day.  When they got that ingredient in, they scanned the code/tag and replaced it with their own as everyone else has done in the supply chain.  So now their code shows the time location and lot number for that ingredient for EVERY step of the supply chain.  

This is where it get's tricky. The bakery is going to run brownies and two types of cookies with the ingredient.  For each product they create, they must embed a code/tag with the ingredient's information... which contains every step in that process for every ingredient.  This bakery has the codes tied into their inventory system so they can look up and see some sort of a flow chart that shows every step for every ingredient, which can become hundreds of locations/lot numbers.  They can also use this to ensure they're using 'first in, first out'.

Traceability has a number of logistical problems.  First is how to figure out how a system for the lot numbers.  It can't be whatever the farmer/plant manager comes up with because we can't have duplicate codes floating around.  So the lot numbers must somehow use part of their establishment number to differentiate.  Each entity must have compatible computer systems, but honestly, you can do this with an Excel spreadsheet and a bar code scanner gun.

The feds must be the leaders here or what is simple and a little complicate becomes impossible.  They must act on how this framework will exist and they'll need a lot of resources($$) to get it right the first time.  Republicans need to realize this and not fly off the handle and defund it because it grows the government.  You know what's worse than an overblown government?  An inefficient government.  This part of the regulatory system can be a huge bonus to the industry, but if we start smoking and drinking while this baby is in the womb, it's going to be born slow and defective.  So let the government spend the money and staff the agencies with smart people(I'm available) to piece this together the right way so it can run efficiently.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cory Booker: A Tale of Two Budgets.

I meant to blog about either the lame Pepsi - Yale research fellowship non-controversy or David Zinczenko's scientifically bankrupt Yahoo! articles about the worst foods.

But I see a better opportunity to educate here using one of my Twitter followers now public example.

Some econo-wonks already know about Newark Mayor Cory Booker's budget troubles.  He's tens of millions of dollars in the red with his city's budget and is forced with making deep cuts.

See, the recession meant that people had less taxable income.  Coupled with declining property values and a foreclosure crisis, that means that a large, trying-to-grow city like Newark has much less revenue to work with.  Imagine you get paid hourly and you get your hours cut.  You had planned to use your next check to pay rent, utilities, and groceries, but your check is about 2/3 of what you expected it to be under normal circumstances.  What do you pay... or more importantly, what don't you pay?  That's what Cory Booker faces.

At the same time, Cory has come to terms with another out of control budget.  Cory used to play football, and according to his Facebook post, played at 265lbs.  Football players play very hard and lift weights, so they can normally eat what folks on the farm would call a free ration diet.  Muscle mass acts as a food furnace, craving calories to keep up the bulk.  Many football players have trouble later in life with finding a compromise between the level of activity(weight training and cardio) and caloric intake.  He says that he got down to 230lbs(where he says he wants to be), but ballooned back up to 295 while dealing with his other budget.

Cory Booker is a bold and brave person to post this info online to a cruel and unforgiving internet.  He stands at a vulnerable point in his weight loss, because he will hear advice from many people.  But that's the problem with that internet, isn't it?  It's something I call being Google Educated.  All the knowledge in the world and all the experts in the world are at our fingertips... but so are the crazies.  You can learn about dna or how pasteurization works, but you can also learn about various JFK conspiracy theories or how vaccines are bad for kids.

So I'm writing this for 3 purposes: 1. to write another post, which I haven't done in a while  2. to give tips to Cory in one place rather than annoying him through my Twitter account @samvance and 3. to dispel some myths and misinformation before America's Mayor gets corrupted by them.

It's not what you eat so much as how much you eat i.e. your caloric budget.
Many people who mean well in the obesity fight tend to demonize certain foods.  They say crazy, unscientific things like 'Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize.' or 'stay away from processed foods and preservatives'.  It's the calories, stupid... For example, a Kansas State University nutrition professor lost 27 pounds in 2 months eating mostly snack cakes.  How did he do it?  Calories.

Cory weighs 287 right now according to today's facebook posting.  That means, Cory needs to consume about 3,444 calories with no extra calorie burning activities to maintain that weight.  Since Cory is a male, he takes his current weight and multiplies it by 12(women should multiply by 11) to get a very basic idea of caloric consumption.  If Cory is active, like running or shoveling snow for people, then he would need even more calories to maintain that weight.

Cory can use this knowledge to his advantage, however.  While similar in structure to a monetary budget, the mathematics of a caloric budget are the opposite.  More isn't better in this case.  So what can Cory do right now?  Two things; monitor and set a goal.  Luckily, Cory has started the process by selecting a target weight - 230 lbs.  

Using the calorie math, we can do a little algebra to determine about how much he needs to get reach his goal.   

His current weight is represented as follows: 287 * 12 = 3,444  
For his goal weight, we use the following: X = 230 * 12  X = 2,760

So if Cory limits his caloric intake to 2,760 calories a day and leads an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, he will eventually get down to 230 lbs.  That's a difference of 684 calories a day.  A pound of fat = 3,500 calories, so theoretically, every 3,500 calories he shorts himself will result in another pound lost.  This will take approximately 5.11 days to lose 1 pound and 291 days to lose the 57 pounds it will take to get to his goal weight with just a sedentary lifestyle.  

But we all know from his Twitter feed that he isn't a sedentary person.  This is where the monitoring come's in.  For one or two weeks before beginning this process, I suggest Cory keep a food diary.  I have one on an Excel spreadsheet I can send to him that I got from Dr. Mike Mangino, who taught FST 201: The Science of Food at Ohio State.  The chart should include the portion, nutrients, and caloric content of everything he eats as well as the length of time or distance for any physical activities.  All of these things show how much he energy he really expands.  This is important because he may eat way more than 3400 calories given the amount of activity, so his caloric goals must account for that.  Meaning that 2,760 would be the minimum amount of calories he needs to be at 230.  If he burns an additional 500 or 700 calories a day through walking the neighborhoods, running, and yes, even sitting in meetings, then those calories must be added back in.

This is important so you avoid what I call the Race To Zero, where people try to eat as little as possible instead of the appropriate amount.  This is one reason I object to David Zinczenko's crappy Yahoo! articles about the Worst Foods in America.

Avoid processed foods? What does that even mean?  All foods undergo some level of processing. Ignore it, Cory.  Your concern is calories, protein, carbs, and things like potassium.

Avoid HFCS? No.  Pop is a hindrance because it represents empty calories.  Sugar is sugar, so it doesn't matter if it's cane, HFCS, raw, or pureed guava.  You can have soda and still lose weight, but cutting pop for at least a while is something very easy to trim from your bloated caloric budget.  Drink 1% or skim milk(casein is an efficient protein), orange juice(Vit C, Potassium), or unsweetened iced tea(0 calories).

My tips:
Carb up in the beginning of the day and work in proteins a little at lunch and the rest for dinner.  Cream of Wheat or oatmeal, orange juice, and fruit start you off with energy and don't slow you down.

Snack time!  If you need a snack or two throughout the day, don't forget to count those calories, and try things like dried fruit, almonds, beef jerky, or a yogurt.  Bananas are good too.

Lunch - Some proteins but still mostly carbs. Tuna or chicken salad sandwich. Salad. Unsalted fries.

Dinner - Good time for protein.  Great low-fat options are chicken breast, fish, and turkey.  Lean beef and pork cuts are good, too.  

Not one of the first things people think of at the end of the day, but an omelet gives you all the amino acids your body needs to synthesize new proteins while you sleep and are a great way to add in other things that are rich in nutrients.

Potatoes!  Yes, Cory, potatoes are fine.  A great option for lunch and dinner, potatoes are sodium/fat free and high in fiber and potassium.  Potassium is very important in regulating cell fluids and blood pressure.  The average potato is only 110 so you can eat a lot and feel full.

Don't skip meals.  This creates that crazy strong hunger that causes you to overdo it on the next meal.

Don't deny, manage. It's a simpleton's route to banish foods that you like as if you're some foodaholic.  And you're not the Mayor Of Simpleton, are you? Have a cookie or a slice of cheesecake in moderation, just remember that those calories count.

Don't panic if you go over! If you blow your planned caloric budget for one day, then account for the overage for the rest of the week by shorting the calories a little more.

I hope this helps and doesn't come off as more unneeded, unsolicited advice.  As for the other budget, consult an economist.