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.


  1. If you start off drinking soda as a child, as many kids these days do, and consider how long it would take at 2-3 bottles per day to reach the cumulative effect of 18,000 20 oz. sodas, could you not could reasonably be reaching cancer-causing levels of this chemical by a relatively early age (25-35), depending upon how high your soda intake actually is?

    I'm not sure anyone starts drinking soda at the age of 35 and only drinks it for two years. But do I know plenty of people who've been drinking the "average" equivalent of 2-3 20 oz. sodas per day since they were a kid.

  2. What you have to consider is the speed at which this is metabolized in the body. Nothing stays in your system forever or for even several years. So in the time you consider this additive to be accumulating in the body, it's also being metabolized and leaving the body so I think the theory of stacking up the additive over so many years is a little far fetched.


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