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)

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