Thursday, October 11, 2012

Scapegoat Activism.

I was about to go to bed when I saw an article being promoted by @HuffPostFood on Twitter that said, 'the dark side of soda'.  Curious, I clicked on the article and discovered it was yet another ridiculous piece from Michael F. Jacobson of the ill-named Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The article blames soda for amputations, impotence, and painful dentistry.  Clearly, this is meant to shock people.  I don't know why I expected anything reasonable from that organization.

We live in a time where we can have as much of whatever it is that we want.  With that, we should be mindful of overdoing it; eating too much(guilty), drinking too much, et cetera.  Anything consumed in excess will carry with it certain negative consequences.  Anything.  

Knowing that, should we proceed on a route of zero tolerance, with the logic that if we can't have too much of something then we shouldn't have any of it or should we proceed with the totality of the diet in mind and try to engage in all things in moderation?

Jacobson talks about how we used to enjoy 6.5 or 10 fl oz servings of Coke or Pepsi, but now we have 20 fl oz and up of these beverages and... well, you know... amputations.  He goes on to mention Big Soda, by which he means Coca Cola and Pepsico.  He doesn't mention smaller companies that make the same sort of beverage to sell in organic groceries... 

He goes on to promote an animated short called The Real Bears, which is an attack against the aforementioned Big Soda.  Once again this should be of little surprise to people.

Michael F. Jacobson and the CSPI commonly engage in what I call, 'Scapegoat Activism'.  You see, they have built a big, expensive institution that must be constantly fed with new members and donors.  'All things in moderation' is not a very good recruiting tool, but fear, hysteria, and misinformation are.  So what they do is pick a villain, put the word 'Big' in front of it to signal to you that this is a big, profit hungry corporation that not only doesn't care about you, but hopes to separate you from your money while killing you, and then blame all of society's ills on that one villain.

The villains are things like conventionally grown fruits and veggies, Happy Meal kid's toys, food coloring, and of course, big soda.

They employ a couple methods for scaring people to their side.  One is through giving you some information, but not enough to dissuade you from becoming irrationally afraid.  For instance, they'll have an article talking about the evils of caramel coloring and how it will lead to cancer, but they'll leave out the information about how much of that coloring you would need to ingest to maybe get cancer and how that number means you could never drink enough cola to get there.  Two is through using the same logic that Bush used as rational for a whole manor of policies.  It's the whole, 'if A = B and B = C, then A = C' crap.  Oversimplification would be a vast understatement.

The problem with that method is that food doesn't really work that way.  Our diets are fungible, meaning that we have a certain number  of calories/sugar/sodium and the sources of those things will change from day to day.  You can spend a lot of calories on certain things and still be ok so long as you make room for it.  This is how Michael Phelps could eat 12,000 calories a day and weigh 165lbs and not 1,000lbs, because he offsets the caloric intake with exercise.  It's how that one guy was able to eat a Big Mac every day for 25 years and not be fat.  There is absolutely no data showing that people got amputations, impotence, or cavities from soda alone.  It's the totality of the diet that matters, not a short term indulgence, and not one item in the diet.

He needs new villains to drum up membership, donors, and credibility so more people believe him and so he can publish another article with a new villain to start the process over again.  That, my friends, is Scapegoat Activism.  Don't let yourself get played.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Be Aggressive.

Once credibility is established, and in the absence of a subject matter expert to correct the record, people will believe what they're told.

Think about that for a minute.

In the 80's and 90's, you saw this with the tobacco industry.  Tobacco lobbyist would come out against whatever scientific study came out and you really didn't hear anything from the scientists until papers started getting read in Congress that showed executive's efforts to cover up health risks.

Similarly, Activists and activist profiteers - those who latch on to activist causes for profit like Michael Pollan - have the audience's ear; an audience that serves as a blank slate and recruitment tool for the activists. Of course, the activist profiteers need those fresh faces to sell books and book speaking engagements.  So these people build the perception of credibility through the lack of other adults in the room questioning them and setting these activists and profiteers straight.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with being an activist or being a profiteer.  The problem is when the profit comes from misinformation, like in the case of the tobacco lobby or Michael Pollan.  The problem is when activists use misinformation to recruit more people.

"[Nutritional Science] is kind of where surgery was in the 1650s. Really promising, really interesting ... but, would you let them operate on you?" - Michael Pollan, Speech at Sydney's Opera House.
For science to progress, for reason to move forward alongside our debates about food, there must be an answer to that above statement.  How many times do you think that got repeated as people got into buses and cars and headed home or to dinner that evening?  How tragically ironic is it that one of the people advocating for and romanticizing subsistence level farming put down modern nutritional science as being too simple... not advanced enough?

We need to be more aggressive in promoting science.  We can't just set the facts out on the back porch like milk in a saucer in hopes that science starved kittens will lap it up.  Those kittens are on someone else's porch getting an earful about how bad your milk is, and when they do come around, it will be to make some snarky, matter-of-fact statement about how wrong you are before sauntering off with their tails wafting through the breeze.

"There's a wisdom beyond what people tell us, we have just stopped listening to our bodies."                      - Michael Pollan, Speech at Sydney's Opera House.

This is actually a variation of the God of the Gaps argument made in Creationism.  If they don't have all the answers we need right now, then we must not accept any of the answers they have and be skeptical of everything they say.

You don't see this in other areas of science. In astronomy, you had Carl Sagan, who had facts on his side and credibility.  After him, came people like Michio Koku and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I would consider to be our generation's Carl Sagan.

For those on #agchat and #foodchat on twitter who would advocate being more diplomatic, I would like to add that Mr. Pollan's speaking engagement in Sydney was most likely a paid gig.  The people he sent out into the world with that message - either directly or indirectly - paid to hear it.  So if people will pay to hear that message, how far do you really think being diplomatic gets you on the free internet?

And it's not just Pollan, either.  We have activist organizations, who through their activism, have become profiteers.  You have Michael Jacobson and his Center for Science in the Public Interest.  You have Jeffrey Smith and his Institute for Responsible Technology.  You also have the somewhat misleading named, Union of Concerned Scientists.  I could go on and on.

We need to share resources, use our best professional groups and get out there and fight the misinformation.  We have groups like the International Food Information Council and the Institute of Food Technologists that we can network in and find people to do media appearances through.  We can appear with one of these groups when they end up on Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show, Hardball, et cetera.  We can invest a little more time to social media by posting tweets about what we do as farmers, or plant geneticists, or food scientists, or food science professionals.  We can put out blogs, youtube videos, and podcasts to broadcast the truth about science.  Hell, one or two of us may actually get booked for paid speaking engagements.

But that would be offense, and the conventional wisdom among too many is to not be argumentative, to sink to their level.  What we get with that strategy is what we currently have now, a landscape dominated by activists and their profiteering hangers on, who say whatever they feel is right, regardless of whether it's true.  Their numbers grow, and science shrinks.  Hysteria soon becomes fact.  Get off the bench. Be aggressive.

Story about Pollan's speech in Sydney.

Recap of Jon Entine's speech at IFT 2012.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Lack of the Killer Tomatoes.

I was initially very happy when I saw this story in the New York Times.

The story talks about how plant geneticists cracked the code on why red tomatoes seemed more bland.  It was fascinating as well as exciting, because they now knew what gene was turned off because of the red ripening mutation... which means they could simply turn on the flavor producing gene, in theory.

What really bummed me out about this article was the following sentences; 'But were the genetically engineered tomatoes more flavorful? Because Department of Agriculture regulations forbid the consumption of experimental produce, no one tasted them.'

I'm all for regulation of food and ag, as I've posted about before, but at a certain point, we have to shed this pre-millennial thinking that scientists are reckless and don't know what they are doing.  At this point, I think plant geneticists and bio-engineers have the ability to make a strong hypothesis about potential gene outcomes, such that they may take a bite out of a fucking tomato.

This thinking leads into the next self defeating paragraph in the article; 'And, Dr. Giovannoni says, do not look for those genetically engineered tomatoes at the grocery store. Producers would not dare to make such a tomato for fear that consumers would reject it.'

So what, don't even bother?  Why would the public reject it?  I think the doctor is referring to the anti-science activists that have romanticized any kind of old-timey ag of yore where poor, perpetually underfed subsistence level farmers broke their ass to make a crop that we would return to the grocery store for quality reasons.

Why not educate throughout the process?  Why not put up the varying steps on YouTube with annotations on why each step is done and have links to accompanying notes for background reading?  We need much more educational outreach, because clearly the activists... the 'Anti's' are growing their numbers every day with a steady stream of misinformation.  Shying away from progress in this world for fear that we may be misunderstood is a cop-out.

Imagine if that story ended with them taking a bite out of that tomato and noting that it tasted much better...  Would it mean we would see them in the store next year without any safety validation?  No, but it would take a step towards dulling some of the anti-scientific, conspiratorial rhetoric out there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nanny Nanny, Boo Boo.

 First, please read NPR's story about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's large sugary drink ban, then read my response.

 Health is relative to the person, not relative to the food. Let me repeat that: HEALTH IS RELATIVE TO THE PERSON, NOT RELATIVE TO THE FOOD. 

Too many calories are saved as fat. Too much sugar can lead to insulin problems. I know diabetic people that drink a minimum amt of pop or even none, and I know perfectly healthy, normal, people that drink a ton of Mtn Dew. HFCS is no different than sugar, which is the whole reason coke/Pepsi are able to use it instead of cane/beet sugar. 

I DO NOT support this because it's not going to work and it's too difficult to enforce. This sort of legislation is the exact sort of thing that the right cites when giving examples of left wing over-reach. It doesn't work, for one. This will amount to a tax on these drinks and we have seen that such measures do not impact levels of obesity. Why? Because people will just drink twice as much pop when they get home or eat more calories. 

Another problem is how can you possibly enforce this? Are regulators going to set up Cops In Shops style stings? What about people from outside of the city that purchase a big drink and bring it into NYC? Will their drinks be confiscated... or dumped out as some beat cop is writing out a ticket? This is nothing but a plan to shame people, which only serves to alienate them more and keep them inside where they shouldn't be if they are already way overweight. I know my progressive friends mean well, but you are going about this the wrong way and creating a group of people even more ignorant of science who shun ANYTHING that has an industry behind it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wonky Tonk

 Mark Bittman surrogate Ezra Klein devoted his Wonkbook writing today to the issue of animal antibiotics.  For those unaware, Klein is an exceptional policy wonk and something of a subject matter expert on politics.  I get his Wonkbook updates emailed to me daily.

I wrote about the need for more Subject Matter Experts a month and a half ago, but I was specific about the SME's needing to speak from their own area of expertise.  This is where I have a problem with Ezra Klein's Wonkbook entry.  Ezra IS something of a foodie and has written about experiences with Haute Cuisine in the past, but Ezra is not by any means a regular writer of, or expert in, food & ag issues.

He mentions how 70% of all antibiotics go towards animals, which I am not disputing.  I would say... as I have in the past that there is a simple explanation for this.  There are about 315,000,000 people in this country... but over a billion head of livestock.  So while 70% seems like an alarming number at first glance, it's entirely reasonable that since animals out number us more than 3 to 1 that most of the antibiotics goes towards animals.

Ezra went on to very matter-of-factly wax on about how animals are all 'stacked on top of one another'.  While this can be true for chicken, we aren't stacking animals or crowding them nearly as full as is made out to be true in the media.  It's counterproductive to cram animals tightly together(chickens notwithstanding) because the stress will cause illness and negatively impact rate of gain.

Antibiotic use is a hotly debated issue, but I haven't seen any evidence that we are eating the antibiotics that the animals eat, as Ezra Klein asserts.  I haven't even seen credible evidence that animal antibiotics contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.  Again, it would be foolhardy to give antibiotics, therapeutic or not, to animals when it will still be in their system at slaughter.  It's a waste of antibiotics, and besides, USDA regulations require a minimum withdrawal period before animals can be harvested.  That number is different depending on the medication.

Also... don't people cook their meat?  Other than steaks, are people eating rare chicken or rare hamburgers?  How else would antibiotic resistant bacteria make it from the animal to you?

I'm still a fan of Ezra Klein, but I just wish that people would stick to their area of expertise or at least do more homework than reading Bittman's blog or Michael Pollan's books. We have many great colleges with awesome food/ag science departments that a man of Ezra Klein's notoriety could easily access.

[The number of head of livestock in this post was a loose estimate, and if anything, is probably very low]

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mecca Flakes

 So we have several companies that make corn flakes.  Hundreds of workers are responsible for this breakfast classic that has been a part of the American breakfast for many decades.

What if I propose a rule saying that any company that employs a Muslim man or woman must put a symbol on their boxes when they worked on the line that produced that box of cereal?

Presumably, we've already done the same background checks as we have for every other employee.  The employee has received many hours of food safety, GMP, bio security, and other basic company/HR training.  The employee has also received the same on the job training that any other line worker gets and is monitored closely for a period of time after he/she is trained.

"But still.... how do we know that he/she won't.... you know???  I'm concerned for my family... I should have a choice between corn flakes made by friendly white people and ... you know...  Look, I know they're not ALL bad, but... you know... I've heard things.  A few of them have been known to be bad in the past... and well... I don't want to take any chances."

Would this bother you?  Would you be outraged?  Would you think it was a load of crap that the person proposing such a rule would hide behind 'choice' when we all know they're motivation is either fear or misinformation?

Suppose this rule went into effect and several groups boycotted the companies that manufactured these 'Mecca Flakes' as they will call them.  Pretty soon, those companies will get rid of any Muslim employees and a general panic may be stirred up about the role of Muslims in our society, despite all assurances of safety and all calls for sanity and for reason.

Now, replace the word Muslim with GMO.

"Oh Sam, that's different!"

Bullshit.  The traits of one worker on one line in one factory that hammers out thousands of boxes of cornflakes a day is NO different than one gene in a plant that produces corn in a field that produces many thousand of bushels.

Do you think it's wrong to require a company to disclose it's Muslim employees?  Good.

"But what about choice?"

'What's the difference?', I say.  In both cases their safety has been verified and their performance thoroughly analyzed.  In both cases, a non Subject Matter Expert stirs up fear and misinformation, recruiting others that are ignorant about the issues to call for labeling so they have a 'choice'.

Labeling of GMO comes from two agendas: 1. I don't know enough about science to know this is safe, I'm afraid and fear drives my choices or 2. I want more people to be afraid and stirred up about this and with GMO labeling, we will have something specific to boycott so we can drive the technology out of the market altogether.

Remember when Rush Limbaugh was trying to get people to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Presidential Primaries?  He wasn't doing so for any genuine reasons(sorry Ditto Heads), he knew that the GOP had a strong campaign ready to go against her,  The Anti-GMO activists know that they can drive mass hysteria IF there is something to point at and be hysterical about. 

I don't support labeling because:
1. Safety has already been verified.
2. It IS the same commodity -  Corn is corn & soy is soy
3. USDA Organic already has guarantees for being GMO free
4. I want to take a stand against runaway activism that preys on the ignorance and fear of others to get what they want.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Need For And Futility Of SME.

Science is facing a huge paradox in the media... perhaps even a goose.  Ok, bad joke...sorry.  The paradox is that we simultaneously need more Subject Matter Experts speaking out on behalf of their area of expertise, while it seems more and more evident that these efforts to educate will fall on deaf ears.  I submit to you one such example.

I joined the group answer site, Quora a while ago and didn't really do anything with it.  Well, I decided to search for food and jump in on a question I felt I could answer and hopefully enlighten someone.  Instead of passing my knowledge on to others, I ran into the mental brick wall that calls itself Kent Fung.

Kent is sort of a compilation of many other online encounters I have had, and more than any other, embodies the conspiracy theory mindset that I have been complaining about that comes from the hysterics and activists.  I will now post the quest that I answered, plus all of the replies...

Here is the main question:

Here is the answer that I responded to:
'I would say any non-organic meat that you buy from most of the grocery stores. One of the best documentary about food that we eat is called "Food Inc." you should watch it.'

Here is my response:
'You are much better off checking out a few food science text books or checking out some food or animal science courses at the local university than you are by learning from Food Inc.'

Kent Fung:
'I'm all for education, but to be honest, when it comes to issues affecting public health -- such as agriculture, medicine, and nutrition, what's taught at many -- perhaps even most -- U.S. universities has been compromised by the corporate sponsorships and grants on which they rely. So yes, by all means, take college courses -- but also be aware of who's paying your professor's salary.'

'No, it hasn't.  There are no corporate overseers telling professors what to say and what to teach.  That is pure non-sense.  When a corp gives money, it's usually towards facilities and not to a specific individual.  The university has say over the staff, not a donor.  You may find a highly publicized scandal here or there, but 99% or more are teaching legit science.'

Kent Fung:
'Sam, the only people who tout this line are either already bought and paid for -- or charmingly naive. Money corrupts, and professors aren't immune to this effect -- particularly when in many cases, professors aren't paid by the universities in which they teach -- but by corporate grants. (Government grants are no better, as many government officials who decide on grants have multiple vested interests in promoting the agenda of big pharma and agribusiness as well.) Very, very few people are going to bite the hand that feeds them. Professors aren't any more ethical than anyone else, and even those who might have resisted will find themselves unable to when, for say, $10 million -- chump change to a major corporation -- a company can endow an entire department. What professor is going to risk not just his own funding, but the funding of all of his colleagues?

The pharmaceutical industry was notorious for exactly this behavior, getting influential medical school professors to not only advocate on behalf of their drugs to other doctors, but to toe the corporate message in their lessons to students. The problem was so prevalent that many universities ultimately had to establish clear policies regarding the matter. Alas, in the real world, crafting policies doesn't solve ethical problems -- it just makes people find creative ways to be unethical.

The food business isn't any different. Like their big pharma cousins, they make huge grants to university agricultural departments, and to professors who profit enormously from their largesse. There are few -- even in academia -- who won't slant their research in exchange for millions of dollars in their personal bank accounts. Take Monsanto for example:

Note that the ethical problem is particularly worrisome at public universities because state governments have increasingly slashed support for them, forcing schools to turn to corporations for money to fund operations. I see that you're at OSU. Sorry, Sam, but your education has already been compromised.

'Corps make donations because they need the highly trained graduates that come out of them.  The professors have varied backgrounds as far as food science goes.  Some are life long academics, who just do research in the lab, some came from industry, and some were strictly Chemists or biologists before teaching food/ag science.  I was there and saw with my own two eyes how all this works.  The professors spend all their time wrapped up in helping answer student's questions about their research or grading, or conducting their own research.  Your argument is sounding very conspiratorial.  Really, you sound no different to  me than someone making wild claims about 9/11.  The two links you chose to use to backup your conspiracy theory are from environmental and organic activists, and can hardly be taken seriously.'

Kent Fung:
'Environmental and organic activists "can hardly be taken seriously." I can see who you expect to pay your bills. Incidentally, I suppose now you're going to tell me what's wrong with the articles by researchers at Santa Clara University and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In fact, given the decrepit state of American's general health, I'd say it's mainstream food producers who can't be taken seriously.

Your logic doesn't work. Corporations don't need to make donations to get "highly trained graduates." All they need to do is offer decent salaries and they'll get all the "highly trained" graduates they need. There isn't a labor shortage in this country.

You also clearly don't understand how modern universities are funded.

Lifelong academics who "just do research in the lab" cost lots of money. That money doesn't come from the university, it comes from grants made by external donors. A typical university's budget is focused on maintaining and building more gee whiz facilities to recruit new students. Teacher and researcher salaries are taken care of by government and corporate grants.

What about those who came from industry? Most still have ties to their old employers -- and I don't mean that they go have drinks with their old boss -- I mean that they've started joint ventures on the side with them, or their old employers are actually funding their academic work.

And then you write about people "who were strictly chemists or biologists" before becoming teachers. Unless you're implying that they were independently wealthy and dabbled in chemistry and biology as a hobby, preserving their amateur status for the Olympics, then they were paid by someone, You know who that someone was? A major corporation, because that's where the money is.

"You were there and saw with your own two eyes how all this works," eh? You audited professors' tax returns, looked through their stock portfolio and bank accounts to see where their money came from? What about the departmental budget -- did you examine it, and where the money that funds the department comes from? No? Then you didn't see "how this all works."

You further claim that your professors "spend all their time wrapped up in helping answer student's questions about their research or grading or conducting their own research." 1) Who funds their research? 2) "All their time, huh?" You know this because you lived with your professors and can account for their time every day of the week, including who they speak with?

Let's be clear that this problem isn't limited to the fields of food science, public health, or medicine. All academic research, particularly in the sciences, has proven susceptible to this vulnerability.

Conspiracy? It's enough of a problem that the NIH is looking into it. Do a Google on conflicts of interest in scientific research -- I'm hardly the only one who's noticed there's a problem.

Here's a nice little presentation at the University of Chicago for the Global Health Initiative: http://globalhealthinitiative.uc...

Now yes, this deal primarily with corruption by the pharmaceutical industry. But: Worldwide revenues for pharmaceutical industry are estimated at $2.3 trillion a year. Worldwide annual revenues from the sales of processed foods? Nearly $5 billion, and that's in 2006 numbers. Are you really going to tell me that with that much money involved, the food industry is LESS willing to be underhanded than big pharma?'

'There are no corp overseers watching over the research.  Classes are all textbook and lab based science, not from one specific corporation.  Corporations do have an interest in seeing that universities have the tools necessary to train students.  It's the universities that supply brain power to the corps, not the other way around.  Go to John Coupland, who is on Quora, and ask him how many corporate overseers he comes across in his food science dept at PSU.  You've made up your mind and bought into the crazy conspiracy theory, which is unfortunate, because you really don't know what you're talking about.'

Kent Fung:
'They don't have to "watch over" research. My boss and his boss don't watch my every move either, but you can bet that I don't do anything to piss them off.

Why don't you go to John Coupland and ask him if he's in the habit of encouraging or publicizing research by his staff that shows (or might show)  that the products made by the corporations who fund his department will kill you? [edit: quick Google of John Coupland shows that his research is of interest only to manufacturers of processed foods. There's no way his opinion will be unbiased. His department, incidentally, has so many ties to industry groups within the food manufacturing industry that you've basically made my point.]

You've made up your mind to enslave yourself to corporate america, which is unfortunate, because you're contributing to the decline in U.S. civilization.'

'This is all about being anti-corporate for you.  It certainly isn't anything about science and you aren't interested in any sort of truth.  Research often falls in line with Corporate interests because corporate interests tend to follow the science and use scientific research to develop new products and improve existing products.  It isn't some biased atmosphere that exists only to serve corporate America.  You have such a sad and twisted view of science, education, and business in general.  Nothing I will ever show or tell you will convince you otherwise, because you have bought into a conspiracy theory.'

Kent Fung:
'Curiously enough, I'm not anti corporate at all, and I happily work for one of the largest corporations in the world. But the truth of the matter is that the agribusiness corporations are the source of much of the world's ills, and part of the way they are able to get away with it is by corrupting what is taught to students -- from primary school through university -- as "conventional wisdom." Look how good a job they did with you.

I'd love for you to show me evidence that "convinces me otherwise," but all you've put forth in your argument is your dubious claim that you know how the system works because you've "been there." Well, you don't, because you were never more than a cog in the machine.'

'That's the whole beautiful point, I can't show you evidence.  You are convinced of your view of the world and put me in the position of proving a negative, which is impossible.  Any evidence I show you will NEVER be good enough to get you to change your mind.  You have quite stubbornly painted yourself into a corner after picking your version of reality.'

Kent Fung:
'No, the reason you can't show me any evidence is because you're merely a foot soldier, and no one trusts foot soldiers with the truth or the battle strategy. It's going to be tough for you when, decades from now, you finally figure it out. Have a nice life until then ... and if you;re determined to be a tool, at least make sure you're a well-paid tool.'

'I'm not a foot soldier for anyone.  Hell, I just paid my rent 3 weeks late and I'm in between jobs.  My employment has had no influence over my views. Facts have.'

Kent Fung:
'Wow. So you're an unpaid shill. Dude, that's sad. Most people ask for money before they sell their soul. Ah well.'

So you see that nothing I said or could say would ever convince Kent that maybe he was wrong.  This is how the conspiracy theorist thinks.  Have you ever tried talking to someone who is convinced that we never landed on the moon or that 9/11 was an inside job or that fluoride is being introduced into the water supply as part of some evil government plot?  It's maddening and every point where you think, 'Ok, he can't possibly have anything to say about that', the person takes it to another amazing, cynical, convoluted level.

I asked John Coupland to respond and, being the English gentleman he is, he politely declined.  As a professor and food scientist, he plays things pretty even handed, keeping an open mind and never saying never.  He mentioned to me that the issue may be slightly more complicated than either of us indicated in our back and forth on Quora.

We need more Subject Matter Experts talking about their specific area of expertise, but it's pointless to talk to people like Kent, whose mind is made up.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Food Science Videos.

 I thought I would do a little outreach today and post some videos that highlight food science in some way...
Disney & @IFT

Penn State's Food Science Dept.
My favorite series of food science related videos featuring Science media personality, @DrKiki
My favorite food science related video features Cornell Researcher Brian Wansink on a segment of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Childhood Obesity

 This is sort of a blog request from @WineePamela after some tweets I wrote about how to fight Obesity.  I've written about weight loss before, but I really feel weird about doing it because I'm a pretty big guy.  I guess I'm like a coach, where I know all about the game but I wasn't the greatest player.

If you are really concerned that kids are too fat, then you have to approach things from a more pragmatic standpoint and stop with all the slogans, easy answers, and non-expert speculation. So to fight childhood obesity...

1. Parents:

When kids are little, all parents ever do is tell kids to stop running around, slow down, sit still... and finish your dinner.  I thought all the hoopla over Kids meal toys at McDonald's was silly because most kids I've ever seen eat there waste more than half of their food.

So maybe be glad when the kids are doing winds sprints while giggling and if the kids don't finish their dinner... give them a little less.

2. Coaches:

What I remember the most about playing sports in middle and high school was all the punishment exercise and yelling.  I got horrible anxieties before practices.  Coaches do more to limit physical activity later in life than any video game console.  When one guy screws around, the football/basketball/wrestling coach has everyone run wind sprints, do laps, or do some form of calisthenics as punishment.  This is a horrible message to send.

3. Teachers:

Coming from a food science background, I naturally think it's an ideal subject for high school students to tie together chemistry, biology, and chemistry, but it also gives you a great background in nutrition.  Kids should know what a calorie is, how to calculate the number of calories they need to maintain/lose/gain weight, and how to track their caloric intake.  it's also a great way to learn which foods are the best sources of protein/iron/vitamins/calcium/potassium.  This is very practical knowledge that also reinforces what the kids have already learned in school, while also reinforcing scientific method and critical thinking skills.

4.  Other Kids:

Kids are mean and being fat seems to be one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination in this country.  This is a tragic combination.  Fat people in general get very little sympathy because they are just seen as sloth-like lazy buffoons.  Other kids can help by not shaming or being cruel to obese kids.  Furthermore, they can make friends with obese kids and include them in their physical activities.  Shame does not work.  If your feeling down on yourself, you slow down, stay out of view... you don't go for a walk or go exercise.

5.  Food Activists:

I know you think everything is all a big conspiracy and that all processed foods are poison... but seriously, knock it off.  Misinformation serves only to confuse people and prevents them from reaching a solid, science based understanding of food.  Misinformation also allows people to peddle their ridiculous weight loss schemes and bilk the public for billions of dollars a years.  Please stop.

6. Fashion Industry:

Pencil thin models give people an unrealistic yard stick to judge themselves and others by.  We no longer think hometown girls are cute because they don't look nearly as hot as the model.  This also creates a much bigger gap bewteen the beautiful people and the obese.  
If you are a big kid, your clothes aren't only bigger, but they're completely different.  Why?  Why can't you get big sizes from Gap, Adidas, Champion, and Nike.  How easy is it to get active wear in big sizes in the same style as the smaller sizes?  And while I'm at it, stop putting flames or dragons... or flaming dragons on big & tall clothing.  What is that?  So not only do fat people feel ostracized, they have special fat clothes that look completely different.

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