Tag Archives: health

Bloomberg’s In the Right on Soda Restrictions

8 Jun

Well, I never saw this day coming. I found an issue on which I disagree with Jon Stewart.

I know! But before you throw anything at me, check out his take on NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s recent decision to ban the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz.

“It combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect!” Stewart joked.

Stewart (and, ok, all of the other critics here) is incorrect in terms of the probable results, and off point in terms of the underlying value of the ban.

First, let’s address the fundamental misconception that this is actually a real ban. By banning the sale of sodas in sizes larger than 16 oz., Bloomberg is actually in no way restricting your right to drink your nine cans of Mountain Dew a day — he’s just making sure you are buying them one at a time. By making it more difficult to obtain the same amount, the hope is that basic levels of human consciousness kick in, and people may start to limit the intake in which they otherwise blindly participate.

Second, evidence predicting the “probable lack of results” doesn’t actually exist, because bans like his have not been widely enacted. But the evidence available does suggest that bans and restrictions work — indeed, that they might be the only thing that does to restrict consumption.

In an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Kelly D. Brownell, a professor at Yale, and Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote that “for each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child’s becoming obese increases by 60 percent.” Sugary beverages are now the number one source of calories for most Americans, making up about 10% of the caloric intake of children and teenagers. These increased calories lead to record-high rates of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

So, the increased consumption of sugary beverages does likely lead to increased obesity and other health risks. And what’s more, a Yale study of soda in public schools and private institutions found that for every 10% increase in price, consumption of soda dropped by 7.8%, suggesting that deterrents to purchasing sugary beverages actually does help reduce consumption.

You won’t find me arguing that decreasing our consumption of soda is the only thing that’s going to reverse the American obesity crisis. But it sure as hell isn’t going to hurt.

So shall we move on to the accusation of Draconian government overreaching?

Mark Bittman’s column this week addresses the oft-repeated criticism of the nanny state and infringements on civil liberties by reminding us the myriad ways in which we, as a society, accept government restrictions on individual freedoms when they are deemed in the best interest of society as a whole. Smokers may not like smoking bans, and drinks may not like alcohol restrictions — but we deal. Because we all know that it’s bad for kids to breathe second-hand smoke and get hit by drunk drivers.

The ridiculous overburdening of the American food system with sugary and fatty foods is the same thing. Bittman calls it the tobacco of the 21st century, and he’s right (as we’ve discussed with regard to marketing towards children here). Americans consume more than 50 gallons of soda per person per year, and obesity costs the nation’s healthcare system upwards of $147 billion a year.

This is not a coincidence. So while a restriction like the one in New York might not single-handedly solve the issue, and while conservatives (or liberal comedians) might like to accuse this of government overreaching, in (I bet as little as) five years time, we will see this as a logical step, something we can’t imagine ever existing, like smoking on airplanes.

Organic Spinach Recall

1 Jun

The other day, I was checking out at the grocery store, and when I swiped my shopper’s club card, the cashier told me there was a recall notice that would print out on my receipt.

When I got the receipt, it turned out that the brand of packaged organic baby spinach I buy on pretty much every trip was being recalled for a potential salmonella contamination. I could bring the package back to the store for a full refund.

By the time I got the recall notice, the package of spinach was already empty and in my trash, so as you may guess based on the measured nature of this post, I did not, in fact, get salmonella. Since the contamination can cause nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, etc. I think I would have noticed. But of course, this brings up some interesting issues to ponder here.

First, yes, even organic vegetables are in danger of becoming contaminated. For those who haven’t heard about the salmonella spinach, listeria cantaloupe, etc. of the last year or so, a brief refresher: many packaged produce products are handled at the same facilities, or shipped in the same trucks, that transmit contaminated meat products or animals, which are rarely cleaned. All it takes is one trip for potential contamination to occur.

Second, and larger, this is an important wake-up call for someone like me. I’m stuck in a situation where I resort to buying pre-packaged organic produce shipped in from distant ports (or, you know, California). And it’s important to remember that’s truly not the same thing as buying organic, local produce. Produce from a small-scale farm that doesn’t use chemicals. A farm with a small staff and easily-observable hygiene standards. A farm far from the potential contamints of the larger food industry because it’s not a part of that industry, but rather a part of a local foodshed. Produce from people whose hands I can shake.

Oh, how I wish all the produce was that kind of produce. Until we get there as a nation, let’s all of us, individually, remember to prioritize the local and transparent above all else, and not be lulled into the false sense of security a USDA organic label can give us. Organic is vitally important, especially from a larger environmental perspective, but organic can still be industrial.

Basically, the reminder here is to wash your veggies, even if you buy organic (whether for this reason, or just ot rinse of the lovely local dirt that comes with fresh farmer’s market produce!), and to keep yourself in the loop to advocate for stricter health and safety standards on a food industry way out of control.

Smoothies Galore!

28 May

My sister recently requested a post with some smoothie recipe ideas, and once summer comes around, between the heat and a more regular workout routine, I put away a lot of blended fruit.

Let’s start with the basics.

Smoothies basically consist of the following components: liquid, fruit, blending agent and ice (though that last one’s optional — I’ll get to that!). There can also be a few extras, or a sweetener in some cases. Once you get that ratio figured out (and it’s easy to tweak this on the fly), it’s incredibly easy to experiment with different combinations of flavors.

Liquids: My favorites are either orange juice or non-dairy milk. I use OJ because I’m not a big fan of drinking it, and it’s a good way to squeeze in an extra serving of fruit a day. Non-dairy milks (my favorites are vanilla soy or almond milks) are a great way to add protein to a smoothie, and I don’t even like the taste of them on their own. Mixed into a smoothie, they are delicious. I’ve also used apple cider, sparkling pomegranate juice and regular milk.

Fruit: You can really make a smoothie with any kind of fruit (this week, I’m using watermelon and cantaloupe!), but I find berries to be my favorite. Other easy ingredients are bananas, mango and pineapple. The best part — if you prepare your fruit properly, and freeze it, you can skip adding ice to your smoothie (which always leads to some liquid separation issues).

Either buy bagged frozen fruit, or buy fresh and freeze it on your own (I often do this with pints of berries). Doesn’t take a lot of extra effort — just peel and chunk the fruit, then portion it into smoothie-sized servings.

Blending Agents: I use Greek yogurt almost exclusively here, though regular yogurt and ice cream serve the same purpose. Sometimes I will add rolled oats or ground flax seed, both of which give smoothies a nice creaminess, but neither will quite blend liquid and fruit on its own.

Extras: Here’s where the real fun comes in. Almost anything can go into a smoothie, and extras can really add some nutritional punch. Some surprisingly good additions I’ve tried include oats and flax seed, as mentioned above. Nuts like almonds and walnuts add protein and calories to make a smoothie more filling. Sweets and spices like honey, agave syrup, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, or cinnamon can add variety to even the same base recipe on a daily basis. My personal favorite indulgences include peanut butter and nutella!

And yes — you can even add spinach and other green veggies!

Here are some of my favorite smoothie recipes, which will give you an idea of how to use a variety of ingredients. Try them out, an then mix and match as you see fit!

My Berry Almond Power Smoothie

(never home)maker’s Chocolate Spinach Smoothie

Martha’s Strawberry-Flax Seed Smoothie

Watermelon Lime Summer Cooler

And this morning’s invention: Raspberry Nutella Smoothie

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Nutella
  • 1/2 cup honey-flavore Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed meal

Forks Over Knives Review

23 May

I’ve been catching up so far this summer on my Netflix instant queue, including watching some of my backlog of food-oriented documentaries, so expect occasional reviews in the coming months (and feel free to make a request if there’s a movie you’re thinking about seeing but want to know whether it’s worth your time). Up today? documentary about the vegan diet Forks Over Knives.

The basics

The documentary focuses specifically on the relationship between dietary choices and health — by which I mean both daily levels of comfort, but also chronic illness. In examining the connection between the consumptions of meat and dairy products and serious conditions like cancers, heart disease, and of course, obesity, the film explores and ultimately, advocates for the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet (yes, by which they mean vegan).

What I liked

I particularly enjoyed that, despite the fact that they were refering to a dietary plan with a name — vegan — the doctors and filmmakers refrained from calling it such. This suggests, first, a flexibility on the part of those advocating for this diet. They did mention several times that reducing or minimizing the consumption of animal products was the goal.

And they also were careful to clarify the whole foods part of the dietary plan several times — that is, they were not suggesting a sharp increase in tofu or other meat substitutes, but rather a diet, focused on plants that were cooked but minimally processed, if at all.

What I learned

A lot of the health connections between meat and chronic disease were not a mystery to me (though I know they would be to some audiences) but the research in the film relied on international dietary models to form the basis of comparison, and I hadn’t heard much of that. Since science tends to be (rightly) focused on proving the causal connection between diet and health, American medicine doesn’t often look to other countries to see what might be different elsewhere, both in terms of what we eat and how it supports our body’s functions.

One especially striking statistic was this: the average annual number of prostate cancer — a disease causally linked to overconsumption of red meat — diagnoses in Japan is 18, compared to the American average of 16,000.

I also learned that rat-based studies have found an inverse relationship between diet and cancer tumor growth. That is, rats fed a diet high in red meat protein experienced growth in cancerous tumors. But when those same rats were fed a plant-based diet, they experienced a reduction in tumor size.

All of this is to say that the arguments for fueling our bodies with plant food, rather than animal food, is compelling. Not only in terms of avoiding serious illness, but also in terms of what works best for our bodies. (The film profiled several high-performance vegan athletes including professional triathletes and an MMA fighter!)

What was missing

When the film was over, I went back and checked what year it was released and was surprised to find that it was just 2011. I remembered it being recent, but after viewing the documentary, I wondered if I had been wrong. Because the information — but more than that, the perspective — seems dated.

I kept waiting for the point when the narrator and filmmaker, or the doctors who were at the center of the film, would discuss non-industrially produced animal products, and that moment never came, despite the fact that the ills of animal foods, according to the research, was mostly focused on the presence of hormones and steroids.

The notion of organic dairy and grass-fed meat are addressed on the film’s website, but not in great enough detail for me to be able to discern whether I believe the information is accurate. The registered dietician on that site writes that “Even organically produced dairy contain naturally occurring steroids and hormones, which can promote cancer growth,” but that is the extent of the detail. She goes on to note that there is no significant nutritional difference between grass-fed and grain-fed meat (which is true) but doesn’t address the notion that grass-fed meat is absent much of the fat and therefore, cholesterol of grain-fed meat, and is also absent synthetic chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, etc.

If the film addressed these ideas, and had the research to suggest that it would be better to reduce or eliminate meat than to simply eat antibiotic-free, pasture-raised meat, I could accept that. I wouldn’t eat that way, but at least I would know where they stood. But for a film made in 2011 to ignore the alternatives completely seemed strange to me.

The verdict?

Overall, some interesting info, but a pretty snooze-worthy approach to documentary storytelling with not much new for a reasonably-informed food advocate. Watch if you’re interested in learning more about a plant-based diet, and the science therein. But if you want an engaging film about the dangers of the western diet, try Supersize Me instead.

If you’ve seen Forks Over Knives, or have some perspective on the dietary plan, I’d love to hear what you think! Leave a comment and share your thoughts below.

We’re In This Together

11 May

The recent NYTimes contest calling for essays advocating for the ethics of eating meat produced some interesting responses. My take on it was similar in thought process to the winning entry. But for now, I’m interested in the reactions from around the world of food to the very idea of the contest.

In peoples’ responses, I saw evidence of the beginning of a splintering in the food movement, between those who advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet, and those of us becoming known as “selective omnivores”–who advocate a diet that includes meat but focuses on local and sustainable sourcing.

Here’s an example of the take that ethical vegetarians seemed to have to the contest:

Do ethical vegetarians…pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries that the Times Magazine must now invite its millions of readers to shout them down? … We find it disturbing that the Magazine would organize such a one-sided contest, and moreover that Ariel Kaminer should introduce it with such frivolity. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Kaminer writes, caricaturing vegans as members of a “hard-core inner circle” who have “dominated the discussion.” With her very breeziness (“Bon appetit!”), Kaminer seems intent on trivializing the warrant for ethical veganism.”

Michele Simon, a public health lawyer whose work I normally greatly admire had a similarly dismissive take on the notion that the ethics of meat eating are worth discussing:

Was this really a burning problem that needed solving, the lack of justifications to eat meat? What do you suppose has caused America’s love affair with meat in the first place? …  It saddens me that given all the pressing problems of our day, many of which caused by excessive meat eating (global warming, contaminated air and water, chronic disease, worker injury, and yes, animal suffering, just to name a few) the Times is promoting such a self-indulgent contest.

I’ve heard similar rumblings from some of the sustainable meat producers I know — those who raise grass-fed cattle or run small-scale slaughter operations — that the push for meatlessness is misdirected, and hurts those who are striving for a more sustainable, animal-friendly meat. One farmer friend suggested that “Meatless Mondays” should be renamed “Pasture-Raised Meat Mondays” to better support his business, and draw the line where it should be placed.

Ironically, after calling the contest self-indulent and accusing meat-eaters of being brainwashed by industry, Simon  finishes her entry by saying:

Moreover, we don’t need even more ways to polarize people over personal dietary choices. Let’s stop the infighting and focus on the core of the problem: corporate control of the food supply.

Overall, I find the notion of criticizing what the Ethicist column chooses to devote a contest to a bit frivolous in itself. But the end of Simon’s letter makes a good point, and is my point in this post: staying strong and united is in our best interests.

Ultimately, ethical vegetarians and ethical omnivores want the same things, and we need to spend more time thinking about what we have in common than on what divides us. Just as the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movements, and now, the LGBQT movement have all struggled with this kind of splintering, the new movement of food advocacy will likely occasionally butt heads over territory or priority.

Advocating for a decrease in overall meat consumption is good for all of us. Most ethical vegetarians believe that we should eat less meat overall, and while sustainable meat producers may bristle at this initially, it’s in their best interests, too. Aside from being better for our health to consume less meat than we currently do, and better for the land overall, a smaller national hankering for meat is one that can be met exclusively by small-scale, pasture-raised operations.

When I met with Bartlet Duran of Black Earth Meats a few years ago, he made an interesting point by saying that his operation isn’t interested in getting into the large chain grocery stores. To produce enough to meet the demands of a Wal-Mart, or Safeway, or Hy-Vee, they would have to scale up. And they like doing things on their scale, because it allows for ultimate control over the animals’ diets, living conditions, slaughterhouse conditions and worker pay. Direct marketing to consumers makes more sense, and that requires being a smaller operation. So if ethical vegetarians get their way, and can convince Americans to eat less meat overall, small-scale producers will be uniquely suited to meet those demands at the most competitive price point.

On the other hand, supporting sustainable meat operations is in the best interest of veg*ns, too. In every conversation I’ve ever had with a vegetarian (including with myself) about her reasons for being one — be they environmental, economic, labor-rights, or ethical — those reasons can be nearly universally addressed by the sustainable meat industry. Every problem a vegan or vegetarian has with meat is actually one they have with the industrial meat complex.

Even vegetarians who are not personally comfortable with a reversal of their diet surely can admit that if some Americans want or need to eat meat, they would rather they come from family-owned, biodynamic operations than anywhere else. In advocating for those operations, no one is suggesting that we force anyone to eat meat — just that we all work to make sure the meat that is available comes from the best possible source.

So rather than fighting with each other, let’s turn our joint attention outward to our common enemy, the industrial food complex. Let’s focus on our common ground, and we can get some real work done.

Pink Slime Explained

20 Apr

Welcome to another We Meat Again video post — this one dedicated to explaining the great pink scare…

Apologies for the awkward skip in the middle of the video. Our first filming was briefly interrupted due to a doggie seriously needing to get outside.

More information available here:

FDA on Ammonia Hydroxide

Andrew Revkin:“Why I’m OK with ‘Pink Slime’ In Ground Beef

Michael Moss: “Safety of Beef Processing Method Questioned

Marion Nestle “Is It Wrong to Feed Pink Slime to Our Kids?

Tom Philpott explains Why the FDA is Still OK with BPA in Our Food, and Four Things Grosser Than Pink Slime

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment, tweet at us, or drop me an email and let us know what you think about pink slime…

How to Make Your Favorite Recipes Healthier

29 Feb

In Monday’s post on how simple it is to make good ol’ tomato mozzarella pizza at home from scratch, I mentioned that I try as much as possible to make my own versions of recipes, in order to keep them healthy. While pizza is a great example of this — delivery from Domino’s being high not only in calories and fat but in processing and preservatives — the truth is, it’s often easy to make even smaller modifications to recipes you already make at home to transform them into healthier alternatives. Here are a few of my favorite ways…

1. Use whole ingredients

I know this seems like a no-brainer here on We*Meat*Again, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to get caught up in the “usual routine” of a recipe and never think to make an easy substitution. Instead of a store-bought jar of tomato sauce (which may contain corn syrup, especially if you’re budget conscious) buy a jar of diced tomatoes or some fresh ones and simmer them into your own.

Really think about the ingredients list on your favorite dishes. Use Velveeta in your homemade baked macaroni and cheese? Canned condensed soups for slow cooker casseroles? You’d be surprised what an easy swap actual cheddar cheese or pureed carrots could be. Play around, think about the texture and consistency of the ingredient you’re substituting, and the treatment it will receive in the recipe (heat, melting point, etc.) and brainstorm a whole ingredient that you can reasonably expect to behave the same way. You might even create an interesting new flavor profile!

2. Find smarter substitutes

When these trade-offs work, it’s not only healthy, it’s exhilerating! You can feel proud to have come up with a clever trick to reform your recipe — and most of these substitutions will not dramatically affect the flavor of the recipe (or will do so in a positive way!) Some of my favorites include applesauce, mashed banana or yogurt for eggs , butter or oil (reduce fat, add nutrition!), crushed walnuts or rolled oats for bread crumbs (an easy high-carbohydrate trap), and vinegars in place of salad dressings.

But smarter substitutions don’t all have to be completely off the wall. Trade-offs as simple as milk for heavy cream, or whole wheat flour for bleached white flour make a difference, too. By subtracting an unhealthy ingredient, you often get the chance to add in some extra nutritional benefit.

3. Reduce the fat content

This is really a subset of the above idea. One of my favorite magazines is Cooking Light, and they are a fantastic recipe resource for healthier versions of things. But the strategy the editors and kitchen testers there follow is to avoid substituting ingredients, and instead find ways to reduce fat or calories.

They usually achieve this by reducing the amount of fat ingredients, such as butter or oil, swapping egg whites for eggs and cutting back the amount of sugar in a recipe. And in doing so, they’ve found that most recipes, including those for baked goods, can be made equally as delicious without any “weird” or vegan ingredients, just by including a little less.

For example, you can reduce the amount of sugar by one-third to one-half in most baking recipes, and instead, add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg, or flavorings such as vanilla extract or almond flavoring to boost sweetness.

I tend to prioritize finding other ingredients over using less of an unhealthy ingredient. Partly, this is because I also try to avoid processed foods. I’d rather use cheddar cheese than reduced fat 1/3 all “natural” cheeze product simply because it’s “reduced fat.” I embrace a little fat here and there. But a marriage between tips #2 & #3 can go a long way to overall reforming your diet.

4. Cut out the unnecessary

One of the most flawed aspects of following a recipe you find blindly (especially if that recipe comes from any chef featured on the Food Network) is that you can get caught in a cycle of unnecessary unhealthiness simply because the ingredients make the cooking process a bit easier, a bit fattier in flavor or texture (and therefore more mass-market appealing) or a bit more familiar.

Example: I’m working on reforming a Rachel Ray recipe for shepherd’s pie with a mashed potato/parsnip topping to include buffalo meat. (It’s going to be epic. I promise to post it soon.) But the woman has the following included in the mash: potatoes, parsnips, milk, butter, sour cream AND two whole cups of shredded cheddar cheese.

Now, I have made delicious mashed potatoes many many times, and I can guarantee you don’t need four different ways to make them creamy. In fact, a combination of milk and vegetable stock gets a creamier and flavorful mash pretty easily, and with the least amount of fat possible (and trust me, mashed potatoes are my absolute favorite food). But if you are so freaked out by experimenting with new ingredients, you might just follow the recipe to the letter without questioning such a bizarre overuse of fat.

A few simple steps here and there, and a focus on whole, fresh foods, is an easy way to begin the process of transforming your diet into a whole, healthy, sustainable one. While eating well is a lifestyle commitment, you can take baby steps to get there, and this is a great place to start!

What are your tips and tricks, readers, for transforming the recipes you know and love into better versions of themselves? Leave a comment and share your ideas with the rest of us!

How Far Should Food Industry Regulation Go?

7 Feb

For this week’s dialogue post, I’ve found a recent and particularly controversy-inspiring editorial from Raj Patel, writing in this case for The Atlantic. Patel makes the case we’ve heard before paralleling the food industry with the alcohol and tobacco industries to argue for the regulation of junk foods, but he goes one step further and wonders whether there isn’t a case for fully abolishing the food industry as we know it. If you can make the argument for tobacco, Patel says, food is close behind.

First up for conversation of course, is the validity of a parallel between tobacco and big food, which Patel supports with mounting evidence of the neurological addictive properties of sugar. A study released last week in the journal Nature provides the strongest case yet for significant and severe health consequences from sugar. The authors of the study advocate alcohol-like regulations as a result of their findings.

Second comes the matter for debate of whether tobacco and sugar are marketed in parallel ways. That is, do we have more of a choice when it comes to junk food than tobacco? I’ve discussed in a previous post the resemblances between old-school tobacco marketing towards children, and the food industry’s strategies, and Patel elaborates on this in the editorial. Recent evidence has demonstrated the overly-sugary properties of the foods marketed most heavily towards children.

Third, and finally, we have to ask ourselves whether moderate regulations are not sufficient to counter any of those dangers. We’ve explored here before individual municipal initiatives like the San Francisco Happy Meal toy ban, and cities across the country have tried similar sin-tax approaches to restricting the sale of soda, for example.

Of course, small government proponents aren’t fan of that idea, and economic research suggests the tax might best be targeted towards the producer, rather than the consumer, of the problem product.

For Patel, all of this points in one direction:

The breadth of products controlled by the food industry — amply toxic and less so — is itself a symptom of a deeper problem that has public health symptoms, but a political economic cause. The food industry is an oligopoly that has transformed not only what we eat but how we eat it, and what we think of food.

and thus, we could make a case for completely upending the system as we know it.

What do you think? Do we need complete, from-the-ground up reform, or should we try moderate regulation first (or at all)? Which, if any, of these individual claims would you dispute, or provide an alternate answer for? Leave a comment and join in our conversation!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week

3 Feb

Quite a variety of happenings in the world of food this week.

The Good

An illuminating new report out by the cooking & nutrition charity Share Our Strength provides concrete evidence that low-income families do cook at home more often than they eat fast food, and would like to be able to do so even more. I like Marion Nestle’s coverage, as she’s not afraid to nod towards some of the corporate influence the report contains. Good news, nonetheless.

Colorado is considering a state-wide ban on trans-fats in school lunch programs. Colorado is also, interestingly, the least-obese state in the nation (you can’t really say “thinnest” in a country where obesity is over 30% across the board). Coincidence?

In more school lunch reform news, the USDA announced this week its new rules (yes, actual rules here) that will increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables, and eliminate some meat requirements in its school lunch program. As Mark Bittman says, imperfect as the new rules may be, 32 million kids are about to start eating better.

Jane Black has a nice piece in The Washington Post discussing the rise in flexible CSA options. While I think her editorial brushes off the consumer benefits of a regular CSA too dismissively, I’ve loved my past flexible CSAs for the access they provided someone who couldn’t afford a full share.

The Bad

This article isn’t bad so much as slightly annoying. A new study out of the Washington State University purports to help reform the beef industry’s image by claiming cattle ranches are significantly more environmentally-friendly than thirty years ago. File under — yes, and…?

I mentioned one lawsuit Monsanto is currently facing. Here is another! A class-action case that claims the company spread toxic substances all over a town in West Virginia in the course of producing a chemical component of Agent Orange. The toxic substances listed are mainly dioxins, which have been linked to cancer.

and the (very) Ugly

The Humane Society of the United States (which has, in the last few years, done a really impressive job ramping up its advocacy of livestock animals along with homeless pets) released a new undercover video documenting standard pork industry practice for raising pigs.

Graphic images included.

Tom Philpott’s analysis cuts to the core:

The remarkable thing…is how banal it is. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model.

The video even got NYTimes sustainability blogger Andrew Revkin interested. He’s got a response from the Oklahoma Pork Council (which suggests that images were “taken out of context,” leaving me to ask — is there a context in which these practices are acceptable?) and takes the opportunity to wonder if this might continue to make the case for test-tube meat. Not if the omnivores here on We*Meat*Again have anything to say about it, right?

Happy Weekend, All!

 

Are Corn Syrup and Corn Sugar Really the Same?

26 Jan

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times did a year-end post called “Notes from a Blogging Discomfort Zone.” Here’s what he meant:

Many blogs try to create a comfort zone where the like-minded — whether liberal or libertarian — can bond and bolster each others’ spirits.

Dot Earth will always be more a discomfort zone.

Learning should not always be comfortable, particularly when the issues at hand — like figuring out the mix of innovation and regulation that can best limit environmental risks — are complex and contain no simple answers.

Reading his post, I realized how much I truly want We*Meat*Again to be a place of learning, and how often I am guilty of falling into the “preaching to the choir” tone here. I’d like to try and change this. Now, I’m a pretty opinionated person, and when I have an opinion, I’ve worked hard to figure it out and support it with the best available information. So the opinions aren’t going away, that’s for sure. But there’s no reason people here should feel afraid about asking questions, needing clarification, or challenging anything I’ve said.

I thought I would inaugurate this new mode (or try to) with a post explaining something I’ve let go unstated here too long: the issue of corn syrup. I know I’ve railed against the corn industry, and high fructose corn syrup, but I don’t know that I’ve taken the time to explain why I believe it to be problematic.

I’ll let links and information do most of the talking, but feel free to ask if you’d like anything explained rather than reading the detailed study.

You may have seen the Corn Refiner’s Association’s new national ad campaign trying to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar. If not, check out a sample spot below, or their websites cornsugar.com and sweetsurprise.com

 

First off, it’s important to realize that corn syrup is, chemically, not corn sugar. Sugar is a result of direct extraction, whereas syrup is produced as a result of refining. The FDA has actually asked the Corn Refiner’s Association to stop using the term as intentionally misleading, but has no direct power to regulate the false advertising.

One of the claims the commercial makes is that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference.” Only beginning research exists on this, and it’s controversial, but the earliest studies on rats suggest that there may be a correlation between corn syrup in particular, and weight gain. However, the commercials are actually relying on the findings of this lit review study, which conclude that almost no data exist on the subject. So the truth is we don’t have a significant biological understanding of whether or not a difference exists. This is sort of like the distinction between being found not guilty in a court of law and being innocent.

Setting aside then, the reality that we can’t make a claim about different physiological impacts, let’s move on to the real issue. No one who objects to high fructose corn syrup is simply suggesting that if we just replaced all our corn syrup with cane sugar, we’d be just fine. The real issue here is that we consume too much corn syrup. The process by which corn syrup is refined (and the amount of federal subsidies spent on corn production) make this sweetener unbelievably inexpensive. So inexpensive we’ve been adding it to things that don’t need sweetening, simply to use it up.

The impact of this has been a sharp increase in the total amount of sweetener consumed by Americans, even as the amount of table sugar consumed decreases. Myriad studies exist to support the connection between an increase in sweeteners and an increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, etc.

The commentary on that last study? Note that one of the authors is Dr. Barry Popkin, of the University of North Carolina. He’s quoted as an expert on cornsugar.com — a quote taken from that commentary. I think if you look at the quote on the website and the title of the linked essay here, you can see that the Corn Refiner’s Association has taken his remark out of context to make their point.

Do those sound like the actions of an industry being open and honest with their consumers?

What questions do you have about high fructose corn syrup, the corn industry in general or  about the connections between diet and obesity issues?  What other issues would you like to see challenged, clarified, or opened for discussion here on We*Meat*Again? Leave a comment or drop me an email and let me know!

And stay tuned for tomorrow’s link roundup post, when I will announce the winner of We*Meat*Again’s first giveaway!

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