I've started this blog to record my thoughts and research about food and health: how we grow our food, what we eat, the nutrition debate, food distribution, food sovereignty and environmental impact.

My life started down a new path after I read an article a couple of years ago in the New York Times magazine. I became fixated on learning all I could about our eating habits, the way our food is made, and the effects that the industrial food industry has had on our culture and our lives - physically and mentally.

This blog joins an ongoing discussion and is a place to voice interest, intrigue, and discovery. This is not a podium for lecturing, so please extend grace to each other if anything is found to be erroneous. Counter-arguments are encouraged with respect, empathy and compassion for other perspectives.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Some Discretion Required

I recently came across a new (I'm unsure of when it began) website created by the USDA (Dept. of Agriculture) called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" that is promoting the re-engagement of local consumers with local farmers and producers. I've put the link to the site in my links at the bottom, but I wanted to think through a concern I have about supporting any new initiatives that are undertaken by a large/corporate/monopolizing and/or governmental institution with a vested interest in the money to be made.

Take a look at this website... I have perused the mission statement and the headings of all the main areas that this new initiative encompasses: supporting local farmers; strengthening rural communities; promoting healthy eating; protecting natural resources; and offering grants, loans, and non-monetary support. I also skimmed over the bios of each member, and I have to say I do like the concept and the way this appears to be set up.

I want to believe that the USDA is committing itself to these courses of action because the government necessarily should be behind the changes we need to make as a country, including the sacrifices we have to make for our survival - which involves every aspect of our economy. I am skeptical, however (and perhaps cynical), that this initiative has altruistic intentions in addition to its profit motive. I do realize, of course, that everyone needs to earn a living, but my point here has more to do with a shift in how we as consumers respond to the seemingly positive actions of a corporation. I want to be wary of confusing a marketing spin with a real and honest dedication to these issues.

Here's the thing: farms can begin or transition over to organic methods, cease to use chemicals, growth hormones and pesticides, and humanely raise/pasture their animals, but then those smaller farms can grow larger and be purchased by a large company - DuPont, for example - that owns a large diversity of other companies that are not operating sustainably, and that spends a great deal of money lobbying the government to increase our importing of oil. That's a simplification of the issue, but the question remains: Am I really supporting that organic farmer by buying her yogurt, or am I giving my dollars to an industry (oil, tobacco, GMOs, etc.) that I'm trying not to support by buying from an organic farmer?

Is the USDA really tackling these issues through "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"? Are they aligning their expertise and experience with the goals of reorganizing our agriculture, dismantling the industrial food system and creating a new system that ensures access to and affordability of healthy, fresh food to everyone?

Friday, March 18, 2011


I'm currently reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes, which is fundamentally one long discourse on all of the diet/disease hypotheses out there, and the relative truth claims of each one. I am blown away by how often misinterpretation of available data is represented as the truth, and by the amount of refuting evidence that is ignored by the nutrition industry. Taubes uses this book to lay out the shortcomings of the prevailing theories on nutrition and disease, and to present the available data/research that runs counter to them.

These quotes set the tone of the book.

"Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Of necessity, they observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can see, in its results, only a confirmation of their theory. In this way they distort observation and often neglect very important facts because they do not further their aim... But it happens further quite naturally that men who believe too firmly in their theories, do not believe enough in the theories of others. So the dominant idea of these despisers of their fellows is to find others' theories faulty and to try to contradict them. The difficulty, for science, is still the same." (Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine; from Taubes, p.1)

"In reality, those who repudiate a theory that they had once proposed, or a theory that they had accepted enthusiastically and with which they had identified themselves, are very rare. The great majority of them shut their ears so as not to hear the crying facts, and shut their eyes so as not to see the glaring facts, in order to remain faithful to their theories in spite of all and everything." (Maurice Arthus, Philosophy of Scientific Investigation; from Taubes, p.60)

"The thing is, it's very dangerous to have a fixed idea. A person with a fixed idea will always find some way of convincing himself in the end that he is right." (Atle Selberg; from Taubes, p. 122)

"Forming hypotheses is one of the most precious faculties of the human mind and is necessary for the development of science. Sometimes, however, hypotheses grow like weeds and lead to confusion instead of clarification. Then one has to clear the field, so that the operational concepts can grow and function. Concepts should relate as directly as possible to observation and measurements, and be distorted as little as possible by explanatory elements." (Max Kleiber, The Fire of Life: An Introduction to Animal Energetics; from Taubes, p.136)

"Oversimplification has been the characteristic weakness of scientists of every generation." (Elmer McCollum, A History of Nutrition; from Taubes, p.153)

"The suppression of inconvenient evidence is an old trick in our profession. The subterfuge may be due to love of a beautiful hypothesis, but often enough it is due to a subconscious desire to simplify a confusing subject." (Raymond Greene; from Taubes, p.178)

We deserve to be better informed than we are about how our diet affects our health, even if science can only tell us that right now there is no answer (that is more helpful than falsely claiming to know). We can only build on what we know. The idea that we can only save ourselves through medicinal "cures" is suspect of ulterior motives. I'm not against using medicine, but much can be said about the evolution of our dietary habits with hardly any instance of modern diseases until the modern era. There is good reason to believe that the best "cure" for most of these maladies is prevention by way of nutritional choices (i.e. eliminating the foods that have become prevalent: refined grains, sugars, highly-processed and laboratory-manufactured ingredients).