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Interesting Information/Books: Commercial Bread Yeast: A Monoculture

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Interesting Information/Books:  February 23, 2015

Commercial Bread Yeast:  A Monoculture

Michael Pollan, in COOKED…

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…explains that “commercial yeast is a purified monoculture of S. cerevisiae, raised on a diet of molasses, then washed, dried, and powdered.  Like any monoculture, it does one thing predictably and well:  Feed it enough sugars and it will promptly cough up large quantities of carbon dioxide” (218-219).

Commercial yeast is an INDUSTRIAL product and bears no resemblance to traditional sourdough cultures.

So, what’s wrong with that?

Nutritionally, commercial yeast is very limiting.  Combine it with white flour, which is mostly just dead starches, and you’re eating something that fills you up, but provides very little in the way of nutrition.

Whole grains are much more biologically active and complex–think living cells–and much harder to control in an industrial setting (220-221).

A sourdough culture is a whole ecosystem, containing “at least twenty types of yeast and fifty different bacteria” (221).

Basically, baking with whole grains and a sourdough culture is all about “managing fermentation”–which can be tricky depending on the weather, the temperature, the strength and point of development of the sourdough culture, and when and how one feeds the sourdough culture.  It’s a process that can only be done by a dedicated, skilled baker.  The communities that are created in the traditional bread processes cannot be reduced to the “efficiency” that occurs in a factory.

Traditional whole grain sourdough bread can supply a lot of nutrition.  It’s too bad that there is so little of it available to most of us today.  It’s too bad that we’ve lost the taste of it in favor of the “white felt” we have instead.

Seek it out.  Bake it yourself.  Find substitutes for the factory bread as it’s not doing you any good at all.

Written by louisaenright

February 23, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Books and Interesting Information: More on Michael Pollan’s COOKED

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Books and Interesting Information:  January 22, 2015

More on Michael Pollan’s COOKED

 

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I think the most exciting part of this book for me was the section on fermentation, called “Earth.”  Fermentation undergirds so much of what we eat.  Here are a few foods that are fermented:  sourdough bread, beer/wine and other bubbly drinks, cheeses, fermented meats (like salami, for instance), all the lacto-fermented foods (like sauerkraut) and on and on.  Sandor Katz has a great list that is much, much longer than I am recalling here.

As an aside, the breakdown of Pollan’s organizational schema here is that sourdough bread falls under the “Air” section, not the “Earth” section, but it’s still a ferment…

The most exciting section of “Earth” for me was when Pollan writes about the excitement scientists who are studying the microbiome of the human body have at their recent discoveries.  Here’s how Pollan puts it:

The scientists working today on “microbial ecology” are as excited as any I’ve ever interviewed, convinced, as one of them put it, that they “stand on the verge of a paradigm shift in our understanding of health as well as our relationship to other species.”  And fermentation–as it unfolds both inside and outside the body–is at the heart of this new understanding (322)

Here’s the shift:

In the decades since Louis Pasteur founded microbiology, medical research has focused mainly on bacteria’s role in causing disease.  The bacteria that reside in and on our bodies were generally regarded as either harmless “commensals”–freeloaders, basically–or pathogens to be defended against.  Scientists tended to study these bugs one at a time, rather than as communities.  This was partly a deeply ingrained habit of reductive science, and partly a function of the available tools (322)

It is still astonishing to me how destructive this artifact of modernity–this focusing on parts rather than wholes–has been.  The hubris involved in acting without fully understanding how the whole functions, how the parts relate to each other as well as to the whole, blows my mind.  How can you know how something works if you can’t even see all its parts?  Pollan continues:

Scientists naturally focused their attention on the bacteria they could see, which meant the handful of individual bugs that could be cultured in a petri dish.  There, they found some good guys and some bad guys.  But the general stance toward the bacteria we had discovered all around us was shaped by metaphors of war, and in that war, antibiotics became the weapons of choice (322-323).

And, I want to add, pesticides, herbicides, and anything that kills what got deemed as an enemy by THE MARKET, which has happily sold us its products for years and years now without any regard to unintended consequences of NOT FULLY UNDERSTANDING THE FUNCTIONING OF THE WHOLE.  (Yes, I’m yelling because the consequences to humans, to our babies, to our earth are…nothing short of dire.)

Pollan continues:

But it turns out that the overwhelming majority of bacteria residing in the gut simply refuse to grow on a petri dish–a phenomenon now known among researchers as “the great plate anomalluy.”  Without realizing it, they were practicing what is sometimes called parking-lot science–named for the human tendency to search for lost keys under the streetlights not because that’s where we lost them but because that is where we can best see.  The petri dish was a streetlight.  But when, in the early 2000s, researchers developed genetic “batch” sequencing techniques allowing them to catalog all the DNA in a sample of soil, say, or seawater or feces, science suddenly acquired a broad and powerful beam of light that could illuminate the entire parking lot.  When it did, we discovered hundreds of new species in the human gukt doing all sorts of unexpected things (323).

We are, it seems, a kind of superorganism.  And our health depends on the health of the microbial species within us.

To their surprise, microbiologists discovered that none of every ten cells in our bodies belong not to us, but to these microbial species (most of them residents of our gut), and that 99 percent of the DNA we’re carrying around belongs to those microbes.  Some scientists, trained in evolutionary biology, began looking at the human individual in a humbling new light:  as a kind of superorganism, a community of several hundred coevolved and interdependent species.  War metaphors no longer made much sense.  So the microbiologists began borrowing new metaphors from the ecologists (323).

The survival of these microbes depends on our health, writes Pollan, “so they do all sorts of things to keep their host–us–alive and well.”  We can no longer think of ourselves as individuals, but as part of a community.  Look at the word microbiome itself:  micro  bio  me.  Kill the microbes, kill yourself.

These guys are really smart, as Pollan notes:

One theory is that, because microbes can evolve so much more rapidly than the “higher animals” they can respond with much greater speed and agility to changes int eh environment–to threats as well as opportunities.  Exquisitely reactive and fungible, bacteria can swap genes and pieces of DNA among themselves, picking t hem up and dropping them almost as if they were tools.  This capability is especially handy when a new toxin or food source appears in the environment.  The microbiota can swiftly find precisely the right gene needed to fight it–or eat it (325-326).

Feed your gut microbiome properly.  Lacto-fermented foods are a good start to restoring gut health.  There are recipes on this blog, and this food is easy to make and delicious.

Written by louisaenright

February 22, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Interesting Information: The Nine Ingredients For a Healthier America

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Interesting Information:  November 17, 2014

“The Nine Ingredients For A Healthier America”

Friend Gina Caceci mailed me The Washington Post‘s copy of this opinion piece by Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter.

The article is all over the web now.

This piece is a call to action to change national food policy so that it is aligned with human health, not industry profits.

At the most basic level, we need the government to separate the USDA from healthy food policy as these goals are massively in conflict.  What has resulted is that, in a nutshell, we are subsidizing soda while “paying for insulin pumps.”  And, too many of us are sick.

This issue has to be viewed from above political party lines–not across or through them.  Surely our health, the health of our loved ones, and the health of our soil and planet will allow us to come together on this issue.

Please, please read this article.  Every word.

And, maybe, email the President and your congresspersons noting the article and asking for meaningful change.

I will.  Today.

Commentary: The nine ingredients for a healthier America | masslive.com.

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Michael Pollan: COOKED

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  April 26, 2014

COOKED

Michael Pollan

 

Friend Gina Caceci brought me Michael Pollan’s Cooked a bit ago…

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I’m only into the beginning pages, but am looking forward to reading more.

Pollan begins with describing what he calls the “cooking paradox”:

How is it that at the precise historical moment when Americans were abandoning the kitchen, handing over the preparation of most of our meals to the food industry, we began spending so much of our time thinking about food and watching other people cook it on television?  The less cooking were doing in our own lives, it seemed, the more that food and its vicarious preparation transfixed us (3).

Pollan goes on to note that “the amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-sixties, when I was watching my mom fix dinner, to a scant twenty-seven minutes a day” (3).

TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES A DAY!!

Cooking, Pollan notes, is magic:  “Even the most ordinary dish follows a satisfying arc of transformation, magically becoming something more than the sum of its ordinary parts.  And in almost every dish, you can find, besides the culinary ingredients, the ingredients of a story:  a beginning, a middle, and an end” (4).

And here’s a bit of philosophy that might explain the “cooking paradox”:

So maybe the reason we like to watch cooking on television and read about cooking in books is that there are things about cooking we really miss.  We might not feel we have the time or energy (or the knowledge) to do it ourselves every day, but we’re not prepared to see it disappear from our lives altogether.  If cooking is, as the anthropologists tell us, a defining human activity–the act with which culture begins, according to Claude Lévi-Strauss–then maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that watching its processes unfold would strike deep emotional chords (5).

Other anthropologists “have begun to take quite literally the idea that the invention of cooking might hold the evolutionary key to our humaness” (6).

A few years ago, a Harvard anthropologist and primatologist named Richard Wrangham published a fascinating book called Catching Fire, in which he argued that it was the discovery of cooking by our early ancestors–and not tool making or meat eating or language–that set us apart from the apes and made us human.  According to the “cooking hypothesis,” the advent of cooked food altered the course of human evolution.  By providing our forebears with a more energy-dense and easy-to-digest diet, it allowed our brains to grow bigger (brains being notorious energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink.  It seems that raw food takes much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why other primates our size carry around substantially larger digestive tracts and spend many more of their waking hours chewing–as much as six hours a day.

Cooking, in effect, took part of the work of chewing and digestion and performed it for us outside of the body, using outside sources of energy.  Also, since cooking detoxifies many potential sources of food, the new technology cracked open a treasure trove of calories unavailable to other animals.  Freed from the necessity of spending our days gathering large quantities of raw food and then chewing (and chewing) it, humans could now devote their time, and their metabolic resources, to other purposes, like creating a culture (6).

So, “if cooking is as central to human identity, biology, and culture as Wrangham suggests, it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time would have serious consequences for modern life, and so it has” (7).

I will leave you with this quote–which contains much “food for thought”:

The shared meal is no small thing.  It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization:  sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.  What have been called the “cultural contradictions of capitalism”–its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on–are on vivid display today at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there (8).

 

 

 

 

Written by louisaenright

April 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Mainely Tipping Points 39: SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

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Mainely Tipping Points 39

Feb. 1, 2012

 

SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

 

Lee Burdett is a food and health blogger:  http://blog.wellfedfamily.net.  Her Summer 2011 WISE TRADITIONS article, “Senomyx:  The Brave New World of Flavor BioEngineering,” follows Sally Fallon Morell’s article “The Salt of the Earth,” discussed in Tipping Points 38.  Both writers are concerned with the substitution of chemicals for real food, and both articles can be found online at the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) web site, which is linked on the right sidebar of this blog.  Morell and the WAPF are really worried about what a chemical substitution for real salt might do to the health of the general population.     

Senomyx, writes Burdett, is a ten-year old publicly traded high-tech research and development company based in San Diego.  Senomyx’s work is “closely related to the pharmaceutical industry….”  Indeed, “the majority of their corporate executives came from Pfizer, Novartis and Merck.”  And “their advisory board is populated by neurobiologists, neuropharmacologists and one Nobel prize-winning chemist.”  Synomyx “achieved an 85 percent increase in profits from 2009 to 2010.”

Why is any of this information important?  Because, explains Burdett, Synomyx is a “new player in the big food processing game.”  Synomyx has developed patented flavor enhancers by using what they call their “proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems.”  These systems allow Senomyx to test “an enormous volume of chemicals” and to determine if a particular chemical concoction is “effective or tasty.”  Once found, Synomyx patents the concoction. 

Synomyx has five flavors in various stages of completion, writes Burdett:  Savory Flavors, Sweet Taste, Salt Taste, Cooling Flavors, and Bitter Blockers.  Senomyx has already patented some savory flavor ingredients  and  some sweet flavor ingredients, including a sucralose enhancer.  The savory flavor ingredients were tested against monosodium glutamate (MSG) and inosine monophosphate (IMP)—which is “an expensive MSG enhancer.”  The sweet flavors were tested against various carbohydrate-based sugars and against artificial sweeteners.   Synomyx is working on  cooling flavors; bitter blockers, which will be used as additives in soy foods as they are “too bitter for most people to eat;” and on salty flavors. 

Synomyx, writes Burdett, has given the name SNMX-29 to “the protein they believe is the primary human salt taste receptor.  Now, they will use their “enormous flavor enhancing library to pinpoint which one stimulates SNMX-29 precisely the way sodium chloride does.”  And, “once this is achieved all that is left is for some company to buy the rights to insert that perfect salt enhancer into a food, replacing the need for much of the sodium currently used.”

Synomyx’s chemical flavors, writes Burdett, “stimulate your taste buds without them actually tasting anything.  This subterfuge fools your brain into thinking you have tasted an intensely sweet or savory (unami) flavor.  Much like MSG, these flavor enhancers operate on the neurological level to produce these reactions.  They bypass normal tasting processes and, because of their ability to react directly with the brain’s receptors, send signals directly to the location in your brain where specific flavors are registered.” 

Synomyx’s chemical flavors have not been tested for safety, explains Burdett, because very small amounts are used.  Thus, these chemicals “have not undergone the FDA’s usual safety approval process for food additives.”  But, science is discovering more and more that small amounts of chemicals are dangerous and that eating small amounts multiple times in a day does add up.    

In addition, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA)—which is an industry-funded organization—granted Senomyx’s MSG-enhancer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in “less than eighteen months.”  So, this chemical has been patented and is “already in products on the market.”  Two sweet flavors and two Bitter Blockers have been given GRAS status by FEMA.  As these chemical flavors “are not actually ingredients but rather `enhancers,’ they are not required to be listed in a package’s ingredients except as `artificial flavors.’“  If you are buying packaged foods, likely you’re already eating them.     

The Ajinomoto Group (which mostly operates in China), Cadbury/Kraft, Campbell’s Soup, Firmenich (a Swiss perfume and flavoring company), Solae (soy-based foods), Nestlé, and PepsiCo—all of which have many trade names—are using Senomyx’s flavor enhancers.  For instance, writes Burdett, PepsiCo (which includes the Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker, and Gatorade brands) “recently signed a four-year contract with Senomyx that included a thirty-million dollar up front payment from Pepsi to Senomyx to use their sweet enhancers.”

Burdett notes these sweet chemical flavors can replace 75 percent of sucralose and 50 percent of table sugar.  And, she notes that Synomyx CEO Kent Snyder has cited the need for Synomyx’s salt enhancement program “because salt reduction is such a high priority for food companies and the medical community `due to the association of high salt intake with cardiovascular disease.’ “ 

Yet, we know from Sally Fallon Morell’s article, “The Salt of the Earth,” that salt is “vital to health” and “there is no substitute for salt.”  We know that adequate sodium chloride “must be obtained from salt.”  We know that a 2010 government-funded study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that “even modest reductions in salt intake are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death” and that “lower sodium is associated with higher mortality.”

As with all of these food issues, there is a history.  The salt wars, writes Morell, “began in 1972 when the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, a coalition of thirty-six medical organizations and six federal agencies essentially declared that salt was an unnecessary evil.”  Industry was, of course, involved in this erroneous view.  Morell cites the example of Kristin McNutt, who had been hired by the MSG Foundation .  (Decreasing salt increases consumption of artificial flavorings, like MSG.)  McNutt testified before the McGovern Committee hearings that resulted in the demonization of saturated fats and the promotion of highly processed, dangerous vegetable oils.  McNutt said the following in a lecture before the Society for Nutrition Education in the early 1980s:  “ `It’s just like what we did before the McGovern Committee hearings.  In order to get media attention, we said that salt causes high blood pressure.  We knew it wasn’t true but we had to get their attention.” 

Now, low-salt is part of an elaborate belief system supported by misguided groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and many of our government organizations, like the FDA and the USDA, whose 2010 guidelines lower salt intake, writes Morell, to below the “absolute requirement for salt.”  Industry, including the medical industry, will be the only beneficiary of these unscientific decisions.  And, the food industry stands to make even more money if it does not have to pay for actual sugar and salt.

Chemical flavors are pharmaceuticals and as such should be safety tested.  Certainly they should be properly listed on food labels.  Why aren’t they?  Michael Pollan in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD explains that in 1973, the FDA “simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods.”  This action opened the regulatory door to all manner of faked food ingredients.  “All it would take now,” writes Pollan, “was a push from the McGovern’s Dietary Goals for hundreds of `traditional foods that everyone know’ to begin their long retreat from the supermarket shelves and for our eating to become more `scientific’ “(34-36). 

So, don’t be afraid of consuming real, Celtic-type salt.  Avoid packaged, processed foods, especially those with a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.  Cook, eat, and enjoy meals made from organic, locally grown, nutrient dense foods.  Buy a copy of NOURISHING TRADITIONS if you need help.  An hour making a soup or stew or roasting a chicken yields several nights of meals.  In addition to protecting and nourishing your health, your food will be delicious and fully satisfying.

 

Mainely Tipping Points 13: The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

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(Oops!  Read TP 12 first; it’s part of a series in the essays) 

Tipping Points 13

The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

 

 When Luise Light and her team of experts attempted to scientifically formulate the 1980 USDA Food Guide, they accepted two current dietary ideas as truth:  fat should be no more than 30 percent of the diet, and since the end of World War II, and especially in the 1960s, Americans had been experiencing “rising rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes” (13, Luise Light, WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY).

Current historians show us that the low-fat premise that has governed the American diet for the past fifty years sprang from belief, not science, and became part of American cultural and economic practices when the stars aligned around a constellation that included the political power of a congressional committee, media acceptance of its recommendations, and the firmly-held beliefs of a handful of people.

Science writer Gary Taubes, in his myth-exploding article “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat,” published in “Science” magazine in March 2001, questioned the idea that there ever was an epidemic of heart disease after World War II (http://www.nasw.org/awards/2001/The%20soft%20science.pdf).  When Taubes interviewed Harry Rosenberg, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Rosenberg said a heart disease epidemic never existed.  First, in 1949 the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) added arteriosclerotic heart disease as a new category under the general category of heart diseases.  Between 1948-1949, the new category appeared to raise coronary disease death rates about 20 percent for males and 35 percent for females. 

Again, In 1965, the ICD added a category for coronary heart disease, which added more deaths to the statistical data as physicians began using the new categories.  Furthermore, Rosenberg explained, by the 1950s, Americans were healthier, so more were living to be 50-year-olds who would go on to die of chronic diseases like heart disease, which physicians were now listing on death certificates under the new categories.  Taubes reports that Rosenberg said that, in actuality, risk rates of dying from a heart attack remained unchanged.

Taubes also discussed the fact that between 1989 and 1992, three independent research groups (Harvard Medical School; The University of California, San Francisco, funded by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office; and McGill University, Montreal) used computer models to work out added life expectancy for a person eating a low-fat diet that controlled saturated fats.  All three models agreed, but their conclusions have been ignored by media. 

The Harvard study showed that if a person’s total fat consumption was less than 30 percent of their daily total calories and if their saturated fat consumption was 10 percent of that 30 percent, a healthy nonsmoker might add from 3 days to 3 months of life.  The latter two studies showed net increase of life expectancy would be from three to four months.  Taubes noted that the U.S. Surgeon General’s office tried to prevent the University of California study from being published in “The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but JAMA published it in June 1991.

The Lipid Hypothesis is the “scientific” paradigm calling for a low-fat diet.  The Lipid Hypothesis is the premise that ingested fat, especially saturated fat, raises blood cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol levels cause chronic heart disease (CHD).  Yet, many, many scientists now have argued that these cause-and-effect links have never been proven and, in fact, cannot be proven.  More recently than Taubes, Michael Pollan, in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD (2008), traces this history and current thinking on dietary fats in a section entitled “The Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis” (40-50). 

So how did the Lipid Hypothesis and the low-fat paradigm get installed with scant scientific data to support it?  Biochemist Ancel Keys is a key player.  In the mid 1950s, Keys (University of Minnesota) claimed that his epidemiological Seven Countries Study showed a correlation between the consumption of dietary fat and heart disease.  But, an epidemiological study cannot control or eliminate variables, and correlation is not proved causation.  Furthermore, many now, among them Taubes and Uffe Ravnskov, claim that Keys eliminated countries whose statistics did not fit his hypotheses, like France, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and West Germany, where national populations ate 30 to 40 percent of their calories as fat and whose death rates from CHD were half that of the United States.  Nevertheless, in 1961, the American Heart Association began advocating low-fat diets for men with high cholesterol levels.

Also in the 1950s, Nathan Pritkin, was diagnosed with heart disease.  Though he had no college degree and no scientific training, Pritkin created and published a low-fat, aerobic exercise regime that sold millions of copies.  Pritkin also suffered from leukemia, and it began causing complications and pain in the early 1980s.  Pritkin committed suicide in 1985.        

In 1977, the Congressional Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator George McGovern, promoted the low-fat hypothesis—despite objections by scientists expert in the field.  Taubes determines that “a handful of McGovern staffers…almost single-handedly changed nutritional policy in this country” by initiating “the process of turning the dietary fat hypothesis into dogma” (4).

In 1976, Taubes reports, after two days of testimony, this committee turned “the task of researching and writing the first `Dietary Goals for the United States’” over to Nick Mottern, a labor reporter with “no experience writing about science, nutrition, or health” (5).  Mottern relied on Harvard School of Public Health nutritionist Mark Hegsted’s low-fat beliefs.  Hegsted, unlike E. H. Ahrens, whose laboratory at the Rockefeller University in New York City was doing seminal research on fat and cholesterol metabolism, saw no risks associated with such a major change to the American diet.  Ahrens, as early as 1969, was concerned that eating less fat or changing the proportions of saturated to unsaturated fats could have profound and harmful effects on the body (3-6).  Nevertheless, the Select Committee published Mottern’s dietary guidelines. 

Next, Taube relates, Carol Tucker Foreman, a political appointee at USDA who later forms a public relations and lobbying firm whose clients have included Phillip Morris, Monsanto (bovine growth hormone), and Procter and Gamble (fake fat Olestra), hired Hegsted to produce “Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which supported the McGovern Committee Report.  Foreman hired Hegsted despite the fact that Philip Handler, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) President and an expert on metabolism, had told her that Mottern’s Dietary Goals were “`nonsense’ “ (6).

When NAS released its own dietary guidelines a few months later (watch your weight and everything else will be all right), the media criticized the NAS for having industry connections.  Hegsted later returned to Harvard where his research was funded by Frito-Lay.

So, a consensus was achieved, oneTaube says is “continuously reinforced by physicians, nutritionists, journalists, health organizations, and consumer advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest” (1).  And, science was “left to catch up” (7).

 Only, science never has.  And, what has emerged is that all calories are not equal and substituting carbohydrates for fat has caused weight gain and diabetes.  And, according to lipid biochemist Mary Enig, substituting highly-processed fats for time-honored, traditional fats is causing chronic heart disease.   

Pollan notes that in a 2001 review of the relevant research and report by “prominent nutrition scientists” at the Harvard School of Public Health, “just about every strut supporting the theory that dietary fat causes heart disease” was removed, except for consuming trans fats and consuming fats that alter ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (41-42).  Pollan notes the Harvard scientists stated the following in their report’s second paragraph:  “`It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences’ “ (43).    

Pollan assesses that the low-fat ideology of nutritionism has been nutrition’s “supreme test and, as now is coming clear, its most abject failure” (41).

Tipping Points 5: I Believe

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 5

April 9, 2010

I Believe

The movie Food, Inc. came to Rockland, Maine, this past July (2009), and I missed it.  My husband heard an interview with Michael Pollan, who is in the movie.  Pollan discussed how commercial potato fields are sprayed with a chemical fungicide so toxic that workers do not go into the fields afterwards for a full five days.  I confirmed Pollan’s statement and discovered he also says that once grown, the potatoes have to sit for up to six months before the toxins they contain dissipate. 

In August, while chatting with two other people in a windjammer galley, I said that I was looking forward to seeing Food, Inc. when the DVD is released.  A nearby crew member, a high school student, said, “I saw the preview, and I thought it was trying to scare me.”

Setting aside my sudden memory of a recent preview I had seen of a summer blockbuster which involved robots killing everything in sight and a soundtrack that blew me out of my seat, I asked the young man if he had seen the whole movie.  “No,” he said, and followed with what was a heartfelt and emotionally delivered statement:  “I know that the food in the supermarket is ok.  I know that my food is safe and is good for me.”

Belief systems are notoriously powerful.  People will shed blood and, even, life for them.  Belief systems are laden with “facts” that are easy to disprove, but which the heart embraces.  The mystery to me is what this young man’s heart was embracing.  What lay beneath the belief that the great majority of our national food system is producing food that is safe and nourishing when it is demonstrably neither? 

Another reaction I experience often is anger.  One young mother did not like hearing about food issues because “they make me feel like a bad mother.”  What emerged next was “I do not know what to do.”  And, she’s right.  With all the industry-produced junk science claims circulating, how does anyone know what or whom to believe?  Plus, it is time consuming to do the research necessary to figure out who is attached to industry claims and who is not.   

The current, awesome cultural power of our modern food industry represents a development span of over 150 years.  This industry has acquired massive political clout–our government supports and promotes cheap, dangerous, and fake foods and oversees an irresponsible regulatory system.  This industry has successfully managed the legal system; has driven out or co-opted competitors, like organic foods or real milk; has bought scientists who create and promote junk science; has gained control of unregulated media advertising; and has placed this fake, tainted food in one-stop, convenient outlets.  Together with the drug industry, the food industry has manipulated the academic and medical industries so that they create, promote, and teach their junk science and promote their products.

But, if one takes seriously that the safety of our food system has been co-opted by unregulated industry acting rationally in its own interests, one has to begin making personal changes if one wants to be healthy.  Our personal changes can create a new paradigm, one that supports belief with facts that can be investigated and substantiated.

Change always involves first changing the stories we tell ourselves.  There is, thus, a role for emotional belief when it supports the ethic that human and societal health have to trump industry profit.  Have hope, for there are at least three powerful philosophical concepts emerging:  the Precautionary Principle, the rights of all to “the commons,” and the rights of all against toxic trespass. 

The Precautionary Principle states that no chemical can be used unless it has been thoroughly demonstrated not to be harmful for human life.  This concept animates recent regulatory and legal changes in Europe and Canada.  The EU’s Regulation, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals Act (REACH) went into effect in June 2007.  Though considerably mitigated in the political process, especially by efforts of the US State Department under Colin Powell, which acted as agents for the US chemical industry, REACH represents a big crack in the dike. 

In Canada, activists trying to ban ChemLawn chemicals used the Precautionary Principle as a legal strategy rather than pitting their experts against ChemLawn’s experts.  ChemLawn lost.  This story is told in the film A Chemical Reaction, shown this fall at the Camden (Maine) International Film Festival (CIFF).  Portland’s Paul Tukey (Safe Lawns) became ill after applying lawn chemicals, primarily 2, 4-D–a synthetic chemical in the phenoxy class (which includes Agent Orange) and which has a strong association with the rise of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Also, Tukey’s son was born with severe ADHD which doctors think was caused by Tukey’s exposure to lawn chemicals as they affect reproduction.  After losing this particular case in Canada, ChemLawn changed its Canadian name to GreenLawn and its American name to TruGreen. 

“The Commons” concept is taken from the lost use of peasant-farmed common land in Europe in the 1400-1500s.  Today, “the commons” concept supports the ability of local areas to stop industrial dumping of Class A sewage sludge into a local environment.  Or, the extraction of local water for bottled water sales.  Or, in the case of our Port Clyde, Maine, fisherman, as detailed in the local movie recently shown at CIFF, The Fish Are For The People, the unsustainable harvesting of too many fish from our local waters by nonlocal industrial boats.  Certainly, clean air and water can be seen as “the commons.”

Toxic Trespass covers both the spread of unwanted chemicals and of Genetically Modified (GM) seeds.  In 1997, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser noticed that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM seeds had taken root at the edges of his fields next to public roads.  He collected his own seed, as usual, but by 1998, 95 percent of his 1030 acres were contaminated with Monsanto’s GM canola.  Monsanto tried to charge Schmeiser $400,000 for this seed, but he refused to pay or to settle since settlement included a legal “gag” provision.  Under patent law, Schmeiser lost his trial, his appeal, and, later, in the Supreme Court. 

Schmeiser quit planting.  The work of his life, the development of his own seed, was destroyed.  The movie The Future of Food (2004) suggested the idea that Schmeiser’s situation involved a trespass concept.  Monsanto seeds either blew into Schmeiser’s fields from truck beds or spread there on their own.  In 2005, Schmeiser found more Roundup Ready Canola in his fields.  He had the fields cleaned ($660) and sent the bill to Monsanto, but they refused to pay.  Schmeiser sued, and this time, Monsanto lost.    

To date, no one is holding chemical applicators responsible for chemical drift into the soil, water, or air in any meaningful way.  But, the idea of toxic trespass linked to the Precautionary Principle and our right to a clean “commons” holds promise for those willing to insist on a different, safer world.