Category Archives: Food & Health

Chocolate milk wars

Marion Nestle continues to fight the good fight, trying to prevent every single American from becoming a Biggest Loser contestant in waiting.  This time, she’s taking on chocolate milk in schools and she’s taking heat as usual, being accused of being a Food Nazi and trying to tell people what they can and can not eat.

Well, screw that. 

Someone’s got to take responsibility for what’s being shoved down our kids throats if parents aren’t going to.

The milk industry is trying to convince parents that sweetened and flavored milk is about they only way they’re going to get their kids to drink it, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if parents fell for that argument hook, line and sinker.

Do these parents not remember elementary school, because I do. And I distinctly recall that chocolate milk was not an option back in the austere 1970s when the term “childhood obesity rate” was hardly ever used.  We all brought our 5 cents to school and got to choose between whole milk or 2% and we’d drink it every morning.  WITHOUT A SNACK!!

No one died. No one got sick.  No one complained.  We drank our milk because that just what you did.

I always wanted chocolate milk.  I would beg for it.  My mom refused about 99% of the time.  She told me it would ruin my appetite.  I sullenly drank my white milk, because she told me to.  Every once in a blue moon she’d let me have chocolate milk when we went to the local cafeteria and I got to drink it after I ate my dinner.  Once, I gulped it down so fast I threw up.

So what happened to those days? Why aren’t parents today insisting their kids drink plain milk and not viewing chocolate milk as an occassional treat?  My short answer is that parents are lazy.  It’s much easier to give into your kids who are always going to pester you for something sweet– it’s in our biological make up to want sweets.  And that is why kids are fat and getting fatter.

Someone needs to be a parent. Right now, Marion Nestle and the others who are fighting back against this chocolate milk propaganda campaign are the only ones with the balls to do it.  Call them Food Nazis if you want, but know that term is really just another term for being a grown up.

Sugar-coating the truth

We Americans are a bunch of sugar-addled addicts, a fact that has become  painfully clear to me while  carrying out some simple research on eating habits. 

A recent article in the  in the New York Times on the comeback of sugar completely missed the real issue at stake: we eat WAY too much sugar and sweetener of any kind.  The article did sort of pussy-foot around that issue by saying that nutritionists would like to see us eat less of all caloric sweeteners, but it really just wound up being a trend story about a backlash against high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in favor of sugar.

Perhaps the reporter didn’t want to upset the people in the HFCS industry, but the truth is, Americans started consuming more and more sweeteners just after HFCS hit the market in the mid-1970’s, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  As a basis for comparison, I’ve also dug up the sweetener consumption statistics for the UK and Australia, two countries that have fairly similar diets to ours, minus the HFCS.  Interestingly, sweetener consumption in those countries actually decreased while ours was skyrocketing upward:

Consumption of Sweeteners 1961-2001

              U.S              U.K.            Australia

1961    52 kg         52kg             56 kg
1981    56 kg         44 kg            54 kg
2001   71 kg         41 kg             45 kg


 For those who don’t do the metric system, 71 kg is 156 pounds of sweetener every year– which is the weight of an average woman, give or take a few pounds.  We eat, far and away, more sweetener per person than any other country in the world.

I’m not going to argue whether HFCS is worse than sugar.  That’s not really the point.  The point is, that ever since HFCS came onto the scene, our collective sweet tooth has gotten even sweeter and our consumption of caloric sweeteners climbed 40 percent in 40 years.  Now, you tell me why America has an obesity problem.

Would you like poop with that?

The U.S.D.A. just announced that it has approved an E. coli vaccine for cattle.  They say that like it’s a good thing.  But really, all this vaccine is doing is treating the symptoms rather than actually doing anything to solve the bigger issue of a food system gone completely awry.  It’s the equivalent of a restaurant in Mexico telling you to go ahead and eat the lettuce but giving you an Immodium A-D chaser, just in case.

Granted, the vaccine isn’t all bad if it leads to fewer E. coli infections, which affect 70,000 people each year in the U.S.  But really, the only true winners in this are the beef industry people who hope to make more money by telling us their beef is E. coli free.

What the vaccine does not do is get to the heart of the real problem, which is the American feedlot industry.  Feedlots handle about 88 percent of the beef that Americans buy, and feedlots just happen to be breeding grounds for E. coli.  Every cow has E. coli bacteria, but one strain, E. coli O-157, is the bad E. coli that makes humans sick.  It also happens to grow really well in the stomachs of cows who are fed grain, the staple diet at feedlots, as opposed to cows that eat a more natural  diet of grass.

Eating a cow that had E. coli O-157 in his belly won’t make you sick, unless for some reason you were actually eating fecal matter from said cow, or cow shit to put it bluntly.  That’s the other problem with feedlots.  Cows stand knee-deep (do cows have knees?) in poop at these places.  They go to the slaughterhouse covered in crap, and if they aren’t cleaned off real good, then poop gets into the beef, and if it’s E. coli infected poop, a lot of people are going to get really sick.

What really freaks me out about the vaccine, is what if it gives people at the slaughterhouses a false sense of security?  What if they think, “Well, hey, this poop isn’t going to kill anyone now, so if I don’t get the cow as clean as I used to, no biggie.”   To quote Betty Fussell in her book Raising Steaks:  “Sterilized shit is still shit.”

So lets review: The E. coli vaccine is merely a band-aid.  It is not a solution to the bigger problem, which is cattle raised on filthy feedlots.  The only winners in this scenario are the beef producers who are hoping to sell more beef because it’s “safe”.  The farmers don’t win, because they won’t get any more money for their cattle when they sell them to the feedlots.  The cattle sure don’t win, because they’re still living their miserable feedlot existence.  And consumers don’t win because the USDA just fed us a shit sandwich and called it a victory.

Food Allergies: The truth is out there

I’ve seen a couple of really interesting things about food allergies in the past 24 hours (in the NY Times and on Ruhlman’s blog) which confirm the sneaking suspicion I’ve had about them for a few years now: that they are often misdiagnosed and have something to do with our ridiculous standards of cleanliness.

I certainly would never deny that food allergies exist and can be dangerous– even deadly.  But I feel like, as a society, we’re out there almost looking for something to be wrong with our kids.  In the ’90s it was ADHD. In the ’00s it’s food allergies.  When kids go to school, the essential supplies have become backpack, pencils, crayons and a list of foods they can’t have.  It’s crazy.

I just hope these two articles are the start of something bigger– a wake up call to parents who are doing their kids more harm than good by trying to keep them excessively germ free and who go looking for trouble at the allergist because everybody else is doing it.

Bake sales: The new boogeyman

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

I am all for kids eating healthier and eating less.  But I feel like political correctness has completely prevailed over common sense and a sense of fun when bake sales become the bad guy of school fundraisers.  I’ve seen this gastronomic nanny state at work in Australia and it’s also sweeping some state legislatures in the U.S. according to this article from the New York Times.

First, let me say that the schools are right in saying bake sales shouldn’t happen during school hours.  But the ban on bake sales at schools seems like we’re heading down that slippery slope of banning bake sales altogether, and that would be a shame for a number of reasons.  One is that it forces kids to do those awful holiday gift tins and knick-knack sales.  What a bunch of crap that is.  I used to run and hide at work when parents would come towards my cubicle with one of those order forms.  Honestly, they’d have better luck trying to sell me asbestos earmuffs.

But seriously, when did bake sales go bad?  Schools and other organizations have been having bake sales for decades and I don’t recall seeing any evidence that they made kids fat.  Kids are fat today because of sugary drinks, too little exercise, and a preponderance of crap food made with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  No, bake sales aren’t part of the childhood obesity problem.  In fact, I think they could be part of the solution, and here’s why:

1) They are wholesome.  If I were to bake something for a bake sale, I’d probably make something like the ever popular brownie.  The ingredients:  butter, chocolate or cocoa, sugar, eggs, flour, a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla.  I can pronounce every single one of those ingredients.  I know what they are, unlike some of the ingredients in oh, say, the PowerBar mentioned in the NY Times piece as a “healthy” snack which contains ingredients like soy lecithin, soy protein isolate and fractionated palm kernal oil.  In fact, I think wholesome treats made with real ingredients are actually more satisfying than processed food.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I can easily be satisfied after eating a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookes, but could down practically a whole bag of oreos and still want more.

2) They promote community.  When a school or a club has a bake sale, it usually requires parents to get involved with their kids, with the schools, with other parents, and with bake sale patrons.  It requires communication and organization.  In fact, bake sales are probably more trouble than they are worth, monetarily speaking.  But if a bake sale helps build community relationships, then that’s worth more than every cent raised.  Participating in something like a bake sale can make you realize it’s actually fun to get out of the house and get away from the TV and computer and get involved in life!

3) They are a good learning tool for kids.  There is little value for kids in the yearly Christmas knick-knack sale.  Parents take the order forms to work and that’s the last the kids ever see of that project until they hand the order form back in.  On the other hand, bake sales can be used to teach kids cooking skills, math skills (converting recipes, counting change for customers), and customer relation skills when they help man the bake sale table.  As far as healthy habits go, learning to cook is a great way for kids to get a concept of what goes into their food, which is key to healthy eating.  Let me tell you, when I bake and see all the butter I put into a batch of brownies, I’m much more likely to take a small portion because I know just how many calories are in them.

So let’s quit vilifying bake sales.  They aren’t an every day event.  They are not responsible for obesity. Come on people.  Get a life and get baking.

The upside of rising food prices

More bad news today about the cost of food.  Some economists predict prices will go up at least 7% in the U.S. next year. 

But is this really bad news?  For people who are struggling to put food on their tables now, it is bad news.  But for those addicted to cheap food– and I admit to being one of them– this cloud has a silver lining.

The main reason for the rise in prices is the cost of grain which is skyrocketing because a large percentage of the grain crop is being used to make fuel.  Much of the rest of that grain crop goes to feed cows, pigs and chickens.

Until lately, grain has been a cheap way to to feed and fatten livestock.  Now that it’s getting more expensive, the playing field between mass-produced feedlot meat and grass-fed and naturally-raised meat is being leveled.

To most people it’s natural to go to the store and want to buy the least expensive item.  When one package of chicken is $2.99, why would you pay $5.99 for an equal sized package?  But if the prices of conventionally-raised meat and free-range, natural meat come close to (or even achieve) parity, why WOULDN’T you buy meat that was raised the way God intended? 

Also, if the cost of meat goes up, maybe we’ll eat a little less of it and make room on our plates for more vegetables, grains and legumes.

As food prices go up, we’ll start to see the REAL cost of food.

The way I see it, this is great news for the small farmers and ranchers who raise meat humanely, it’s good news for the animals that may not have to spend their lives packed into polluted feedlots, it’s good news for the environment because of the pollution caused by the feedlots both directly and indirectly, and it’s good news for anyone who eats because we won’t be forced to make a choice between what’s healthy and what’s cheap.

Well, crap…

This is not good news.  Should I have another cup of coffee or be flatter than Kansas? Coffee or Kansas…. coffee… Kansas…

Next thing you know, scientists will tell us eating lots of cheese will make our butts big.