Wednesday, December 31, 2008
·Oh Honey (Monica)
·The Problem with the Popular Face of "Food Activism" (Monica)
·Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, and the Power of Government Influence (Monica)
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
·The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy on NAIS (Monica)
Saturday, December 27, 2008
·USDA Announces New Bureaucratic Branch (Monica)
·King Corn (Monica)
Sunday, December 21, 2008
·Pondering a Return of the Buffalo (Monica)
Saturday, December 20, 2008
·Government Nutritional Guidelines, aka Pure Bunk (Monica)
Thursday, December 18, 2008
·Another Update on Manna Storehouse Raid (Monica)
·Abolishing USDA Inspection Laws (Monica)
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|Wednesday, December 31, 2008|
By Monica @ 7:22 PM
This article in the San Francisco Chronicle bemoans the fact that there’s really no such thing as organic honey. I believe I may have discussed this on my other blog at some point. Some of you readers may be unaware that along with some of the other hats I wear, I am also beekeeper.
It’s true. Organic labels on honey are in almost all cases certainly false. The producer may be trying to indicate that the hive isn’t medicated (there are a ton of medications used on bees, including antibiotics, anti-protozoan medications, and miticides) but there really is no guarantee that even in that case the honey is organic. Bees are wild creatures and may roam up to seven miles from the hive. Unless you own the land a 7 mile radius in every direction from your home, there are no guarantees at to what your bees have come into contact with. The SFC article is interesting and also hits on the fact that there’s very little regulation of the honey industry, insinuating that there should be more. Of course, I disagree. It’s relatively easy to tell what type of product you’re getting without resorting to an expensive regulatory scheme. I really don’t need more inane rules and labels on my food, and more of my money spent on bureaucrats to enforce these rules. In any case, we’ve already seen that the USDA supports fraudulent labeling of cooked almonds as raw ones so there’s no reason to believe the same type of thing wouldn’t happen with honey under more USDA supervision. Ideally, fraudulent labeling of honey – and there is a lot of it -- should be dealt with by lawsuits, perhaps by honey organizations that care about quality, purity, and truthful labeling of honey. The fact that most people either don’t care or if they do, know how to discern good quality honey relatively easily, is probably indication that this won’t happen.
So here’s a “public service” announcement. If you eat honey you should know that foreign honey should almost always be considered suspect, particularly if it is from China (surprise, surprise):
The United States imports most of its honey and for years China was the biggest supplier.
But in 1997, a contagious bacterial epidemic raced through hundreds of thousands of Chinese hives, infecting bee larvae and slashing the country's honey production by two-thirds.
Chinese beekeepers had two choices: They could destroy infected hives or apply antibiotics. They chose to do the latter.
That was a mistake, said Michael Burkett, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University and an internationally known authority on bees and honey.
"You hear about people shooting themselves in the foot? Well, the Chinese honey-sellers shot themselves in the head," he said.
The Chinese opted to use chloramphenicol, an inexpensive, broad-spectrum antibiotic that's so toxic it's used to treat only life-threatening infections in humans -- and then only when other alternatives have been exhausted.
"That's on the big no-no list," Burkett said. "In the U.S., Canada and the European Union, chloramphenicol is on everyone's zero-tolerance list."
Now, 11 years later, some of the honey buyers who take the trouble to test for it still find the banned antibiotic in some of their imported honey…
The best way to buy honey is to get it from a local producer or from a specialty shop of gourmet foods that carries high quality honey. The best tasting honey is “raw honey” that is not heated or filtered. It contains all the enzymes, floral essences, and pollens that are not destroyed by heat. Both the enzymes and pollen have various health benefits but even if you’re not concerned with those, raw honey just tastes better. This honey often crystallizes at a lower temperature. Most raw honey, except for tupelo honey, is a thick paste at room temperature or is at least partly crystallized. However, this isn’t a sure way to tell that the honey is raw, since even honey cut with HFCS will eventually crystallize. How to tell? Hold it up to the light. If it’s cloudy, it’s raw. If it’s completely transparent, it’s not raw. It’s really that simple.
I eat hardly any honey at all these days. Mostly I just like having the bees around because it’s a fun hobby. However, the honey my bees produce tastes absolutely amazing. Every beekeeper is biased toward his or her own honey, but I can honestly say it’s the most amazing honey I’ve ever tasted. I live in the mountains of Colorado at 8400 feet, so my bees bring in a complex mix of wildflower nectar.
If you like honey but have only eaten typical grocery store honey, which is usually from alfalfa or clover, you are missing out on a diverse buffet of gold created by the ultimate alchemists: blueberry, manuka, wildflower, orange, sage, and lavender are just a few. And if you do eat honey but are unwilling or unable to explore other flavors or sources, you may at least want to check the country of origin. There is no way to be sure that you are actually getting relatively uncontaminated honey unless you buy something produced in the United States. It is not standard beekeeping practice in the US to medicate the bees when the honey supers are on. But even though honey in the US is probably not contaminated with antibiotics, it may still be fraudulently labeled as raw -- so buyer beware.
Labels: De-regulation, Honey
The Problem with the Popular Face of "Food Activism"
By Monica @ 9:47 AM
There's been an enormous buzz in the blogosphere about Michael Pollan, who is a food journalist at UC Berkeley and has done a lot of first-hand research about the food supply. It would not be a mistake to say that he is one of the foremost, if not the foremost popular author writing about food today. He's the author of In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire, and The Omnivore's Dilemma. Stephan of Whole Health Source recently wrote:
I heard an interview of Michael Pollan yesterday on Talk of the Nation. He made some important points about nutrition that bear repeating. He's fond of saying "don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food". That doesn't mean your grandmother specifically, but anyone's grandmother, whether she was Japanese, American or African. The point is that commercial food processing has taken us away from the foods, and traditional food preparation methods, on which our bodies evolved to thrive. At this point, we don't know enough about health to design a healthy synthetic diet. Diet and health are too complex for reductionism at our current level of understanding. For that reason, any departure from natural foods and traditional food processing techniques is suspect.
I agree. The recent discovery of vitamin K2 is evidence that we should resist the simplistic reductionism of nutritionists focusing only on calories and macronutrients. And while I disagree with Pollan on various matters, he has done some good first-hand research on the food supply and has made this information very accessible to the public. For that he should be applauded. Real food is increasingly under government and government-sponsored industry attack in our society.
Pollan also wrote a very long piece in the New York Times entitled Farmer in Chief in which he exhorted the future president to consider the health, ethical and environmental issues surrounding government farm and nutrition policies. It's definitely worth a read and it got a great deal of attention in the farming, nutrition, and whole foods blogosphere. I don't agree with everything in that article by a long shot, but I'm going to save my (very long) critique for a future post.
So what's the problem? First, Pollan has a strong focus on our botanical heritage, but I believe Pollan's proclivities toward plants when it comes to human nutrition are less rooted in science than they are in emotion and our rich neolithic food culture. Pollan is a long-time gardener and has had interests in botany his entire life. As someone who has also personally been more interested in the botanical side of things and used to teach botany, I can attest to the fact that this can create a certain bias in a person's mind. I'm not sure that's intended but it does come out in his writing.
In the context of personal food choices and education about the rich co-evolutionary history of plants and humans, this isn't an issue. In fact, much of Pollan's writing on ethnobotany is delightful. But Pollan is the popular face of food activism. And when it comes to "food activism" and government policies with regard to food, this has become a huge problem. Since Pollan is so highly regarded and has such public appeal and charisma, people have been repeating his "eat mostly plant schtick" like it's going out of style. This dogma has most definitely overshadowed Pollan's defense of real foods. I see this arrogance and presumption a lot on the web, with many commenters in various internet venues claiming that people are fat and sick because they are eating too much meat. "Eat mostly plants. A little meat. Not too much. What is so hard to understand about that?" they preach.
A lot of people read Pollan and end up not defending food, but attacking meat. This attitude wouldn't worry me too terribly except that there's an enormous politically motivated tendency toward vegetarianism in our society already -- with a strong basis in modern environmentalism, Malthusian ideas propagated by both environmentalists and biotech corporations, and grain-based nutritional dogma. It's pretty clear that most people without extraneous health issues need animal products in their diet as a source of EPA, DHA, vitamin B12, and fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 -- and who knows what else since nutrition science is definitely on the low end of the learning curve. But despite that Pollan too resists nutritional reductionism; despite Pollan's focus on our corn-based system of agriculture and the problems with HFCS and hydrogenated vegetable oils; despite Pollan's endorsement of Good Calories, Bad Calories, as "A vitally important book, destined to change the way we think about food" -- those aren't the messages that the public and the media are disseminating from Pollan's writing. The message that they are disseminating is that meat is bad.
I'm not so sure this is entirely Pollan's fault rather than an effect that is combined with the result of decades of government propaganda. But even in his Farmer in Chief article, he suggests that the president and his family have a meatless day once per week. There's also little criticism of wheat being subsidized.
Below are two prime examples of how the media pick up on and then selectively disseminate some of Pollan's ideas.
First, this editorial in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff, in which he lauds Pollan's larger ideas about food and agriculture, but winds up with this little gem:
We face an obesity crisis and a budget crisis, and we subsidize bacon?
The implication is that obesity is caused by eating bacon. Bzzzzt. And another implication is that most of the ag money we are spending is to subsize meat. Bzzzzt.
The first absurdity has been adequately dealt with elsewhere, but I feel compelled to point out that meat is not directly subsidized. The USDA's EQIP program that Kristoff criticizes, capped at $450,000 per feedlot, is to clean up manure pollution from feedlots. While it is not a valid government spending project, why doesn't Kristof point the gun at the grain and soy subsidies that are responsible for feeding animals this way -- and dumping cheap HFCS, corn oil, and soy on the market to boot? No, it's meat that takes the blame for obesity and government spending, even though meat doesn't make people fat and it is not directly subsidized. The amount of money spent on EQIP is miniscule in comparison to commodity crop subsidies, but does Kristoff criticize subsidized wheat? Of course not, because that's not where Pollan's focus is. We've all known for decades that wheat doesn't make people fat, right? And what is to criticize in corn and soy? Only the HFCS, the feeding of corn to cattle, and hydrogenated oils, Pollan's main focus in all of his writing.
Here's the second media piece in the Boston Globe, which specifically discusses Pollan and speculates on what Obama's agricultural policies might look like. Here's an excerpt:
Obama is the most healthy eater to enter the White House in a long time, unlike George H.W. Bush who castigated broccoli as he craved pork rinds..Guess Derrick Z. Jackson didn't see this piece, where Michelle Obama proclaims, "We're bacon eaters." Good for her and her family... and for HW Bush. Don't expect the media to pick up on stuff like that, though.
Do you see what I mean about how the media picks up on what they want to pick up on? "Plants good, meat bad." It's arrogant and ignorant. How much does Derrick Z. Jackson, the author of that article dissing pork rinds, actually know about dietary fat? Apparently, not much. Wait -- it gets better. Not too far down in the article, there's this little gem:
Obama purchased peaches, pears, apples and nectarines from farmers markets on the campaign trail.
Well, wonderful. It's a good thing Obama doesn't have Type II diabetes caused by a steady diet of commodity wheat, because all that modern fruit, bred for sugar and not even available 150 years ago, wouldn't help his insulin problem much. He'd be better off with the pork rinds in that case.
These are just two examples of how the media get it so totally wrong with regard to nutrition, picking up on some of Pollan's ideas and selectively disseminating them, while the general public laps up this fodder like the non-thinkers they are. I couldn't say it better than Keith Norris of Theory to Practice:
The frightening thing here, from my prospective, is the fact that there is so much of this that Kristof gets right — only to then tumble down the “fat is evil” rabbit hole. I can easily see a “fat tax” imposed, in the very near future, on suspect foodstuffs that the “informed government” will use as a carrot/stick (depending upon your point of view, I suppose) to wean us from the plethora of “unhealthy” foods. This tax would then be used, I’m guessing, to help support/promote the more “healthy” grain-based alternatives.
...Indeed. Keith and I are not the only ones to pick up on some of the perhaps unintended political effects of Pollan's writings. The Weston A Price Foundation released an excellent open letter to Michael Pollan two years ago, encouraging him to pursue a more objective approach to human diet. Here's an excerpt:
No matter how in-vogue (and fun, I’ll have to admit) it may be, however, to bash on the government, it is really the actions of the collective citizenry that will turn the tides here. Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence in the “collective citizenry” on this issue. For the vast majority at least, it seems as if health, fitness and diet (and independent research in these areas of concern) is just not worth their time. We are living collectively (and “paying” via ever-increasing health care premiums) with the ramifications of such apathy now. One thing I’ve never suffered well is willful ignorance; being forced to financially support the ramifications of another’s willful ignorance is enough to push me over the edge.
What's so disappointing about your conclusions is the fact that after revealing the dark side of the industrial food system, and blasting the vegetarian argument out of the water, you end up dishing up the food industry's tired old anti-saturated fat, plant-based-diet propaganda. What you've done is present your health-conscious yuppie readers with the prudent diet dressed up in designer clothes and introduced your foodie readers to food Puritanism in a silk gown. She looks lovely and slim, she's popular with all the right people, but the shocking secret that emerges on the honeymoon is her frigidity; the girl in green turns out to be barren, unable to provide us with the thing we most desire—a healthy productive life.
In retrospect, your inadequate prescription is not surprising because you actually show your hand right at the beginning of The Omnivore's Dilemma, where you tell us that foie gras and triple crème cheese are "demonstrably toxic substances" and that bread and pasta are "two of the most wholesome and uncontroversial foods known to man." You describe yourself as an investigative journalist, so we are justified in asking: have you found any science proving that foie gras and triple crème cheese are "demonstrably toxic?" These delicious traditional foods are not demonstrably toxic to the French, so why would they be toxic for us? And have you interviewed even one person among the millions suffering from carb addiction or celiac disease, or stood in the bread aisle and read the labels on what passes today for bread, the stuff made from plants that we are supposed to eat six to eleven servings of every day?
Because you are such a persuasive writer, people believe you when you say that saturated fat is bad, that lean meat is healthier than fatty meat, and that vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters. You repeat these ideologies, these "shared but unexamined assumptions" as you call them, without examining them at all, passing on to your readers many of the malicious dietary falsehoods put together by the industry you claim to dissect. Your endorsement of the McGovern Committee recommendations—at least of its original recommendations to cut back on meat and dairy products—is truly perplexing given that a quick search of the internet reveals the former senator's marriage to corporate agriculture, a system that would much rather we consumed plants, especially processed plants, than animal foods....
The omnivore's dilemma is not in fact a dilemma at all, but a construct of false nutritional doctrine. We need investigative journalists like you to help us clear away the misinformation. Please accept our invitation to a meal.
I hope Pollan is getting the message and will start disseminating it. I'm still skeptical but somewhat hopeful that he will, since he's now read Good Calories, Bad Calories. His food activist followers, many of whom want to cram grains, vegetables and fruits down all our throats and deprive us all of meat through shifted subsidies, coercive laws, and government nutritional edicts, could certainly stand to hear it from him.
Labels: Conventional Wisdom, Grains, Meat Myths, Modern Ignorance, Nutritional Guidelines, Subsidies
Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, and the Power of Government Influence
By Monica @ 7:37 AM
I point you to four posts by Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal that just might revolutionize the way you think about the sun, and perhaps even change the course of your life:
Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D
Vitamin D and Type I Diabetes
Vitamin D Deficiency and Cancer
Another great site with hours of reading on Vitamin D is the Vitamin D Council. After reading these you'll truly believe fact is stranger than fiction when it comes to the government's public service announcements.
Dr. Eades has advised a much more rational approach toward sunscreen as well. In short, it may be very wise for you to revisit your relationship with the sun considering humans' evolutionary relationship with it. This doesn't mean you should sit around all day in the sun and get a severe sunburn. It means you need to understand the difference between UVA and UVB, which one is correlated to melanoma, which one is correlated to the prevention of all diseases of civilization, and which rays the sunscreens are actually blocking.
In a timely and related post, Stephan of Whole Health Source charts the consumption of butter and margarine with heart disease mortality over the past 100 years. Real butter also contains vitamins D and K2, both fat-soluble vitamins. The entire post with charts should not be missed, but I can't help posting a good portion of the prose here:
Was the shift from butter to margarine involved in the CHD epidemic? We can't make any firm conclusions from these data, because they're purely correlations. But there are nevertheless mechanisms that support a protective role for butter, and a detrimental one for margarine. Butter from pastured cows is one of the richest known sources of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 plays a central role in protecting against arterial calcification, which is an integral part of arterial plaque and the best single predictor of cardiovascular death risk. In the early 20th century, butter was typically from pastured cows.
(There's very old, as in 70 year old, evidence for this and its correlation to seasonal mortality from heart disease in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Mortality is highest in the winter when both of these vitamins, D and K2, are low in humans.) Stephan continues:
Margarine is a major source of trans fat. Trans fat is typically found in vegetable oil that has been hydrogenated, rendering it solid at room temperature. Hydrogenation is a chemical reaction that is truly disgusting. It involves heat, oil, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst. I hope you give a wide berth to any food that says "hydrogenated" anywhere in the ingredients. Some modern margarine is supposedly free of trans fats, but in the U.S., less than 0.5 grams per serving can be rounded down so the nutrition label is not a reliable guide. Only by looking at the ingredients can you be sure that the oils haven't been hydrogenated. Even if they aren't, I still don't recommend margarine, which is an industrially processed pseudo-food.
One of the strongest explanations of CHD is the oxidized LDL hypothesis. The idea is that LDL lipoprotein particles ("LDL cholesterol") become oxidized and stick to the vessel walls, creating an inflammatory cascade that results in plaque formation.... Several things influence the amount of oxidized LDL in the blood, including the total amount of LDL in the blood, the antioxidant content of the particle, the polyunsaturated fat content of LDL (more PUFA = more oxidation), and the size of the LDL particles. Small LDL is considered more easily oxidized than large LDL. Small LDL is also associated with elevated CHD mortality. Trans fat shrinks your LDL compared to butter.
In my opinion, it's likely that both the decrease in butter consumption and the increase in trans fat consumption contributed to the massive incidence of CHD seen in the U.S. and other industrial nations today. I think it's worth noting that France has the highest per-capita dairy fat consumption of any industrial nation, along with a comparatively low intake of hydrogenated fat, and also has the second-lowest rate of CHD, behind Japan.
Funny, I thought it was the socialized healthcare system of the Japanese and the French that increased their lifespans (joking).
Connect the dots. Diet is king. Not only do the French get lots of K2 and D in their dairy, which is raised more on grass than grain, but the Japanese have an intake of a different form of K2 in natto.
The reasons for the health of foreigners with socialized medical systems has never been a secret to those "in the know" about nutrition. There is no paradox, let alone a "French paradox." Imagine how long they could live with a free market healthcare system that provided them with the best technology in a timely manner. Imagine how long Americans could live with our mixed economy healthcare system if it hadn't been for us getting a steady stream of nutritional information from the government for the past 40 years.
Our government has been pumping out faulty nutritional advice to medical professional organizations and the public for decades, and it's worked hand in glove with farm policy. Our agricultural system is largely based on subsidized commodity wheat, corn and soy (and canola and cotton), thanks in part to the government's "public service" when it comes to nutrition, coupled with USDA farm "support" programs. The corn and soy don't even feed humans outside of providing some corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy oil, and some limited soy protein for tofu and baby formulas. Instead it is almost all fed to animals (with the exception of wheat. There goes the "feeding the world" myth -- are you seeing yet how this all fits together?). Is it any wonder that the government has been telling people to eat more vegetable oils (cottonseed, corn, soy, canola) and soy for "heart health"? They have to sell the stuff somehow.
I've given you just a snippet of the reams of information available on the internet when it comes to these two vitamins and their crucial role in human health. Experts on vitamin D agree that the RDA for vitamin D (400 IU daily) is ten times too low and should be up around 5000 IU in wintertime -- echoing what Weston Price only told us in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration 70 years ago. Vitamin K2 is all but unknown to the medical community. As for the government propaganda that led to the ubiquity of those "heart healthy" margarines in our stores -- devoid of either fat soluble vitamin but full of trans fats originally promoted by George McGovern's dietary committee and Center for Science in the Public Interest, you can read all about the history here. The best I can say is that it's made butter in the stores dirt cheap, which is good for me. The grass-fed butter that Stephan talks about is only available from a farmer whose cows are fed on grass in summertime (I get this cream in the summertime and make butter with it). This butter is not even available in a store anymore because all the butter is made from grain-fed cows by an industrial process. It would be the highest source of vitamin K2 for those not eating fish eggs.
It's nothing short of revolting that the government nutritional propaganda that has been fed to Americans in a steady diet stream of "public service" announcements has been shortening peoples' lifespans by the millions. Even worse, the end of such advice is nowhere in sight.
And to think some folks want to nationalize it.
Labels: Conventional Wisdom, Government Idiocy, Nutritional Guidelines, Subsidies, Vitamin D, Vitamin K2
|Tuesday, December 30, 2008|
By Monica @ 9:08 AM
Here’s the website of Colorado’s sole supplier of heritage turkey, Eastern Plains. (A heritage variety is a breed that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture.) It’s an interesting farm and it looks as if they sell all sorts of interesting heritage meats, including beef, pork, turkey, goose, duck, chicken, and lamb. I’ve never yet tasted any heritage meats but am quite eager to, particularly based on the taste tests done here.
Unfortunately, Eastern Plains specifically mentions that the USDA processing adds to their cost. I'm sure there would be some increased cost to them just due to the fact that economies of scale producing grocery store food are more efficient, but just imagine how much cheaper their meats would be, even if more expensive than grocery store meats, if they didn't have to process in a USDA facility. Now imagine what would happen to this farm if the USDA slaughterhouse that they use in Colorado were to shut down or if they had increased transportation costs due to a shutdown in order to drive to an approved slaughterhouse further away. Either of those scenarios is entirely plausible given my previous writings on the matter.
Requirements for slaughter in a government-approved facility are in the name of "Safety."
I can say it no better than someone else I read recently: “Safety” is a word that stops all rational conversation in its tracks. "Safety" brooks no give-and-take. It is the trump card people play when they don't want to have to bother thinking a little harder about which rules really make sense, what effect they're having on us all, and who those rules are really protecting.
I’m confident that meat inspection regulations are not about safety. It’s about adherence to a code that has ballooned out of any proportion to common sense. If it is really about safety it would be illegal to personally eat or to give away meat you’d slaughtered yourself, whether hunted or farmed. (Oh. As I write this I’m thinking I shouldn’t have put that last sentence up there for all to see and given the USDA any more nutty ideas.)
These regulations don’t really protect consumers. How many outbreaks of food-borne illness have we had from mass-produced meats and vegetables in the past few years? A ton. And because of the scale of production, tht means that when there is an outbreak it’s enormous. Despite common germophobic beliefs to the contrary, no one is endangering their life from exposure to germs by killing and processing a chicken or a deer in their backyard:
When a Virginia state inspector 12 years ago declared that the Polyface poultry slaughter area was unsanitary because it was not enclosed, Salatin fought that decision. A university lab conducted swab tests at Polyface and on government-inspected poultry purchased from a supermarket, and found that the supermarket birds averaged 10 times more bacteria than the Polyface samples. Salatin won the case.
Michael Pollan, food journalist, has suggested that the USDA support local slaughterhouses rather than letting them be bought by large conglomerates and then shut down. I regret the shutdown of local slaughterhouses, too, but we need to question the premise that approved slaughterhouses are a valid type of government spending (read: theft from taxpayers) in the first place. And for what purpose, anyway? “Safety”? Would that be the “safety” of the USDA-inspected supermarket chicken with ten times more bacteria than the locally processed chicken not meeting government “safety” standards?
We have to stop kidding ourselves, stop evading reality, and stop accepting the premise of government regulations and agencies as things that should be “reformed”, as opposed to abolishing them altogether. Sound radical? Maybe, until you consider the fact that somehow Americans survived for 130 years without federal inspection of meat. We have to start thinking about challenging everything we're up against. A society that encourages and rewards ridiculous lawsuits. A society that treats adults as if they are babies. A society that divorces people from their own rational judgment, incapable of making choices without a federal bureaucrat’s approval. And especially adults who throw around the word "Safety" more frequently than a 2-year-old uses the word "No!"
Labels: "Safety", Conventional Wisdom, De-regulation, Government Idiocy, Meat Inspection, Rants and Whines, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend
|Sunday, December 28, 2008|
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy on NAIS
By Monica @ 5:39 PM
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is an organization devoted to the conservation of rare and endangered livestock breeds. In perusing their most interesting site, I found the following statement on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS):
For a variety of reasons, many of our country’s rare, endangered and heritage breeds of livestock and poultry are stewarded and maintained on small, independent farms and ranches. Thus, any regulations, policies or procedures that may prove sufficiently onerous or cumbersome will discourage a significant number of those farmers and ranchers currently breeding or contemplating raising such animals. The NAIS program could have serious, unintended, and unanticipated effects on the long-term viability of our nation’s livestock industry.
...we urge all NAIS decision and policy makers to be aware of the importance of conserving our national livestock genetic legacy and to be mindful that regulations and procedures designed specifically for agribusiness and large-scale production systems may have disproportionate impact on those currently maintaining these genetic resources.
Policies, procedures, and regulations that inappropriately or unnecessarily discourage farmers and ranchers from considering or continuing to steward rare, endangered, or heritage agricultural animals could lead to the extinction or functional loss of the genetic resource these creatures represent. Such a loss would diminish our country’s genetic legacy, significantly reduce the capacity of present and future animal breeders to respond to new challenges and opportunities, and potentially compromise our nation’s food security.
I'd never before considered the potential effect that NAIS could have in contributing to the extinction of rare livestock breeds.
What is worse is that I'm sure the USDA hadn't, either.
Labels: Government Idiocy, Heritage Varieties, NAIS, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend
|Saturday, December 27, 2008|
USDA Announces New Bureaucratic Branch
By Monica @ 2:39 PM
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced Dec. 19, the intention to establish a new USDA Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets and the creation of a federal government-wide Conservation and Land Management Environmental Services Board to assist the Secretary of Agriculture in the development of new technical guidelines and science-based methods to assess environmental service benefits which will in turn promote markets for ecosystem services including carbon trading to mitigate climate change.
"Our Nation's farms, ranches and forests provide goods and services that are vital to society - natural assets we call "ecosystem services," said Schafer.
"The Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets will enable America's agriculture producers to better compete, trade their services around the world, and make significant contributions to help improve the environment."
Agriculture producers provide many ecosystem services which have historically been viewed as free benefits to society - clean water and air, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and scenic landscapes.
Lacking a formal structure to market these services, farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are not generally compensated for providing these critical public benefits.
Market-based approaches to conservation are proven to be a cost-effective method to achieve environmental goals and sustain working and natural landscapes.
Without financial incentives, these ecosystem services may be lost as privately-owned lands are sold or converted to development.
Earth to government, earth to government! Here's the real market-based approach the government could use: get out of agriculture. The USDA should not be setting up a new bureaucracy to pay farmers to do something sensible because it has been paying them to do something un-sensible for the past 90 years. It's the whole bailout nonsense all over again.
This news is frustrating, because when you look at the history of the USDA it becomes clear that the policies it has supported in the past, which encouraged unsustainable agriculture, have clearly led to "conservation" incentives like EQIP and CRP. USDA policies have given rise to so many problems that we have today, including the depression of agricultural land prices that has spurred the sale of agricultural land for development -- which is now to be "offset" but this Office of Ecosystem Services!
What else will need to be offset by the Office of Ecosystem Services? The USDA's biofuels boondoggle. The USDA is subsiziding ethanol to the tune of 50 cents on the dollar because corn-based ethanol (as opposed to cellulosic) is economically unsustainable on its own. What is the effect? Net CO2 released into the atmosphere (not sequestered as was originally thought and intended) and the promotion of ecologically unsustainable soil erosion and nutrient depletion as farmers for the first time ever plant corn on corn on corn. (And of course this is a violation of taxpayers' rights by stealing the wealth of all to provide gifts to corn farmers for a product that could not compete in a free market.)
The logical solution is to eliminate the ethanol subsidies, eliminate the grain subsidies, and return to a sustainable system of agriculture with animals as the basis of healthy, fertile soil as we largely had before the Butz era. A lack of government intervention would honestly lead to more ecosystem services (and yes, it's a valid concept). This won't happen because Obama has appointed Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture, who is a true believer in biofuels and NAIS. It is going to be business as usual at the USDA, despite all of Obama's talk of "change". Now we will have an Office of Ecosystem Services to deal with the ethanol problem that largely rose in the Bush administration.
Do you see how this works? There is no admission of a problem by the USDA. Even though they know biofuels is a boondoggle, they can't reverse ethanol spending too quickly because it would undermine their credibility (ethanol subsidies actually were reduced in the most recent Farm Bill, but the spending has only gone down by around 10%, around 5 cents on the dollar). No, instead the USDA will distract the public and spend more of their tax dollars on another new bureaucracy to pretend that it is actually doing something useful. It's all about job security for the folks at the USDA.
Farmers periodically took their land out of production for millenia, all without a government directing them to do it, and they would have been doing so all along if the USDA hadn't interfered in the first place. We would have had more scenic landscapes, less water pollution, more wildlife habitat, and probably more carbon sequestration if the USDA hadn't been so busy trying to "feed the world" with grain subsidies for the past 40 years. Now we have a new bureaucracy designed to "fix" the "problems" it has created.
Business as usual at the USDA. And the only "change" we will have is what little is left in our wallets at the end of the Obama administration.
Labels: Global Warming, Government Idiocy, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend
By Monica @ 12:56 PM
I took out King Corn from my local library a couple of weeks ago at the suggestion of a friend. It is a documentary about the prevalence of corn in our society. The two twenty-something filmmakers move to Iowa for a year to document their life as it revolved around the planting of one acre of corn and to follow where that one acre of corn actually goes.
King Corn is not a fraud like Supersize Me, but it’s not as informative as it could have been. On top of that, it has an annoying Napoleon Dynamite feel to it. What I mean by that is that there are long stretches of silence without any narration or musical score. Often these stretches are taking up by footage of the wind across a cornfield, or a bunch of people sitting or standing in cornfields staring at one another. Despite the propensity for more and more films to use this technique, I do not share the belief that this silence coupled with a lack of information is intellectually enlightening.
However, if you don’t know anything about the agriculture of corn in this country, I’d recommend King Corn so long as you have a computer or book available to do something else while you’re waiting for the interesting points. If you know something about American agriculture already, you probably won’t learn too much. However, I’ll sum up the salient points of King Corn.
First, we grow an incredible amount of corn in this country. Production capability has increased roughly 8-fold in 100 years, mostly through breeding to produce crowd-tolerant strains. There are some interesting shots of the filmmakers sliding down mountains of corn in the Midwest as one would slide down a snow-covered hill on a sled. These are piled up higher than salt and sand for road service in the northeast. It is quite an amazing spectacle!
Because corn is a C4 plant, it fixes a higher ratio of C13 into sugar, as opposed to C3 plants. (I wasn’t really paying great attention at this point so I don’t know if they specifically explained this -- I just happen to know this as a previous instructor of botany.) Isotopic studies show that most Americans are made largely out of corn. If you were born after 1970, chances are you’ve never tasted grass-fed beef, and the carbon molecules in your body prove that a lot of your food (whether beef, corn oil, fructose syrup, etc.) is coming from corn if you eat a typical American diet. What corn is not made into cattle feed, ethanol, or oil is made into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – this is only about 5% of the corn although HFCS is in almost every sweetened item in the US. That gives you an idea of the immense amount of corn the United States produces. Because the filmmakers are not allowed into factories to view this process, they research the process and start from pure dent corn, going through the chemical extraction process of making HFCS. It’s mildly interesting but the process is performed too swiftly to figure out what all the reagents are. This is another example of why this film is less informative than it could have been.
It’s important to realize that the vast majority of the corn is actually not eaten directly by humans except as food additives such as HFCS and corn oil. Roughly 55% of it is fed straight to cattle. Practically all beef in the United States is now finished on corn, in the feedlot. That grain-finishing time has greatly expanded in recent decades to up to a third of a cow’s life, not just the last few weeks as it used to be. This is a complete anomaly in the history of animal husbandry. Grain-finishing makes cattle sick and can quarter a cow’s lifespan. It also believed to have created at least one acid-resistant strain of E. coli not seen before 1980: E. coli O157:H7. Cows aren’t supposed to eat corn and soy: they are evolutionarily designed to eat grass. When they are fed grain it creates an acidotic state in their bodies, which makes them susceptible to bacterial infections, which then necessitates the routine feeding of antibiotics to all cattle in feedlots. What the film doesn’t tell you is that this also alters the omega fatty acid profile of the meat and dramatically increases the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. The film also features Loren Cordain bashing the amount of saturated fat in hamburger (sigh). Personally I think this is not a concern and the problems with the “saturated fat is bad” argument may be found here, here, and here.
Seeing how cattle are raised in feedlots was one of the more interesting points of the film. Not only are there resulting issues of animal welfare, but of pollution as well. The larger feedlots cause tremendous pollution in the form of enormous manure lagoons that pollute water supplies and create obnoxious odors for local residents, which many residents are now suing over. Because of the pollution created by feedlots (which are really exacerbated by corn subsidies, as enormous feedlots did not exist in such high quantities before subsidies), the USDA has had to create “conservation incentives” like EQIP to get these factories to clean up their waste, to the tune of $450,000 per feedlot. To call something like this a conservation incentive is a fraud. Would we call it a “conservation” incentive to get a city to clean up an enormous holding tank of human waste that spills over into rivers? This is another example of how a proper understanding of property rights (and a privatization of our waterways), rather than a government prop-up of a certain industry as “economically necessary”, would go a long way toward improving environmental quality.
I’m not bashing meat. I love meat. But it’s a plain fact that most people in the cattle industry do not like this method of raising cattle. The older ones were around 40 years ago doing things differently and they know that what they are doing is intensely inhumane and polluting. However, the fact is that government subsidization of the corn itself and the pollution cleanup process have made the feedlot method cheaper than it otherwise would be. (I'm not convinced that such long grain-finishing times or feedlots would necessarily disappear under the free market but I do believe they'd largely return to some minimum level and a smaller scale.)
A key point in the film is that it’s very difficult to make money as a Midwestern farmer, and that the subsidies have spurred a great deal of consolidation due to the lower prices for corn caused by the subsidies. The cost of the special herbicide-resistant seed and other inputs (fertilizer and herbicides) is very high. Farmers would simply not make money without the government subsidies. (Of course, if subsidies were immediately eliminated the prices would eventually adjust because the government wouldn’t be promoting overproduction with subsidies that drive down the price of corn.) Many farmers now rent their land rather than owning it. The filmmakers don’t discuss this too much but it’s obvious to me that there is less incentive for farmers to care about the long-term effects of what they are doing to the land when they are just renting it. Like the people raising cattle, the people producing corn aren’t all exactly proud of the product they are producing. However, they also know that’s what the government wants them to plant.
Frankly, with its long periods of silence, roughly half the movie is devoid of any truly informational content. I think much more could have been revealed, including the rotation of soy with corn, how such intensive agriculture has led to soil fertility problems and the USDA’s CRP program, and the manufacture and effect of corn and soy products (including vegetable oils) on human health. The filmmakers spent a good deal of time on corn subsidies, high fructose corn syrup, and the feeding of corn to cattle, which are all worthy of attention but are the not the entire picture when it comes to corn. There are other aspects of corn production that deserve attention: the absurdity of subsidizing ethanol production, the pollution of waterways from soil runoff and the resulting soil fertility problems necessitating more expensive inputs, the displacement of third world farmers by the dumping of cheap grains onto the international market, and the deleterious effect of corn oil (not just HFCS) on the health of Americans. Others have pointed out the absurdity of subsidies for biofuels, and I couldn’t agree more. It makes no sense to sink money into something that is economically infeasible and make it artificially cheaper at taxpayer expense, not to mention that it’s a violation of an individual’s right to his or her own income. But those that agree that we shouldn’t be subsidizing ethanol agree that we shouldn’t be subsidizing any of the commodity crops, either – which means they would almost certainly be more expensive in a free market, as would the foods (corn oil, HFCS, meat, and all corn-, wheat-, and soy-based foods) made from them.
The lack of emphasis in the film on these more subtle points is probably evidence itself of how influenced even the filmmakers are by media and other government information. There are simply many other indictments against corn that should also have been included to fill the sheer amount of silence in the film.
The film concludes with the filmmakers deciding to plant their one acre the following year with wheat instead of corn, and a really visually interesting overhead shot of the two playing catch in a square acre plot of wheat grown within acres upon acres of corn. The take-home point is assumed to be that they decided to use their acre to grow something healthier. Ironically, what they may not realize is that it is not corn that is really directly king in the American diet, but wheat. King Wheat. Wheat, too, is also subsidized and is probably just as bad for human health as corn. Same for soy. Now that we have a film entitled King Corn, someone should perhaps make films entitled King Wheat and King Soy. Maybe the makers of these hypothetical films could conclude their works by sticking a cow on a square acre of grass that is surrounded by a wheatfield or a soyfield.
To conclude, this little film was somewhat flimsily researched. The filmmakers lifted most of their ideas straight from Michael Pollan, who is an ardent critic of the corn-based system of agriculture. But I don’t want to be too hard on this little film because most of the public probably doesn’t know this information – and they should.
But enough of my opinions. Has anyone else seen this film? If so, what did you think of it?
Labels: corn, Government Idiocy, Grains, Nutritional Guidelines, Subsidies, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend
|Sunday, December 21, 2008|
Pondering a Return of the Buffalo
By Monica @ 7:30 PM
I've been thinking about buffalo lately (I use the term "buffalo" loosely), partly because we've had some really amazing bison roasts in the past couple of weeks. We got them at Costco for about $5 per pound, a very reasonable price in my estimation. I prepare them in my slow cooker and they are amazingly tender and delicious. I would really love to eat some more bison -- particularly, different cuts besides roasts.
If you love beef and you haven't tried bison, you're missing out. I believe I read somewhere that the fatty acid profile is better than beef as well. Considering that by 1900 there were only a few hundred bison left in the world, I'm very grateful that they've been brought back from the brink of extinction and that the herds have been preserved in great enough numbers to now eat. And of course, they're impressive animals to just observe as well.
I've been pondering a return in the United States to a more grass-fed system of meat production, with Americans eating more meats instead of grains and sugars. While I'm sure a good portion of agricultural land will always be devoted to grains in America, I would personally welcome seeing more cattle and/or bison grazing on an open plain where soy and corn previously grew. That's just my personal preference -- but I do believe it would be much healthier for most Americans to eat more meat in place of soy and corn products. (It's not just a belief, the science is there.) And I certainly believe these more natural grazing systems replacing traditional monocultures in the midwest would be better for our environment and the health of the people living in the immediate area.
Whether or not there would ever be a huge consumer demand for bison is questionable. However, one has to consider why the bison went to the brink of extinction in the first place. It's not that the meat wasn't any good or there wasn't economic value to be had there. It was just that Americans preferred their cattle, for obvious reasons, and there was a political incentive to slaughter all the bison to get rid of the Native Americans' food source. The same incentives to rid the plains of bison in the 1800s simply don't exist today. I've no doubt that ranching bison isn't the same as or as easy as ranching cattle -- but if my local Costco is any indication, their product line for bison seems to be expanding.
I believe a more grass-fed system could be consumer-driven if corn subsidies were eliminated. Of course, it's another question as to whether beef consumption, grass-fed or not, will increase based on the decline in red meat consumption over the past 30-40 years. But the other question is : is this even possible, environmentally speaking? Can we actually produce as many cattle or bison in America on a grass-fed model? I believe it is possible but it would appear to require more land:
Cattle industry statistics [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2008] show that, in 2007, the United States used 2 billion bushels of corn to produce 22.16 billion lb finished grain-fed beef (17.3 million head steers and 10.2 million head heifers at average dressed weights of 830.2 and 764.8 lb, respectively). At 150 bushels/acre corn, this means we used 13.3 million acres to produce the feed grains. Converting all beef production to grass-based finishing would require at least an additional 26.6 million acres of pasture/grass to produce 2007 U.S. beef output.
I agree that grass-fed beef takes more land than grain-fed beef, but I think there's something fishy about these numbers. I really believe we'd only need twice as much land to finish, at most. In other words, an additional 13.3 million acres, not an additional 26.6 million. Stay with me... If we have 27.5 million head of cattle being slaughtered for grain-fed beef yearly, finished on grains from 13.3 million acres, and we estimate that 1 acre of grass per head is needed for pastured, grass-fed techniques instead of the approximately 0.5 acres per head needed for grain finishing, we only come up with a total of 27.5 million acres total needed for 27.5 million head.
In any case, it would take twice as much land to finish these cattle grass-fed, but since most cattle are not raised their entire life in a feedlot (only the last year or so), I don't actually believe the total amount of land to raise all cattle on grass for their entire lives would actually raise significantly. In fact, since we have around 100 million head of cattle in the United States, assuming only 27 million or so are being finished on grain at any given time, that means about 73 million head are on pasture -- and that already requires roughly 73 million acres. So, we'd be looking at a total of 100 million acres for grass raising and finishing as opposed to approximately 86 million acres for grass raising and grain finishing. That's not really a very significant difference in land volume. The reason it's such a profitable system is because of corn subsidies and because corn fattens cows more quickly. (If these numbers look funny or you have further comments, please let me know, but I think I have it about right.)
This is especially interesting in consideration of where our corn is going. About 35% of it is used for ethanol (some of the byproduct is then used for cattle feed). About 55% is used for cattle feed. And only 5% of it is used for producing high fructose corn syrup.
So, in other words, if we dumped corn subsidies altogether, and corn-based ethanol were to go by the wayside because it is economically unsustainable on its own, it would free up a whole lot of land for pasture right there. Wishful thinking, I know! And incidentally, the problems of increased cost of corn faced by those raising animals has recently been discussed here. I'm not prepared to say what corn should cost, but I certainly think it would be more expensive without subsidies in any case.
Now consider how many bison roamed in North America, in their original range from the western plains to as far east as Ohio and Georgia, before they were eliminated by government policies. Estimates are between 50-100 million ... and bison weigh somewhat more than cows.
I'm not sure we'll ever see significant numbers of bison on former corn- and soy-fields in the United States in our lifetime, or even cattle for that matter. But it's food for thought.
Labels: Bison, Buffalo, Grass-fed, Pastured
|Saturday, December 20, 2008|
Government Nutritional Guidelines, aka Pure Bunk
By Monica @ 8:02 AM
Here at FA/RM our mission statement says, "The group, Free Agriculture - Restore Markets (FA/RM), advocates agricultural and health policies based solely on the principles of individual rights."
What is meant by that? What are "health policies based in individual rights"?
So far I've mostly discussed farming on the FA/RM blog, not health policies. In part, that is because there are already excellent advocacy groups fighting for individual rights in medicine, such as FIRM. Yet the government does have health policies -- more specifically, nutritional policies -- that are intertwined with the government's agricultural policies, and most Americans are following them to a greater extent than they realize, because these policies have been adopted by most medical professional organizations and thus, medical professionals. These nutritional policies are outlined in the USDA food pyramid and include the avoidance of saturated fat, the adoption of vegetable oils such as canola oil as "heart healthy", an increase in lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grain consumption, and a substitution of skim milk for whole milk. The existence of nutritional guidelines from the USDA would appear to be a conflict of interest. Why does a government agency dictating farm policy dictate nutrition as well? Unfortunately, nutritional guidelines and programs are now over 60% of the USDA Farm Bill Budget. Grain subsidies? Roughly 33%. Talk about a conflict of interest.
First, let's get one thing straight. Here are FA/RM we believe people should be able to freely consume whatever they so choose. If that means a certain individual's reliance on deep fried Twinkies for 90% of his or her daily sustenance, we would support that individual's decision -- while advocating at the same time that that must pay for his or her own healthcare and pay for the true cost of these foods (and that is too often not the case today).
In principle, even if the government guidelines were 100% accurate, we wouldn't support them being forced on the American public by the coerced taking of all of our money (i.e. taxation). It is not the government's job to foster a healthy population, grow an abundance of food, turn most of America's farmers into other types of laborers, or any other such nonsense. It is the government's job to protect individual rights. Individuals must decide, based on their own unique circumstances, what is good for them to eat. This diet might differ radically depending on whether one is a long-distance runner, a body builder, or has terminal cancer with less than three weeks to live. Diet is also simply not a matter of health in many instances. It is a matter of a balance short term interests, such as pleasure, and the long term interests of vibrant health and longevity. No government bureaucrat has the right to interfere with an individual's decision-making process or value hierarchy. If a person decides to eat trans fats or smoke cigarettes -- both with documented health risks -- they should have the right to do so. Such decisions violate no one else's rights in a free market in which certain foods are not subsidized and in which healthcare is paid for by the recipient.
But leaving the principle of individual rights aside for a moment, and recognizing that it is the most crucial principle in determining what we should eat, let's turn to those nutritional guidelines and consider the simple question, "Are these guidelines scientific? Are they making Americans healthier?" This is an issue of fundamental importance to all Americans, to the extent that they wittingly or unwittingly follow these guidelines. It's also become a crucial matter of health oversees as subsidized grains are dumped onto the world market, putting farmers in other countries out of business, and making eating across the globe potentially less healthful.
The USDA guidelines, which have been in place in one form or another since the mid-1970s, are government policies that determine how 1/6 of the American population is fed daily: the recipients of Food Stamps, schoolchildren in public schools eating the School Lunch Program's foods, and members of our military. These are also the guidelines adopted by practically every doctor, researcher, and spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetic Association, the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institutes, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association. These guidelines call for the majority of calories to be ingested as carbohydrate -- particularly from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables which all collectively form the base of the pyramid -- with limited meat and dairy. A limited amount of oils are to be used, but these should be the "heart healthy" vegetable oils, not the "heart unhealthy" saturated fats such as lard, butter, or coconut oil.
What has been the result of the implementation of these guidelines? Were they followed? Either consciously or not, the answer is a resounding "yes." While Americans are eating more calories per day, more of those calories are coming from carbohydrate and less of them are coming from fats and saturated fats. There has been an increase, not a decrease, in vegetable and fruit consumption, an increase in lean meat consumption and a decline in red meat consumption, an increase in grain, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and industrial vegetable oil consumption, and a decrease in whole milk consumption. Apart from the intake of HFCS, Americans in greater and greater numbers are doing exactly as the government recommends.
What has been the result of more Americans following these guidelines? Almost immediately as the guidelines went into effect, more Americans got fatter. There has been an enormous increase in obesity and overweight since the 1970s, at the same time that self-reported physical activity has increased. This should lead us to seriously question whether exercise alone is sufficient at reducing weight. Indeed, Gary Taubes shows in his epic work of investigative journalism of the peer-reviewed literature, Good Calories, Bad Calories, that this belief is completely unscientific.
There is now very strong evidence that the dietary guidelines for the United States are making Americans more ill by the decade. Is the government reversing course? Not a chance.
I know that this sounds like a conspiracy theory. But it's not a conspiracy. It's simply a matter of fact that these guidelines were politically motivated, and that once a government behemoth sets forth at full speed ahead with the "public service" announcements, the tenor of those announcements have a great deal of inertia. In part, this is intentional since any drastic changes in recommendation undermine the agency's authority. Most of our government officials, and sorry to say, medical professionals doling out nutritional advice, have never been to the primary, peer-reviewed literature to investigate the government's claims of what is a healthy diet. Most of them would be shocked and dismayed to find that there is practically no evidence for most of the USDA nutritional guidelines. Practically everything Americans have been taught about nutrition has no basis in science whatsoever: the healthiness of whole grains and vegetable oils, the avoidance of red meat and full fat dairy, and an increase in fruits and vegetables as a necessary (rather than optional) part of the human diet. The avoidance of saturated fat in particular is based solely in Ancel Keys' 1950s research, which has now been completely discredited. And when viewed through the lens of evolution -- in which many primitive, completely carnivorous cultures such as the Inuit and Maasai that have been documented to attain spectacular health and a lack of heart disease on a diet of almost pure red meat,without any vegetables or grains in their diet whatsoever -- the USDA food pyramid makes even less sense.
However, before we jump on the vegetarian-bashing bandwagon, let's consider some crucial points that are sometimes not considered in the "low carb" community. Apparently there are some very healthy primitive groups that get a majority of their caloric intake from carbohydrates from tubers and fruits -- the Kuna and the Kitavans, for instance. So we must seriously question whether it's just carbohydrates that are making Americans ill -- giving them diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and so on (and there is some spectacular evidence for this in Taubes' review of the literature) -- or whether it is a specific type of carbohydrate. Indeed, Gary Taubes calls for such controlled studies of the carbohydrate hypothesis at the conclusion of his book. At the same time, we must recognize that the Kuna are not vegetarian, that they have significant saturated fat intake from coconut oil, and that they eat 8 oz fish per day. What are the main differences in the diet of the Kuna as compared with a standard American diet? A lack of grains, refined sugars, and vegetable oils high in omega 6 fatty acids. With the exception of refined sugar, these are things that Americans are told to eat more of, not less of.
Let's also consider the McDougall diet, which is a vegan diet. It has been very successful at eliminating inflammation for some people. While I personally believe that a 100% vegan diet (and even the standard American diet including meat) is often deficient in vitamins A, D, and K2, I do believe it is possible with vitamin supplementation made possible by modern technology and/or the right genetic makeup and/or dental health services (which are simply proved to be almost completely unnecessary with the proper diet) that such a diet could work for some people. What does the McDougall diet have in common with the diet of the Kuna, also in direct contrast to the standard American diet? The McDougall diet also lacks grains and refined sugar. (I'm not familiar with Dr. McDougall's stance on vegetable oils, but I suspect due to his avoidance of grains that perhaps there are also strong differences in vegetable oil consumption with the standard American diet as well.) Correction: the McDougall diet only sometimes lacks grains and avoids refined vegetable oils -- see the comments.
Whatever the differences between the "low carbers", the "paleo" dieters, the Weston A Price followers, and the McDougall-style vegans (and there are many differences between all of these diets!), all of these groups have very significant departures from the grain-based Food Pyramid (and far more science behind them to boot). They either do not eat grains or they eat them sprouted and soaked. (Notably, none of the 14 cultures documented by Weston A Price as achieving optimum health ate wheat. Only two of these 14 cultures ate grains -- oatmeal or rye, always sprouted and always with significant amounts of animal products.) They do not eat refined sugar. They also do not rely heavily on omega-6 heavy vegetable oils. All of these foods have dramatic effects on the biochemistry of the human system. I understand some of them, I'm understanding more of them, but I'm not going to delve into them in this post. Click on the links, buy the books, and read about it yourself.
What is even more insidious is that at almost the same time that the McGovern committee outlined these grain-based dietary guidelines for the good of the American public on scanty and now thoroughly discredited evidence, American agriculture was shifting in the same direction. The mainstream nutritional community was working hand in glove with mainstream agriculture. During the time when Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture, the stated goal of American agriculture became to produce as much food as cheaply as possible, but more specifically, certain types of food were to be promoted. Farmers were encouraged to plant fencerow to fencerow of grains. This era of subsidies for so-called "commodity crops", which continues to this day, spurred an era of a glut of grain products on American and foreign markets. What was to be done with all this extra product? Feed it to cattle and pigs. (The grain-based Food Pyramid being foisted on Americans as "heart healthy" is nearly identical to the diet used to rapidly fatten animals in a feedlot. A coincidence?)
Something else had to be done with the rest of the grains, though -- and the soy. Such intensive agriculture -- in which maximum production was pushed at the cost of the American taxpayer -- depleted the soil, necessitating subsidization, through various conservation incentives, of letting soil lie fallow. Letting soil lie fallow was something farmers across the globe have known to be necessary for millenia, but since the government had been paying them not to do it they now had to be paid to do it. A rotation of soy to restore soil nitrogen (rather than other legumes like vetch) also became commonplace.
What was to be done with this excess of corn and soy? What could not be fed to animals or the third world would now be made into tofu, high fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil (particularly corn, soy, and canola oils) and then marketed by the government and industries as healthy. Prior to the 1970s, high fructose corn syrup was practically unheard of in any American food. Today it is increasingly under attack and there is a massive marketing campaign, directed at the public and at doctors, to convince Americans that HFCS is healthy. Same for corn oil and soy oil, though Americans are more willing to buy into the marketing propaganda of these products. Canola, an even more recent invention, has had spectacular success, however. It was not granted "generally recognized as safe" food status in the United States until the 1980s, when it had been bred for low erucic acid content in Canada and then imported and grown here. Here is how those modern, "heart healthy" vegetable oils, including canola, are made:
You've eaten corn, so you know it's not an oily seed. Same with soybeans. So how to they get the oil out of them? They use a combination of heat and petroleum solvents. Then, they chemically bleach and deodorize the oil, and sometimes partially hydrogenate it to make it more shelf-stable. Hungry yet? This is true of all the common colorless oils, and anything labeled "vegetable oil".
HFCS and industrial vegetable oils are foods with literally NO evolutionary history in the human diet, and yet they are being touted by health authorities as healthy. Of course, something without any evolutionary basis could be healthy with the proper evidence, but there is none. (Grains also have little evolutionary history with humans, but they have been around significantly longer that HFCS and vegetable oils, depending on one's genetic background. Despite that, wheat in particular is generally very destructive to human health.) Companies have a right to try to sell whatever they want to the American public, but not at the public's expense through subsidies and taxation. It's especially insidious that these products are harming taxpayer health in addition to being paid for with our coerced tax dollars.
Strong evidence is emerging that vegetables oils are quite bad for our health as well. In a series of well-researched and erudite posts, Stephan of the continually enlightening Whole Health Source outlines the case against vegetable oils for us. Take heed: vegetable oils might just make you dumber, fatter, and sicker. Don't expect the government to tell you that, though, while it is busy subsidizing the vegetable oil industry with billions yearly and telling medical organizations to tell their doctors to tell their patients to eat more of it.
I've learned over the past year or so that diet is a very inflammatory subject. I can honestly say that a year ago I was literally steeped in the low-fat, grain-based, vegetable oil dictates of the Food Pyramid. Most people have strong ideas about what constitutes a healthy diet, and often react violently when someone challenges their assumptions (I certainly did). If you have not thought critically about what constitutes a healthy diet, or if you believe that a healthy diet consists of eating a little bit of "everything in moderation", you owe it to yourself to investigate the issue more deeply and re-examine your long-held assumptions. It is not an exaggeration to say that the length and quality of your life may depend on it.
I don't harp on the issue of diet because I want to force my values on others. I do it because I believe an issue so important and fundamental to the mental and physical health and well-being of all humans deserves careful consideration by all, because it is an outrage that people should have to become experts in molecular biology and physiology to figure out what is healthy for them to eat, and because I believe there has been no greater health scam in the entire history of humanity than this grain-based nutritional nonsense.
A reading of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (together they are the "Atlas Shrugged" of nutrition) clearly illustrates the major problems with America's Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines, coupled with the lack of critical thinking and often blind acceptance of industry- and government-based nutritional information on the part of the medical profession, have led us to where we are today: record amounts of cancer, diabetes, and obesity. What is even more infuriating is that the case against refined grains, refined sugars, and industrial vegetable oils are not recent revelations. Price's book, which implicates all in the degeneration of health, was published in 1939.
While it's critical to avoid nationalizing our healthcare industry for all kinds of practical reasons (in addition to the most important reason, which is that it would violate individual rights), the nutritional aspect is perhaps one of the strongest, if not the strongest practical evidence against "universal" healthcare. Today, the government and the medical profession are together advocating nutritional guidelines that are killing people with cancer, heart disease and diabetes -- diseases of civilization unknown to many pre-industrial cultures. I know how difficult this is to swallow -- as trained as we are to believe that everything we have in a post-industrialized world must be superior -- but it is true. Investigate it for yourself. Now medical professionals are attempting to "fix" these problems with a high level of technology, without understanding their source. If we nationalized healthcare, we would universalize the same pseudoscientific nutritional guidelines that cause these diseases, and the only difference is that government would then attempt to fix these problems with less abundant, more costly, inferior technology -- rather than the high level of abundant, superior, and cheap technology that we would have had if medicine had remained free.
We must fight tooth and nail against the government's nutritional dictations being nationalized through universal "healthcare". This advice, unquestioningly adopted by most medical professionals across the country for the past 40 years, is literally killing millions of people. There are a great many wonderful things that technology has brought us, including much medical technology. While it is tempting to defend the agricultural technology that has brought us an abundance of cheap food, there is little evidence that most of this food is healthier for us than what our pre-agricultural ancestors ate: fibrous vegetables, grass-fed meats or seafoods with appropriate ratios of omega fatty acids, full fat dairy, nuts and berries. We are living longer lives despite what we are eating, not because of it -- and Americans deserve to know it. We need to redirect agricultural and nutritional policies in America toward what is best for the consumer, and it needs to be redirected by the consumer dollar as uninfluenced by the government's pseudoscientific guidelines. This is very crucial today, as local and regional slaughterhouses shut down under government financial pressure, as farmers continue ecologically unsound farming practices which pollute our environment and food and deplete our soils, as more and more farmers grow more and more corn for biofuels at the direction of government, and as the grain-based vegetarian "diet for a healthy planet" ideas gain more traction in our culture -- with an already unfortunately and firm basis in the USDA Food Pyramid, unlikely to change anytime soon. It is not a diet for a healthy planet. It's a diet for an unhealthy environment and for many unhealthy humans, as I've written before.
The government needs to get out of the business of medicine, and the business of farming and nutrition as well. Our lives really do depend on it.
Labels: Conventional Wisdom, Government Idiocy, Nutritional Guidelines, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend
|Thursday, December 18, 2008|
Another Update on Manna Storehouse Raid
By Monica @ 9:26 PM
David Hansen, president of the Buckeye Institute, stopped by and left a note here on my blog that he will be representing the Stowers family in court. Thousands of dollars worth of private property, including $10,000 in food, was stolen by the government. The Buckeye Institute's entire press release may be found here:
The Buckeye Institute argues the right to buy food directly from local farmers; distribute locally-grown food to neighbors; and pool resources to purchase food in bulk are rights that do not require a license. In addition, the right of peaceful citizens to be free from paramilitary police raids, searches and seizures is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14, Article 1 of the Ohio Constitution. This is pure evil. We cannot allow the government to turn this country into Stalinist Russia, seizing peoples' very sustenance because of minor code infractions! The government is supposed to work for us, not the other way around. No one even complained or got ill from anything the Stowers' were distributing. But that's so typical of all these farm raids -- no one got sick from Mark Nolt's raw cheese, or Michael Schmidt's raw milk, or Bean and Rinaldi's pastured pork. These people are simply doing what people have only been doing for millenia now. You know, that "growing and selling food" thing. I just don't know how humans survived for millions of years without a government to dictate to them what not to eat.
"The Stowers' constitutional rights were violated over grass-fed cattle, pastured chickens and pesticide-free produce," Buckeye Institute 1851 Center of Constitutional Law Director Maurice Thompson said. "Ohioans do not need a government permission slip to run a family farm and co-op, and should not be subjected to raids when they do not have one. This legal action will ensure the ODA understands and respects Ohioans' rights."
On the morning of December 1, 2008, law enforcement officers forcefully entered the Stowers' residence, without first announcing they were police or stating the purpose of the visit. With guns drawn, officers swiftly and immediately moved to the upstairs of the home, finding ten children in the middle of a home-schooling lesson. Officers then moved Jacqueline Stowers and her children to their living room where they were held for more than six hours.
How long until the government decides we can't grow our own vegetables for "environmental" and "safety" reasons?
Let's work to make sure that day never happens.
Labels: De-regulation, Farm Raids, Government Idiocy, Rants and Whines
Abolishing USDA Inspection Laws
By Monica @ 9:12 PM
Actually, I should have entitled the post, "Abolishing USDA-Approved Slaughterhouse Requirements" because it's not as if a USDA official is standing over every animal as it is slaughtered and making sure it is done right. In this post I discussed the costly nature of requiring animals to be processed in such facilities. Well, I did a little digging and found out just how expensive. It's very expensive. And for very ridiculous reasons having nothing to do with food safety:
Jenny Drake was a Virginia state health inspector until five years ago, when she and her husband moved to rural Tennessee and started Peaceful Pastures, a small livestock farm. They raise free-range beef, pork, turkey, veal, lamb, goat, duck, and chicken -- without jacking the animals up with hormones and antibiotics, as is common practice at factory farms. Their meat goes through a USDA processing facility, as government regulations require -- all except the poultry. And because of those chickens, the Peaceful Pastures have been troubled. Therein lies a tale about government regulation, the decline in food quality, and the end of family farming in America.
"The state says no bird in Tennessee can be sold without USDA inspection of the processing facilities," says Drake. "Here's what kills all of us small poultry farmers: There are no USDA custom-kill processing plants in the entire Southeast."
Drake says she looked into building a small processing facility on her farm, but the cost of meeting government standards made it impossible. If all she had to do were to construct facilities strictly for meat processing, Drake figures she could have done so for $20,000; but as the law stands now, a building that met minimal federal guidelines would cost about $150,000.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, means a small producer has to put in restrooms that are handicapped-accessible," Drake says. "I'd have to build an office for the inspector. That office has to have its own phone line. I'd have to put in a paved parking lot. We have to meet the same physical standards as a Tyson's, and we just can't do it."
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Joel Salatin and his family run Polyface Farms, a highly regarded small producer of meats raised according to traditional farming practices ("like God intended," says the evangelical Christian farmer). Salatin tells a similar story of battling regulators."The code said we had to have bathrooms for our employees. I told them we were 50 feet away from two houses with bathrooms, and besides, we're a family operation: We don't have employees. It didn't matter to them. Then they said we had to have twelve changing-lockers for employees -- even if we didn't have employees."
"See, this is bureaucracy in action," he says. "It has nothing to do with the quality of our meat. They just want to follow the code. This is happening all over the country. A lot of it is being done under the guise of protecting the general welfare and guaranteeing clean food. But what it really does is protect big agribusiness from rural independent competition."
Labels: De-regulation, Government Idiocy, Rants and Whines, Why the USDA is Not Your Friend