Author Topic: Food and Gunk  (Read 11577 times)

random axe

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Food and Gunk
« on: April 29, 2010, 10:46:37 AM »
Because of Omnivore's Dilemma, mostly.

So, OK, I do like the book better as I go along, but Pollan and I just don't quite think alike, even if we mostly agree.  He describes high-fructose corn syrup (which needs that hyphen, and to hell with the food industry) as being 55% fructose and 45% glucose, but the thing is that there's a second common form that's 42% fructose and 58% glucose.  I've never seen any evidence that one is healthier for you than the other, but if you don't know that there are two major types you will always get punked for it by the You're A Corn Alarmist people in arguments.  Forewarned, and all.


But . . . OK, he goes into a thing about natural food substances vs 'food science' foodstuffs.  And here's the thing, as I see it:

- There's no reason why natural substances should be ideal foods for modern humans.

Because:

- Humans adapted to eat naturally occurring foods.  Yes.  But the very fact that we're so omnivorous argues that we're not particularly adapted to eat any of them, in particular.  We're opportunists, not specialists.  It does mean that we probably do better with a varied diet, but it doesn't mean we necessarily do better with any varied diet.  It's more complicated than this, but, basically, the odds are extremely low that if we picked our own diet from a huge buffet of all-natural foods we'd wind up eating an optimal diet.

- All-natural foods are practically non-existent, anyway.  Cultivated foods aren't exactly naturally occurring, and even the highest-rated organic foods are often heavily treated with chemicals not natural to them, even if they're chemicals from natural sources.  Obviously, a lot of things that are naturally occurring aren't good for us.  The NutraSweet people used to go on and on about how of course NutraSweet was safe and wholesome because all the chemical compounds in it were also found in bananas and milk, but you could also make sodium cyanide out of the chemical compounds in bananas and milk.

- In any case, humans evolved to survive on various natural foods . . . in accordance with what evolution wanted.  Near as we can tell, evolution didn't want many of us to live past 35 or so, or to delay first pregnancy past our teens, or etc.  Or for diabetics to survive long, just for instance.  My goals aren't the same goals evolution had 50,000 years ago, much less three million years ago.  I don't want to live like a caveman, so there's no logic to me eating like a caveman.

- Science is awesome.  Food science is often awesome.  Without question, science can improve naturally occurring foods.  This strikes me as extremely important and not to be swept under the rug.

- However, science can certainly alter foods without improving them.  And of course a giant food corporation's interests, like those of evolution, aren't likely the same as my own.  Evolution is largely about propagation, and corporations are almost entirely about profits, and neither propagation nor profits at the expense of my personal well-being happens to fit my lifestyle.  Speaking personally.


All of that said, Pollan doesn't seem too soapboxy.  A lot of people get swept away by a single big idea and become too fanatical about it, and he seems much more moderate and reasonable, which is excellent.  And (spoiler, eh?) I'm pretty sure the conclusions he reaches are generally good ones, regardless of the exact nuts and bolts of his reasoning. 

But while I may deplore what is done with corn and how industrial agriculture is run, I don't mean to argue that it can't be a very good, great thing.  Processed foods aren't necessarily bad . . . even if most of the obvious ones at the supermarket or McDonald's obviously are.  But if I buy a bag of flour, I'm certainly pleased that it's uniform and clean and apparently free of thrips and stones.

Still, the government and the consumer have to keep a close eye on these people.  If you just look at what the dairy industry was like a hundred years ago (or what it was very recently like in Japan, where it was largely unregulated in practice) compared to how it is now, you'll know what I mean.  And I think corn could be a much better thing for us than it is, although I'd still prefer to see my meat grown in a vat, or produced synthetically by a kitchen appliance (even though I couldn't afford one).

vox8

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2010, 11:11:05 AM »
But while I may deplore what is done with corn and how industrial agriculture is run, I don't mean to argue that it can't be a very good, great thing.  Processed foods aren't necessarily bad . . . even if most of the obvious ones at the supermarket or McDonald's obviously are.  But if I buy a bag of flour, I'm certainly pleased that it's uniform and clean and apparently free of thrips and stones.

Heh, that's just the thing, Pollan doesn't come to any conclusion - he just provides the information and allows you to decide for yourself.

You need to follow up OD with In Defense of Food which will actually address a great deal of what you are talking about up there. The "whys" and "hows".

The problem with the bag of flour that you are buying is that it is refined white flour. To make it possible for the industrial production and distribution of flour - turning it into a commodity - it is necessary to strip it of the parts of the wheat kernel that are susceptible to spoilage. This is the germ of the wheat and the part of the wheat that is full of the actual nutrients present in wheat. What you are left with is a bag of pretty much nutritionally worthless starch. It has been stripped of it's nutrients and fiber and you are left with something that pretty much turns instantly into sugar upon consumption.

I have got to go pick up my little man, or I would rant with you for awhile. But really, if you like his writing style - IDoF should be next on your list. They are pretty much companion books.

And just in case, do not think that I have bought everything he is selling hook, line and sinker - I haven't. But he makes some very good points and provokes some very good thinking.

Personally, my favorite of his books is The Botany of Desire
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random axe

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2010, 04:56:23 PM »
Well, I'm in favor of starch, myself, although of course I know what you're saying.  Still, I wouldn't say it's nutritionless -- it's pretty much always enriched, here in the US.  I haven't baked anything myself, I think, in like fifteen years, but right now I have flour that was left over by a tenant; it's Meijer-brand enriched bleached white flour, which is about as generic as you can get.  It's not whole wheat flour, certainly, but it's not nutritionless.

Back when I used to use flour myself, I used to get regerminated wheat flour (King Somebody-or-other brand?) that had a decent shelf life.  I always liked dense baked goods, anyway.  I don't remember the details -- my ex was more of a foodie than I ever was -- but I think they cook the germ separately and then add it back in, or something, but it had a shelf life of months, anyway, and it's not like we bought 50 lb bags.  We used to have a jar of wheat germ in the fridge, too, to add to baked stuff, although mostly because it was traditional.

Not that we were exactly gourmets.  We made chicken nuggets with a coating of crushed Triscuits.  :shrug:

As much as I'm a carboloader by nature, I agree that starch that's too refined is not particularly good for you and not as good for you as less-refined starches, in general, although I've had bulgur bread that damn near killed me.  Also, I like white rice of short and medium grains, brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice, even arborio rice, but almost any dish called 'wild rice' doesn't please me.  And I think potatoes have been much maligned at times.

I've heard that flour is bleached not for appearance so much as to speed up the oxidization process and that this somehow keeps it from spoiling, but I don't know the details or if it's true.  Personally, the color of unbleached wheat is at least as attractive, if you ask me.

vox8

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2010, 09:00:07 PM »
I don't think I can go much further with this conversation until you read IDoF.

"Enriching" doesn't work. There have been plenty of studies that show that taking supplements is pretty much useless. The body has a very difficult time utilizing nutrients when they have been removed from their natural food carriers. Vitamins and such are absorbed by the body with much greater efficacy when they are consumed in real food.

Stripping a food stuff (here being wheat) of all of it's natural nutrients and then adding back in a few nutrients that 1) "scientists" have decided are needed and 2) that have been chemically separated from god-knows-what other product is not the same as eating the whole food. We are not as smart as we think we are and the complex interactions of nutrients, fiber, acids and whatever in even the simplest foodstuff is beyond our current ability to create.

Wild rice isn't rice - it is a seed.

Polished white rices have very little nutritional value, potatoes are only nutritionally beneficial if you eat the skin.

And oxidation in flour is a bad thing - if bleaching does anything it slows it down.
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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2010, 10:53:28 PM »
Quote
I don't think I can go much further with this conversation until you read IDoF.

Well, that's fair, of course, since we're not working from the same frame of reference.

But . . .

I naturally agree that stripping the nutritional content out of a food and then dumping a multivitamin into it is not equivalent to eating the original food, and generally isn't nearly as healthful.  Still, government-mandated enrichment procedures are generally (and, I think, quite reasonably) credited with vast improvements in public health, from folic acid to Vitamin D.  Certainly it's possible to absorb nutrition from a synthetic supplement pill; certainly a doctor can cure scurvy with Vitamin C tablets.  This doesn't mean that taking Centrum Complete will allow you to live on a diet of puffed Twinkies, god knows, but synthetic nutrients are not worthless, even if they're generally not as ideal as their natural formulations in situ.

Moreover, I'm afraid to say that the notion that all the nutrition in a potato is in the skin is simply a persistent myth.  In fact, the big starchy bit has a lower density of nutrients but generally contains about half of the vitamins and minerals.  If memory serves, the only thing you lose pretty much completely by discarding the skin is the protein content.  It's much better to eat the skin, too -- and I like to, myself, despite being a ridiculously picky eater -- but the importance of the skin has been exaggerated.  They used to popularly say that all the nutrients in an apple were in the core, too.

And I agree that we're not as smart as we think we are, like you say, but I think a bigger problem is the tendency of money to get involved.  Everybody wants to sell a wonder pill, and so they don't really care if you can't absorb iron and calcium from the same pill.  They know better; they just want your money whether you're getting the benefits you think you're getting or not.  You can't trust corporations more than you can't trust science.

Still, it's all so complicated that it's impossible not to generally approve of any common sense approach that provides easy rules to follow.  What is it Pollan's famous for saying?  Something like 'Eat food, and not too much, and mostly plants.' and of course by 'food' he means 'naturally occurring food'.  I suppose someone could potentially cause themselves problems if they ate nothing but lettuce and drank nothing but apple juice and tap water, but it's obviously a strong rule of thumb.  No argument there.

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2010, 06:27:59 AM »
  Something like 'Eat food, and not too much, and mostly plants.' and of course by 'food' he means 'naturally occurring food'.  I suppose someone could potentially cause themselves problems if they ate nothing but lettuce and drank nothing but apple juice and tap water, but it's obviously a strong rule of thumb.  No argument there.

That comes from IDoF and the entire book is pretty much explaining the why and how of that very simple statement. Again I must emphasize that I have not bought into Pollan with my Pension Fund - but he raises issues in ways that need to be raised - and with the appropriate level of information and detail to engage a wide audience.

While several of your nit-picky issues are indeed factual - if Pollan had gone into that level of detail in either book he would have lost his narrative and a substantial portion of his readership. While you and I would have slogged through the mire created by all of the qualifications, clarifications and footnotes - the general American public would not. They are difficult enough books to read already when viewed from the average American's reading habits. And these are the very people that he needs most desperately to reach.

Critical thinking is not currently a highly valued skill set. While I applaud Pollan for writing at higher than a 5th grade level, I understand his need to gloss over some issues. He takes pains to point out that he is a journalist, not a scientist. I believe your points of contention would be more valid were you reading an article published in a Scientific Journal - but you are not. They are books that are attempting to reach the Great Unwashed Masses and actually make them think about what they are shoving in their Pie Hole, some generalization is bound to occur.
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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2010, 11:51:19 AM »
Another good set of books for the nutrition science of this are those by Marion Nestle

Multivitamins and supplements don't have the necessary phyto-chemicals which are also important to nutrition.  Also the body is a system and what you pair foods with affects absorption, metabolism, anti-pathogen action, hormone resistance, etc.  So diets have evolved over the years to suit the cultures and regions of people where they live.  Also their are individual differences due to genetic diversity and unique ontogenetic history.  Person A may need have an optimum diet of eating X at such and such a time but not with Y, and person B may need something completely different.  Just look at disorders such as Celiac disease or Phenylketoneuria.

The big problem with food technology is they focus on just a few variables (i.e. vitamins, taste, etc.), when the systems biology of eating has countless variables.  True if they were able to account for every variable and every individuals optimal variable mix then it would be fine and dandy.  But given their track record, the regional diets for regional people using natural food (and by natural I'm including cultivation, breeding, GMO, etc.) rather than processed foodstuffs delivered by the food technology giants.  This all is not to say that we shouldn't continue using technology when it comes to food.  Modern agriculture and refrigeration have definitely freed up time for people to pursue other endeavors rather than just hunt and gather all the time.  Without these advancements we'd have probably not be able to carry on a textual conversation in this thread right now.

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random axe

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2010, 04:38:20 PM »
Quote from: vox8
he raises issues in ways that need to be raised - and with the appropriate level of information and detail to engage a wide audience.

Yeah, I can agree with and get behind that.  But I'm not reviewing it with an eye to recommending it to a general audience; I'm just giving my own reaction to it.  And I nitpick most things.  It doesn't mean I hate them.


flipper, it's certainly true that there's a lot more to vitamins / minerals / nutrition than they thought fifty years ago, and I'm sure there's still a metric ton they don't know yet. 

Evolution does play a relevant role, of course, but, again, evolution isn't really your friend, either.  And regional diets are less relevant in First World areas where so many people have moved from their ancestral regions.  But the issue of processed foods not being healthy, again, is more the result of corporations seeking profits than food science failing.  The latter, sometimes, yes, of course -- and I'm not trying to argue that science is infallible, god knows. 

But the food industry certainly KNOWS how to make healthier foods.  It's just not their goal.  They don't produce unhealthy foods on purpose so much as that they're producing profitable foods, end of statement.  Corporations are specifically designed to maximize profits, not to serve the public good, and that's why they have to be regulated . . . and not allowed to run the government.

I mean, though . . . :hmm: . . . NASA's doing a lot of food science to produce foodstuffs for people going to Mars.  These have to have a whole hell of a lot of the same basic characteristics that mass-market foodstuffs allegedly aim for:  long shelf life and low spoilage, high nutrition, easy digestibility, extreme portability, pleasant taste and texture, etc.  Don't you think they'll do a better job than Cocoa Puffs?  That's because they're not trying to make a profit.

I realize you may want to hold Tang against them, but (A) Tang wasn't really invented by or for NASA, (B) Tang didn't used to be nearly as evil as it is today, and (C) NASA's options were pretty limited back in the mid-60s.

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2010, 08:25:44 PM »
Heh.  Around page 100, he talks about evolution not being your friend, although not in that exact language.  Weirdly, he claims HFCS had never been tasted by consumers until 1980, which may be a typo -- it's about five years too late.

Not crucial.  I'm just saying.

He also says that "One in three kids in America eats fast food every day."  I actually see this claim made a lot, although I have no idea where it comes from.  The thing is, I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean, which strikes me every time I see it.  I previously last saw it in the NY Times, and I'm not saying it's wrong.  But I always see it phrased like that.

It could mean:

1)  Every day, 33% of kids in the US eat fast food.

or

2)  33% of kids in the US eat fast food every day.

Which is kind of a huge difference.  The first possibility doesn't even seem surprising.  Unfortunate, but, yeah, I could totally believe that.  Depending on what you consider 'fast food', I could believe considerably higher numbers, since a lot of school cafeterias serve pizza, cheeseburgers, soda, etc.  And then there are frozen chicken nugget dinners that aren't much different from McD's.  So, yeah, sure.

But do a third of the kids in this country, a horribly malnourished demographic, eat fast food every single day?  I think I could believe that, but it's pretty damned awful if it's true.  Still, when I was at my first high school, like most of the kids, yes, I ate a cheeseburger, soda, and fries at lunch every single weekday.  So that's not so hard to believe, either.

:shrug:

It's bad either way.

Oh, also, the new 'white meat' McNuggets are gross.  Not nearly as good as the old 'mystery gunk' McNuggets, frankly.  The density is all wrong, and they always seem to be too greasy.  I'd even rate them below White Castle's dreaded novelty chicken rings -- if you're going to process the hell out of it, it's OK to be honest about it, I figure.  Although Tyson's nuggets that are shaped like little drumsticks have always mystified me.  Am you supposed to pretend you're eating the bone?  It's like making them chicken-shaped.  Does not compute.

vox8

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2010, 08:40:20 PM »
I am pretty sure that it is #2.

33% of children eat Fast Food every day. And I am pretty sure by Fast Food he means food purchased from a large "Fast Food" "restaurant".
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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2010, 09:10:42 PM »
Yeah, I'm kind of afraid that's what it is, too.

Ye gods.  That is all messed up.  I can't even imagine eating chain fast food every day even if I went to a different chain every day.

Hell, I couldn't afford that.

Actually, the scariest foodthing I remember seeing in the supermarket, in terms of processed foodgunk, was a Lunchables that a girl I was with pulled off the shelf to show me.  I don't even remember what was so bad about it, but the ingredients made Mexican junk food labels look like an apple.  Hmm . . . Wikipedia says they made them less horrible back in 2005 after complaints.

What struck me the most, though, was how unappealing the thing looked.  Even the crackers looked like crap.  Ew.

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2010, 09:32:43 PM »
I had the same complaint about the dinosaur shaped fries at the natural history museum. No, kids. CONTAINS NO DINOSAUR. Or even dinosaur descendant.
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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #12 on: May 03, 2010, 05:31:20 PM »
Some of the nitrogen used to grow the ingredients could have been recycled from the dinosaurs.
"It all trickles down from the hot sex. I'm not saying you don't need cheese, just that if you concentrate on the hot sex, the cheese will follow. Naturally."--PsiDefect 03-19-2002 11:28 AM

random axe

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2010, 06:20:21 PM »
Indirectly.  Coprolite mulch won't decompose in time for this season's marigolds.

But since a lot of fertilizer is made from oil, who knows, eh?  Although sometimes I doubt that much petroleum is formed from megafauna.

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Re: Food and Gunk
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2010, 02:23:13 AM »
i once traded a carving for a piece of coprolite. it's pretty. it's on a shelf in my house. i can post a pic if you want. it's from a dino.

should i read this book or the thread. which one is shorter?  :D
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