If Sugar Consumption Goes Down But Obesity Goes Up, Does That Prove Sugar Doesn’t Cause Obesity? Nope.

I’ve seen an argument about sugar and obesity going around the internet lately. The argument goes like this:

Sugar can’t be the main driver of obesity, because rates of obesity have continued to rise while sugar consumption has been going down.

That statement is based on data showing that our sugar consumption has dropped by around 15% over the last decade or two, depending on whose figures you use. Meanwhile, rates of obesity have continued to climb.

For the record, I don’t believe sugar is the only driver of obesity. I believe crappy oils have a lot to do with it, as Dr. Eades proposed in an excellent speech. I also believe refined grains share a chunk of the blame.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point is that sugar can’t be the driver of obesity because sugar consumption is going down while obesity is going up isn’t as logical as it first appears. In fact, it reminds me of one of the concepts from the book How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, which I’ve mentioned in a few posts.

In a chapter titled There Is No Such Thing As Public Opinion, author Jordan Ellenberg explains that if you confuse individuals with the aggregate, what’s perfectly logical can appear to be illogical.  He gives an example something like this:

Suppose we’re all worried about the federal deficit. Now suppose one-third of the population believes the only acceptable cure is to massively raise taxes, another third believes the only acceptable cure is to massively cut defense spending, and the final third believes the only acceptable cure is to massively cut social programs like Medicare.  We’ll name these groups Raise Taxes, Cut Defense and Cut Social Programs.

So what happens if we start conducting polls? Based on the results, we’ll conclude that the voters are illogical doofuses. Ask “Should we cut federal spending?” and two-thirds (Cut Defense + Cut Social Programs) will answer yes.  Okay, got it.  Two-thirds of voters want us to tame the deficit through spending cuts.

So then we ask, “Should we cut defense spending?” Two-thirds of the voters (Raise Taxes + Cut Social Programs) will answer no. Next question: “Should we cut social programs?”  Again, two-thirds of the voters (Raise Taxes + Cut Defense) will answer no.

We shake our heads at the results and think, Geez, the voters are clueless.  Two-thirds of them want to cut spending, but they don’t want to cut defense or social programs. Are they just morons?

Uh, no. We’ve fallen into the mental trap of confusing individuals with the aggregate. As Ellenberg writes:

Each voter has a perfectly rational, coherent political stance. But in the aggregate, the position is nonsensical.

We have a similar problem with if sugar consumption is going down while obesity is going up, sugar can’t be the main driver of obesity. Yes, it seems like a logical conclusion at first glance. But if we dig a little deeper, we see it’s another case of confusing individuals with the aggregate.

To actually prove something conclusive about the cause of obesity, the 15% decline in sugar consumption would have to occur more or less evenly across the population. In other words, sugar consumption is down by 15% because damned near everyone is now eating 15% less sugar. If that were true, it would mean individuals are cutting back on sugar but getting fatter. Case closed.

But I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) that’s not what happened with sugar consumption. Do you know anyone who decided sugar is bad and responded by eating 15% less of the stuff? I sure don’t.

“Honey, I just read this great article by Dr. Robert Lustig on how sugar is a metabolic poison. Pour off a few sips of my Coca-Cola and cut away 15% of my donut before you bring it to me, will you?”

The people I know who concluded that sugar is a health hazard responded by giving up sugar completely. Well, okay, maybe a few cookies and a slice of pumpkin pie at Christmas, but other than that, they don’t touch the stuff.

In the aggregate, sugar consumption has declined by 15%. But among individuals, many people are continuing to eat their donuts and Frosted Flakes and Little Debbie Snack Cakes washed down with Coca-Cola, while a minority of others have gone almost sugar-free. That’s what I see among co-workers at the office, among parents and children at school functions, etc.

With that in mind, let’s demonstrate how a population of individuals could experience a sugar-fueled rise in obesity even as sugar consumption declines across the same population. To keep things simple, I’ve created population of eight men who are all 5’10”, which means the BMI scale will label them as obese when they reach 210 pounds. Here’s our population in 2008, when all eight men are consuming around 100 pounds of sugar per year.  (I’m horrified to say that’s about average.)

Goodness. We have an obesity rate of 50%. Now let’s jump ahead 10 years. John, Paul, George and Ringo have continued consuming around 100 pounds of sugar per year and have all gotten 10 pounds heavier. That’s not at all unusual. As I pointed out in Fat Head, the U.S. population gets a little older on average with each passing year, and people tend to gain weight over time if they don’t clean up their diets.

But during the same 10 years, Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie heard about the health hazards of sugar and stopped eating the stuff. They all lost 10 pounds – nothing dramatic, but a nice change. Here’s what our population looks like in 2018:

Across our entire population, average sugar consumption went from 100 pounds per year to just 50 pounds per year – because Mick, Keith, Ron and Charlie stopped eating sugar. Wow! That’s a 50% decline in sugar consumption – way more than a paltry 15% drop.

So if sugar is the driver of obesity, the obesity rate also had to decline, right? Wrong. Check the graphic. Our population-wide obesity rate rose from 50% to 63% … even though the average weight of our population (209.5 lbs.) is exactly the same in 2008 and 2018.

How is that possible? It seems completely illogical. Yes, but only if you’re looking at the population in the aggregate instead of what happened to the individuals.

John and Paul gained 10 pounds and are now considered obese. Ron dropped 10 pounds and went from obese to not obese. Charlie is like a lot of people I know: his health improved and he lost weight after giving up sugar, but he’s still heavy enough to be considered obese.

At the individual level, the sugar-eaters gained weight and the sugar-avoiders lost weight – just 10 pounds in either direction over 10 years. Again, nothing dramatic. But those relatively small changes caused two people to go from not obese to obese, and one person to go from obese to not obese. The result is that despite a 50% drop in sugar consumption, our population became more obese in the aggregate.

Again, I’m not saying this proves sugar drives obesity. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.  But sugar can’t drive obesity because obesity rates went up while sugar consumption went down isn’t the slam-dunk logical argument the people making it think it is. It could simply be that lots of people are still eating sugar and getting fatter as a result, while a much smaller group of people have dumped sugar completely and account for most of the decline in sugar consumption.  Keep in mind that many people who dumped sugar from their diets (Chareva being a perfect example) weren’t fat to begin with, which means they don’t affect the obesity figures either way.

We’re individuals, not aggregates. As Dr. Ellenberg knows, looking at aggregates can fool us into making the wrong conclusions.





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Wedding Bells

Sorry if I was slow on my replies the past few days. I was out of town for a rather important event.

Remember this guy? The one with the abs? That’s my son Zack during a visit back when the girls were wee toddlers.  I used that photo in Fat Head.

I was nearly 42 when I finally got married. For years, I thought Zack was going to beat my record. Nope, he only made it to age 37. He married his longtime girlfriend Chelsy on Saturday.

Here he is with Alana, Sara and Chareva:

And with The Older Brother and me. I’m the one who has more head than hair:

The wedding was originally scheduled to take place near a scenic covered bridge. Pounding rains in Illinois put the kibosh on that location. We would have needed boats. So it was an indoor wedding, but we had a great time.

Facebook pushing veganism

Here’s another reason not to like Facebook, as reported on the Raise Vegan site:

Tech giant, Facebook has launched a new pilot program with vegan company, Raise Vegan, Inc. to bring the classroom to parents, in a push to encourage raising children on plant-based diets.

The new subscription-based groups that launched this week, are the virtual classrooms, run by experts in their fields of medical, nutrition and birth.

If Facebook is going to sponsor virtual classrooms, perhaps they can offer one that teaches reporters how to use a damned comma. Anyway …

The vegan company that started just a year ago, is an all female-led team based in New York, with offices in Ireland, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Seeing a much needed service for parents, they grew from just a few members, to millions of parents around the world in a matter of months.

Of course it’s an all-female team. Most vegans are women. And by the way, when you’re not chewing on sprouts or whatever, LEARN HOW TO USE A COMMA!

The introduction of their first virtual classroom led by vegan nutrition experts and registered dietitians, Dahlia Marin and James Marin, a husband and wife team who own the vegan company ‘Married to Health‘, describes how it will help parents be armed with expert information for raising vegan children, offer short masterclasses and provides daily interaction with experts to ask questions and gain knowledge.

Yeesh. I don’t know if there’s a correlation between a vegan diet and lousy grammar skills, but let’s not take a chance. Eat your meat and stay away from these Facebook groups.

Eat Your Grains And Obey Your Rulers, Part Two

Last week, the head of nutrition science at Public Health England pinpointed the reason so many people are overweight: it’s because those of us who disagree with government recommendations are confusing people, so they don’t follow government advice. Yup, I kid you not. Here’s part of the perfesser’s essay published in iNews:

Last week Dr Aseem Malhotra criticised an evidence-based paper published in the Lancet medical journal.

That “evidence-based paper” would be the piece-of-crap observational study that didn’t actually look at low-carb diets, but nonetheless concluded that low-carb diets shorten lifespan.

Dr Malhotra’s article fails to recognise the wider condemnation of low carb diets from across the mainstream scientific community, both when he launched his diet book and within the Lancet study.

Hmmm, let’s see if we can follow the (ahem) logic: Dr. Malhorta has to be wrong because the mainstream scientific community condemns low-carb diets. This would, of course, be the same mainstream scientific community that once told us the cholesterol in eggs will kill us, then backed off 35 years later with a simple statement that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern.

The gains of short-term loss must not cloud the dangerous impact of excluding entire food groups or consuming diets that are implicated by longer-term conditions such as heart disease.

Excluding an entire food group is dangerous. Just hold onto that thought for now ….

We are facing an obesity crisis because, in part, people are increasingly confused about what is good for them, being fed inaccurate information and ultimately not following well-founded government advice.

Riiiight. It’s the confusion that’s the problem, ya see. Back when pretty much everyone was on board with that well-founded government advice, recommending heartheathlywholegrains! and scaring people away from arterycloggingsaturatedfat!, people just kept getting leaner and healthier, by gosh.

Then for some reason, people started looking for alternative advice. It’s almost as if that well-founded government advice didn’t work for them.

Celebrity diets come and go but our advice remains consistent – eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day; base meals on higher fibre, starchy carbohydrates; eat some beans, pulses, eggs, fish, meat (or vegetarian alternatives) and dairy foods; choose unsaturated oils and spreads; and consume foods high in salt, saturated fat and sugars infrequently and in small amounts.

Yes, government advice has been remarkably consistent for the past 40 years. So has the growth in rates of obesity and diabetes.

By the way, perfesser, I noticed you’re okay with vegetarian alternatives to meat. Wouldn’t that be excluding an entire food group?

What have I been saying all along about The Anointed? When the Grand Plan fails, it’s never because the plan was a bad idea. Failure is always proof that 1) people didn’t actually follow the plan because they’re evil and/or stupid, or 2) the plan didn’t go far enough.

The perfesser wants us to do the same thing again, only bigger. No thanks.

Don’t go outside – they can spot obesity from space now

Okay, I admit it: when I saw the headline, I wondered if they were using AI to recognize large bodies walking down the street. Here are some quotes from Science Direct online:

Obesity is a complex health issue impacted by a range of factors, one of which is the physical, urban environment we live in. Now, scientists have used artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite images of US cities to map that link – in effect, detecting obesity from space.

The researchers, from the University of Washington, fed some 150,000 high-resolution satellite images sourced from Google Maps into a convolutional neural network (CNN) – a kind of AI that uses deep learning to independently analyse and identify patterns within the dataset.

The neural network the team used in this case was already pre-trained on approximately 1.2 million images – experience that helped it analyse the built environment across the cities, identifying features such as roads, buildings, trees, water, and land.

In addition, the researchers used estimates of obesity prevalence from the 500 Cities project to create a model that assessed the association between those features (plus points of interest like gas stations, shopping malls, parks, and pet stores) and obesity prevalence in the studied areas.

“Our approach consistently presents a strong association between obesity prevalence and the built environment indicator across all four regions, despite varying city and neighbourhood values,” the authors explain.

Good grief. After all that gobbledygook, what it gets down to is that there’s an association between living in a certain kind of neighborhood and obesity. Yeah, we knew that already. Before I even read the next paragraph, I knew they were going to blame obesity on the environment.

The research broadly supports a lot of what we already knew about the built environment’s impact on obesity: open, green spaces that enable physical activity are usually good for public health; densely packed neighbourhoods hemmed in by roads and lacking greenery are not.

Ah, it’s the lack of green spaces that make people obese. So plug this question into your artificial intelligence and see if you can get an answer: if a lack of green spaces make people fat, why are obesity rates higher in rural areas than in urban areas?

Just another side effect …

Boy, this almost makes the side effects of statins look tame by comparison. Here are some quotes from an article in Bloomberg online:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning doctors and patients that some widely used diabetes drugs may, in some rare cases, cause a flesh-eating bacterial infection of the genitals.

Seems as if half the commercials I see on TV these days are for drugs. The voice-over actor always prattles through a long list of side effects. I’d like to see them try to sneak that by.

Side effects may include headache, liver damage, dry mouth, insomnia, and a flesh-eating bacterial infection of the genitals.

The drugs covered by the warning include Johnson & Johnson’s Invokana, AstraZeneca Plc’s Farxiga and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Jardiance. Known as SGLT2 inhibitors, they were approved in 2013, 2013 and 2016, respectively. The drugs help the body lower blood-sugar levels via the kidneys, and excess sugar is excreted in a patient’s urine. Urinary tract infections are a known side effect.

All of the drugs in the class except Merck & Co.’s Steglujan, the most recently approved, have been linked to the condition. The manufacturers must add information about the risk to the prescribing information and medicine guides given to patients.

“I’m going to prescribe Farxiga to bring down your blood sugar.”

“Any side effects, Doctor?”

“Well, I’m required to warn you that you could end up becoming infected with bacteria that eat your penis.”

“I see. And wouldn’t that be highly traumatic?”

“No, I’ll prescribe high-dose Lipitor and you’ll forget it ever happened.”

I think I’ll skip the drugs and stick to a good diet instead.


Speaking At The 2018 Wise Traditions Conference

I’ll be giving the keynote address at the 2018 Wise Traditions Conference put on by the Weston A. Price Foundation.  The conference takes place November 16-19 in at the Baltimore Hilton in (surprise) Baltimore.

As you know, Sally Fallon Morell, the president of WAP, appeared in Fat Head.  I was a novice filmmaker when I got in touch with her, and she didn’t know me from Adam.  But she and Dr. Mary Enig were very accommodating and spent an entire day talking to me on camera.

Sally recently wrote a nice review of Fat Head Kids, which is probably why she thought to invite me to speak.  Whatever the reason, I’m delighted.

I’ll be giving a new and improved version of my speech Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds.  After all, the Weston A. Price Foundation is all about the dietary wisdom that was gathered over the generations.

For information about the conference, you can visit their Facebook page or the official website.



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Has this site been blocked?

A reader sent me a screen cap of what showed up on his phone when he tried to access the Fat Head site while at a hospital in Chicago:

Okay, it’s just a glitch, right?

I don’t want to seem paranoid or anything, but maybe I shouldn’t have written that post about the lousy “heart healthy” menus in hospitals

Harvard is pure poison, part one

I mentioned Harvard’s latest “low-carb shortens lifespan” study briefly in last week’s post. Zoe Harcombe took it apart, and so did Chris Kresser. Since they covered the study so well, I chose not to do a deep-dive on it. But I did download the study and found this table rather interesting:

That tells you all you need to know about the reliability of studies based on food questionnaires. According to one of the questionnaires used in the study, people who are overweight (according to the BMI scale) are living on 1546 calories per day on average. As you know, I’m not a fan of the BMI scale, which will declare you overweight if you’re muscular. But there’s no way on God’s Green Earth thousands of people with a BMI of 28.5 are living on 1546 calories per day, muscular or not.

In his WWII-era starvation study, Ancel Keys had men live on 1500 calories per day. Here’s what they looked like:

Apparently if they’d consumed 46 more calories per day, they would have beefed up to a BMI of 28.5.

This study sucks. Period. Harvard should put Walter Willett out to pasture before they lose all credibility … if they haven’t already.

[Note: earlier I had the wrong photo of starving men in this post.  That one was a POW photo … although the guys in the correct photo look just as bad.]

Harvard is pure poison, part two

Meanwhile, another Harvard professor made headlines not with a stupid study, but with a stupid remark about coconut oil. Here are some quotes from The Chicago Tribune:

A Harvard professor wants you to reconsider the dangers of consuming coconut oil, a popular trend within the wellness crowd as of late. Self-appointed “wellness experts” and “health gurus” online promote coconut oil for its immune support, digestive help and as a healthier fat for cooking.

But in her German-language talk “Coconut Oil and Other Nutritional Errors,” which is nearing 1 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday, Karin Michels, an adjunct professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, calls coconut oil “pure poison” and “one of the worst foods” she can name.

Notice the attitude of the reporter. Self-appointed “wellness experts” and “health gurus” online promote coconut oil, but – hold your breath in awe, now! – a Harvard professor called it “pure poison.” LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE TRUE EXPERTS HAVE SPOKEN!

The attitude continues with this paragraph:

Still, there is a disconnect between public and health expert perception in the United States. A 2016 survey by the New York Times showed that 72 percent of the public versus 37 percent of certified nutritionists believe coconut oil is “healthy.”

Got that? A majority of the unwashed masses believe coconut is healthy, but just 37 percent of certified nutritionists do. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE TRUE EXPERTS HAVE SPOKEN!

What that survey tells me is that the Wisdom of Crowds is in full effect. Most nutritionists still believe coconut oil isn’t healthy … um, yeah, because that’s what they were taught in school.

“Class, repeat after me: saturated fat is bad!”

“Saturated fat is bad.”

“Vegetable oils are good for you!”

“Vegetable oils are good for you.”

“Saturated fat is very, very bad!”

“Saturated fat is very, very bad.”

“Whole grains are good for you!”

“Whole grains are good for you.”

“And saturated fat is very, very, very bad!”

“Saturated fat is very, very, very bad.”

“Congratulations, you’re now an expert. Go out and design heart-healthy menus for hospitals.”

Most news outlets felt obliged to also quote from the American Heart Association and to point out that coconut oil is 82 percent saturated, while butter (a known killer, of course) is just 63 percent saturated.

So there you have it. It’s more saturated than butter, so it must be poison.  Good luck explaining why people on the island of Tokelau, who get a majority of their calories from saturated coconut fat, have virtually no heart disease. Mark Sisson mentioned several studies of coconut oil in a post as well. Bottom line: there are no studies that demonstrate any harm, and several studies that demonstrate improvements in overall health.

Harvard’s advice on diet and health is pure poison.

It’s not the fat harming our health, says a medical-industry ultimate insider

At least one former Harvard faculty member isn’t blinded by dogma. Dr. George Lundberg, who served as a JAMA editor for several years in addition to stints on the faculty at Harvard, Northwestern and Stanford, recently let loose in an editorial on Medscape. Dr. Lundberg begins with praise for Gary Taubes:

Taubes demolished what the medical, scientific, and nutrition fields (since at least the 1960s) had spent countless billions of dollars building and profiting (but also dying) from: the fat food theory of the causation of “diseases of human civilization”—atherosclerosis, coronary artery heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stroke, cancer, dementia, and even osteoporosis and arthritis.

Then he moves on to why the fat food theory gained such a foothold:

Big Public Health. Big Farming. Big Agriculture. Big Government. Big Academia. Big Industry. Big Marketing. Big Advertising. Big Advocacy. Big Medicine. Big Publishing. All were marching to the tune composed by what they thought—in good faith, I believe—was good science.

As the scientist, medical journal editor, insider, I was even involved in the mass “Campaign Against Cholesterol,” led by the American Medical Association, doing everything we could from within organized medicine, and using many industry partners who, of course, stood to profit via their new low-fat products.

Real-world application is where the science, and especially the public health, communities failed. They did not keep their eyes open to the evolving real-world experience. They did not challenge the dogma and prevailing practices as the truth became more and more obvious during the mass-fattening of the population in the developed world.

I’d say there’s a good reason fewer people are listening to doctors, nutritionists and Harvard professors these days, wouldn’t you?

I suck at Facebook … sorry

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.  I appreciate the power of social media, but I don’t like the Facebook interface.  Never have.  The privacy issues bother me as well.

But the main problem is that I can’t keep up.  The Fat Head group has more than 12,000 members — which is great, but I can’t possibly read all the posts.  Because of the group and Fat Head itself, I also have more than 2500 “friends” … which again means I can’t possibly keep up.  It would take a week to read what people post in a day.  When my real friends (i.e., people who actually know me) post on Facebook, I never see it because my feed goes on forever.

So I don’t keep up on Facebook.  I’m okay with that … but I recently discovered there’s a feature called Messenger that I’ve never checked before.  And course, there were hundreds of messages in there I’ve never read … people asking questions, thanking me for making Fat Head, inviting me to be on podcasts, etc.

Sorry.  I promise I wasn’t intentionally ignoring y’all.  I’m just not good at keeping up with Facebook and probably never will be.  If you want to reach me, I actually do check my Twitter feed (@TomDNaughton) and my Fat Head email address (TomNaughton@fathead-movie.com).

Vegetarianism is a temporary condition

I’ve mentioned in a few posts that most vegetarians quit the lifestyle within ten years. Turns out they don’t last anywhere near that long, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine online:

In the United States, most meat-abstainers lapse within a year, according to a new report put out by the the Humane Research Council, an animal advocacy organization.

In a survey of around 11,000 Americans, the organization found that 84 percent of vegetarians and vegans return to eating meat, says the Huffington Post. Most lapse within a year, while nearly a third don’t last more than three months.

Hmmm, since an animal advocacy group conducted the survey, I wonder if they have any theories on why people don’t stick with vegetarianism?

So why do so many people fall off the bandwagon? According to the new survey, says HuffPo, the researchers “found that a majority of them lacked social support, vegetarian-themed group activities and didn’t like sticking out from their friends… Other reasons for giving up: having trouble with animal-based cravings and the difficulty of doing anything cold turkey, so to speak.”

I see. It’s the lack of vegetarian-themed group activities. Perhaps they should get together more often and protest outside of steakhouses.

I have another explanation: they give up meat, they start to feel lousy, so they start eating meat again.  And many of them probably only gave up meat in the first place because of a dumbass Harvard study.

Our chickens will never wear diapers

Our newest flock of chickens is coming along nicely. I like chickens. I like their eggs. I like their quirky behavior. But I will never, ever like chickens enough to put them in designer diapers:

Around 10 years ago, Julie Baker was raising chickens with her daughter on their small farm in Claremont, New Hampshire when she first saw a YouTube video of a chicken wearing what looked to be an upside-down apron that stretched across its backside. The diaper, so to speak, was used to catch chicken poop so the birds wouldn’t leave droppings everywhere (chickens do not urinate separately from defecation. Their urine is technically in their excrement). “I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, I so need to do that,’” Baker said. Baker’s daughter liked to bring her favorite chicken, an Old English hen named Abigail, inside their house, and because chickens poop close to a dozen times per day, Baker needed a better system for managing Abigail’s excrement.

So she began sewing Abigail diapers out of cotton fabric, and soon other poultry owners asked if Baker could make diapers for their chickens, too.

Diapers for chickens. Good grief. Sounds like something you’d sell to a bunch of kooks in San Francisco.

In wealthy cities like San Francisco, chickens have even become an unlikely status symbol, with poultry owners going to unimaginable lengths to care for their pets. As The Washington Post reported in March, certain chicken owners have hired “chicken whisperers” to consult on their pets’ comfort (to the tune of $225 per hour). These nouveau livestock enthusiasts have also been known to invest in personal chefs for their birds, and some have even installed smartphone-enabled, motion-detecting coops that control ventilation, temperature, lighting, and security from afar (ballpark cost: $20,000).

Our latest flock of 25 chickens cost $100, by the way. I can’t imagine who spends $20,000 on a smart-phone enabled system to take care of birds that cost $4 each.

That being said, if anyone out there wants to pay me $225 per hour to whisper to your chickens, I’m up for it. Heck, at that rate, I’ll even sing to them. But I’m definitely not changing any diapers.


Eat Your Grains And Obey Your Rulers

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I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines. Here’s just one example: Low-carb diets could shorten life, study suggests. And here’s a quote from the article:

Low-carb diets, such as Atkins, have become increasingly popular for weight loss and have shown promise for lowering the risk of some illnesses. But a US study over 25 years indicates that moderate carb consumption – or switching meat for plant-based protein and fats – is healthier.

Yank, yank, yank. As soon as you see that it’s 1) an observational study, and 2) based on food questionnaires, you know it’s garbage dressed up as science.  Here’s how crazily inaccurate food questionnaires are: add up the total calories many people typically report consuming, and you’re at semi-starvation levels.

If you’d like to read a detailed take-down of this latest offense against science … er, study … you can read Zoe Harcombe’s analysis.

I’m more interested in what motivates the jackasses who put these studies together. Dig deep enough, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find The Save The Grains Campaign is involved somewhere. If people were told to eat “moderate” amounts of carbohydrate (which the authors define as 50% of calories) and responded by eating yams, I don’t think the authors would be happy.

Grains, damnit!  You’re supposed to eat your grains!

In the fantasy-land of spy novels, movies and TV series, we often learn that the world is secretly run by the oil industry and its paid stooges in governments. Wrong!! If there’s an industry secretly running the world, it’s the grain industry. (Okay, I don’t actually believe in world-wide conspiracies, but bear with me.)

The Anointed keep telling us to eat our grains – or else. I thought this was a relatively new phenomenon, starting in the 1970s or thereabouts. Nope. According to a book I recently finished, it turns out The Anointed have been insisting people eat their grains for a long, long time. Grains are, in fact, the food of submission.

The book is titled Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, written by James C. Scott. It was published by Yale University, where Scott spent much of his life as a professor of political science, and it’s definitely academic in tone. I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: grains are the food that enabled governments, a ruling class, and empires to rise … and without governments, The Anointed would just be the wacky people most of us cheerfully ignore. After all, it’s not as if they have useful skills.  More on that later, when I’ll relate Against the Grain to other books I like.

In the introduction, Scott explains that the purpose of the book is to dispel the myth that humans voluntarily switched to agriculture, which in turn led to All The Good Things we associate with progress: civilization, public order, health and leisure. Nice story, but it was a wee bit messier and more violent than that:

There is massive evidence of determined resistance by mobile peoples everywhere to permanent settlement … pastoralists and hunting-and-gathering populations have fought against permanent settlement, associating it, often correctly, with disease and state control.

As Scott explains, plenty of free, semi-nomadic people chose to be part-time farmers. But they didn’t stay put and raise grains. They planted all kinds of edible foods in areas that reliably flooded every year, went off to hunt and wander, and returned when the plant foods were ready to harvest. I remember reading how the Navajo “farmed” in a similar fashion, while still relying heavily on hunting. The combination of hunting and part-time farming led to an abundant, nutritious diet.

So why would anyone want to force semi-nomadic hunter/farmers who are happy with their lives to become full-time grain farmers? Because it’s damned difficult to tax squashes and sweet potatoes, that’s why. Without taxes, the ruling classes would have to … I don’t know … support themselves or something horrible like that:

History records no cassava states, no sago, yam, taro, plantain, breadfruit or sweet potato states… the tuber cassava grows below ground, requires little care, is easy to conceal, ripens in a year, and, most importantly, can safely be left in the ground and remain edible for two more years. If the state wants your cassava, it will have to come and dig up the tubers one by one, and then it has a cartload of little value and great weight if transported.

If we were evaluating crops from the perspective of the tax man, the major grains would be among the most preferred.

In later chapters, Scott explains why states love grains above all other foods: grains have to be harvested at a specific time of year, so rulers know exactly when to send the tax man around. Grains are easy to weigh and easy to transport back to the capital. Most importantly, they’re calorically dense, which means grain farmers can produce enough food to support an army, a government, and a leisure class:

Whether the grain in question is wheat, barley, rice or maize, the patterns displays a family resemblance. The early state strives to create a legible, measured, and fairly uniform landscape of taxable grain crops and to hold on this land a large population available for corvée labor, conscription, and, of course, grain production.

In other words, grains are the food that enable conquest and submission.

Plenty of people resisted, of course. Scott points out that what history sometimes records as the “collapse” of a civilization was more of a mass escape. Governments lost control of populations who retreated to the off-the-map areas to live as free hunters. The “collapses” then led to what are often called “dark ages.” It’s an ominous-sounding term, suggesting something bad was happening. But in fact, people were freer and healthier after escaping civilizations they never voluntarily joined. Those periods are called “dark” for the simple reason that hunter-gathers didn’t keep records for historians to dig up later. They lived their lives, but didn’t write about them.

Writing, Scott explains, likely began as a tool of the tax man:

Peasantries with long experience of on-the-ground statecraft have always understood that the state is a recording, registering, and measuring machine. So when a government surveyor arrives with a plane table, or census takers come with their clipboards and questionnaires to register households, the subjects understand that trouble in the form of conscription, forced labor, land seizures, head taxes, or new taxes on croplands cannot be far behind. They understand implicitly that behind the coercive machinery lies piles of paperwork.

So it’s no surprise that learning to read and write were often forbidden among commoners. Only rulers and their functionaries could be trusted with an education. It’s also no surprise that as civilizations developed around the world, the intellectual class was nearly indistinguishable from the governing class.

That got me thinking about other books I’ve enjoyed, chiefly The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer, Intellectuals and Society and The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell, and Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. All four books deal to some degree with what Sowell calls The Anointed: intellectuals who feel entitled to tell the rest of us how to live.

A left-leaning friend of mine once asked me to explain why if leftism doesn’t make sense, the smartest people lean left. I asked him what he meant by “the smartest people.” He replied that most college professors lean left.

After I finished laughing my ass off at the notion that college professors are the smartest among us (do you really think the average professor of gender studies has a higher IQ than the average engineer?), I replied with something like, “Wow. So people mostly employed by governments support the big-government party that promises them bigger paychecks. What a shock.”

When I told a comedian friend of mine about the exchange, he said his theory is that professors are just pissed off that they make less money than entrepreneurs they consider their intellectual inferiors.  I believe his theory is closer to the truth.

As we saw in Scott’s book, intellectuals have been aligned with governments since the days when the only literate people were government functionaries. In his book The Ordeal of Change, Eric Hoffer explains why intellectuals in modern times also love government:

In almost every civilization we know of, the intellectuals have been either allied with those in power or members of a governing elite.

[The intellectual] has managed to thrive in social orders dominated by kings, nobles, priests and merchants, but not in societies suffused with the tastes and values of the masses.

There’s a good reason for that, Hoffer explains: the masses don’t generally place much value on what intellectuals produce. So in a free-market society, intellectuals as a class don’t fare very well:

America has been running its complex economy and government machinery and has been satisfying most of its cultural needs without the aid of the typical intellectual. Nowhere has the intellectual had so little say in the management of affairs. [Keep in minder, Hoffer wrote those words in the 1950s, before the explosive growth of government.]

But wait … haven’t intellectuals often led the charge to free the masses from oppression? Yes, that’s true. But as Hoffer explains, intellectuals have historically stirred up the masses as a vehicle to put themselves in power:

The intellectual goes to the masses in search of a weightiness and a role of leadership.

Once his private ail is righted, the intellectual’s ardor for the underprivileged cools considerably… when the militant intellectual succeeds in establishing a social order in which his craving for a superior status and social usefulness is satisfied, his view of the masses darkens, and from being their champion, he becomes their detractor… The masses must obey.

I read a good book last year about the Russian Revolution.  Let’s just say the masses who didn’t obey fared far worse under Lenin than they ever did under the Czar.

I used to wonder why so many people who came of age in the Sixties and considered themselves anti-authority types later became such fans of government authority. And why the heck do so many of them support Marxism, which relies entirely on armed authorities telling people how to live?

Once again, Hoffer had it figured out decades ago:

When the intellectual comes into his own, he becomes a pillar of stability and finds all kinds of lofty reasons for siding with the strong against the weak.

In no other social order, past or present, has the intellectual so completely come into his own as in the communist regimes. Never before has his superior status been so self-evident and his social usefulness so unquestioned. The bureaucracy which manages and controls every field of activity is staffed by people who consider themselves intellectuals.

I wrote a post in 2011 describing how Thomas Sowell’s book Intellectuals and Society and his description of what he calls The Anointed explains what went wrong with our nutrition policies:

Sowell has nothing against smart people, you understand. He’s one heck of a smart guy himself. As he points out in the book, intellectuals are fond of accusing people who oppose their pie-in-the-sky ideas of being “anti-intellectual,” when in fact the naysayers are often common-sense types who oppose basing policies on the latest intellectual fashions and prefer something resembling proof.

In intellectual circles, where the talent that Sowell refers to as “verbal virtuosity” is highly prized, new theories are often applauded merely for being bold, exciting, challenging, or exquisitely expressed. (And if the theory suggests intellectuals should be in charge of the rest of us, it will likely be hailed as all of the above.)

As Sowell explains, when intellectuals are limited to dazzling each other and perhaps a fraction of the public with their theories, there’s a limit to how much damage a bad idea can cause. But when they get their hands on the levers of government, it’s a different story. It’s not that people in government are inherently stupid or evil (although sometimes they seem determine to prove otherwise). The problem lies with government’s unique ability to impose well-intentioned bad ideas and stifle dissent.

Intellectuals love government because government gives them the power to impose their Grand Plans on the rest of us … but when the Grand Plan fails, we pay the price, not the intellectuals.

That’s because the intellectuals, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in his book, don’t have what he calls Skin in the Game. In fact, they tend to seek positions where they are insulated from the downside of their own lousy decisions.  Let’s see, you want to be paid handsomely for your theories but don’t want any risk to yourself if your theories turn out to be wrong … surprise, surprise, these people are often found in government or academia — or in industries propped up by government. Think too big to fail.

I listened to the book, so I can’t quote from it without listening again for hours looking for the relevant passages. However, Taleb’s essay The Intellectual Yet Idiot appears in Skin in the Game pretty much intact, so I’ll quote from that:

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science.

The Anointed love their theories, but aren’t rigorous thinkers. They don’t care much about real evidence. They often live on other people’s taxes, since what they produce isn’t valued much by free people making free decisions about how to spend their money. They rarely pay the price for their mistakes, which are many.  (As Sowell puts it, they are often wrong but never in doubt.) But despite their lousy track record, they feel entitled to tell us what to think and what to eat. And what they’ve wanted us to eat — since the days when they were the tax collectors and functionaries for kings and emperors – is grains.  And by gosh, they’ll just keep producing one crappy study after another to convince us we’ll die without those grains.

Ditch the grains, eat your meat, and flip these intellectual bozos the bird.


Dr. Eades Explains How Bad Oils Increase Our Appetite For Carbs

I just watched this speech by Dr. Mike Eades while putting in my time on the treadmill. You’ll want to watch this — even if you’re not on a treadmill.  Dr. Eades explains why he believes crappy vegetable oils act like a super-carbohydrate and increase our appetites for more carbs.  He gets into some complicated biochemistry here and there, but you don’t need to understand every bit of it.  Just pay attention to how different fats affect our fat cells.

I’ve pointed out many times that back when most kids were lean, they weren’t on ketogenic or strict low-carb diets.  They ate sandwiches and potatoes, but not as many carbs overall as we eat now.  The difference in appetite and the tendency to store calories as body fat may come down to the fats we consumed then vs. now.  Enjoy.