Archive for the “Government Foolishness” Category
Hiya Fat Heads!
I meant to get this out yesterday, but spent a good chunk of the day in my basement with the shop-vac and floor squeegee keeping water moving towards the drain. Just one of those things when you live in the Midwest and have 7 or 8 inches above average rainfall for the year.
Anyway, I figured I’d share my notes from last week’s IDPH meeting before heading back downstairs to do battle with Mother Nature. (Note: as one of my buddies from the Power Squadron says — “water always wins — that’s why there’s a Grand Canyon.”)
Angel Smith, who originally tipped me off to the Illinois Department of Public Health being on the move to “regulate” raw milk out of existence, has already posted her notes from the meeting here. She also links to a three-part series in The Prairie Advocate – here — that has more detail and history.
Here are my observations:
Firstly, and most encouraging, was how many people showed up. I mentioned that in the last post, but I don’t recall ever being in a room where almost everyone in the audience (probably 120-140) seemed to be thinking the same way as I was. Weird, really. Good weird. It couldn’t have felt very comfortable for the 10 or 15 members of the Raw Milk Steering Committee who thought they were just going to have a couple of meetings on the regulations that the FDA was paying them to “write,” then move on.
Which brings up one of the first exchanges; this one between Molly Lamb, Chief, Division of Food, Drugs, and Dairy (the person in charge of this circus, whose salary is around $77,000 a year) and Donna O’Shaughnessy, the raw milk producer who primarily instigated this revolt among the serfs:
Lamb (after Donna refers to the Raw Milk Steering Committee): …I don’t know why you keep referring to this as the Raw Milk Steering Committee. There’s no such thing. This is the Dairy Subcommittee of the Food Safety Advisory Committee.
O’Shaughnessy: Because that was the title of the two emails you sent me when I asked about these meetings.
<insert cricket chirping sound here!>
… The meeting started with the obligatory “rules of order” and agenda, which is of course all done via Power Point Presentation and delivered by the person who was probably really responsible for actually doing all of the work, Steve DiVicenzo, Public Service Administrator. Such service to the public being remunerated at a salary of over $100,000 per year. This included the ground rules, making specific note that although the meeting was being conducted in public, the only people who could/would be speaking during the meeting — outside the 30 minutes set aside for public comment — were the committee members.
[I mention the salaries in case anyone is wondering how to get $9 billion behind on your bills, $70 billion on your pension liabilities, and an even bigger number no one will say out loud on your unfunded health care obligations.]
After a couple of slides on the origin and history of the committee, Ms. Lamb asked if everyone knew how a regulation comes into existence and then clicked to a flow chart slide with about forty boxes titled something like “How a Regulation is Made.” This is like the old “How an Idea Becomes Law” from your old civics class, which is complete b.s. because there’s no boxes for “lobbyists”, “vested interests”, “campaign donors”, or “tragedy stampede.”
The first one was “determine that a change or new regulation is needed” and went on from there. She jumped to the box about meetings and hearings and blah, blah, blah, and was five minutes and about 1 & 1/2 rows into the five or six rows on the slide, which she assured everyone was actually kind of a condensed version.
I was looking at the pen I’d brought thinking “if I turn this around and jamb it into my eye socket really fast, maybe I’ll die before I feel anything.” But I was also thinking, “why in the hell doesn’t anyone ask how they got past the first box — who decided they even NEED a new regulation?!?”
Then, one of the raw milk producers who had been added after Donna started inquiring raised his hand and said “you didn’t explain why or how the decision was made that we even need a new regulation — how did that happen?”
Then, the whole room erupted in cheers. I slowly put my pen down and decided that it was going to be a good day.
Ms. Lamb: Um, well we decided.
Ms. Lamb: Well, let’s move on…
At some point either right before or after this, Ms. Lamb helpfully pointed out (again, backed up with an authoritative Power Point slide) that since the Department had been statutorily given the authority to regulate dairies, and since there were currently no rules regulating raw milk, that meant that raw milk was really illegal. The slide literally had “no rule = illegal” on it.
This is the bureaucratic mindset at its very base: until a bureaucrat passes a rule that says you have their permission to do something, it’s illegal. She said this with a smile like that was going to clear things up, and let people know they were just trying to be helpful by passing some rules. She seemed to be a bit surprised by the (politely contained) expressions of outrage and incredulity from the crowd.
There was also this:
Producer: So, your directive is to regulate dairies?
Ms. Lamb: Yes
Producer: But the regulations define a “dairy” as an operation that collects milk from farming operations for processing and wholesale and retail sales.
Ms. Lamb: Yes
Producer: So, since that definition means none of us are dairies, you shouldn’t be regulating us.
Producer (addressing Larry Terando from the FDA): Why are you on this committee? The FDA has a position that all raw milk is always bad and has made it illegal to sell across state lines. Therefore, all raw milk transactions are intrastate and there is no federal issue here.
Ms. Lamb: He’s here as an expert…
Terando: Because all raw milk is hazardous, so since it can occur in multiple states we have a federal interest.
The correct answer is that the FDA is financing this whole thing, so they get to call the shots. Mr. Terando apparently had a busy schedule as he did not return to the meeting after the lunch break.
Another question — I can’t recall if it was from Donna or one of the other new folks on the committee:
Producer: Why did you send a memo to the state legislative committee with these proposed rules in it before we even had this meeting?
Ms. Lamb: Oh, those aren’t really proposed rules. That’s just like a status report of what we’ve been discussing.
Producer: Well, since you sent that before any raw milk producers or consumers were put on the committee, and since many of the statements are incorrect, can we send a new memo with correct information and let them know there is disagreement on the proposed rules?
Ms. Lamb: Well, since that’s just a status report we really don’t need to do that.
When they got to the part of the agenda labeled “Epidemiology,” another IDPH expert got up. She introduced herself (forgot her name, so I don’t know how much that pays) and started with her section of Power Point slides. She was promptly interrupted:
Producer: How long have you been with IDPH?
Epidemiologist: I’ve been here twelve years (I may be a bit off on this –jn)
Producer: What is your degree in?
Epidemiologist: I have a Masters degree in Public Health Administration
Producer: So, you’ve studied a lot of food-born illnesses and outbreaks?
Producer: How many raw milk outbreaks or illnesses have you studied?
Epidemiologist: Well, I’m not sure specifically raw milk related.
Producer: Is that because there haven’t been any in Illinois while you’ve worked here?
<insert cricket chirping sound here!>
I’m not sure what a Masters degree in Public Health Administration really prepares you for, but apparently it’s not the evaluation of epidemiological data. It seemed to be maybe a G.E.D. level in “Google,” because her presentation consisted of a few slides of “studies” showing — wait for it — correlation! — between food born illnesses and states with raw milk; and one with a recap of dairy related outbreaks where “raw dairy” accounted for a majority of the “All Dairy” category. This probably would’ve played well for the average audience, but it was the equivalent of trying to lecture a room full of Fat Heads (which this kind of was) on the evils of Saturated Fat while citing the Seven Countries Study and then doubling down with the China Study.
Even one of the Big Dairy folks couldn’t let these go, and stepped up to the plate:
Dairy rep: That study has already been challenged. Two-thirds of the illnesses — including the only two deaths –attributed to raw dairy in that report were directly attributed to “bathtub cheese,” where Hispanic people have made their traditional queso cheese using raw milk [probably illegally from dairies before the pasteurization process -- not actual raw milk producers -- jn]. It was undoubtedly contaminated in the cheese making process or subsequent handling.
Epidemiologist: Um, well, yes, some people do have different opinions. My next slide relates to cheese!….
That may have been my personal favorite.
Once they got to the part where they were supposed to discuss actual rules — now just “suggestions for discussion,” mind you — it was exactly what you’d expect. A bunch of rules related to massive, highly automated, feedlot-style operations that may have value in that environment, but completely non-scalable down to the level of someone or a family personally running a pastured cow dairy operation. Even things like chill tanks would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And lord help the person who takes that fresh milk into their own kitchen and puts it in the fridge until their customer stops by. No sir, separate milking parlors, chill rooms, etc. etc. With the further caveat that no more than 100 gallons of raw milk could be sold a month. When the producers hoo-haa-ed that one especially, one of the bureaucrats said — I swear to God, months in and ready to pass rules on this that would put most of the producers in the room out of business – “well, we weren’t really sure how many gallons a month you folks usually produce.”
The answer, in case you get asked, is that 100 gallons is about maybe 1/2 down to about 1 full cow’s production for a month. So if you have one healthy dairy cow, during the productive season, you’ll be throwing half of Bessie’s milk away!
That’s mostly what I recall from the official meeting, somewhat in that order. After lunch and moving to a room big enough to hold all the folks there to defend their rights to healthy food, they did allow over a half hour for public comments. They used as a list the folks who’d submitted written comments. Several spoke, all of whom I pretty much agreed with. Angel actually got the last word, and did a great job relating how poor health impacted her military career and that raw milk was a key component of rebuilding her health.
The real standout was a women named Penny Gioja (again, thanks to Angel for taking way better notes than me!), who recounted having run an in-home day care for several years before the regulatory cost and paperwork led her to move on, then her family being talked into selling eggs at a local farmers’ market until they were told of a couple more licenses they’d need to purchase that made it economically unviable, and now looking at having to decide whether they should just leave the state.
Then she got wonderfully animated and told the panel that if the IDPH’s mission was really — as they had asserted — to protect the health and nutrition of Illinois citizens, she wanted them to enforce the same rules for people who sold Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Monster Drink, which have well-documented poor health impacts — they could only sell 100 gallons a month, they couldn’t advertise, they could only put it in the customers’ own containers, and it could only be purchased on the vendors’ premises. That rocked the house.
That pretty much wrapped the day. The committee had a few more housekeeping items, like setting the next meeting and such. Everyone broke up and started heading for the doors to return home.
I’ve heard from a couple of folks who think the regulators got an education on raw milk. A lot of informed, passionate, motivated people showed up to stand up for things people just took for granted a generation ago. The bureaucrats also accidentally put over 120 of those people in contact with each other, many of whom (like me) didn’t know there were so many more of us out there, not alone. Maybe the bureaucrats would change things up substantially. Maybe even remove impediments to raw milk while setting a few common-sense protocols, as it fits in with the buy local/real foods programs the state and others talk up.
I’m guessing they’ll lay low for a few months or more, and then pass pretty much all of those rules as is, maybe without the 100 gallon limit. Or maybe they’ll bump the limit to 500 gallons. But they didn’t learn anything, and they’re there to pass those rules.
It’s what they do.
Still, it was a pretty good day in the sausage factory.
the Older Brother
15 Comments »
Greetings, fellow Fat Heads.
I’m guessing Tom had his whole routine for this year’s Low Carb Cruise down cold by Monday. I’m also guessing he’s still going over it again and again. That’s how he rolls. I, on the other hand, don’t tend to burden myself with such preparation. So here we go!
The sausage factory is a reference to the observation generally attributed to Otto Von Bismark — that people who like politics or sausage shouldn’t watch either being made.
Actually, making sausage isn’t that bad. I’ve made a few batches since “converting” from the conventional nutritional wisdom, and it’s been pretty good. But watching law being made is every bit as revolting as the quote implies. I’ve been there in the belly of the beast, and it’s pretty much always ugly. I did get a state legislator to curse at me once while I was testifying against some insanity. Other than that, though, there’s nothing redeeming about it.
There’s actually something even worse than lawmaking. That would be “rulemaking.” That’s where the regulatory agencies are given charge to “interpret” the sundry laws and directives passed through the legislative process. The more vague the law, the more the regulators get to decide. So the actual rules you have to live by are determined by unelected bureaucrats. They can be (and are) arbitrary, contradictory, and unevenly enforced. The idea of even being in the same room with one of these people irritates me. Watching them at work infuriates me.
So, there I was yesterday, in the same room, watching a bunch of them work.
And it’s all your fault.
See, since you all keep getting Tom invited to speak hither and yon, and then I get invited to sit in the Big Chair while he’s gone, some of you have gotten to know a bit about me. One such person, Angel S — who also lives in Illinois — sent me a heads up that the Illinois Department of Public Health was getting ready to regulate raw milk producers out of business.
I read Angel’s blog post, and then started looking for more information. The IL Dept of Health, with funds from the US FDA (“official position: all raw milk is dangerous”), had set up a Raw Milk Steering Subcommittee to investigate if raw milk needed regulation in Illinois. To ensure deep understanding of the product and issues, the regulators picked — for this 19-member committee — exactly ONE person who sold raw milk as a vocation (Donna O’Shaunessy, see her blog post here). Well, that’s not entirely accurate, because she wasn’t asked to be on the committee until they’d already had their first two meetings and had finished their draft recommendations. When Donna inquired as to how the committee could propose drastic new regulations of a product without actually speaking to anyone who makes or consumes the product, the head regulator replied that she didn’t know how to contact any of those people.
Unsurprisingly, they came up with helpful recommendations like only allowing 100 gallons of raw milk sales per month. And requiring that anyone selling raw milk get a Class A Dairy license. In other words, force raw milk producers to spend tens of thousands of dollars on equipment you don’t need if you’re not a feedlot, volume milk producer; regularly produce hundreds of pages of useless documentation; and then limit their sales to the equivalent of about one cow’s monthly output. Did I mention that seven of the committee members represented the interests of mega-dairy operators Dean Food and Prairie Farms? You know, commodity, low-cost producers who already have to have Class A licenses.
As it turns out, even though IDPH couldn’t figure out how to find anyone involved with raw milk, Donna sure could! She embarrassed IDPH into adding some more raw milk producers and some consumers to the committee (n.b., that is the only way to get a bureaucrat to do something other than what they had already decided they were going to do). Also, it seems a BUNCH of people started contacting their alleged representatives, who started contacting IDPH asking them why they were making their constituents so mad. People were also contacting the bureaucrats directly. Smart people. Passionate people. Loud people. Bother, bother.
Imagine what was going through the bureaucrats’ minds. “But, everyone from the FDA told us raw milk was bad, and just a few fringe lunatics drink it. And all of our swell friends from the big dairies had such good ideas — they don’t have any problem with 10,000 gallon chill tanks and separate milk parlors and monthly testing. That’s what they let us tell them they have to do!” Hilarious.
The third meeting first got moved to a bigger venue (the Illinois Corn Producers’ building in Bloomington) based on the number of people saying they wanted to attend (danged Open Meetings laws!). Then it got rescheduled to add time for public comment because so many people wanted to direct a few words to our overseers. Here’s what it looked like when I got there Wednesday morning:
That’s from about halfway back in the line of cars that were parked on the street. The parking lot was already full.
Here’s what it looked inside the meeting room after they switched into an even BIGGER building next door after lunch.
And as much as I hate being around, and watching, and especially listening to government bureaucrats tell us how much good they’re doing us, it’s almost fun when you’re in a room full of those smart, passionate, loud people who’ve had enough and don’t intend to take it anymore.
Almost, hell. Turns out watching sausage being made can be fun — it just depends on who’s getting stuffed.
Well, it’s getting late, and The Wife and The Oldest Son and I are off to watch a Cubs game tomorrow from one of the rooftops. I’ll give you the play-by-play analysis of the meeting later this weekend (I probably won’t be able to catch any comments until Saturday).
The Older Brother
7 Comments »
One of the many failed diet strategies I tried back in the day was serving myself portion-controlled meals. I’d nuke a Healthy Choice dinner, or a Weight Watchers Smart Ones dinner, or a Lean Cuisine dinner, etc., and then try to convince myself I was satisfied after eating it.
Then I’d get hungry a couple of hours later and nuke another one … or two.
If you’d tried to lose weight by simply eating less of the same foods that made you fat in the first place, you know what happens: you end up in a raging battle with your appetite. You may hold out for awhile, but eventually your appetite wins. It’s supposed to win. That’s how Nature wired you.
The anti-obesity crusaders can’t get that through their heads. They seem to believe obese people are like automatons who just consume whatever’s in front of them, with appetite having little do with it. Just serve those fat people smaller portions, by gosh, and they’ll eat less and lose weight.
Sorry, but that’s like suggesting that if we ordered Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to sell cigarettes in packs of 15 instead of 20, people would smoke less. No, they wouldn’t. They’d just buy more packs.
When Hizzoner in New York wanted to ban large soda cups, I wrote that people would just buy more sodas. A study reported in the Los Angeles Times came to the same conclusion:
After New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled his plan to ban the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces, comedian Jon Stewart complained that the proposal “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”
It turns out the “Daily Show” host was on to something.
New research shows that prompting beverage makers to sell sodas in smaller packages and bundle them as a single unit actually encourages consumers to buy more soda — and gulp down more calories — than they would have consumed without the ban.
Well, I don’t know if they’ll consume more over time, but I sincerely doubt they’ll consume less.
Not only would thirsty people drink more, but circumventing the big-drink ban by offering consumers bundles of smaller drinks also would mean more revenue for the beverage purveyors, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. The sales boost would probably offset the added cost of producing more cups, lids and straws to hold those extra drinks, the researchers found.
The results reveal “a potential unintended consequence that may need to be considered in future policymaking,” wrote the study authors, psychologists from UC San Diego.
Okay, two quick points: 1) There are ALWAYS be unintended consequences when policymakers decide how other people should live, and 2) the lesson that future policymakers need to learn is that they should stop making policies.
The findings come a month after a New York judge struck down a bid by New York City’s health department to halt the sale of super-sized soft drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and sports venues across the city, calling the proposed measure “arbitrary and capricious.”
The effort’s legal failure sparked a round of soul-searching by public health officials, whose anti-obesity efforts have focused heavily on reducing Americans’ consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages laden with sugar and calories.
Soul-searching by public health officials? I doubt that happened. If it did, neighbors would have reported hearing screams of “Oh my god, I have the soul of a fascist!”
On to the study …
The researchers recruited 100 undergraduate students at UC San Diego and set up a mock concession stand offering popcorn, pizza and an array of beverage choices packaged in single-serving cups and in bundles of cups.
In one setup, the researchers offered a full-service menu with 16-ounce, 24-ounce and 32-ounce drinks for $1.59, $1.79 and $1.99, respectively. In another, students could buy a single 16-ounce soda for $1.59, two 12-ounce sodas for $1.79, or two 16-ounce sodas for $1.99. There was also a “no-bundle” menu, offering only a 16-ounce drink for $1.59.
When ordering off the bundled menu, the subjects bought more ounces of soda than in either of the other two cases. They were also less likely to skip a drink when bundles were available — only 16% made that choice, compared with 21% who opted to go beverage-free when faced with the full-service menu and 38% who did so when the only option was the 16-ounce drink.
In other words, faced with a size restriction, the students bought more servings.
Another study purported to show that serving food on smaller plates could reduce childhood obesity:
Smaller plates, fewer calories? The latest study shows one way to fight childhood obesity may be to shrink the size of the dinner plate.
According research published in the journal Pediatrics, first-graders served themselves more and downed more calories when they used a large plate instead of a smaller one.
Simply advising parents — and kids — to eat less and exercise more hasn’t turned the childhood obesity epidemic around.
So let me get this straight: advising people to eat less and move more doesn’t work … but if we give them smaller plates, they’ll eat less and then that will work? We’re back to the automaton theory. Apparently the millions and millions of frustrated dieters in the world never had the good sense to just use smaller plates. Sure, they were trying to count calories and all that, but when they pulled a big ol’ plate out of the cupboard, they were unconsciously driven to fill it up and then ate too much.
With one in three U.S. kids now defined as overweight or obese, researchers at Temple University decided to study how effective shrinking plate sizes could be in keeping appetites in check.
A smaller plate reduces your appetite?! A piece of plastic or china somehow changes one of your most basic biochemical drives?
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
On half the days, the kids used plates that were 7 ¼ inches in diameter — about the size of a salad plate — and on the other days they were provided with dishes the size of a dinner plate at 10 ¼-inches in diameter. Their plates were weighed before and after they ate.
The kids served themselves 90 calories more on days when they used bigger dishes; they ended up consuming about half those calories and leaving the rest uneaten, which was still more than what they ate on days they used the smaller plates. “Studies show that when kids serve themselves more, they are going to eat more,” says Fisher, the study’s lead author.
Okay, so here’s what we’ve got: when kids were given bigger plates, they served themselves an extra 90 calories – but then consumed only half of the extra calories. That’s a whopping 45-calorie difference. Hail, hail, the witch is dead, the childhood obesity epidemic has been solved! Does anyone really think those kids’ metabolisms aren’t capable of adjusting up or down to cancel out a 45-calorie difference?
When kids put more food on the plate but then don’t eat it all, that tells me that they’re eating to match their appetites — exactly what I’d expect to happen. As I’ve mentioned before, on most nights my girls walk away from the dinner table with food still left on their (large) plates. On other nights, they’ll ask for seconds. Sometimes they eat a little dinner, go do their homework, then ask for a snack – which we give them. We don’t worry about how much they eat because their appetites are naturally controlled by the type of foods we serve them.
The point is, losing weight isn’t about plate size, cup size, or portion size. It’s about fixing the hormonal drive to accumulate fat, which in turns ramps up appetite. If your fat cells are sucking up a disproportionate number of calories and hanging onto them, you’re going to get hungry and you’re going to eat more – even if you eat from a teensy little plate.
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While looking for something else on the USDA’s official My Plate site last week, I came across a list of daily meal plans. I presume the meal plans are intended for people who are too stupid to simply look at the new and improved, colorful, easy-to-understand My Plate example and fill their plates accordingly. I don’t think people are that stupid, but the USDA clearly does. After all, when the Food Pyramid came along and people got fatter instead of thinner, the USDA took that result as evidence that the Food Pyramid was too confusing. Couldn’t possibly be that the advice was wrong.
Anyway, here are some screen shots of the sample menus for a 2,000 calorie diet:
Although it was a bit tedious, I looked up nutrition information for everything on the Day 1 menu and added it up. We’re looking at 2039 calories, 94 grams of protein, 82 grams of fat, and 254 carbohydrates. That’s not a huge carbohydrate load (although far more than I would consume), but look at some of the major carb sources: raisins, brown sugar, orange juice, lasagna noodles and a wheat roll. Fructose and wheat.
Go through the rest of the week online, and it’s more of the same. Sure, there are recommendations to eat vegetables, but there are also plenty of juices, English muffins, rolls, bread slices, crackers, cereals … heck, fat-free chocolate milk is even on the menu for Day 5. Every single cut of meat is specified as lean and every single dairy product is specified as low-fat or fat-free. Recipes call for margarine and corn or canola oil, but of course never butter. There’s almost no quality fat on the menu to make you feel full and nourished.
I would shrug it off and say most people will ignore these menus – which they will – but of course every public school, military installation, prison, government cafeteria, etc., etc. is required to serve meals like these.
The My Plate site is full of nonsense about how eating this way can help people lose weight. Riiiight. The only people who will lose weight because of these menus are the prisoners – and only because they can’t go out and stuff themselves with snacks after their USDA-approved meals leave them feeling hungry.
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A new report from the USDA says Americans are eating less fat than we did 30 years ago. Here’s the opening from an online article about the report:
On average, Americans are eating 10g less fat per day today than they were in the late 1970s, according to new research. In a report comparing food consumption patterns in 1977-78 versus 2005-2008, Biing-Hwan Lin and Joanne Guthrie from USDA’s Economic Research Service found that on average, Americans consumed 75.2g of fat in 2005-08 compared with 85.6g in 1977-78.
Meanwhile, the percentage of total calories derived from fat also declined substantially from 39.7% to 33.4% between 1977 and 2008, said the authors.
Hallelujah! Now that USDA itself is admitting we’re eating less fat, surely they’ll finally also admit that the rise we’ve seen in obesity and metabolic syndrome in the past 30 years can’t be blamed on fat. I can just hear the press conference where they announce they’re allowing whole milk back in schools …
However, with more Americans eating out than ever before, a growing proportion of the fat that they do consume is the unhealthy, saturated, variety, said the authors, noting that almost a third (31.6%) of calories were from foods consumed outside the home in 2005-8 compared with just 17.7% in the late 1970s.
“Food consumed away from home is higher in saturated fat than foods consumed at home [in the 2005-8 data set]. The higher percent of calories from saturated fat in fast-foods was especially noteworthy at 13.5%, compared with 11.9% in restaurant foods, 12.3% in school foods, and 10.7% in foods consumed at home.”
Similarly, foods consumed away from home in 2005-8 contained significantly more sodium (1,820mg of sodium per 1,000 calories), than foods consumed at home (1,369mg sodium per 1,000 calories); with foods from restaurants and fast-food outlets particularly sodium-dense at 2,151mg and 1,864mg of sodium per 1,000 calories, respectively.
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
Faced with their own evidence that fat didn’t commit the crime, the USDA researchers nonetheless rounded up the usual suspects: Saturated Fat and his evil sidekick Sodium. I wondered if perhaps the news story missed the point of the USDA report, so I looked it up online.
Nope, the report is full of hand-wringing about how much more often Americans these days eat in restaurants, where (egads!) the meals are higher in saturated fat. Here are some pieces of the report:
Food prepared away from home (FAFH)—whether from table-service restaurants, fast-food establishments and other locations, or from a take-out or delivery meal eaten at home—is now a routine part of the diets of most Americans. Previous Economic Research Service (ERS) research found that FAFH tends to be lower in nutritional quality than food prepared at home (FAH), increases caloric intake, and reduces diet quality among adults and children. This study updates previous research by examining dietary guidance and the nutritional quality of FAH versus FAFH in 2005-08, compared with 1977-78.
Poor diets contribute to obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other health conditions that impose substantial economic burden on Americans (USDA/USDHHS, 2011; USDHHS, 2010). The medical costs associated with overweight and obesity have been estimated as high as $147 billion, or 10 percent of all medical costs in 2008 (Finkelstein et al., 2009; O’Grady and Capretta, 2012; Tsai et al., 2011). These enormous costs are one reason that USDA and other public and private entities place a high priority on improving Americans’ diets.
Well, we’re all grateful beyond belief that the USDA is dedicated to improving our diets and putting the country on sound financial footing as a result. So what’s the “poor diet” that’s contributing to all those problems?
As the share of food expenditures spent on FAFH has risen over the past 30 years, so has the share of calories and nutrients consumed from such food. Previous ERS research found that FAFH in the 1990s contained less of the food components Americans underconsume, such as calcium and dietary fiber, and more of those overconsumed, such as fat, compared with FAH.
So there’s the problem: we eat out more than we did 30 years ago, and restaurant food is higher in saturated fat (and sodium, as the researchers note several times in the report). Case closed.
Except we somehow manage to consume less fat than we did 30 years ago, despite a higher calorie intake. Are we actually eating a lot more saturated fat than our grandparents did, despite eating less fat overall? How can that be?
If you suspect the USDA decided to toss around some accusatory percentages in order to frame their favorite suspect, you’d be right. I can almost imagine the conversation in the hallowed halls of USDA research:
“Did you finish crunching the numbers, Jenkins?”
“Yes, sir. Good news: people are eating less fat than they did in 1978.”
“Whew! For a minute there, I thought you were going to say people are eating less fat.”
“I did say that, sir. But rates of obesity and diabetes are clearly–”
“Great. There you have it, then. We should continue telling people to cut back on fat.”
“But sir, they have cut back on fat, almost to the level we’ve been recommending.”
“@#$%!! Okay, here’s what you do, Jenkins. Figure out how much more saturated fat is in restaurant food. Then let’s roll those figures together with the data on how much more often people eat in restaurants these days. Use percentages, because that makes the numbers look bigger.”
“One step ahead of you, sir. I already crunched those numbers, and in terms of total saturated fat intake, the difference is only—”
“Jenkins, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying, so let me explain it this way: shut up.”
The report mentions using surveys for collecting data, so the numbers are suspect. But the USDA based a study on the data and reached conclusions about what’s causing our health issues, so let’s go along for the ride.
According to the report, we consumed an average of 1,875 calories per day in 1978 and 2,002 calories per day in 2008. I thought those figures sounded ridiculously low until I realized the data is for Americans ages 2 and up. I don’t know how many calories my daughters consume in a day, but it’s nowhere close to 2,000. Kids obviously bring down the averages.
Now, let’s suppose we heed the USDA’s warnings about the higher saturated-fat content in restaurant meals and decide we shouldn’t be consuming 31.6% of our total calories in restaurants. Let’s go back to consuming just 17.7% percent of our calories in restaurants, like in the good ol’ days of 1978. (You may dig out your leisure suit and pull up KC and the Sunshine Band in iTunes if it helps you get in the mood.)
The report tells us that meals at home average 10.7% saturated fat by calories, restaurant meals average 11.9% saturated fat by calories, and fast-food meals average 13.5% saturated fat by calories. Well, heck, just to tip the scales in favor of the USDA’s argument, I’m going to assume all restaurant meals are fast-food meals. So using the 2008 average of 2,002 calories per day, here’s how our saturated-fat intake is affected by consuming 31.6% of our calories in restaurants instead of 17.7% — I’ll listen to Sara’s math teacher and show my work:
31.6% calories consumed in restaurants:
Restaurant: (2,002 calories) x (13.5% sat-fat) x (31.6%) = 85.4
Home: (2,002 calories) x (10.7% sat-fat) x (68.4%) = 146.5
Add our home and restaurant meals together, and we’re averaging 231.9 calories per day from saturated fat. I’ll do the USDA a favor and round up to 232 calories. Now let’s heed the USDA’s advice.
17.7% calories consumed in restaurants:
Restaurant: (2,002 calories) x (13.5% sat-fat) x (17.7%) = 47.8
Home: (2,002 calories) x (10.7% sat-fat) x (82.3%) = 176.3
Add them together, we get an average of 224.1 calories per day from saturated fat. I’ll do the USDA a favor and round down to 224 calories.
So here’s what we’re looking at if we do the math the USDA either didn’t do or chose not to share, opting instead for big, scary-sounding percentages so they could continue placing the blame on saturated fat:
Based on their own data, the difference between consuming 31.6% vs. 17.7% of our meals in fast-food joints works out to (hold your breath!) … 8 calories of saturated fat per day. Or you could calculate it as 25.8 grams per day vs. 24.9 grams per day.
Since I’m feeling generous, I’ll forget that we consume less fat now than in 1978 and run the numbers assuming we reduced both our total calorie intake and the percentage of calories consumed in restaurants to 1978 levels:
Restaurant: (1,875 calories) x (13.5% sat-fat) x (17.7%) = 44.8
Home: (1,875 calories) x (10.7% sat-fat) x (82.3%) = 165.1
The combined daily average is 209.9 calories from saturated fat. Let’s call it 210. So if we reduced our calorie consumption and percent of calories consumed in restaurants to 1978 levels, we’d be talking about 23.3 grams per day of saturated fat instead of 25.8 — a difference of 2.5 grams per day. And to repeat, I ran those numbers assuming all restaurant meals are fast-food meals — which they aren’t.
Yup, I’d say the USDA has found the cause of all of our health problems. We eat out more often, and we’re clearly loading up saturated fat as a result.
By the way, the term saturated fat appeared in the report 19 times. The word sugar appeared once. Thank goodness they’re focusing their efforts on the real culprit.
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Here’s some good news … sort of. The USDA has backed off its strict limits on school lunches:
The Agriculture Department is responding to criticism over new school lunch rules by allowing more grains and meat in kids’ meals.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter Friday that the department will do away with daily and weekly limits of meats and grains. Several lawmakers wrote the department after the new rules went into effect in September saying kids aren’t getting enough to eat.
School administrators also complained, saying set maximums on grains and meats are too limiting as they try to plan daily meals.
Why is this only “sort of” good news? Because when our overlords listen to our complaints, it’s an improvement … but they’re still our overlords and shouldn’t be. Keep reading:
“This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,” Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Well, gee, that’s just awesomely wonderful of USDA officials sitting in Washington to provide some flexibility while telling school officials in my little town in Tennessee what they may and may not serve to kids in our local schools. All hail Big Brother! He listened to his subjects!
The new guidelines were intended to address increasing childhood obesity levels.
Yeah, and the taxpayer loan to Solyndra was intended to produce a successful solar company. I don’t give a rat’s @$$ how good our overlords’ intentions are.
They set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. The department also dictated how much of certain food groups could be served.
What do we call people who dictate what their subjects can and can’t do? I know there’s a noun …
While nutritionists and some parents have praised the new school lunch standards, others, including many conservative lawmakers, refer to them as government overreach. Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained about hearing from constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.
I’ve read that paragraph several times and still can’t figure out what the writer intended to convey with the word “yet,” which suggests a “on the hand, but on the other hand” type of inconsistency. You know, something like “He doesn’t trust doctors, yet he takes his Lipitor religiously.” So we have legislators getting upset about government overreach and yet they complain about hearing from angry constituents? Are those two behaviors somehow inconsistent?
The new tweak doesn’t upset nutritionists who fought for the school lunch overhaul.
Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the change is minor and the new guidance shows that USDA will work with school nutrition officials and others who have concerns.
“It takes time to work out the kinks,” Wootan said. “This should show Congress that they don’t need to interfere legislatively.”
Translation: we don’t want representatives of the people getting involved in our plans to tell the people what they can and cannot serve to children in school.
How’s how we could work out the kinks without it taking a lot of time, Margo: We announce that bureaucrats in Washington are no more qualified than local officials or — egads! — parents to decide what kids should eat. (I know trying to wrap your brain around the idea that sitting at a desk in the nation’s capital doesn’t confer special wisdom on a person could cause your head to explode, but go with me on this.) Then we tell the USDA to stick to what it’s actually competent to do: suck up billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize large agribusiness corporations like ADM and “farmers” like Scottie Pippen and Ted Turner.
Sen. Hoeven, who had written Vilsack to express concern about the rules, said he will be supportive of the meals overhaul if the USDA continues to be flexible when problems arise.
And there’s the problem, Senator: you don’t mind the USDA dictating to local schools as long as the dictators are flexible.
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