The topic of so-called “food deserts” came up in comments on a recent post.  A reader included a link to a Eureka Alert article that included these quotes:

An analysis of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults reveals that access to healthy foods in a supermarket does not hinder Americans’ consumption of empty calories. In fact, the study found, U.S. adults buy the bulk of their sugar-sweetened beverages and nutrient-poor discretionary foods at supermarkets and grocery stores.

The new findings challenge the “food desert” hypothesis, which posits that a lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores in some communities worsens the obesity crisis by restricting people’s access to healthy foods.

As part of their never-ending quest to create a better society by spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedoms, The Anointed decided to take on the (ahem) “problem” of food deserts some years ago.  And boy, the Grand Plan they came up with to fix it is such a fine example of The Anointed in action, I decided to write a full post on the topic.

I haven’t discussed The Anointed for a while, so I’ll start with a brief review of how they operate.  This is my crib-sheet version of Thomas Sowell’s terrific book The Vision of The Anointed:

  • The Anointed identify a problem in society.
  • The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem.  Strangely, the Grand Plan nearly always requires spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedom to make their own decisions.
  • Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.  In fact, they cheerfully ignore any evidence that the Grand Plan won’t work.
  • If possible, The Anointed will use government coercion to impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course).
  • Because the problem they’ve identified is The Bad, The Anointed assume whatever Grand Plan they design to fix it is The Good.  Therefore, anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is opposing Good itself … which can only mean those people are either evil or stupid.
  • If the Grand Plan fails (which it usually does), The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong.  They will instead conclude that 1) the plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some examples of The Anointed identifying the “food desert” problem in America.

We’ll start with a USDA Today article titled Millions of Food Desert Dwellers Struggle to Get Fresh Groceries.  Heck, you don’t even need to read the article after seeing that title.  It tells you everything you need to know.  Millions of people are struggling to get fresh groceries.  Clearly they want those fresh fruits and vegetables, but find the task nearly impossible.  Here are some quotes:

There’s been little improvement in the country’s food accessibility in recent years, and that’s bad news for millions of Americans.

“Efforts to encourage Americans to improve their diets and to eat more nutritious foods presume that a wide variety of these foods are accessible to everyone. But, for some Americans and in some communities, access to healthy foods may be limited,” said a 2012 USDA report, which found that nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population lived in a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket.

Other research suggests healthier food options are typically limited in low-income regions, as a team of Yale University professors concluded after a regional supermarket analysis that “lower-income neighborhoods (compared to those in higher-income neighborhoods) stock fewer healthier varieties of foods and have fresh produce of much lower quality.”

So there you have it.  We’re encouraging Americans to improve their diets, but nutritious food just isn’t available in many areas, especially poor areas.  Isn’t that odd?  Nobody talks about “athletic shoe deserts” or “flat-screen TV deserts” or “chicken-nugget deserts” in any of America’s big cities.  But for some reason, the same class of greedy capitalists who profit from those products apparently don’t want to swoop in and make a buck selling nutritious fruits and vegetables.

The USDA Today article was written by someone with the title of Economy Reporter.  That ought to scare you.  A little knowledge of basic economics should be a requirement for the job.

We can be a bit more forgiving of a group called DoSomething.org, since it describes itself as “young people + social change.”  When I hear that young people are motivated by “social change,” I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) they don’t know diddly about economics — which is why they’re often in love with Grand Plans that promise to DoSomething!  Anyway, here are portions of their deep analysis of the problem:

“Food deserts” are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.

Residents living in food deserts also have a hard time finding foods that are culturally relevant and that meet their dietary restrictions.

People living in the poorest SES (social-economic status) areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast-food restaurants as those living in the wealthiest areas.

With limited options, many people living in food deserts get meals from fast-food restaurants.

Food insecurity has a high correlation with increased diabetes rates.

Ain’t it awful?  Once again, for reasons nobody can explain, greedy capitalists apparently aren’t interested in turning a profit by selling nutritious (or even culturally relevant) foods to people who are struggling to find them.  So with those limited options, people living in food deserts turn to fast food (despite its lack of cultural relevance) and then develop diabetes.  Man, somebody needs to jump in and DoSomething!

It’s not just young people interested in social change who believe this nonsense.  Here’s part of a comment on a PBS article about food deserts (which we’ll revisit shortly):

I remember sitting in a seminar while attending Hopkins school of public health many years ago when this issue was gaining momentum and the speaker (a community advocate) believed there was some sort of conspiracy or concerted effort to keep healthy foods out of low-income, urban neighborhoods. He believed that corner store owners could make more money selling fruits and vegetables than junk food but just simply didn’t do it.

Yup, a community activist actually believes there’s a conspiracy NOT to sell fruits and vegetables in urban neighborhoods, even though the store owners would make more money.  Hey, maybe someday we’ll elect a former community activist as our president.  Then we’ll really see some brilliant economic programs.  Perhaps one that jacks insurance premiums through the roof while simultaneously chasing the major insurers and providers out of the market. In the meantime, I’d love to have a secret conversation with one of those store owners conspiring to keep fruits and vegetables out of urban neighborhoods.

“Listen, you know you’d actually make more money selling healthy food to these people, right?”

“Yeah, but I still don’t want to do it.”

“Why not?”

“I figure if my customers keep dying of diabetes, that’s good for business in the long run.”

With the problem identified, The Anointed of course proposed a Grand Plan.  Here’s what the PBS article had to say about it:

To change the situation in these areas — known as “food deserts” — Mrs. Obama called for action. “This is happening all across the country. We’re setting people up for failure if we don’t fix this.”

Notice the attitude:  it’s a problem and the government must fix it – by spending other people’s money, of course.  As usual, The Anointed didn’t bother looking for evidence that the plan would work.  They didn’t start by spending, say, $100,000 to open fruit and vegetable stands in a few “food deserts” to determine whether or not the desert-dwellers would actually buy them.  Nope, the plan must always be Grand.  The article on Eureka Alert explains just how Grand this one was:

The food desert hypothesis led the U.S. government to spend almost $500 million since 2011 to improve access to supermarkets and grocery stores in underserved communities. States and municipalities also have made efforts to increase the supply of healthy foods, offering financial incentives to build new grocery stores or to increase the amount of fresh food available in convenience stores and gas stations, for example.

And from the PBS article:

Pennsylvania has launched a program whereby 88 new or expanded food retail outlets have been created, giving healthy food access to around 500,000 children and adults. And in fact, when the House passed the long-awaited farm bill on Wednesday, it included a provision for the HealthyFood Financing Initiative, which would allocate $125 million for expanding food resources in underserved communities across the nation.

That’s more than a half-billion of your dollars.  So how’s it working?  I’m sure you can guess, but let’s look at some quotes from the PBS article:

Fast forward to 2014, though, and the problem of food deserts — and their effect on diet and health — still persists.

Really?  After a half-billion spent by the feds and millions more spent by states? How can that be?

The problem may not lie solely with food accessibility; it could also be due to people’s shopping and eating habits.

Gee, do ya think?

Steven Cummins, a professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggests that merely adding a new grocery store to a neighborhood won’t be enough to motivate individuals to shop there for healthier foods.

In other words, the Grand Plan isn’t working for the same reason those wunnerful, wunnerful fruits and vegetables weren’t available in “food deserts” in the first place:  THE LOCALS AREN’T INTERESTED IN BUYING THEM.  HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THIS COMING A HALF-BILLION DOLLARS AGO, YOU @#$%ING MORONS?!

Here’s the really fun part:  The USDA is aware of research negating the hypothesis that people don’t buy fruits and vegetables because they “struggle” to find them.  Look at these quotes from a USDA document, which explains (among other things) that most people living in “food deserts” actually travel to a superstore to buy groceries:

If poor food access affects consumers’ food choices, then the dietary quality of consumers with limited food shopping options should improve when they shop farther from home, where their choices are less constrained. Nielsen data confirm that the dietary quality of their purchases did improve, but just slightly. By driving an extra mile to the store, low-access consumers purchased 0.42 percent more fruits, 0.55 percent more vegetables, 0.61 percent more low-fat milk products, and 0.33 percent less nondiet drinks.

They travel to big stores, but buy perhaps one-half of one percent more fruits and vegetables than people who don’t travel to big stores.  So much for the struggle.

But what about people living in a neighborhood where a new (government-subsidized) store was built to make sure resident have easy access to fruits and vegetables?  Here’s what the USDA document says:

In Pittsburgh, the share of residents in the new-store neighborhood who were regular users of the new store was much higher—68 percent—but their diet quality was not different from their neighbors who were not regular users of the new store.

These results suggest that improving access to healthful foods by itself will likely not have a major impact on consumer diets or generate major reductions in diet-related disease.

No change in diet.  Big fat fail.  Another Grand Plan bites the dust.

Well, not really.  Grand Plans never bite the dust.  When a Grand Plan fails, The Anointed always conclude that it was undermined by people who are stupid or evil, or it didn’t go far enough.  Here’s what one economics genius commenting on the PBS article has to say:

Healthy food must become affordable and that means unhealthy food must become more expensive. A RISK tax’s – akin to the excise tax on tobacco – time has come.

Incentives to purchase vegetables and low glycemic fruit must be made part of the SNAP program and sugar (including refined grains) must be restricted or denied.

In-store marketing could be cooking demonstrations by folks savvy in nutrition using healthy food – limited ingredients, mostly plants – show them and they will buy SANE – Sustainable, Affordable, Nutritious food for Everyone.

Right.  The answer, of course, is to spend even more of other people’s money and restrict more of other’s people’s freedoms.  Restrict and deny choices, raise taxes, and spend more money to demonstrate how to cook healthy food.  Because by gosh, THEN the urban “food desert” dwellers will finally decide they want more fruits and vegetables.

What is so hard to try these approaches?

I dunno, but I bet someone who’s either evil or stupid is undermining them.

Ah! sorry, I know. It is that corporations such as Coca-Cola have infiltrated the first lady’s program to promote “let’s move” and forget the nutrition part of the obesity epidemic.

Well, that explains it.  The feds spent a half-billion dollars to make fruits and vegetables more accessible, but people aren’t buying them because the evil corporation Coca-Cola infiltrated Ms. Obama’s awesome Grand Plan.

Professor Cummins, who conducted the study covered in the PBS article, has this to say:

I want to stress that supermarket interventions — even though I don’t think they’re necessarily effective in the way people think they’ll be effective — are very important, and I am actually quite supportive of them.

Excuse me?  Your own study says supermarket interventions don’t change eating habits, but you still think they’re important and support them?!

In addition to improving physical access to food in disadvantaged neighborhoods, you also need to think about policies that help bridge this gap between perception and action. These might include things such as economic initiatives — like taxes or subsidies for healthy foods — but could also include harnessing in-store marketing to promote the purchase of healthy foods as opposed to unhealthy foods.

I see.  We need even more government action.  The Grand Plan obviously didn’t go far enough.

Here’s a thought to consider, Professor:  when people in some neighborhoods don’t buy fruits and vegetables even when the feds spend millions of dollars to bring them in, it’s not because they’re disadvantaged.  It’s because they buy what they prefer to eat.

So how about you just leave them (and the rest of us) alone?

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Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans (who visited the Fat Head farm in 2015) sent me a link to an article warning diabetics away from the paleo diet.  Let’s take a look:

People with type 2 diabetes should ditch the paleo diet until there’s substantial clinical evidence supporting its health benefits, warns the head of the Australian Diabetes Society.

It may be popular among celebrities but there’s little evidence to support the dozens of claims it can help manage the disease, says Associate Professor Sof Andrikopoulos.

Andrikopoulos isn’t exactly a common name, yet it sounded familiar.  So I searched the blog.  Sure enough, I wrote a post about the Aussie perfesser back in February after he produced a study purporting to demonstrate that a paleo diet will makes us fat and sick.  I say purporting because the (ahem) “study” was on mice … and the “paleo” diet tripled the furry little subjects’ sugar intake, provided all their protein in the form of casein (just like yer average paleo diet, eh?) and increased their normal fat intake by 2567 percent – with much of the fat coming from canola oil.  Yup, sounds exactly like my paleo diet.

After reading about that (ahem) “study,” I concluded that perfesser Andrikopoulos is an intelligent imbecile.  The article Pete Evans forwarded didn’t dissuade me from that conclusion:

“There have been only two trials worldwide of people with type 2 diabetes on what looks to be a paleo diet,” he [Andrikopoulos ] said.  “Both studies had fewer than 20 participants, one had no control diet, and at 12 weeks or less, neither study lasted long enough for us to draw solid conclusions about the impact on weight or glycemic control.”

And here I thought the fact that millions of people around the world lived on paleo diets for hundreds of centuries counted as a test.  I seem to recall that doctors who examined hunter-gatherer tribes in modern times found almost no evidence of obesity, cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

The controversial paleo diet, followed by many high profile people including celebrity chef Pete Evans, advocates a high consumption of meat and cuts out whole grains and dairy, which is problematic because it may forgo important sources of fibre and calcium, says Andrikopoulos.

That would explain why paleo humans had such weak bones and went extinct thousands of years ago.

“And high-fat, zero-carb diets promoted by some celebrities make this worse, as they can lead to rapid weight gain, as well as increase your risk of heart disease,” he said.

I see.  So the perfesser believes:

1) There have only been two trials testing a paleo-type diet
2) Those trials aren’t relevant because they had fewer than 20 participants and lasted 12 weeks
3) LCHF diets lead to rapid weight gain
4) LCHF diets increase your risk of heart disease

Gee, if only we lived in an age where people could easily find information on published studies.  Oh, wait – we do.  So let me spend … oh, I don’t know, maybe 90 seconds .. searching my database of studies and see what I can find.

This study compared the effects of a low-carb vs. low-fat diet for a full year.  (The perfesser may not know this, but a year is way longer than 12 weeks.  It’s like, uh, 52 weeks or something.)  Here are the results and conclusions:

Participants on the low-carbohydrate diet had greater decreases in weight, fat mass, ratio of total-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride level and greater increases in HDL cholesterol level than those on the low-fat diet.

The low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor reduction than the low-fat diet. Restricting carbohydrate may be an option for persons seeking to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.

I’m no perfesser, but I’m pretty sure more effective for weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor reduction is the exact opposite of rapid weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease.

This study of a low-carb vs. low-fat diet lasted 24 weeks, which, if my math skills haven’t slipped, is less than a year but still way more than 12 weeks.  Here are the results and conclusions:

LC achieved greater reductions in triglycerides and glucose variance indices. LC induced greater HbA1c reductions and HDL cholesterol increases in participants.

This suggests an LC diet with low saturated fat may be an effective dietary approach for T2DM management if effects are sustained beyond 24 weeks.

Lower triglycerides and lower A1c (average blood glucose) on low-carb.  Yes, I can see why the head of Diabetes Australia would be against such a wacky, untested diet.

Which leads us to wonder what the perfesser does believe.  Well, we know he’s a stickler for good, solid science because of this quote:

“Both studies had fewer than 20 participants, one had no control diet, and at 12 weeks or less, neither study lasted long enough for us to draw solid conclusions about the impact on weight or glycemic control.”

Okay, then.  We mustn’t draw conclusions from studies with fewer than 20 participants that only last 12 weeks.  Got it, perfesser.  Way to stand up for solid science.

Uh, but wait … let’s go back to that study of the “paleo” diet I wrote about back in February.  The subjects were mice – just 17 of them.  And the study lasted just eight weeks.  Not exactly up to the perfesser’s standards, at least when he wants to diss studies of paleo diets.  And yet, he touted his mouse (ahem) “study” as evidence that the paleo diet will make us fat and sick.  (Assuming, of course, that a paleo diet triples sugar intake, wildly increases fat intake, and limits protein to a dairy product.  And that the people consuming it are mice.)

Well, maybe we just caught the perfesser on a bad day.  Let’s see what other research he has out there.  Here are some quotes from another recent article titled How sugar with a burger could be healthier:

Forget just the fries with that— weight watchers may be better off sipping a sugary drink with their burger to protect against weight gain.

A shocking new finding in a Victorian study shows a burger and chips with coke appears to be better for us than opting for a water, juice or diet soft drink.

Better for us?  So they must have measured health outcomes over a long period, eh?  I’m sure perfesser Andrikopoulos would insist on such rigorous standards before reaching a conclusion.

In a trial, Austin Health fed participants burgers and different drinks combinations to see what effect it had on their health.

They found that those that had coke instead of a healthy drink with their meal were more likely to feel fuller for longer and perhaps stop them from over-eating later on.

The coke-drinkers reported feeling fuller, apparently after a test with exactly one meal … and from this, we make the leap to “perhaps stop them over-eating later on” … and then the leap to “chips with coke appears to be better for us.”  Well, heck yes, that makes perfect scientific sense.

Dr Sof Andrikopoulos, Associate Professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne at Austin Health, said they thought that feeding mice meals that were high fat and sugar would lead to weight gain.

“In actual fact what we found what was the opposite,” Dr Andrikopoulos said.

“If we had animals on the fructose diet they gained weight, if we had them on the high fat diet they also gained weight, but if we combined the two fructose and the high fat diet together, they were prevented from gaining weight.”

Dr Andrikopoulos said if you have a fatty meal, it is probably worth having a fructose drink to make you feel full longer afterwards.

Because that’s what the stickler-for-rigorous-science perfesser saw in a one-meal study of “fullness” on humans, plus a very short study with mice … which means humans should probably have a sugary drink when eating a fatty meal.  Great.  I mean, it’s not like fat mixed with sugar is the worst possible combination or anything.

So to sum up:

Perfesser Andrikopoulos believes a low-carb paleo diet will make people fat and sick.  He also believes that a sugary drink helps people feel fuller and might prevent them from overeating, thus leading to better health.

This is coming from the head of the Australian Diabetes Society.  I believe that helps explain an ongoing tragedy reported by ABC News in Australia:

In the past year alone we’ve seen another 100,000 Australians diagnosed with diabetes.

But gosh no, don’t listen to Pete Evans.  Listen to the (ahem) “experts.” They’ve done such a good job so far — and they’re such champions of solid, consistent science.

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A reader sent an email to let me know Fat Head is now available on Amazon Prime.  So if you’re a Prime member (I am and enjoy the huge library of free movies and TV shows) and haven’t seen the film, time to grab that remote.

You may be wondering who Peter Paddon is and why he’s listed as a star.  Apparently the metadata picked up his name from the cast list I submitted to our distributor.  Peter was a co-worker back when I worked for Disney.  I needed someone for that “guy recognizes himself in a newscast about obesity” scene, so I kind of apologetically explained it to Peter.

He laughed and said (in his classy British accent), “Don’t worry about offending me.  I know I’m fat.”  He volunteered to come to work the next day wearing a very recognizable shirt.  We went outside and I videotaped him walking down the street.  Then we found an empty office with a sofa and a TV for the “Holy @#$%, that’s me on the news!” scene.  He made me laugh out loud with the first take, so that’s what ended up in the film.

Cheers, Peter, wherever you are.

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I wouldn’t normally have another Farm Report ready until at least the weekend.  But I ended up shifting part of my weekend to the workweek.

On Tuesday morning, I drove to the office as usual.  “As usual” these days means heading to Nashville after dropping the girls off at their middle school around 7:00 AM.  Yes, you read that correctly:  I’m awake and in the car and ready to go at 6:45 AM.  After all those years as a night person who could rarely fall asleep before midnight, my body clock seems to have shifted.

Some weeks ago, I began waking up at 6:00 AM for no apparent reason.  Then I started going to bed at 10:30 PM instead of midnight and actually falling asleep.  Well, usually.  Since Chareva is busy trying to get all the cartoons for the book done, I told her I’d drive the girls to school.  That’s a morning trip she doesn’t have to make, which gives her more drawing time.  The early start also means I can leave the office around 3:45 PM, which gives me more writing time when I get home.

Anyway, I drove to the office on Tuesday, booted up my computer and … nothing.  That is, nothing but a Windows startup screen that wouldn’t go away.  I took it to the company PC lab where, after running an analysis, one of the techs told me they’d have to rebuild the thing.  He said it would take at least five hours.

I told my supervisor he probably didn’t need me to just sit around all day, and offered to take the day off and work on Saturday.  He agreed.  I went home and spent a chunk of the day working on the film version of the book.

I drove to the office again on Wednesday morning.  The PC had been raised from the dead, but the long list of programming tools required for my work hadn’t been installed.  One of the techs told me it would take at least five hours.  (I sometimes wonder if “at least five hours” is the standard estimate.)  So once again, I told my supervisor I was willing to sit and watch the Olympics all day, but it probably wasn’t a good use of my time.  He agreed and sent me home.

With Saturday already set aside for programming work, I told Chareva if there was any weekend farm work she wanted me to accomplish, the weekend was happening now, in the middle of the week.  Turns out she did have a project in mind.  Half her garden is played out for the summer, and she wanted me to till the soil to prepare it for cool-weather plants.  Kale is one of those plants. That’s all she had to say.  Just picture me with a big cardboard sign:  WILL WORK FOR KALE.

I pushed the tiller up our back hill and wondered why the heck my thigh muscles were burning. I mean, it’s a heavy enough machine, but come on.

Geez, I would have sworn I was in better shape than this!  Did I become a weenie during my programming marathon?  Too much sitting in a chair?

Then I remembered:  I had stopped at the gym for my workout after dropping the girls off at school.  I was doing manual farm labor two-and-a-half hours after lifting weights.

Okay, no worries.  You didn’t become a weenie.  Just consider this an extra set with weights.

As you can see, weeds had invaded the garden after attempting to disguise themselves as plants deserving of water and other care.  The tiller is tough and will take down weeds, but then the weeds wrap themselves around the blades like little ropes.  So I decided it would be best to run The Beast through the area first.

Weeds had also taken over the chicken moats.  They were so thick, the chickens lost interest in running around looking for bugs.  So as long as I was feeding The Beast, I decided I may as well hack my way through the moats as well.  I’m bent over like an old man in the photos below because we haven’t raised the nets with cattle panels in that moat.

There’s no room to turn The Beast around in the moats, so once I reach the end, I finish cutting by walking The Beast backwards.  Glad that thing has a reverse gear.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m impressed with how well The Beast is built.  I’ve also mentioned that I’m not impressed with the Toro lawnmower.  That goes double now.  Last weekend, the Toro shook itself into breaking down.  There are parts that have sprung loose in the engine, a crack in the base of the engine, and an oil leak I can’t locate – but I can see the oil.  So I had to quit mowing with this much left to go:

Yes, we’re on bumpy land, but it’s not as if I drive the Toro over boulders.  Apparently it’s only tough enough for a suburban lawn.  Guess I should see if the makers of The Beast produce lawnmowers as well.

After feeding The Beast, I took the tiller into the garden and turned up enough rocks to fill all the heads in Congress.  Despite knocking down the tall weeds with The Beast, the tiller still found some weeds and vines and wrapped them around the blades.  The Master Gardener/Farm Lady took on the chore of snipping away the mess to free the blades.  She had to do this twice.

The tiller bucks like a bronco, and I have to manhandle the thing to keep it on track.  But I managed to turn the soil in the garden.

Chareva is now threatening to get out there and plant those fall crops. Man, I’m looking forward to the kale.  It’ll be a nice change from okra.

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Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

McDonald’s going more McNatural

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice:  people who blame the country’s health problems on evil corporations who sell us processed foods (Morgan Spurlock comes to mind) have the economic equation backwards.  We don’t buy what corporations produce.  They produce what we’re willing to buy.  Unlike governments, corporations can’t force you to buy a product or service you don’t want (unless they bribe government to apply the force).  The key to getting big producers to sell higher quality food is to 1) demand it, and 2) refuse to buy processed junk.

In earlier posts, I noted that grocery stores like Kroger are selling more local and minimally-processed foods.  Now McDonald’s is responding to slumping sales by going more McNatural, according to an article in The New York Times:

At an event Monday at its headquarters here, McDonald’s announced several changes to its ingredients, including eliminating artificial preservatives from some breakfast foods and Chicken McNuggets, its most popular food item, and removing high-fructose corn syrup from its buns.

Such changes, together with its decision in 2015 to buy only chicken raised without antibiotics used to treat humans, affect almost half of the food on McDonald’s menu, the company said.

The moves are the latest in a series by the company to address changing demands by consumers, who have pushed food companies and restaurants to provide more healthy options and fewer artificial ingredients. It is also an effort to play defense against numerous competitors who promote the quality and freshness of their foods.

Mike Andres, president of McDonald’s U.S.A., said that over the last few years, the company took a hard look at its foods and how they were prepared. The ingredients it was using, like artificial preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, had good reasoning behind them — but consumers disliked them.

“Why take a position to defend them if consumers are saying they don’t want them?” Mr. Andres said on Monday.

Bingo.  Despite what economic nincompoops think, corporations don’t control the market.  Consumers do.  Doesn’t matter how cleverly McDonald’s advertises foods full of preservatives if consumers don’t want preservatives in their food.

Jessica Foust, director of culinary innovation at McDonald’s, hosted a group of reporters in a test kitchen to show how some of the changes will work in practice.

On the table in front of her were the five ingredients that go into an Egg McMuffin: an English muffin, a large egg, a slice of Canadian bacon, McDonald’s proprietary American cheese and butter — no longer liquid margarine.

Real butter.  In an Egg McMuffin.  The Guy From CSPI is no doubt preparing his “heart attack on a muffin!” routine, but I think most people have wised up to his nonsense.  They want butter, so they’re getting it.

By the way, I bought grass-fed burger patties at Costco this week.  Here’s the ingredients list:

Grass-fed beef, organic onions, sea salt, organic garlic.

Notice that none of these positive developments required new laws or regulations from our overlords in the federal government … who are, of course, busy subsidizing corn to make sure corn-fed beef is still artificially cheap.

Why real food costs more

During my programming marathon, I attended an IT-department event at a local farm.  This is a real farm, you understand, not a mini-farm like ours.  These people have 350 acres and grow everything without pesticides or other chemicals.  They also have a store and event venue on the premises.

I took the farm tour (one of several optional activities for the day) to get a sense of the operation.  After showing us some of what they grow, the co-owner explained why farm-fresh produce tastes so much better:  the produce you buy in grocery stores isn’t bred for flavor.  It’s bred for color and resistance to bruising during shipping.  Grocery-store tomatoes, for example, have skin that’s three times as thick as what these people grow on their farm.  Real food often has blemishes.  Their customers understand that and don’t care if a tomato is uniformly red and pristine.

Here are some shots from the store.

Some of the farm’s best customers are restaurants who cater to the real-food crowd, she explained.  But the feds are making that more difficult.  To protect the public, doncha know, the USDA is requiring producers to keep paperwork that can trace, say, a single tomato served in a restaurant to a single field on a single farm.  If someone gets sick from that tomato, ya see, the USDA needs to run out and inspect that specific field.

All that record-keeping requires staff time, which costs money, which means higher prices.  If you think this regulation is anything other than a behind-the-scenes move by large producers to place a huge financial burden on their smaller, real-food competitors, you have no idea how our political system works.

Here’s the co-owner of the farm showing one of the charts they keep to track what’s grown where.  But that’s just the chart.  The USDA-mandated paperwork itself runs to about 700 pages.  Just how we want our local farmers to spend their time and resources: filling out government forms.

Yes, wheat sensitivity is real

As part of what I call the Save The Grains Campaign, we’ve seen several media articles claiming that negative reactions to wheat are all in people’s heads.  It’s the nocebo effect from books like Wheat Belly, ya see.  People expect to feel bad after eating wheat and so they do, celiac disease is actually rare, blah-blah-blah.

I first gave up bread and other wheat foods because I was cutting carbs to lose weight. That was before Wheat Belly, and I didn’t expect my gastric reflux, psoriasis, arthritis and mild asthma to go away, so there was no placebo effect.  And yet they did go away.  When re-introduced wheat as an N=1 experiment, the ailments came back.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The connection was clear in my case.  I had a celiac test, which came back negative.  I later read in Wheat Belly that it’s not necessary to have full-blown celiac disease to experience negative reactions to modern wheat.

A study published in the journal Gut says likewise. Here’s part of the abstract:

Wheat gluten and related proteins can trigger an autoimmune enteropathy, known as coeliac disease, in people with genetic susceptibility. However, some individuals experience a range of symptoms in response to wheat ingestion, without the characteristic serological or histological evidence of coeliac disease. The aetiology and mechanism of these symptoms are unknown, and no biomarkers have been identified. We aimed to determine if sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease is associated with systemic immune activation that may be linked to an enteropathy.

The researchers gathered people without celiac disease or a known wheat allergy, but who nonetheless said wheat gives them problems, as well as people with celiac and people with no complaints about wheat.  Then the researchers ran various diagnostic tests.  The results and conclusions are described in a Medline article online:

Gluten sensitivity appears to be a real medical problem, and not a figment of the popular imagination conjured up by the gluten-free craze, a new study contends.

Some people suffer changes within their bodies after eating gluten that are separate and distinct from those that accompany either celiac disease or wheat allergy, researchers report.

“We don’t know what is triggering this response, but this study is the first to show that there are clear biological changes in these individuals,” said senior researcher Armin Alaedini. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York City.

Not a figment of your gluten-free imagination.  The effects are real.

The analysis of 80 patients with non-celiac wheat sensitivity found that these people experience an immune response to gluten that’s less focused and more wide-ranging than that found in celiac disease, Alaedini said. These patients were studied alongside 40 people with celiac disease and 40 healthy people in a “control” group.

People with non-celiac wheat sensitivity did not experience an autoimmune reaction. And, they didn’t have T-cells — a specific form of white blood cell — attacking living cells in the body, as occurs in celiac disease, Alaedini explained.

But people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity did show evidence of an acute and systemic immune activation that did not occur in celiac disease, accompanied by signs of cellular intestinal damage.

The results suggest that people with non-celiac wheat sensitivity suffer from a severe immune reaction because microbes and food particles can seep through their weakened intestinal barrier and into their bloodstream, the researchers explained.

Which is why I’ll still toss the muffin from my Egg McMuffin, even if the muffin is slathered with real butter.  My issues with wheat are not in my head.  They’re in my gut.

Former top doc in England stops taking statins … can we call it “stexit”?

Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

The former head of NHS England has revealed he no longer takes statins over concerns about their ‘debilitating’ side effects.

Sir David Nicholson, who retired from his £210,000 a year role two years ago said he had stopped taking the anti-cholesterol drugs because of muscle pain.

Around 7 million Britons take the drugs – and around 7,000 lives a year are thought to be saved by the drugs.

And around a billion colorful eggs are thought to be delivered every spring by a magical bunny.  I have more faith in the bunny at this point.

Sir David, who also has type 2 diabetes, said: ‘I was getting muscle and joint pain. It was getting worse and worse. It was mild to begin with and I kind of thought it was because I was getting old. I stopped taking them for a week and I got better.’

There has, however, been a fierce controversy over the side effects, with some doctors believing they have been under-reported.

Gee, do ya think?  According to studies conducted by statin-makers, side effects are rare.  Meanwhile, nearly everyone I know who’s tried statins has experienced muscle and joint pain.  As I recounted in a 2011 post, most professional athletes prescribed statins quit taking them – because they notice right away if their muscles are affected.  They depend on those muscles for a living.

Instead of dishing out pills, Sir David said GPs should perhaps attempt to change a patient’s lifestyle – particularly diet and exercise.

Dern tootin’ they should.  Now if only we could get doctors and government health agencies to stop thinking a healthy lifestyle means giving up meat and eggs and eating more hearthealthywholegrains!

Keto diet  vs. cancer

Here are some quotes from another article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

A cancer patient told he had just months to live claims giving up carbohydrates has given him nearly two extra years of life.

Pablo Kelly, 27, was told the tumour in his brain was inoperable and chemotherapy was his only chance at survival.

But he decided to reject traditional treatments in favour of a specialist fat-heavy, carb-free diet.

Mr Kelly says he restricts his calories and fasts regularly – while his only source of carbohydrates comes from green vegetables. He does not eat processed foods, refined sugars, root vegetables, starch, breads, or grains. Two years later, he claims this is the reason he has outlived expectations.

Well, I don’t know if it’s necessary to give up root vegetables, but dumping processed foods, sugars and refined grains is the prescription I’d recommend for anyone, cancer or no cancer.  After reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code, I’m also on board with the fasting.

Now look at how the Wisdom of Crowds effect helped:

Mr Kelly, whose symptoms started with migraines which he chalked down to the summer heat, was eventually diagnosed with cancer in August 2014 at the age of 25. Due to the tumour’s position in Mr Kelly’s brain, he was told it is inoperable.

When doctors offered him radiotherapy and chemotherapy, he decided he didn’t like the idea of a diminished quality of life and opted for the ketogenic diet – which is not recommended by the NHS.

Of course not.  A diet isn’t a drug.

‘The doctors said the only option they could give me was chemotherapy,’ he said.  ‘I did research and I knew there were other options for me that could help.  I was awake til 4am every night trying to find something that could cure it.’

He says it makes ‘total sense’ to him to cut the source of fuel to his brain tumour. ‘It works for epilepsy and diabetes so why should it not work with cancer,’ he said.

And that’s why I’m happy to be living in an age where we can do our own research on the internet and benefit from the Wisdom of Crowds instead of relying solely on what the doctor tells us.

Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down …

Remember that song from Mary Poppins?  Apparently, our FDA considers it sound medical advice.  Here are some quotes from an article in Natural News:

The serious issue of overmedicating kids could be about to take on a whole new dimension with the emergence of a new medication known as Adzenys. While kids are generally averse to taking medications, few will turn their noses up at a piece of candy. That is exactly what Adzenys is banking on with its underhanded and potentially dangerous new fruit-flavored amphetamine.

As you can see from the picture atop the article, the new drug looks like gummy bears.  Well, why not?  We’re now selling gummy-bear vitamins to adults.  Because if there’s one message we need to get across to all Americans, it’s this:  everything good for you should taste like candy!

Not that I’m saying ADHD drugs are good for you, of course.  After reading the book Anatomy of an Epidemic a couple of years ago, I’d say the opposite is true of most psychiatric drugs.

The drug recently hit the market, and psychiatrists are voicing concerns that it could serve as another gateway to ADHD drug abuse. Perhaps not surprisingly, the extended-release amphetamine gained FDA approval in January for patients as young as six years old.

University of California San Diego Psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Papp is horrified by the concept, saying that prescribing the drug sanctions “an orally disintegrating amphetamine for kids by the morally disintegrating FDA.”

Oh, come on now.  The FDA morally disintegrated a long time ago.  So did the USDA.  And the NIH.  And the National Cholesterol Education Program.

But man, I’m looking forward to the day we put the feds in charge of our entire health system.  Then they’ll suddenly all become altruists who only want to keep us healthy, and everything will be wunnerful, wunnerful.  I can hear the press conferences already:  “If you like your food, you can keep your food.”

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I confess:  during the programming marathon that lasted nearly three weeks, I took one evening off from coding, but didn’t write a post.  Instead, I bought a basketball hoop for Sara and got it set up.  It was important to her.  To understand why, I’ll share the opening paragraphs from our upcoming book for kids:

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You probably remember someone like me from grade school.  I was what the other kids called a brain.  But that was almost 50 years ago, and I’m told kids nowadays wouldn’t insult me like that.  Today they’d call me a nerd, a dork, or possibly a dweeb. Anyway, you know the type.  I was usually the smartest kid in class, and I was lousy at sports.

How lousy?  Well, here’s one of my not-so-fond memories from gym class:  We were running a relay race where each guy on the team had to dribble a basketball down the court, make a layup, then dribble back and hand off to the next guy.  I was the last guy on our team, and when I got the ball, we were in the lead.  I bounced the ball down the court, tossed it towards the basket … and missed. By a lot.  I tried again and missed.  And missed again.  And again — mostly because my weak arms couldn’t fling the ball high enough.

The other team had already won, but the gym teacher growled, “You’re not quitting until you make that basket.”  So I leaned back and hurled the ball as hard as I could.  It bounced off the rim, smacked me in the face, and knocked me on my butt.  At that point the gym teacher decided I could quit after all.

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That’s the type of kid I was.  The opening chapter goes on to briefly recount my life as a fat kid and fat adult, and how I finally lost weight and got healthy as I neared age 50.  Like many other people, I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I’d figured out the diet thing decades earlier.  That’s why the title of the book is Fat Head Kids: stuff about diet and health I wish I knew when I was your age.

Anyway, back to the basketball hoop.  Sara inherited so many of my traits, she’s referred to herself as a female mini-me.  She has a quick sense of humor and likes to write.  (She already writes poems that are genuinely funny.)  She loves reading books and thinking about concepts and ideas.  She routinely scores 99 or 100 on standardized math and science tests.   She’s watched some online tutorials on programming and done the exercises just for kicks.  Often she’ll say or do something that prompts Chareva to turn to me and say, “She is SOOO your daughter.”

Unfortunately for Sara, she also inherited my athletic abilities.  Before summer vacation started, she asked if we could please get a basketball hoop so she can practice.  She explained that during basketball games in gym class, other kids had taken to chanting “Pass it to Sara!  Pass it to Sara!  SARA!  SARA!”  I was impressed … until she went on to explain that other kids want her to shoot so they can cheer another “spectacular miss.”  That’s how she put it.

Yeah, I know all about those spectacular misses.  My school gym-class career was full of them.

As I explain near the end of the book, I was never going to be a great athlete.  I don’t have the natural coordination or the preponderance of fast-twitch muscle fibers that produce explosive power and quickness.  But I didn’t have to be the worst athlete in class, either.  I was weaker, fatter and slower than I should have been because of my lousy diet growing up.

As an adult, I worked out and got stronger.  I still had a belly, but not the weak muscles.  I found that with dedicated practice, I could become competent at some sports.  Back when I played a lot of golf, I usually shot between 85 and 95 – not great, but not embarrassing.  I’m pretty good at disc golf these days.  And at one time, I actually got to be a good shot with a basketball, thanks to hours of shooting baskets.  I still wasn’t a great player, since I can neither run fast nor jump high, but I could shoot.  I was no longer the guy nobody wanted on the team for pickup games.

I explained all that to Sara.  She replied that she has no illusions about becoming the star player during basketball games, but she’d like to become a decent shooter and silence those chants of “Pass it to Sara!”  I promised we’d go shopping for a hoop some weekend.

Next thing I know it’s late July, and the new school year is approaching.  Sara reminded me during my programming marathon that our driveway still lacked a hoop.  I looked at some portable hoops at our local sporting-goods store and mentally selected one that costs around $350.  But I wanted to check around for a service that would assemble and install the thing.  Last thing I wanted to tackle during a programming marathon was a huge box full of parts and badly-written instructions with little dotted lines pointing to bolts and such.

While I was at the office one day, Chareva sent me a link to an ad on Craigslist.  Someone was selling the same hoop for $125 as part of a moving-out-of-state garage sale.  She’d already called for a location, and the family selling the hoop was about 25 miles north of Nashville.  We live about 25 miles south of Nashville, so it would be a waste of time and gas for me drive home and pick her up, then drive 50 miles north, then 50 miles south.  Okay, I said, pick me up at work and we’ll drive up there.

Getting there was the easy part.  Figuring out how to get the whole contraption into the van was a royal pain in the @$$.

The seller was an engineer/baseball coach/basketball coach.  He was, not surprisingly, a very fit and strong guy.  But even with all us (including has athletic teenage son) tugging and pulling and banging with tools, we couldn’t get the two-section pole to come apart.  So after about an hour of sweating, we decided the only option was to remove the backboard and the base, then slide the entire pole into the van.  Fortunately, I’d had the good sense to tell Chareva to bring my socket set and some other tools.

The pole just … barely … fit … into the van.  I’m talking with the top of the pole touching the dashboard and the bottom of the pole almost resting against the back hatch.  We slid the backboard and hoop in alongside and wrapped a seatbelt around it.  But the real fun part was the base, which is filled with sand and must weigh 400 pounds.  That took some serious hoisting and yanking and wiggling.

By this time, I was hot and sweaty and tired and thinking about all the work I had to get done and sorry I hadn’t just bought a new hoop and paid someone to deliver it and put it together.  But we’d already paid for the $125 used model and loaded it into the van, so we thanked the seller and headed south … just in time to run smack into rush-hour traffic.  We crawled along to the office, where Chareva hopped out to drive my car home.  Then I drove the van back into the line of cars crawling along on the highway.

Frankly, I didn’t mind the slow traffic.  My worst fear at this point was having to slam on the brakes and watch the pole launch itself through the windshield like some medieval weapon of war.

Once we both arrived home, my worst fear was that we’d never 1) manage to wrestle the 400-pound base from the car, or 2) remember exactly how to attach the pole to the backboard and base.

Both fears were overrated, as it turned out.  We couldn’t just lift the base from the van, but as small-time farmers, we’re the proud owners of a good-sized crowbar.  So with the magic of leverage, we managed to scoot the thing out the hatch, onto the ground, and into position.  We used sawhorses to get the backboard positioned near the top of the pole, then I screwed it back into place while Chareva held it steady.  Then I held the pole – which is impressively heavy with a backboard attached – in its place at the base, and Chareva attached it.

Whew.  Done.   My visions of the pole falling over and the backboard shattering weren’t premonitions after all.

Most parents have had an experience like this:  child begs and pleads for some must-must-must-have object.  Parent eventually makes a mildly heroic effort to acquire the must-must-must-have object.  Child is delighted and enjoys the object immensely  … for approximately 137 minutes, then loses all interest.  Forever.

I’m happy to say that didn’t happen with the hoop.  Sara’s been out there shooting for at least a little while almost every day.  After dinner, she’ll often invite me to join her for a game of Horse or Pig.  Sometimes Alana joins in.  We’ve played a few pickup games, first one with five baskets wins.  (The rule is that I can’t attempt to block Sara’s shots.  I have a wee bit of height advantage.)

As a result, I don’t think the other kids will be chanting “Pass it to Sara!” this year.  She’s already improved her accuracy by something like a hundred million billion percent.  Okay, that might be exaggerating.  But she’s hitting a lot of shots, and her misses are no longer spectacular.

She’s my daughter, and I’m flattered that she likes being like me in so many ways.  But I don’t want her to re-live my gym-class career.

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