Combating the obesity crisis

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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby James » Wed Jan 27, 2016 1:03 am

Dong Zhou wrote:Where I do have sympathy are for those who go for the healthy sounding options (say, a fruit juice) and it isn't, they get hit without realizing it. Where I don't have sympathy are for those with fizzy drinks, soda's and worse as their regular drink.

As long as businesses are 1) not advertising themselves as healthy (in which case heavy regulation is needed) and 2) have clear and helpful "this is how much sugar is in this can" (which really isn't the case), I don't have an issue with businesses selling fatty/sugary food. A takeaway, fast food, a fizzy drink isn't meant to be healthy and it is up to consumers not to take too much, it would be sad if the UK had to expel McDonalds, KFC, Pepsi/Coca Cola and so on becuase, as a nation, we can't be trusted with it.

Both of these are problems here. Unhealthy foods are advertised as healthy, if only through roundabout means. Health claims might be made based on a small presence of an ingredient when any potential health benefit of that small claim is completely drowned out by greater health concerns of the food (as simple as the amount of added sugars). Packages trumpet 'Added Fiber!' 'Non-GMO!' 'Gluten-Free!' 'Paleo Friendly!' on a granola bar with chocolate coating and any number of trendy terms effectively, for many, creating the illusion of being good food when it is, in fact, a candy bar. Another example is Coke's Vitamin Water, which advertises all the benefits it offers in terms of added nutrition and advertises through fitness professionals when it's just added-sugar soda in another label. A cereal might advertise 'heart healthy' or 'now with more fiber' when the inconsequential addition for that claim involves a tradeoff in another teaspoon or two of sugar per serving.

Most of this is a matter of lobbyists getting the better of lawmakers—it's probably not realistic to expect these businesses to care in the slightest about destroying the health of their customers—but it seems sad, to me, to make that concession. If people struggling with obesity knew more about this situation as a whole it's likely that these foods would not exist as they exist today.

Our new dietary guidelines include a proposal to label added sugars in foods (which would be a great step in the right direction) but who knows if it is going to survive lobbying.

Dong Zhou wrote:Politics: We do seem in a better place. Health Committee, peers, members of the government ranks all pushing on public issues and Hunt has just drastically tightened the recommended alcohol limit. Our current government can be a tad slow (they seem to wait to see how public health schemes get on elsewhere) but there is more pressure here.

How does the UK do with sugar, red meats, and other recommendations? Come to think of it, we do have some pretty reasonable alcohol recommendations but people don't really think much of it. I guess if the health drawbacks of alcohol (more or less soda + all the deleterious impacts of alcohol) are to be impressed on people here it would have to be through a public awareness campaign.

Dong Zhou wrote:Diet and fads: We don't have the big diet figures but we do have magazines, Weight Watchers and we have always had diet fads which are rarely a good idea. Regular meal times with proper non-fatty meals, portion control, seems a better way and something people can stick to even once weight is to normal level.

I would imagine people in the UK are exposed to a fair degree of the same diet and food fad recommendations we run across here in the United States if only through shared language, the internet, and social media. Do people seem to be losing weight based on restrictive fad diets or is there a generally healthier approach? Come to think of it, with how much I've read about Canada I'm surprised I haven't read more about the UK. I guess Canada finds its way into my reading more because they're our neighbors.

Does the UK have recommendations that place a lot of blame on fat? The United States has for quite some time now but research is demonstrating that a great deal of this blame is misplaced and our recent dietary guidelines are finally shifting a little bit to move a bit away from the low-fat or fat-free craze. Although that approach ought to be tempered with related recommendations on red meats and the like.

Dong Zhou wrote:Price: Yep, lecturing on healthy food is always annoying becuase the food said people recommend tends to be out of price range. I only get salad's or anything remotely like that when Tesco corner shop has them on reductions but not everyone lives near such a shop, I wouldn't get them if Tesco's suddenly left. One can lose weight without salad's or health food.

When I was losing some weight with price concerns about the best I could do was cook regularly at home with a meal something like brown rice, chicken, and vegetables. It sure starts to get expensive when you start to get creative with the foods, though...

Dong Zhou wrote:Schools: We have better here. School meals are being pushed now to prevent parents giving junk food to the kids during school hours.

That's good to hear. Michele Obama raised some stink about the junk food sold in schools and the Republican party mobilized to whine about it as anything from trampling our freedoms (to have our school feed children trash?) or... whatever, I can't even remember all the arguments they were so bizarre and incomprehensible. It's a subject which doesn't seem to get a lot of attention here, although lobbying groups are actively involved on the federal and state level to keep the likes of pizza and soda in schools.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Jan 27, 2016 5:42 pm

Both of these are problems here. Unhealthy foods are advertised as healthy, if only through roundabout means. Health claims might be made based on a small presence of an ingredient when any potential health benefit of that small claim is completely drowned out by greater health concerns of the food (as simple as the amount of added sugars). Packages trumpet 'Added Fiber!' 'Non-GMO!' 'Gluten-Free!' 'Paleo Friendly!' on a granola bar with chocolate coating and any number of trendy terms effectively, for many, creating the illusion of being good food when it is, in fact, a candy bar. Another example is Coke's Vitamin Water, which advertises all the benefits it offers in terms of added nutrition and advertises through fitness professionals when it's just added-sugar soda in another label. A cereal might advertise 'heart healthy' or 'now with more fiber' when the inconsequential addition for that claim involves a tradeoff in another teaspoon or two of sugar per serving.


I agree what can be labelled as healthy needs to be tightened up. Another problem is people's understandably natural assumption (I hadn't heard of he Vitamin Water but that fits) that something is healthy even without the adverts when it isn't. I would be fooled by the water (I wouldn't take it but if I was someone desperately looking for that extra healthy edge...)

Cereal just isn't healthy. That is something people should just drop if they are on a diet but yes, people tend to be lured into thinking healthier then is.

I would imagine people in the UK are exposed to a fair degree of the same diet and food fad recommendations we run across here in the United States if only through shared language, the internet, and social media. Do people seem to be losing weight based on restrictive fad diets or is there a generally healthier approach? Come to think of it, with how much I've read about Canada I'm surprised I haven't read more about the UK. I guess Canada finds its way into my reading more because they're our neighbors.


True, we do seem to pick up the same fads.

We don't lose weight, we are increasingly obese and we do a lot of fad diets.

Does the UK have recommendations that place a lot of blame on fat? The United States has for quite some time now but research is demonstrating that a great deal of this blame is misplaced and our recent dietary guidelines are finally shifting a little bit to move a bit away from the low-fat or fat-free craze. Although that approach ought to be tempered with related recommendations on red meats and the like.


Used to be fats, I think still encouraged not to gorge on fatty foods but sugar is currently the big question among those that discuss food

When I was losing some weight with price concerns about the best I could do was cook regularly at home with a meal something like brown rice, chicken, and vegetables. It sure starts to get expensive when you start to get creative with the foods, though...


I have never been obese, but have had to come down twice (my fault both times) and on price concern. The only things I make are ham (usually) sandwiches and stirring a curry or chilli then putting on rice. Home-made or cheap sandwich with something sugary (say a few squares of chocolate) for most meals, then a supper that might be ham baguette or a stirred from a can curry or something cooked, with pudding. If trying to get drastically down, small puddings and not the more weight gaining meals till I'm down.

James wrote:That's good to hear. Michele Obama raised some stink about the junk food sold in schools and the Republican party mobilized to whine about it as anything from trampling our freedoms (to have our school feed children trash?) or... whatever, I can't even remember all the arguments they were so bizarre and incomprehensible. It's a subject which doesn't seem to get a lot of attention here, although lobbying groups are actively involved on the federal and state level to keep the likes of pizza and soda in schools.


Our school lunch scandal was Turkey Twizzlers (never had one) a few years back. That helped get improving it on the agenda and there is a Westminster consensus that school meals are better then packed lunches as one can ensure the child gets enough energy for rest of afternoon and healthy food. The issue is more finding the money for kitchens though feelings on the ground aren't always as warm.

I don't see school meals an issue of freedom, seems an odd argument.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby Sun Fin » Thu Jan 28, 2016 12:09 pm

I hated it when Jamie Oliver ruined school dinners. All the nice things got taken off the menu and it didn't get replaced by anything else for a couple of years as schools tried to keep up with the pressure. I suspect it is better now!
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby James » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:24 pm

Dong Zhou wrote:True, we do seem to pick up the same fads.

We don't lose weight, we are increasingly obese and we do a lot of fad diets.

Probably never going to change until people are willing to accept that healthy and lasting weight loss involves lifestyle changes and a gradual process. Sad thing about the diets which can actually work short term is that they nearly all depend on unenjoyable concessions (such as eliminating one or multiple food groups or an unenjoyable diet) and when people try to enjoy food again—go off the restrictive diet—they regain weight if only because they fall back to old habits.

Dong Zhou wrote:Used to be fats, I think still encouraged not to gorge on fatty foods but sugar is currently the big question among those that discuss food

Sounds pretty similar. At least this time we've identified one true culprit. Although you see plenty of fallout. People assuming fruit is bad because it contains fructose, or assuming that a reasonable response is to cut carbohydrates from the diet.

Dong Zhou wrote:Our school lunch scandal was Turkey Twizzlers (never had one) a few years back. That helped get improving it on the agenda and there is a Westminster consensus that school meals are better then packed lunches as one can ensure the child gets enough energy for rest of afternoon and healthy food. The issue is more finding the money for kitchens though feelings on the ground aren't always as warm.

I don't see school meals an issue of freedom, seems an odd argument.

It's a very American argument. As soon as someone tries to intervene on a regulatory level against a business interest some cogs turn and industry representatives, along with the politicians supporting them, can be counted upon to describe it as an assault on American liberties.

Cost is a very real concern for school lunches here as well.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby James » Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:24 pm

Sun Fin wrote:I hated it when Jamie Oliver ruined school dinners. All the nice things got taken off the menu and it didn't get replaced by anything else for a couple of years as schools tried to keep up with the pressure. I suspect it is better now!

How did Jamie Oliver ruin school dinners?
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Wed Feb 03, 2016 5:56 am

James wrote:
Dong Zhou wrote:True, we do seem to pick up the same fads.

We don't lose weight, we are increasingly obese and we do a lot of fad diets.

Probably never going to change until people are willing to accept that healthy and lasting weight loss involves lifestyle changes and a gradual process. Sad thing about the diets which can actually work short term is that they nearly all depend on unenjoyable concessions (such as eliminating one or multiple food groups or an unenjoyable diet) and when people try to enjoy food again—go off the restrictive diet—they regain weight if only because they fall back to old habits.


Yeah. I know people who are really into 'palaeo' now. It's kind of amusing, and I'm not going to say it doesn't work (since all of the people I know who are on it are pretty skinny), but it does still strike me as kind of a cult. We have a different body structure and lifestyle than prehistoric man did in so many other ways, why would eating like prehistoric man help you?

I don't think the anti-GMO thing is actually a fad diet, though, as much as it is a political / group-identity statement. (Actually, I kind of think the palaeo thing is a political statement too, but I'm not sure what kind.) The businesses that want to brand themselves as 'organic' or 'wholesome' - Whole Foods, Chipotle and so on - will often pick up the anti-GMO language in order to differentiate themselves and build brand loyalty.

James wrote:
Dong Zhou wrote:Our school lunch scandal was Turkey Twizzlers (never had one) a few years back. That helped get improving it on the agenda and there is a Westminster consensus that school meals are better then packed lunches as one can ensure the child gets enough energy for rest of afternoon and healthy food. The issue is more finding the money for kitchens though feelings on the ground aren't always as warm.

I don't see school meals an issue of freedom, seems an odd argument.

It's a very American argument. As soon as someone tries to intervene on a regulatory level against a business interest some cogs turn and industry representatives, along with the politicians supporting them, can be counted upon to describe it as an assault on American liberties.

Cost is a very real concern for school lunches here as well.


Well... ehh. To be honest I can see both sides on this one.

On the one hand, the industries staking out regulations on food as a threat to liberty is kind of obnoxious, and of course it's a good thing to have safe food. On the other hand, though, if regulation / taxation increases the cost of foods which might be unhealthy but which also happen to be relatively cheap, that can get to be a problem particularly for poor people. All sales taxes are regressive, but sin taxes in particular really hit poor people disproportionately hard. And the bans on certain food items - like raw milk, for instance - don't seem to be aimed at any real health benefit, but rather are aimed at crushing small producers for the benefit of Big Ag. Of course, a better and more permanent solution might be to end the freaking subsidies to Big Ag, particularly the handouts to the huge corn and dairy conglomerates. That right there would put a more appropriate price tag on junk food.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Feb 03, 2016 4:15 pm

Diets: I agree with James and WWD. The type of diets people go for tend to be questionable health, not much fun, it gets people confused as to what needs to be cut and it doesn't fix the old problem that got one overweight. One needs to sort out what is the right food lifestyle that one can enjoy and stick to day in and day out. I would suggest going a bit below (say, cut out some of the richer puddings) that plan when really dieting so something to look forward to when weight is in the right area and go down quicker but the main meal should be enjoyable. Also easier to keep

How did Jamie Oliver ruin school dinners?


His pomposity makes dinners actually cry :wink: My guess is that Oliver got such a furore going that it ended up with a "something must be done NOW NOW NOW" and so schools did it on the fly rather then plan it?

On the one hand, the industries staking out regulations on food as a threat to liberty is kind of obnoxious, and of course it's a good thing to have safe food. On the other hand, though, if regulation / taxation increases the cost of foods which might be unhealthy but which also happen to be relatively cheap, that can get to be a problem particularly for poor people. All sales taxes are regressive, but sin taxes in particular really hit poor people disproportionately hard.


I am concerned about raising the food costs of the poor and punishing those that have managed to keep their weight down. Partly blatant self interest on my part :wink: However at what point (if we can not change education and culture in time) do we do something drastic becuase it doesn't feel like we can trust enough people in the UK to keep their weight and sugar content in check any more?
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby James » Fri Feb 05, 2016 12:11 am

WeiWenDi wrote:Yeah. I know people who are really into 'palaeo' now. It's kind of amusing, and I'm not going to say it doesn't work (since all of the people I know who are on it are pretty skinny), but it does still strike me as kind of a cult. We have a different body structure and lifestyle than prehistoric man did in so many other ways, why would eating like prehistoric man help you?

I don't think the anti-GMO thing is actually a fad diet, though, as much as it is a political / group-identity statement. (Actually, I kind of think the palaeo thing is a political statement too, but I'm not sure what kind.) The businesses that want to brand themselves as 'organic' or 'wholesome' - Whole Foods, Chipotle and so on - will often pick up the anti-GMO language in order to differentiate themselves and build brand loyalty.

'Paleo' here is definitely big. No scientific basis for it, as you suggest. Not only do we know little about the caveman's diet it doesn't pertain to the evolution of our ability to process and derive nutrition from foods, and also misses out on the fact that indigenous peoples of various regions supported themselves on wildly varied diets based on the food sources available to them (and continue to today in many areas we can observe, with healthful results—until they transition into modern Western diets). I couldn't hope to speak for other areas, but here paleo is highly associated with fitness groups such as CrossFit where it tends to go hand-in-hand with a range of other fitness and food practices targeted at physical appearance—and, indeed, rather cult-like adherence and proselytization.

Onto GMO, anti-GMO definitely isn't a fad diet (at least that I'm aware of). I'd instead call it a food fad, or some facet of chemophobia. Instead I was referencing the fact it is emblazoned upon assorted foods as one of multiple health claims intended in these cases to be used as a marketing tool implying a healthier food (absent scientific basis and setting aside this frequently occurs upon processed foods with loads of added sugars). Which really plays right into the same claims made by Chipotle or which serve as cornerstones to Whole Foods. Organic falls apart here as the kind of watered down 'organic' that supports large scale distribution at an organization like Whole Foods becomes rather far detached from what healthfully minded people might envision when they think of that word.

But blah, blah, blah—I think you're spot on here.

WeiWenDi wrote:Well... ehh. To be honest I can see both sides on this one.

On the one hand, the industries staking out regulations on food as a threat to liberty is kind of obnoxious, and of course it's a good thing to have safe food. On the other hand, though, if regulation / taxation increases the cost of foods which might be unhealthy but which also happen to be relatively cheap, that can get to be a problem particularly for poor people. All sales taxes are regressive, but sin taxes in particular really hit poor people disproportionately hard. And the bans on certain food items - like raw milk, for instance - don't seem to be aimed at any real health benefit, but rather are aimed at crushing small producers for the benefit of Big Ag. Of course, a better and more permanent solution might be to end the freaking subsidies to Big Ag, particularly the handouts to the huge corn and dairy conglomerates. That right there would put a more appropriate price tag on junk food.

The industry's arguments here really are just an effort to take whatever legal angle they can to bypass laws in the works, and the language used—the same language which you'll hear from lawmakers supporting these industries—ties in directly to the language relevant on a legal front or which triggers the right support from political supporters. Some would argue that there's really nothing much to be done here as it's just a manifestation of a business' interest to maximize profit and that we should never expect a business to have any other interest.

Your mention of 'sin tax' is the particularly interesting element, for me at least. And I also think this is a tricky one. A major problem here is that it tends to be the poor who are most vulnerable to the health drawbacks of cheap (can be read 'processed' in many cases) foods—or also applies to fast food and sodas. And sin taxes do indeed increase the costs of these foods in an economic reality where they are frequently some of the cheapest options available to these families (if only because some alternatives require time investments and knowledge which may be less accessible). But in weighing costs, though, we also need to consider the economic impact of disease and obesity, which ties in directly to the foods we'd hope to target with a 'sin tax'. And in some of these cases a 'sin tax' can be more reasonable—such as soda—where there are more healthful alternatives available at similar or less price. It can be tricker in other circumstances, such as applied to a school lunch.

And there's another common concern here, which may in part be smoke and mirrors from industry interest groups. And it's that legislative efforts of this sort can sometimes wind up producing the desired outcome far more among wealthier families which are already more likely to be healthy rather than the poor groups where health trends most badly need to be reversed. And this does seem to happen in many cases (hence invoking the concern as reason to strike down efforts before they are attempted, as has been successfully done time and time again in the United States. But there's also evidence that this isn't always the case, such as in some remarkably successful efforts in Mexico.

But noise aside, the reason why so many of these terribly unhealthy foods are so cheap (again, at least in the United States and Canada) is because governments have artificially propped up the food sources and industries which create those foods—to the detriment of far more healthful alternatives. And it is these foods which have played such a great role in obesity problems among the poor. We should definitely be doing something, and I'm less optimistic about any possibility to unravel the former interests (e.g. the artificial industry around corn) when those interests are deeply seated in governments as part of an effort to promote food security, and strongly backed by special interest groups.

Have we discussed a ban on raw milk? There is actually a health concern behind raw milk, though I haven't read of a serious effort to ban it. Sometimes a major player behind concerns related to this is not just a concern in terms of the food's ability to to harmful, but the government's failure to set up adequate protections to keep the food safe at the point we're preparing it to eat. This is of particular concern with some such as meats (as discussed in the second link under raw milk). But these concerns on a legislative level here definitely aren't always based on factual argument.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby James » Fri Feb 05, 2016 12:21 am

Dong Zhou wrote:Diets: I agree with James and WWD. The type of diets people go for tend to be questionable health, not much fun, it gets people confused as to what needs to be cut and it doesn't fix the old problem that got one overweight. One needs to sort out what is the right food lifestyle that one can enjoy and stick to day in and day out. I would suggest going a bit below (say, cut out some of the richer puddings) that plan when really dieting so something to look forward to when weight is in the right area and go down quicker but the main meal should be enjoyable. Also easier to keep

What's somewhat saddening here is that a healthful diet really is not all that complicated to learn. And we don't need to cut out or slash down any food groups (though those deserts are definitely going to need to become treats and we'll probably need to cut down on caloric beverages). It's just so hard for the layman to sort out what the truth is when interests at every angle are tugging them away with beliefs such as a convenient, nicely packaged solution (diet), or noise intended to dissuade from health concerns from health professionals.

Dong Zhou wrote:His pomposity makes dinners actually cry :wink: My guess is that Oliver got such a furore going that it ended up with a "something must be done NOW NOW NOW" and so schools did it on the fly rather then plan it?

What did he actually do, though? To change lunch dinners for the worse?
Or I guess I could just spend some time reading about it...

Dong Zhou wrote:I am concerned about raising the food costs of the poor and punishing those that have managed to keep their weight down. Partly blatant self interest on my part :wink: However at what point (if we can not change education and culture in time) do we do something drastic becuase it doesn't feel like we can trust enough people in the UK to keep their weight and sugar content in check any more?

Well, you probably have nothing to fear as someone who has successfully kept your weight down, nor anyone who is already at a healthful weight, as any foods targeted would be the sort that facilitate obesity. Heck, cutting those foods more might actually help those who are at a healthful weight to enjoy more health in general, as outward appearance is not necessarily an indication of internal health.

My argument, though, is that at this point we're not 'trusting' people to keep their weight down. These people do want to keep their weight down, and frequently try to do so. The trust we've misplaced is in all the interests which have been making it so difficult for this goal to be accomplished, and in my opinion a big part of this is industry having run away with profits at the expense of health (e.g. foods engineered to maximize eating based on combinations of sugars, fats, salts with health not even entering the radar relative to consumption)—or even restaurants which don't care one bit about caloric content relative to taste. Here in the United States it is not unusual at all for restaurants to have meals that clear 2,000 calories.
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Re: Combating the obesity crisis

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Fri Feb 05, 2016 10:12 am

Dong Zhou wrote:The type of diets people go for tend to be questionable health, not much fun, it gets people confused as to what needs to be cut and it doesn't fix the old problem that got one overweight. One needs to sort out what is the right food lifestyle that one can enjoy and stick to day in and day out. I would suggest going a bit below (say, cut out some of the richer puddings) that plan when really dieting so something to look forward to when weight is in the right area and go down quicker but the main meal should be enjoyable. Also easier to keep


One of the problems may be that people don't listen to their doctors enough - who (in my experience) on dieting are usually liable to give the usual sound common-sensical advice: don't overeat, don't eat junk, exercise regularly, sleep regularly, drink water, and so on. But there's a kind of anti-intellectualism in our culture which advertisers of all sorts tend to prey on. The most extreme and mockable examples - I'm sure you've seen them - are of the type that go 'He lost 30 pounds in two weeks with this one crazy trick! [Insert interest group here] hates him!' But most fad diets deploy more subtle variations on the same kind of advertising and rhetoric.

But yes, I generally agree that people need to eat healthily and in proportion - and meals, rather than snacking throughout the day. (I'm personally really bad about this one.)

James wrote:'Paleo' here is definitely big. No scientific basis for it, as you suggest. Not only do we know little about the caveman's diet it doesn't pertain to the evolution of our ability to process and derive nutrition from foods, and also misses out on the fact that indigenous peoples of various regions supported themselves on wildly varied diets based on the food sources available to them (and continue to today in many areas we can observe, with healthful results—until they transition into modern Western diets). I couldn't hope to speak for other areas, but here paleo is highly associated with fitness groups such as CrossFit where it tends to go hand-in-hand with a range of other fitness and food practices targeted at physical appearance—and, indeed, rather cult-like adherence and proselytization.


I thought the CrossFit types were a different cult. Probably I just haven't spent enough time with them, though. :P

James wrote:Onto GMO, anti-GMO definitely isn't a fad diet (at least that I'm aware of). I'd instead call it a food fad, or some facet of chemophobia. Instead I was referencing the fact it is emblazoned upon assorted foods as one of multiple health claims intended in these cases to be used as a marketing tool implying a healthier food (absent scientific basis and setting aside this frequently occurs upon processed foods with loads of added sugars). Which really plays right into the same claims made by Chipotle or which serve as cornerstones to Whole Foods. Organic falls apart here as the kind of watered down 'organic' that supports large scale distribution at an organization like Whole Foods becomes rather far detached from what healthfully minded people might envision when they think of that word.

But blah, blah, blah—I think you're spot on here.


I'm not a fan of Whole Paycheck for several other reasons which are somewhat tangentially-related. And you're right that the 'organic' label Whole Foods uses is completely overblown. The environmental benefits of organic farming are real, but the real kicker as far as climate change is concerned is burning fossil fuels, and a good percentage of that happens in distribution - transportation being the 'largest end-use contributor' to carbon emissions in developed countries like ours. If you're trying to eat conscientiously with regard to the environment, it's often really better to eat conventionally-farmed foods grown and sold locally. TL;DR: fully agreed with you on this point.

On the GMO thing. GM food may be perfectly safe for consumption; that's not my main beef (er, so to speak). However, giants like Monsanto and DuPont have a hideous corporate record when it comes to farmers' rights and welfare. GMO lobbyists are slimy, and GMO researchers have been caught behaving unethically in several contexts (of which the Tufts Golden Rice study is the one I'm most familiar with). So I'm very much a proponent of GM labelling, not because I think GMOs are dangerous, but because I think the purveyors of GMOs have a lot to answer for, and consumers have a right to the information they need if they want to punish them through boycott. My wife is a big advocate for GM labelling for precisely this reason; she feels that GMO researchers take unethical advantage of lax regulations in non-Western countries to do their research.

(My mom's a botanist and plant biologist, by the way - don't know if I mentioned that. Her take is a bit more pro-GMO than mine, but she's still concerned about corporate misbehaviour on the part of the big GM firms.)

James wrote:Your mention of 'sin tax' is the particularly interesting element, for me at least. And I also think this is a tricky one. A major problem here is that it tends to be the poor who are most vulnerable to the health drawbacks of cheap (can be read 'processed' in many cases) foods—or also applies to fast food and sodas. And sin taxes do indeed increase the costs of these foods in an economic reality where they are frequently some of the cheapest options available to these families (if only because some alternatives require time investments and knowledge which may be less accessible). But in weighing costs, though, we also need to consider the economic impact of disease and obesity, which ties in directly to the foods we'd hope to target with a 'sin tax'. And in some of these cases a 'sin tax' can be more reasonable—such as soda—where there are more healthful alternatives available at similar or less price. It can be tricker in other circumstances, such as applied to a school lunch.

And there's another common concern here, which may in part be smoke and mirrors from industry interest groups. And it's that legislative efforts of this sort can sometimes wind up producing the desired outcome far more among wealthier families which are already more likely to be healthy rather than the poor groups where health trends most badly need to be reversed. And this does seem to happen in many cases (hence invoking the concern as reason to strike down efforts before they are attempted, as has been successfully done time and time again in the United States. But there's also evidence that this isn't always the case, such as in some remarkably successful efforts in Mexico.


Agreed. We also have to consider costs in time and lack of amenities that a lot of poor people face (I believe this is what you meant by 'time investments and knowledge which may be less accessible'?) when doing these kinds of calculations. Take Barbara Ehrenreich's article here (bold mine):

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote:I was also dismayed to find that in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.


I've been a grad student and a poor English teacher without a working kitchen before, and I've done the whole relying-on-7/11-food thing before. Not an experience I'd care much to repeat... But adding a consumer-end sin tax to junk food, in such cases, would be something akin to an act of cruelty. On the other hand, if raw foods suddenly became cheaper than processed ones, we might find that the costs don't get passed on so much to the end consumer. (Convenience stores might find it more economical, for example, to stock ready-made sandwiches and microwave meals from local rather than national commercial surplus. On the other hand, though, their standing franchise agreements with big food corporations might prevent them from doing precisely this - that might be something to look into.)

James wrote:But noise aside, the reason why so many of these terribly unhealthy foods are so cheap (again, at least in the United States and Canada) is because governments have artificially propped up the food sources and industries which create those foods—to the detriment of far more healthful alternatives. And it is these foods which have played such a great role in obesity problems among the poor. We should definitely be doing something, and I'm less optimistic about any possibility to unravel the former interests (e.g. the artificial industry around corn) when those interests are deeply seated in governments as part of an effort to promote food security, and strongly backed by special interest groups.


Yup! Agreed completely.

Again, I think pricing of junk food would be a lot better-accounted if we got rid of the damn subsidies.

James wrote:Have we discussed a ban on raw milk? There is actually a health concern behind raw milk, though I haven't read of a serious effort to ban it. Sometimes a major player behind concerns related to this is not just a concern in terms of the food's ability to to harmful, but the government's failure to set up adequate protections to keep the food safe at the point we're preparing it to eat. This is of particular concern with some such as meats (as discussed in the second link under raw milk). But these concerns on a legislative level here definitely aren't always based on factual argument.


There are some pretty stringent and punitive regulations on milk production in the US. This is one example of a recent story I've read on the matter. Raw or green-top milk is used in certain artisanal cheeses which I would hate to see banned, and which we really shouldn't be forced to import from France or England. Besides (and yes, I hear you that facts and laws don't always correspond), the EU food regulator has ruled green-top milk and raw-milk products as safe for human consumption, but requires that they be labelled. As with GM foods, this strikes me as a safe and desirable middle ground.
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