The Paleo Diet: Caveman Cure-All or Unhealthy Fad?, my latest article for The Atlantic, is online now. I was expecting to write a more balanced thing, but working through it, my conclusion sort of shifted towards the negative.
An exhaustive examination of pica, the eating of hair, rotten wood, cloth, but most especially dirt and clay. Truly disturbing, as it gives a dizzying number of examples of dirt eating in societies around the world, and explores the possibilities of what causes the practice.
Laufer [a researcher working in the 1930s] left little doubt that earth eating had “nothing to do with climate, race, creed, culture areas, or a higher or lesser degree of culture.” Indeed, to read Laufer is to watch a war of attrition remove all notions of Otherness from our understanding of pica. He cites Humboldt, Cragin, and the seventeenth-century theories of vanity, but for the most part, the pica of his pages is quiet and reasoned, medicinal, culinary, religious.
Open your refrigerator, your freezer, your kitchen cupboards, and look at the labels on your food. You’ll find “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor” in just about every list of ingredients. The similarities between these two broad categories are far more significant than the differences. Both are man-made additives that give most processed food most of its taste. People usually buy a food item the first time because of its packaging or appearance. Taste usually determines whether they buy it again. About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food. The canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used in processing destroy most of food’s flavor — and so a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable. Without this flavor industry today’s fast food would not exist. The names of the leading American fast-food chains and their best-selling menu items have become embedded in our popular culture and famous worldwide. But few people can name the companies that manufacture fast food’s taste.
My favorite chapter from Fast Food Nation, about the flavoring industry, is online in its entirety. Eric Schlosser visits the labs, and the account is startling. You’ve gotta read this.
A pretty convincing lecture by Robert Lustig that sugar — both high-fructose corn syrup and regular refined sugar — is harmful to the human body in a way that’s utterly separate from the calories it contains. A NYTimes article covers all the same points and gives some background on the video. No more cake!
Google has added recipe search. Should food fans rejoice? Not so fast.
Other biases – these having to do with Google’s idea of what people should be cooking and eating – are also at work. In setting up parameters for refining results based on cooking time and calories, Google explicitly, if subtly, gives privilege to low-calorie recipes that can be cooked quickly, as shown in the options it allows for refining a recipe search:
Gizmodo article on how differently-shaped glasses aid the enjoyment of various drinks:
Because each glass practices a kind of liquid manipulation, a mismatched pair can go really wrong. Take, for instance, the case of the Chardonnay in a Riesling glass, which has a classic white wine glass shape. Because both are whites, we tend to pour them in the same holder. But, says Claus’ grandson Maximilian Riedel, “drinking Chardonnay from the Riesling glass dilutes the Chardonnay’s fruit, bringing forward far too much vanilla.” The best bet for Chardonnay is a bigger bulb, which exposes more of the liquid to the air and avoids the intense smell shot.
Yesterday I casually mentioned going back to vegetarianism on Twitter, and I got some responses! Arielle Castillo, music blogger turned chef, mentioned The Vegetarian Myth. I haven’t read it, but I’m familiar with the basic argument — that it’s ok to eat meat so long as it’s sustainably produced.
Sustainable meat means something fairly specific, described best in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which I have read, and which I heartily recommend). It involves animals raised the way they would have been on small farms before industrialization — cows eating grass while fertilizing the ground with their manure, chickens eating the grubs that grow in the manure, etc etc. It’s markedly different from the factory farming that raises 99% of the meat available in the US. And — critically — the factory farming that raises 100% of the meat available in South Florida. Because the small farms that produce truly sustainable meat? They just ain’t here.
Feedlots — how practically all meat is produced in the world today.
Or maybe that’s an exaggeration? The chain Chipotle makes some weak claims to “attempting” to buy “some” of their meat from sustainable sources. I suppose eating there is at least a wallet-vote for more production like that. Then there’s places like Miller’s Organic Farm, which produces sustainable meat in Plantation for customers it deems sufficiently worthy. The application asks why you’re interested in their products and provides a box for a short essay answer. What’s going on here?
Maybe it’s the start of something. Michael Pollan started a wave of increased consciousness that’s slowly sweeping the nation, and places like Miller’s Farm are the tip of the iceberg. Maybe their bizarre buying model is based on their small quantities and slowness of retailer interest. Arielle tweeted later that she’s maybe working on a story about these farms, so let’s look forward to that.
Two things to mention before I end. The other book I should mention is Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, which is very well summarized in his article for the New York Times — as pasionate an argument for
vegetarianism eating non-sustainable meat as you’re going to find. And lastly, forget “organic” meat. The stuff at Whole Foods labeled organic comes from the exact same factory farming system as non-organic food, except that those animals are fed “organic” corn meal instead of regular corn meal. They’re better, but only marginally, and they don’t address the basic objections raised in these books.
I was in a store yesterday and Christmas music was playing, but presumably that’s the last vestige of “the holidays” now that it’s The Monday After. And so we’re on to the next thing, which is the end of the year. Party party. But not so fast; isn’t there some stuff you’re supposed to take care of before the first of the new year? Things that, if you’re going to do them, now is the time to do them?
- Charitable giving: Peter Singer has figured out how much you should give to charity, and there’s a calculator on his site. For your broke ass, it’s probably 1% of your income. You do it now, and you can write it off on your taxes in April. We were just talking about a very closely related thing, so I’m not going to bug you — you either have the inclination or you don’t. Oxfam if you prefer to keep it easy, Kiva if you prefer a little more interactive.
- The tax thing just doesn’t go to money you give away — you can buy stuff for yourself if you can write it off your taxes, too. If you do freelance work, you can write off toys for your home office. Even if you don’t, there are year-end tax tips you should look over, and here are a few more related things to stress out about.
- New Year’s Resolutions: If this is your thing, you’ve probably got a list together. I would humbly suggest three reasons for switching to vegetarianism: (1) eating meat is terrible for your health, (2) meat production is terrible for the planet, and (3) say what you will about the abstract ethics of animals eating animals, but the way that 99% of livestock production happens in this country is indefensible. I recommend Jonathan Safran Foer’s article on becoming vegetarian, which is just a pleasure to read, as a good starting point for thinking about this. Note that incremental “99%” approaches are fine here; you could allow yourself one meat-inclusive meal per week and do almost as much good.
- If you are at the very end of the anal scale, you could do a personal annual review, and maybe publish an annual report.