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NY TIMES PLAYS PATSY TO MONSANTO’S COWPIES

(following is a letter to the NY Times from our mascot, L.C., the “Liberally” cow, in response to an op-ed the Times ran extolling the alleged virtues of Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone. We warned L.C. that the Times is not likely to publish a letter from a farm animal, much less a fictitious one, but she was bullish about it:)

To the Editor:

I nearly had a cow when I spotted Henry I. Miller’s work of fiction, “Don’t Cry Over rBST Milk,” masquerading as fact on the Times’ op-ed page last Friday.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a cow, and as the bovine mascot of an organization dedicated to more humane treatment of farm animals I couldn’t let this half-baked cowpie of Monsanto-mandated myths go unchallenged.

There are so many flat-out lies and gross distortions in this piece that even I, a ruminant blessed with not one but four chambers in which to do my digesting, could not stomach them all.

Miller’s attempt to portray rBST as a boon to the environment is an especially nauseating display of spin, but what really made me choke on my cud was his claim that “consumers are apparently happy to drink milk from supplemented cows, in spite of efforts by biotechnology opponents to bamboozle milk processors and retailers into believing that consumers don’t want it.”

But who’s bamboozling whom? Consumers have led the stampede to reject milk from hormone-injected cows, worried not only about ingesting dairy products with added hormones, but also because the use of rBST has serious and painful side effects for myself and my sister cows. It puts us at a much higher risk of contracting a painful condition called mastitis, which requires massive amounts of antibiotics to treat and increases the somatic cell count in our milk. This means that our milk is full of pus. As Rachel Ray might say, yuck-o!

We cows do produce a certain quantity of this hormone naturally, but injecting us with Monsanto’s patented gene-spliced version in order to maximize our milk production treats us like machines, without regard for the fact that we are living, breathing creatures whose bodies break down under the burden of this supposed breakthrough.

The use of rBST is banned in Canada and the European Union, and, as Andrew Kimbrell, founder of the Center for Food Safety, notes in his book Your Right to Know, “The suffering of animals alone is enough cause for consumers to avoid” rBST-derived dairy and meat products.

Mr. Miller doesn’t even bother to mention the problem of mastitis, which is an undisputed and well-documented side effect of rBST use. I guess he figures nobody gives a damn about dairy cows. But we’re fed up, and we’re harnessing our fury; we’ve even got our own website, now: CowsUnite.org, where our Bovine Bill of Rights includes the Right To Just Say No To Drugs.

Plenty of people are willing to pay more for milk from humanely treated cows, and the dairy farmers catering to conscientious consumers are doing just fine, thank you very much. The only party who gets hurt by the rBST boycott is Monsanto, who’s spent a gazillion dollars to manufacture and promote this hormone and can’t stand to watch their investment curdle.

As a grass-fed cow, I have an easy time distinguishing real grassroots from Astroturf apologists like Henry I. Miller. What a perfect name for a biostitute! I’m just sorry the Times allocates space on its op-ed page to such flagrantly disingenuous Agribiz-funded disinformation. The Old Grey Lady, she ain’t what she used to be…

Sincerely,

L.C., the “Liberally” Cow.

WHY ISN’T “THE REAL DIRT” CLEANING UP?

We’re a nation of Purell Puritans, determined to sanitize ourselves—and our surroundings--from head to toe. Maybe cleanliness really is next to godliness. After all, without dirt, we would all be DEAD, bringing us that much closer to heaven (if such a place exists.) Do you seriously think we can feed ourselves without soil?

You probably do. And why wouldn’t you? After all, our food comes in plastic packages purchased from big concrete boxes sitting on top of acres of asphalt. It doesn’t exactly grow on trees.

Oh, wait, maybe it does! But by the time it’s been processed and packaged, every trace of nature’s been eliminated. Those pre-sliced apples, as easy to eat as potato chips? Before they got bagged in plastic, they had a core, full of seeds, and a stem that connected them to a branch on a tree, which was once a seed itself, which sprouted up out of—are you ready for this?--soil. You know, dirt.

So, really, soil is the source of all life, and as such, ought to be revered. And the people who toil in it deserve our devotion.

But we think dirt is just, well, dirty. And our palates prefer the pasteurized pablum of “reality” shows to true stories unenhanced by added sugars or artificial flavors.

Oh, and by the way? We only want to watch people who look like us, apparently, which is why HBO plopped a half-white protagonist into their version of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown’s historical Sioux saga, as a “hand-holder” to walk the white man through this particular trail of tears. The writer who adapted the classic book for HBO offered the following rational:

"Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project.''

But sometimes even a white man can’t get a break, if he’s different, or dirty. Consider the case of John Peterson, aka Farmer John. The poignant and powerful documentary of his life, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, hasn’t made any inroads at the box office despite being declared “unbelievably special” by Al Gore and reaping bushels of rave reviews.

The NY Times called it a “fascinating documentary about loss and reinvention,” offering “one man's extraordinary life as a gateway to a larger history of tragedy and transition.”

The movie follows an odd fellow’s odyssey from local-boy-made-bad to a buy-local-maverick-made-good. But this intensely personal story, filmed in rural Illinois and woven into a glorious patchwork of home movies and new footage held together by Farmer John’s endearingly quirky narrative, also highlights two pastoral plagues that infect every region of our nation: sprawl and bigotry.

If you’ve ever been bullied for being different or had people spread nasty, unfounded rumors about you, if you’ve ever mourned the sight of ticky tacky houses sprouting up on former fields, this film will touch you whether you’ve ever given a thought to the way our food is grown or not. The Real Dirt on Farmer John is a true tale of how a handful of wild and woolly idealists, faced with fear and loathing from a hostile community, turned the other cheek and sowed the seeds for an agrarian revival after the advent of industrial agriculture nearly bled the family farms to death.

Newsday’s review noted that “very few folks have the eloquence and force of personality to portray their own story on screen, at least not in the peculiarly winning combination embodied by John Peterson,” but if Peterson is the star of the film, his extraordinary mother is its anchor, holding things together through decades of hardship with a perpetually sunny outlook undimmed by disease and disaster.

Our news is flooded with tales of toxin-tainted foods from China and near-biblical catastrophes brought on by climate change, from fires to floods to record drought. It all seems so discouraging, but there’s an antidote to these scourges—the community supported agriculture that Farmer John pioneered with his Angelic Organics farming venture.

Community supported agriculture gives those of us lucky enough to live near a farm that participates in a CSA program the opportunity to buy healthy, locally grown food that’s untainted by toxins, so it’s fresher, it tastes better, it’s better for you, and it doesn’t waste fossil fuels racking up food miles from Peru to Peoria.

The trouble is, most Americans have never heard of CSAs. The Real Dirt on Farmer John could change that, doing for community supported agriculture what An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change. At least, it could if it played in enough theaters. But the movie is struggling to gain traction despite all the accolades. Why? My theory is our culture has grown so disconnected from the soil and the souls who nourish us that the words “dirt” and “farmer” are a turn-off to prospective movie-goers.

And that’s a tragedy for all of us, because Farmer John and his fellow CSA farmers hold the key to our nation’s salvation in their callused, dirty hands. The commodity crop growers are tripping over each other to plant more top soil-depleting corn and bring on another dustbowl/depression—see Timothy Egan’s best seller, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl—or, the way things are going, just wait a few years and you’ll get to relive it.

As Egan pointed out in a great NY Times op-ed on Thursday, entitled “Red State Welfare,” our current system of agricultural subsidies “sets the rules for the American food system and helps to subsidize obesity. It rewards growers of big commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat — the foundation of our junk food nation. So, a bag of highly processed orange puff balls with no nutritional value is cheaper than a tomato or a peach.”

Egan notes that “the American Farm Bureau, which represents some of the biggest corporate welfare recipients, is terrified that a motley mix of peasants are now at the door with pitchforks. On their Web page, the bureau warns members that “forces outside of agriculture” are demanding change.”

Are they talking about me? ‘Cause I’m doing just that. We populist bloggers haven’t got pitchforks, but we can sharpen our pitch to the rest of you to help us support folks like Farmer John, who are growing fruits and vegetables in a healthy, biodiverse eco-system, instead of planting millions of moncultured acres of chemical-dependent commodity crops destined to become high fructose corn syrup or bogus faux green bio-fuels.

So, please, call your local indie theater and ask them to show The Real Dirt on Farmer John. Just because it’s a film about dirt doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t clean up at the box office.

LET’S ASK MARION: IS UNFETTERED CAPITALISM A RECIPE FOR DIETARY DISASTER?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

kat: You joined a panel of fellow dietary experts on Charlie Rose’s science series this week to chew the fat about America’s fat problem. The scholarly consensus seemed to be that we’re filling up—and out--with processed foods that our bodies can’t handle, which plays havoc with our metabolism, raises our blood sugar levels, and makes us want to eat even more, leading us to consume more calories than we could ever begin to convert to energy, and thereby making us ever fatter.

Dr. Nestle: That's a fair summary of that lengthy conversation. The bottom line is
that genetics matters but even good genes don't do you much good if you overeat junk food and don't burn off those calories with hard work.

kat: One of your fellow panelists expressed the hope that there might someday be a pill we could take that would mitigate the damage from such a diet—a kind of carbo-offset, if you will. Perhaps pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, who sponsors this series, is hard at work developing just such a drug?

Dr. Nestle: No doubt. With 60% of Americans overweight, drug companies would adore to find a magic bullet that would let people eat as much as they want
without putting on pounds. Finding one has been difficult so far--the
existing drugs either increase the risk of heart attacks or cause unpleasant
gastrointestinal symptoms best not discussed in polite company--and for good
reason. Metabolism is set up to defend body weight against starvation. I
count 40-50 separate factors that have something to do with body weight. If
one gets neutralized, the others kick in to compensate. But that won't stop
drug companies from trying. There's too much money at stake.

And I should point out that Coca-Cola is another sponsor--a company that is desperate to keep sales up and would be happy to sell water or anything else if people would buy as much of it as they do classic Coke. It's hard for soft drink companies to deal with the facts. More and more research shows that people who habitually drink sodas take in more calories, are fatter, and have worse diets than people who don't.

kat: You prescribe a wholesale switch to a more wholesome diet. But fruits and vegetables are the perennial wallflowers wilting on the sidelines of the supermarkets, while the packaged foods take center stage and seduce us with their promise of all things sweet, crunchy, fatty, and salty. You often note that the corporations’ primary obligation is to turn a profit for their shareholders. Can Big Food make a healthy profit without making us ill, or are consumers who contract heart disease and diabetes from a steady diet of convenience foods just collateral damage—the cost of doing business--in our capitalist culture?

Dr. Nestle: I think food companies are caught in an impossible dilemma. No matter how hard they try, they can't please Wall Street and public health advocates at the same time. Healthier foods cost more to make (they have better ingredients) and they don't sell nearly as well as junk foods. If companies make healthier foods, they lose money. If they can't keep their bottom lines growing, Wall Street complains and stockholders revolt. If we want marketing to children to stop, we need to allow companies to tick along with lower profits. And we need to change election laws so that our representatives can make decisions based on public health, not corporate health.

HOMEMADE GRANOLA: NUTTY & FLAKY, BUT NOT HALF-BAKED

Our blue bears have a soft spot for crunchy granola, and they’re big “buy local” boosters, too, so they were ecstatic to find FEED, a super-delicious and nutritious granola that is practically made in our own backyard right here in NYC’s West Village.

Unlike most store-bought granolas, FEED is neither too sweet nor too oily, and it’s chock full of organic multi-grains, nuts and berries. So the bears have become addicted to Feed’s Blueberry Almond Crunch. However, this high quality product has, naturally, an equally high price tag, and at $6.79 for a 12 ounce bag, the bears found themselves running out of FEED awfully fast.

They tried going the freegan route and foraging for FEED in dumpsters, but found only half-eaten bananas, stale bagels, and other foods their picky palates preferred to pass on.

Our cranky, crunch-craving bears decided they’d have to start making their own granola from scratch. So we showed them a simple but delicious recipe from one of our favorite cookbook authors, Lorna Sass. And we made it even easier (and ultra cost efficient) to make by stocking up on mixed bags of dried fruit, pre-chopped walnut pieces and pre-sliced, toasted almonds from Trader Joe’s, and bulk organic rolled oats for $1.19 a pound from our local health food store.

The bears still splurge on FEED as an occasional treat, but now that they’ve mastered Lorna’s recipe they’re having fun making their own granola and experimenting with alternative sweeteners like agave syrup and different kinds of dried fruits. No matter what ingredients you use, the secret to this recipe’s success is the slow baking at a low temperature.

As Lorna notes: “Everyone who makes homemade granola swears that his or her own version is the best. I thought that of mine, too, until I tasted Verlie Payne's sophisticated rendition below. One of the secrets is long, slow roasting, which relieves the cook from any worry about burning and results in burnished, golden oat flakes.”

Granola Revisited

(borrowed, with permission, from Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains Every Day Every Way, winner of this year’s James Beard Award in the healthy focus category)

2/3 Cup dark amber (Grade B) maple syrup

1/4 cup peanut or canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ (available already toasted)

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups unsalted mixed whole nuts (hazelnuts are elegant), coarsely chopped

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cranberries

MAKES ABOUT 7 CUPS

Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 225°F.

In a small saucepan, blend the syrup and oil. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until warm, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss together the oats, wheat germ, coconut, and nuts. Stir in the syrup mixture until the oats are evenly coated.

Spread the granola mixture evenly onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are golden brown, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Stir the mixture every 15 to 20 minutes, and rotate the baking sheet so that the mixture will be evenly toasted.

Transfer to a large storage container. When cool, stir in the raisins and cranberries. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or refrigerate for up to 2 months.

Variations:

~Use dried blueberries or chopped dates instead of the raisins.

~Use rolled barley, spelt, or rye in place of some of the rolled oats.

THE VATICAN AND THE ROAD TO HELL

I don’t profess to know what Jesus would drive, but I’m guessing a vintage Volvo station wagon, maybe, or a beat up ol’ VW van retrofitted to run on biodiesel. Something practical, nothing fancy, with plenty of room for shepherding substance abusers to their support groups and hauling loaves of bread and fish to the soup kitchens. And room on the bumper for an “I Brake for Bigots” sticker.

With his gift for turning water into wine, maybe Jesus could transform factory farm by-products like methane and manure into biofuels. He could wave his hand and turn amber waves of grain into ethanol. Who knows? He might even take a page from Moses’ playbook and generate some hydropower with a parting of the waves.

But would he—or Moses, for that matter--sign off on the Vatican’s newly issued Ten Commandments for Driving? This manifesto for motorists, inspired by World Health Organization statistics showing that some 1.2 million people are killed and 50 million injured in road crashes each year, has some potholes that would make any sandal-clad, shaggy-haired do-gooder type hit the brakes.

The Vatican’s “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" beseeches drivers to be more responsible. And yet, as my fellow HuffPo blogger Jeff Stiers noted, there is no Thou Shalt Buckle Up. Shouldn’t sanctioning the use of seatbelts be a no-brainer?

And the Bible repeatedly calls on us to be good stewards of the earth, so why does the Vatican not use its considerable clout to call for conserving resources and fighting climate change by choosing a more fuel efficient car or eliminating unnecessary trips? Why is there no Thou Shalt Give Thy Fellow Man a Lift commandment to encourage sharing the burdens of driving by carpooling? Or is there, in fact, an oblique reference to ride-sharing in commandment #2?:

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

I get the mortal harm part—don’t run people over, intentionally or otherwise. But the road-as-a-means-of-communion thing baffles me. How can individual drivers isolated in their cars hope to commune --i.e. connect--with other drivers unless they literally collide? Which, of course, is the very thing the Vatican’s seeking to prevent. It’s far easier for fellow travelers to commune on a bus or a train, so why not a Thou Shalt Support Mass Transit commandment?

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Witness the drag car racer who lost control of his black Corvette in Tennessee last Saturday at a Cars for Kids parade, plowing into the crowd and killing six people. Nearly two dozen more were injured. The event was a fundraiser to benefit disabled children.

"I don't understand how they can let a drag car speed down the middle of a city street with hundreds of people standing beside of them," Darla Griswell told her local Tennessee news channel. Griswell’s daughters Rachel and Nicole Griswell, ages 15 and 18, were two of the drag racer’s victims. Griswell is set to lay them to rest today.

The fundraiser’s been held in Selmer for the past 18 years. "It's been safe up until this year," the local police chief noted. But is enlisting drag car racers to perform dangerous high speed stunts on city streets really such a great way to raise money for a childrens’ hospital?

The point of the Vatican’s decree for drivers “is that driving is itself a moral issue,” according to the Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, who told the AP, “How we drive impacts on the lives of ourselves and others."

To which the Reverend Billy would no doubt shout “Amen!” The Pope may have his Popemobile, but the Rev and his flock of Stop Shopping apostles had a biodiesel-powered bus to carry them around the country preaching the Beatitudes of Buylessness.

I say had, because back in December of 2005, near Toledo, Ohio, the “bus got rammed from behind by a Peterbilt full of lumber.” The Rev and his followers were pulled from the wreckage and taken to nearby ER’s and trauma centers. Thankfully, no one was killed.

No doubt Reverend Billy—and Jesus--would surely be on board with the Vatican’s commandment #10: Feel responsible toward others. But I bet the Rev could come up with a more progressive set of suggestions for our paved-over nation. From my laptop to God’s ear!

LET’S ASK MARION: HOW DO WE EAT “LOW ON THE FOOD CHAIN?”

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

kat : Here’s something I want to get off my chest. Evidence is growing that diet and environment may be key culprits in causing breast cancer, according to a recent report on PRI's Living On Earth. A professor of epidemiology, Dr. Devra Lee Davis, emphasized the importance of "eating low on the food chain." What constitutes a low-on-the-food chain diet?

Dr. Nestle: This is an old idea that received wide attention when Frances Moore Lappé
changed the way everyone thought about food in her book Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. Food chains refer to who eats what. We are at the top of the food chain. We eat animals; animals eat plants or smaller animals; smaller animals eat plants and even smaller animals. The smallest animals eat only plants. This puts plants at the bottom of the food chain. Eating low on the food chain means eating mostly plants. This is better from the standpoint of food resources (it takes several pounds of plants to create a pound of meat) and of health (less saturated fat).

kat: Dr. Davis also noted that low-on-the-food-chain foods “are low in pesticides--the fatter the food, the more opportunities it has to absorb toxic chemicals, so eating a diet that is low in animal fat is important." Why do fatty foods absorb more toxins, if this is not too technical a question to ask?

Dr. Nestle: Of course not. Most toxins are organic compounds that are soluble in fat,
not water.

kat: But are all animal fats created equal? Is all red meat bad, or do
grass-fed meats have health benefits as Jo Robinson's Why Grassfed
is Best
claims?

Dr. Nestle: The fat issue is really about ruminants--beef cattle--and you have to be
able to handle some fat chemistry to understand what it is about. As I explain in What to Eat (see pages 176-179 on "Animals: Grass Fed and Grass Finished"), bacteria in the cow's rumen add hydrogen to the otherwise unsaturated fatty acids in grass. This makes beef fat more saturated, which is not so good for heart disease risk. But some of the unsaturated fatty acids get hydrogenated in a different way and form "conjugated linoleic acids " (CLAs). These are trans fats, but somewhat different from the trans fats that get formed by artificial hydrogenation (I describe the structural
differences in the endnote to page 177).

kat: Robinson also maintains that the CLAs in full fat grass-fed dairy
actually lower cholesterol. True?

Dr. Nestle: The research on CLAs is preliminary but suggests that grass-fed beef is
healthier than beef fed corn and soybeans. I am not convinced that the
evidence is all that strong but others would surely disagree.

kat: OK, so the jury’s out on whether grass-fed meat and dairy can reduce your cholesterol levels, but steering clear of factory farmed meats full of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals may decrease your risk of cancer, and eating humanely raised (i.e. grass-fed) meats is bound to boost your karma!

Dr. Nestle: I couldn't agree more.

IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT, GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN!

Higher fuel costs and hotter weather have suddenly made a lot of people wonder why we ship salad greens from Central California to North Carolina, or fly pears in from Peru, or get our garlic from China.

Killer spinach and poisonous pet food have caught the FDA with its pants down, unable to cover its woefully underfunded, overburdened ass.

Shuttered mom and pop shops line the sidewalks of our main streets like so much corporate collateral damage, driven out of business by big box behemoths.

If you add up the food miles, the diet-induced diseases, the environmental degradation and climate change, the fertile farmland swallowed by sprawl, and the local shops gobbled up by global conglomerates, you’ll see that the cost of doing business as usual is higher than an elephants’ eye (maybe that’s why Republicans have so much trouble seeing the big picture?)

Our food chain has turned us into a culture of cannibals, locked in a vicious cycle of overconsumption that is, in turn, consuming us.

Sounds bad, but here’s the good news: people are rising up and revolting against the reactionaries. We’re addressing the need to feed ourselves in ways that don’t destroy our health and our air, land and water. We’re igniting a revival of our local economies through community minded coalitions like Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and an irreverent Reverend by the name of Billy, whose Church of Stop Shopping offers salvation to those of us (me included) who are “addled by advertising.”

And now the grassroots are growing in every sense of the word thanks to groups like Kitchen Gardeners International, a Maine-based non-profit whose mission “is to empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems.”

The folks at KGI are using the latest tool, a YouTube video, to revive an ancient tool, the trowel, in the hopes of rewriting history. Watch KGI’s History of Gastronomy, which depicts our evolution from knuckle-dragging primates to soda-swilling knuckleheads, and then see KGI’s vision of a new way for us neo-neanderthals.

KGI’s website shows you how to sow some homegrown hope, nourish your own community, and connect with people all over the world who share your yearning for a sustainable way of life. As KGI’s online newsletter notes:

“In these times of great political, economic, and environmental upheaval, we crave a bit of certainty in our lives. Here's some for you: if you plant a seed and give it what it needs, it will grow into a plant. If you give the plant what it needs, it will not only bear the fruit of today's feast but the seeds of tomorrow's as well. How's that for return on investment?”

SUGAR COATED, AND BLOATED

Once upon a time, children had no food. Of their own, that is. They had to eat the same stuff grown ups ate, without any fun ‘n’ games. No sanctioned-by-Sponge Bob snacks, no
Find-the-Froot Loops advergames from Kellogg’s Fun K Town, no grinning dinosaurs and dancing pasta to help kids navigate Kraft’s “cheesy rapids.”

Presumably, every meal was Unhappy.

But then Big Food saved the day in a Big Way, and turned the supermarket aisles into a brix’n’mortar Candy Land of salty, crunchy, fatty, super-sweet treats just for tots.

Candy Land, as Wikipedia notes, is “often the first board game played by children because it requires no ability to read and only minimal counting skills,” as opposed to, say, convoluted nutrition labels on packaged foods.

That’s why this same non-skill set makes kids the perfect demographic for “buy me” blandishments from big red dogs or jolly green ogres. Weary moms and dads pestered by teary toddlers cave in and fill their carts with foodstuffs only marginally more nutritious than Calvin’s fictitious Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, “…crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and they don’t have a single natural ingredient or essential vitamin to get in the way of that rich, fudgy taste…”

To be fair, Kellogg’s does offer a whole grain version of Lucky Charms, which presumably adds some fiber as well as a soupçon of social responsibility. But Kellogg’s announcement last Thursday that it would reformulate some of its more sugary products or stop marketing them to younger kids has cast a nanny state-sized cloud over our cornarchy’s corporate-sponsored Candy Land. Can it be, as CBS Sunday Morning asked yesterday, that America is “TooSweet on Sweeteners?”:

“Including refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, the average American wolfs down 142 pounds a year, or roughly 2 ½ pound a week. That is up 23 percent in the last 25 years, and is a major factor in soaring rates of obesity and diabetes.”

Well, I guess it’s not hard to consume that much added sugar or high fructose corn syrup when they’re added to nearly every condiment and convenience food you can think of. Why put sweeteners in things like bread, mayonnaise, spaghetti sauce and peanut butter? Because that’s the way the average American reportedly wants it, and the food industry is simply pandering to our empty carb-craving palate.

As the American Sugar Association’s apologist Melanie Miller told CBS, “…the American palate likes sweet things, and manufacturers have recognized that. In Europe, they don’t use as much sugar.”

According to Miller, America’s real problem is overeating and not getting enough exercise, and an industry that spends $12 billion annually to push kids to plead for processed junk foods is simply a scapegoat. Blame parents for their children’s ever widening waistlines, because they’re the ones who choose to feed their kids all this crap, instead of tying them to their high chairs and not releasing them till they’ve finished their whole grain gruel and grapefruit.

As an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal helpfully notes:

“Sugared breakfast cereals aren't the cause of obesity among children. They've been around for decades and are a source of nutrition for children who will find a way to sweeten plain corn flakes in any case. Try serving your child a grapefruit for breakfast and watch him scowl unless he can pile on spoonfuls of sugar. The rise of obesity in kids has far more to do with a lack of exercise and overeating in general. But you can't sue parents for letting Jason and Emily watch TV for hours. So the food activists, who are fronts for the trial bar, are targeting the cereal makers and broadcasters.”

An op-ed in Sunday’s New York Post from Elizabeth Whelan echoes the same talking points, characterized as “facts”:

“First, today's fortified cereals are sources of excellent nutrition for kids and adults. My late colleague Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, founder of the Harvard Department of Nutrition and co-founder of the group I run, the American Council on Science and Health, was the first to suggest, more than 50 years ago, that cereal manufacturers fortify their products with beneficial nutrients - scrawling the idea that became Special K on the back of a napkin to explain it to a Kellogg's executive.

Second, pre-sweetened cereals do provide calories, but for non-obese kids, calories can be a good thing: They provide energy. And if the cereal is not pre-sweetened, the child may just do the sweetening with scoops from the sugar bowl - often adding even more sugar than there would have been in a pre-sweetened product.”

Let me see if I’m following this: sugared cereals are a good source of nutrition for kids until they become fat, and kids will just shovel sugar onto anything you give them to eat, anyway, and a Harvard professor told Kellogg’s 50 years ago to make its cereals more nutritious, and—my favorite part—food activists are a front for something called the “trial bar.” Is this some kind of variation on a trail bar? Does it have any added sugars? And if I’m a front for them, why aren’t they backing me in some tangible way, like sending periodic checks?

One of my fellow “food cops,” NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle, pointed out last week on her WhatToEat blog that Kellogg’s has been promising to make healthier foods and stop marketing to kids for years, but she’s willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt:

“Let’s give the company credit for making impressive promises. But the proof will be in what it actually does. If Kellogg starts to lose sales as a result of the promised changes, the improvements are unlikely to last and the company will find other ways to market its products to kids. I say this because my conversation with a Kellogg official earlier this week was a word-for-word duplicate of one I had with an official of Kraft a few years ago when Kraft announced that it was reformulating its products and would be limiting its marketing to kids. Kraft did indeed make some of its promised changes but as some students of mine demonstrated last year, the company is still actively engaged in marketing junky foods to children (see paper by Lewin et al). I think food companies are in an enormously difficult position on this issue. Even if they want to do the right thing and really care about kids’ health, their primary responsibility is to meet stockholders’ investment expectations.”

Wow, that’s an awfully sympathetic assessment of Big Food’s dilemma coming from a rabid food activist radical whom the astroturf Center for Consumer Freedom has declared “one of the country’s most hysterical anti-food-industry fanatics.” Dr. Nestle runs the risk of having her foaming-at-the-mouth food cop credentials revoked if she keeps giving Kellogg a second chance to do right by our littlest consumers.

“NATURAL” DORITOS: PROCESSED PROGRESS?

 

The downside of being an unpaid food blogger is that it doesn’t put food on the table, which is why I have been logging more hours lately digging than blogging. Gotta get those heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, and peppers in the ground now if I want to have ratatouille in August.

Otherwise, I’ll be reduced to eating weeds, and while I’m all in favor of adopting a more plant-based diet, there’s only so much you can do with pigweed and purslane.

But there’s an upside to being an unpaid food blogger, as well, which is that your friends bombard you with all kinds of food-related tidbits, from the truly tasty to the downright distasteful.

My friend Andrew, for example, rang the doorbell early the other morning, forcing me to throw my bathrobe on over my official blogger uniform, pastel colored camouflage Hello Kitty pajamas, and come downstairs to answer the door.

“Just thought you’d like to know there’s a fresh squirrel in the road right outside your house,” he told me. This is what I get for regaling my friends with highlights from Sandor Katz’s The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, which examines all the fascinating underground food movements bubbling up around the country, including a group that regularly dines on recycled roadkill.

I may retaliate by having Andrew and his lovely wife Kathy and their beautiful baby Paige over for Squirrel Satay. I mean, if you skewer it, grill it, and smother it in a spicy peanut sauce, it’s bound to taste just like chicken.

Anyway, Andrew brought over a slightly more palatable novelty for us to nosh on yesterday—Doritos “Natural” White Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips.

Ah, the oxymoronic world of healthy junk food. Andrew knows this is the kind of thing a knee-jerk real food fanatic like me has a moral obligation to trash, but, hey, if you dangle those damn Doritos in front of me, I will of course succumb to their cheesy, crunchy allure.

“What exactly does “natural” mean, anyway?” asked Heidi, our house guest from Ann Arbor (who always arrives bearing yummy things from the legendary Zingerman’s. Come back soon, Heidi! Visit any time!)

Well, Heidi, glad you asked. “Natural” is Madison Avenue’s way of whispering “healthy,” “low-fat,” or “organic” in the ears of confused consumers when their products are none of the above. It’s a code word for marginally less crappy processed crap, and it seduces not-so-savvy shoppers into feeling more virtuous about their snack food selections. And, as Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate, noted at NewsTarget.com, it may not be all that “natural,” anyway:

Frito-Lay has launched a new "Natural Doritos" product that doesn't have the usual monosodium glutamate (an excitotoxin) and artificial colors found in its flagship product, but it does contain another offensive ingredient: yeast extract. It's listed right on the package of the new Natural Doritos products.

Yeast extract is a flavor-enhancing additive that many food manufacturers use in place of MSG. The problem is that yeast extract is a hidden source of MSG (monosodium glutamate), according to my sources (see below).

MSG, you may know, is classified as an excitotoxin by Dr. Russell Blaylock, who is a doctor, author, and expert on chemicals that damage the nervous system. MSG is well known to cause migraine headaches, seizures, and other nervous system disorders. Dr. Blaylock's research also shows that MSG damages the endocrine system and causes obesity due to impaired appetite control regulation (causes you to be unable to stop eating).

No wonder you can’t eat just one! And yes, they are every bit as fattening as the regular Doritos.

The “natural” Doritos do, however, contain organic white corn and organic sour cream. These are preemie-sized baby steps for the world of processed foods, but still, worth acknowledging. Anything that reduces the amount of pesticides poured on corn is a plus, and creating more demand for organic dairy products is a good thing, too.

But, at the end of the day, if you’re looking for a healthy, guilt-free snack, the dead squirrel in the middle of the road wins hands down over the Doritos (provided you’re not the one who ran the poor thing over, in which case, a little guilt may be in order.)

Of course, tortilla chips and roadkill are both petroleum based by-products. I’d rather be harvesting my own homegrown tomatoes, so, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some seedlings I need to shoehorn in between the weeds and the wisteria.

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