Sign up

You deserve to feel great, look great & LOVE your body

Enter your email for your FREE starter kit to get healthy & lose weight without dieting:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Why I’m Voting Yes on Prop 37: Label Genetically Modified Foods

by | Oct 29, 2012

To be honest, I’m a little surprised I even need to write this. In a national survey, over 90% of American voters favored labeling genetically modified (GMO) foods. Labels for GMOs are already required in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and dozens of other nations. In direct expenses, adding a label costs next to nothing for both companies and consumers.

I was a bit annoyed when I started seeing ads calling Prop 37 unnecessarily complicated and poorly written, but I didn’t think TV ads could close such a huge gap. Before the television blitzkrieg by the anti-Prop 37 contingent, it looked poised to win in California by a landslide, and I figured the lead was large enough to hold.

However, anti-Prop 37 contributions have totaled over 45 million dollars, with the biggest donors being Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico, and other giant food producers. (In comparison, the pro-Prop 37 contributions total just over 6 million—a little less than Monsanto contributed alone). As a result the most recent polls show Prop 37 is in a dead heat, and we are in danger of losing this opportunity to add transparency to our food system.

Legal Language

Despite what negative television ads have claimed, the proposition is neither complex nor poorly written (you can read it for yourself here). It’s fairly straight forward in fact. Prop 37 states that any raw food commodity that has been genetically manipulated must have a clear label stating such. Any processed food that knowingly contains GMO ingredients must also have a label.

Prop 37 does not require labeling for specific ingredients, meaning that if a product contains both genetically modified corn and soy (as most processed foods do) the ingredient list will still just say “corn” and “soy.” However, somewhere on the package it must say that the food contains genetically modified ingredients.

Restaurant food is excluded, so you could still enjoy your genetically modified BigMac in blissful ignorance. Animal products that are fed genetically modified foods (most industrial meat production relies on GMOs for feed) do not need to be labeled. Alcohol is also exempt. Organic certification already prohibits the use of genetic modification, so organic foods will not be affected.

The only additional provision, which I think makes sense, is that GMO foods and those containing GMO ingredients cannot use the word “natural” or anything similar (e.g. “naturally made”) on their labels.

Costs

Food companies add and remove food labels all the time—imagine how quickly they’d change the label if they learned processed foods protect against heart disease. However, major food producers like Monsanto, Kraft, and General Mills anticipate people avoiding GMO foods if they are labeled, so they see this proposition as a threat to their profits.

Prop 37 will cost consumers next to nothing, unless you choose to buy non-GMO food that happens to be more expensive. While anti-Prop 37 ads claim the cost to consumers will be $400 annually, that is based on a study (funded by the No on 37 camp) that assumes they will have to switch to non-GMO foods and charge more for them. This is a strange assumption that does not reflect the language of Prop 37, which does not ban GMO foods.

Some have argued that the more likely outcome is that they will start putting “May contain genetically engineered ingredients” on everything (over 80% of processed foods are currently made with GMOs) and hope we learn to ignore it, similar to what happened with Prop 65. This scenario would negate the costs projected by their study. Another study (with equally dubious funding) found that there is unlikely to be any additional costs to consumers. Importantly, labeling GMOs did not increase the cost of food in other nations.

Safety Concerns

So what’s all the fuss about? Are GMOs dangerous for us to eat or not? This is not particularly easy to answer, because the term “genetic engineering” is incredibly broad. Just as cancer is not one disease, genetic engineering is not one kind of biological change. The safety of each manipulation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and testing should be rigorous and exhaustive to detect all potential problems, side effects and unintended consequences.

As anyone who has worked extensively with genetically modified animals can tell you (I did for years), the effects of a single gene deletion or insertion are often very surprising and can be quite subtle. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes crazy things happen, and sometimes you can’t tell what happened until you let the animal’s life run its course and study it extensively. That isn’t to say we aren’t able to have a solid understanding of some genetic manipulations, but it is not a simple science.

It gets even more tricky when you’re talking about releasing GMOs into the environment. It’s very difficult to contain genetic material in an ecosystem. It tends to spread, and ecological balance can be very fragile. This is why you are not allowed to bring fruit with you on international flights. Even native, non-genetically altered species can disrupt an ecosystem, and the same concerns apply to new or altered species created in a laboratory.

I’m not making the case that GMOs are somehow inherently unhealthy or bad for the environment. Indeed, in some cases the potential benefit of GMO crops may justify their prudent use. My point is that as a culture we should understand that genetic manipulation is a messy science that requires thoughtful consideration and rigorous oversight. We should not take this subject lightly.

What’s at Stake

Big Food has always fought tooth and nail against any kind of labeling regulations, but are quick to seek approval of health claims to put on the front of food packaging whenever possible. It’s obvious why. For food manufacturers labels are about marketing, not about health. Positive labels sell more food, while negative labels discourage sales.

Our current food system is shrouded heavily in secrecy, and this is intentional. Food companies rightfully fear that if we know more about what is in our food and how it was produced, we might start asking more questions and demanding better. Currently corn, soy beans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookedneck squash are genetically modified. Billions of dollars have been invested in this technology and the big food companies would not be happy if some of us decided to stop eating these foods.

What this really comes down to is transparency. Honest businesses with nothing to hide only win when more transparency is available. This is largely why organic food is such a big supporter of Prop 37—the organic certification system is incredibly rigorous and these companies have already invested in the transparency of their businesses.

Consumers also win with more transparency, because it enables them to make better informed decisions. If we believe certain GMOs are safe to eat, we can eat them. If some of us are more skeptical of one kind or another, we can skip them. Even Big Food benefits in the long run with more transparency, because it creates more confidence in their products as they are proven safe.

Prop 37 does not make any judgement on GMO foods. It does not ban them and it does not regulate their use. It simply requires food companies to indicate on their label if GMOs are present, so consumers can know with confidence what they are buying and eating. If you think this small act of tranparency is reasonable, you should support Prop 37 and vote yes if you live in California.

Tags:

Gone Bananas? Why I Don’t Eat America’s Favorite Fruit

by | Aug 15, 2012

Photo by Crystl

No, I don’t eat bananas. Not really anyway.

It’s not that I don’t like the taste, I actually really enjoy them (particularly with ice cream). Nor do I actively avoid bananas—I’d eat homemade banana cream pie any day of the week, and in Thailand I noshed on the small red finger bananas sold at the local markets. But I don’t buy bananas in the US, and given a choice I’d almost always opt for something else.

While this probably sounds strange to some of you, if you stop and think about the way I live and shop it’s easy to see how this idiosyncratic habit evolved.

I do the majority of my grocery shopping (~80%) at the farmers market, and as you might expect bananas aren’t common in San Francisco. The one or two brick and mortar stores I shop at for the rest of my food here in the city are nothing like your typical supermarkets. Like the farmers market these stores carry local, seasonal food almost exclusively (did I mention I love San Francisco?), and if they carry bananas I’ve never noticed them.

So the main reason I don’t buy bananas is logistical: they don’t exist here.

Honestly for me that’s enough of a reason to focus on the rest of the produce the season has to offer—there’s always more beautiful fruit than I could possibly eat (even in the winter), why do I need bananas too? But when you pause and reflect on why this makes me strange, you start to realize that there are deeper issues with our most popular fruit that make them less than an ideal snack.

The vast majority of bananas sold in the US are grown in Latin Amercia by a handful of countries including Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica. In these places bananas are grown year round, are harvested while unripe, then shipped in special refrigerated compartments until they reach their destination weeks later. The fruit is then exposed to ethylene gas which causes it to ripen and turn their characteristic bright yellow (a different shade than their natural dull yellow when tree-ripened).

Though not genetically modified (yet), all commercial bananas are genetically identical clones grown in monocultures. While this makes the product extremely consistent, it also leaves it vulnerable to disease since cross-breeding cannot confer any protective benefit. Before 1960, the most prevalent commercial banana variety was ‘Gros Michel.’ However, these bananas were wiped out by the fungal Panama disease, forcing farmers to adopt a new variety.

Now all commercial bananas are the Cavendish variety, which was chosen for shelf life and shipping rather than flavor. Cavendish bananas are not immune to infection, however. An extremely virulent strain of Panama disease known as TR4 has threatened Cavendish bananas in Southeast Asia and Australia, and scientists believe TR4 will likely reach Latin American banana plantations soon. There is no variety currently considered a viable replacement for Cavendish, and bananas may be gone from supermarket shelves in our lifetimes. As I hinted above, companies are working to genetically modify the bananas to be resistant to TR4.

Even worse than monoculture ag destroying a commodity that millions of people depend on for their livelihoods, the large banana companies in Latin America (Dole and Chiquita) have a history of mind-boggling corruption. The term “banana republic” describes corrupt countries where the political system favors large agriculture corporations over public welfare. I had trouble finding information on the current state of the banana business and its politics, but there is little indication that things have improved.

But what about nutrition? Am I missing out? Bananas are famously high in potassium, but so are all the green leafy vegetables that make up a huge portion of my diet. Commercial bananas are indeed a good source of several nutrients, however they are also one of the most calorie dense fruits due to their high sugar content. There’s nothing in bananas that you can’t get from other foods, and lower calorie fruits may be a better choice if you eat them often or are watching your weight.

Despite these concerns, there are plenty of valid reasons to continue eating bananas. Just don’t let anyone call you crazy if you choose to skip them.

What are your thoughts on bananas? B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

Originally published August 1, 2011.

Tags: , , , , , ,

For The Love Of Food

by | Sep 23, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

In this week’s Top 10 I found some cool new data supporting my claim that even non-brightly colored, white fleshed fruits and vegetables have superfood potential, some sad news about the anti-aging chemical in red wine resveratrol, and a whopping two BS stories of the week.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

How Slow Food Are You?

by | May 10, 2010

Photo by *すぃか*

Do you ever wonder if your obsession with local, seasonal foods makes you a conscientious consumer or just a starry-eyed elitist?

A friend and fellow Slow Food member came up with a quick quiz to help you tell the difference.

Malice Waters lives and writes in San Francisco.

How Slow Food are you? A quiz.

By Malice Waters

The foods in my kitchen come from within:

1) 7,000 miles

2) 1,500 miles

3) 150 miles

4) 50 miles

Bottled water is:

1) A Necessity

2) An Option

3) A Triumph of Fearmongering Marketers

4) An Evil Plot by Monsanto

If I had to choose between local and organic, I would:

1) Choose Local

2) Choose Organic

3) Go Hungry

4) Reserve a table at Quince

At the farmers’ market, I fill my Prius beyond capacity. Which of these purchases do I jettison?

1) Farmstead Goat Cheese

2) Artisan Salumi

3) Fiddlehead Ferns

4) None. I hail a hybrid cab and load it up.

John Mackey of Whole Foods is:

1) A Friend to Small Farmers

2) A Savvy Businessman

3) A Greenwasher

4) All of the Above

A new cabinet-level agriculture post should go to:

1) Sarah Palin

2) Mario Batali

3) Michael Pollan

4) Marion Nestle

A “Bourbon Red” is:

1) An Energy Drink

2) A New Cocktail

3) A Heritage Turkey

4) An Organic Zinfandel

A “locavore” is:

1) A Type of Rodent

2) A Myopic Elitist

3) A Burrowing Insect

4) A Person Who Favors Locally Produced Foods

“Biodynamic” is:

1) A Biotech Startup

2) Marketing Hooey

3) An Evil Plot by Cargill

4) Cosmic Agriculture

“CSA” stands for:

1) Can’t Stand Asparagus

2) Caring, Sturdy Aardvark

3) Community-Supported Agriculture

4) Carrot Succulence Always

I throw a potluck party and a friend brings fajitas made with feedlot beef. My response is:

1) Say “thank you” and enjoy the fajitas.

2) Say “thank you” and then forget to serve the fajitas.

3) Say “thank you” but resolve to drop said friend.

4) Call PETA.

An $80 dollar-a-plate al fresco dinner at a local farm sounds:

1) Dubious

2) Great, if the Farmer Gets the Proceeds

3) Like an Evil Plot by Archer Daniels Midland

4) Like My Wedding Reception

Tally your score

12–20: See you at Wal-Mart.

21–26: Read Fast Food Nation and then try again.

27–35: Read Food Rules and then try again.

36 and up: Congratulations. You may now join Slow Food.

How Slow Food are you?

Tags: , , ,

Food, Inc. Shows How Your Food Choices Can Change the World

by | Jun 15, 2009

foodincIt is fair to say I’m a bit obsessed with food.

To me this is perfectly natural, because few things are as important or bring as much pleasure to my life. I eat at least three times a day, and each meal is an opportunity to revel in the bounty of nature and ensure my health for (5? 6? 7?) decades. What confuses me is why more people aren’t so obsessed with food.

I admit that my personal history with food is long and intimate, but at this stage in my life what makes me passionate about eating well is what I know about the impact of my daily meal choices on myself and the world.

Food is the cause of almost every modern disease, and is in the midst of creating some new ones.

Food is destroying the planet faster than anything in human history.

Food threatens our national security and the health of the global economy.

But food is not all doom and gloom, nor should it be. Real food is a celebration of life and brings people together. Real food is an art. Real food is health.

My personal favorite reason to eat the way I do is that real food tastes amazing, nothing like the processed junk most of us grew up eating.

When it comes down to it, real food makes my life better.

If you are like most people I talk to, this all sounds wonderful but is a little too abstract to move you to action. Sure we would all love to make it to the farmers market this weekend, but when Saturday rolls around there are 1,001 excuses not to go. Right?

In my world though, the earth has to be collapsing for me to miss my market trip and even then I’ll probably find another one. I don’t see it as a choice. For me my weekly trip to the farmers market determines how well I will eat for the entire week. I know it is possible to eat healthy without going but it won’t taste nearly as good, is less exciting and more expensive. These things make it harder to eat healthy at all, and that is not okay.

My resolve comes from the knowledge that there is no more important decision I can make each week than where I buy my food.

If you aren’t convinced yet, you should definitely see the new film Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. will help you see food as a priority, a solution to and not the cause of our problems. It is a journey through our modern food system, how it works and the tremendous impact it has on our lives.

One of my favorite quotes comes early in the film as Michael Pollan, one of the film’s narrators and hero of the “real food” movement, describes the disappearance of seasonal produce at the grocery store. His quintessential example is the perfectly red, perfectly round tomatoes that can be found year-round in American supermarkets.

“Although it looks like a tomato, it is a notional tomato. It’s the idea of a tomato.”

This is because, as you all know by now, real tomatoes only exist in the summer.

Food, Inc. gives you an intimate look at where these artificial foods come from and the how they affect our lives. It also explores the government policies that have encouraged and protected these practices at the expense of good food and health.

If you have read (and you should) Michael Pollan’s landmark book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you will find many similarities in this film. However, Food, Inc. preferentially emphasizes the results of our food system and the toll it takes on our health and economy.

Central to Food, Inc. are the stories of people who were the honest victims of our toxic system. These stories are heartbreaking and will make you think twice the next time you are tempted to order a Quarter Pounder.

Importantly, Food, Inc. offers more than just criticism, it also gives us a solution: vote with your fork.

The message of the movie is almost entirely aligned with the philosophy of this blog: shop at farmers markets, cook your own meals, pass on the processed foods.

These simple acts are enough to change the way the system works, because ultimately consumers decide what is produced. If you stop buying it, they will stop selling it and find another way to satisfy your needs. We are the ones with the real power.

It is completely possible to opt out of our current food system by reducing and even eliminating processed, industrial foods from your diet. Amazingly, once you start on this journey you learn that you don’t actually give anything up in the process, but in fact regain a world of lost flavors and the joys of eating real food.

If you like Food, Inc. and want to know more there are numerous resources:

Have you seen Food, Inc. yet? What did you think?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Is Organic Food Really Better?

by | Mar 23, 2009

organic artichokesIt seems all the nation is abuzz with organic fever. The number of farmers markets has increased dramatically in the past several years, sales of organic products have more than doubled and even the new First Family has jumped on the organic bandwagon.

But in uncertain economic times, some people are asking if the higher cost of organic foods is worth the benefit. And when it comes down to it, what benefit are we really talking about anyway?

When discussing organic food, most people are referring to food that complies with and has been accepted as “Certified Organic” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA’s Organic Standards were set in 2002, twelve years after the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

In order for a food to become Certified Organic, the grower of the food must be inspected for compliance with the USDA’s “Organic Standards” by an accredited state or private agency. Generally this means the foods are free of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and have not been irradiated or genetically modified in any way.

There is extensive evidence that adults and children who eat exclusively organic foods have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies. How these pesticides can affect your long-term health is not clear, but they are unlikely to make you healthier and may in fact have lasting, negative consequences. If pesticides are a concern to you, organic is certainly a better option.

Beyond pesticides, the benefit of organic foods becomes a little murky. As recently pointed out by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, organic certification offers no guarantee that foods are either better for you or for the planet.

But that is not to say that how food is grown is not important. Soil quality is in fact one of the most significant determinants of the nutrient value of foods. Another important factor is the genetic make up (the strain and variety) of plants being grown. That is, ice burg lettuce will add little value to your diet whether it is organic or not.

But as Bittman points out, the reason Certified Organics “fall short of the lofty dreams of early organic farmers and consumers” is because Organic Standards make no mention of how far food may travel from soil to sale, nor do they promise anything about a food’s safety or nutrition. In other words, organic food is not local food.

It is generally accepted that the farther food travels to reach your plate, the less nutrients it has and the bigger its carbon footprint. Slapping a Certified Organic sticker on it does not change this fact. Better than buying Certified Organic is shopping at smaller, local farms that may or may not have the resources to comply with costly organic regulations.

But these subtle distinctions are largely irrelevant to most American’s who consume little, if any, fresh vegetables and fruits. At a certain point, arguing about the costs and benefits of organic produce is of little value. For most Americans, the first step in eating healthier is to focus on freshness.

That being said, there are many good reasons to avoid big agriculture whenever possible, organic or not. Whole Foods organic peanuts were not immune from the recent Salmonella outbreak. Large processing plants come with their own unique set of risks in food production.

Local produce is also better if money is your biggest concern. The fuel cost of shipping organic asparagus from Chile to San Francisco is substantial, as is the price of becoming a Certified Organic grower. For these reasons, locally grown but non-organic foods are less likely to carry the hefty price tag that most of us associate with Certified Organic.

Do you buy organic produce?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Michelle Obama Brings Healthy Eating to the White House

by | Mar 13, 2009

Michelle ObamaYou can agree or disagree with Barack Obama’s stimulus package, but despite our nation’s economic troubles Michelle Obama is doing everything right.

Quick question: When you voters stepped into the booth on November 4, 2008, how many of you considered the impact of the White House kitchen on American eating values? (Please vote in our sidebar)

* chirp * chirp *

That is what I figured.

I know it was a concern to me, but I am painfully aware of the status food gets on the American political scene and did not expect much to come of it. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind I maintained a hope that Michael Pollan’s landmark letter to the future president elect, Farmer In Chief, would become a campaign trail talking point. I was not surprised that it didn’t, however.

Unimaginably strong powers are involved in supporting the American “standard of living” that for some reason involves consuming twice as many calories as we should (that’s a conservative estimate of how much we are overeating). If you are curious, ask yourself why dairy (light blue) gets nearly 25% of the USDA pyramid calorie allowance when most of the data suggests we should be largely avoiding milk in our diets.

Wishful thinking aside, there was not much talk of food during the campaign. Maybe one or two articles I came across mentioned something about Michelle Obama being interested in organic food (or that folks from Iowa have a distaste for arugula), but nothing ever led me to believe there was any commitment by the Obamas to change the eating habits of Americans.

I could never have imagined that within weeks of being in the White House, the First Lady would openly assert herself as an advocate of healthy, fresh and local foods. According to this inspiring article published recently in the New York Times,

“[Mrs. Obama] has praised community vegetable gardens, opened up her own kitchen to show off the White House chefs’ prowess with vegetables and told stories about feeding less fattening foods to her daughters.”

What better way to encourage Americans to adopt healthy eating patterns than holding the First Family up as a shining example?

Even more amazing is that she directly addresses the common misconception that fresh, healthy foods are a privilege only available to the wealthy. She has praised community vegetable gardens and helped organize efforts to get fresh food donations into homeless shelters.

She has also taken this opportunity to show parents it is critical for children to get proper nutrition through healthy foods. She explains how important it is to make vegetables appealing to kids, so that they are more likely to eat them.

“And when you’re dealing with kids, for example, you want to get them to try that carrot. Well, if it tastes like a real carrot and it’s really sweet, they’re going to think that it’s a piece of candy. So my kids are more inclined to try different vegetables if they’re fresh and local and delicious.”

The wonderful thing is, there is no question that the Obama’s eating habits are attainable by all families. They are not making sacrifices when it comes to foods they enjoy. Though she spends a good amount of time praising the talents of the White House chefs to make healthy meals she proudly says,

“They can also make a mean batch of French fries when you want it done.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Michelle. If you need any more evidence that she is on to something, just take a look at her!

What do you think of the First Lady’s approach to food and health?

Tags: , , , , , ,

High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contaminated With Mercury

by | Jan 27, 2009

I swear, it is too early for April Fool’s Day and this headline is not a joke. I wish it were.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy reports that two new U.S. studies have found detectable levels of mercury in 55 brand name foods made with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS, from three different manufacturers).

Mercury is a potent toxin that effects the brain and nervous system. It is particularly dangerous for developing children and is associated with learning disabilities and other neurological problems. Because mercury has a particularly long half-life in the human body, women of childbearing age should also avoid mercury.

What upsets me the most about this finding is that these are the kinds of products that are directly marketed toward children.

Maybe you have heard of some of these:

  • Quaker Oatmeal to Go
  • Coca-Cola Classic
  • Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
  • Minute Maid Berry Punch
  • Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
  • Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
  • Nutri‐Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
  • Pop‐Tarts Frosted Blueberry

For the complete list of contaminated products, click here.

The author of one report is careful to point out that this is “just a snap shot in time,” because they only tested one sample from each product. I hardly find this reassuring, however, since their analysis was also limited to the handful of products they selected and does not tell us about everything else on the grocery store shelves.

At this point we have no way of knowing which products contain mercury and which do not. What we do know is that all of them contain high-fructose corn syrup and are products of our industrialized food system.

I’m starting to wonder, how many outbreaks and contamination scares does it take to screw in a light bulb? That is, the idea light bulb within our federal government that asks,

“Maybe we should take steps to improve the safety and nutritional value of our nation’s food supply?”

Crazy thought, I know.

Keep in mind we are not even talking about the colossal damage these products do to our health and economy without mercury.

Are fresh, natural foods that grow from the ground such a ludicrous alternative?

Please share your thoughts, this topic always baffles me.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Anthony Bourdain Takes A Shot At Alice Waters

by | Jan 23, 2009

On Monday, January 19, the dcist printed an interview with celebrity chef and star of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain. When asked if he had any advice about food, Bourdain took the opportunity to point out that Alice Waters “annoys the living s***” out of him.

Really? Thanks, Tony, great advice.

Here is the excerpt (here is the link):

Any advice about food?

I’ll tell you. Alice Waters annoys the living s*** out of me. We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There’s something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic. I mean I’m not crazy about our obsession with corn or ethanol and all that, but I’m a little uncomfortable with legislating good eating habits. I’m suspicious of orthodoxy, the kind of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth. I’m a little reluctant to admit that maybe Americans are too stupid to figure out that the food we’re eating is killing us. But I don’t know if it’s time to send out special squads to close all the McDonald’s. My libertarian side is at odds with my revulsion at what we as a country have done to ourselves physically with what we’ve chosen to eat and our fast food culture. I’m really divided on that issue. It’d be great if he [Obama] served better food at the White House than what I suspect the Bushies were serving. It’s gotta be better than Nixon. He liked starting up a roaring fire, turning up the air conditioning, and eating a bowl of cottage cheese with ketchup. Anything above that is a good thing. He’s from Chicago, so he knows what good food is.

I’m not sure where to start.

Clearly Bourdain understands neither the goals nor the motives of Waters’ political activities. No one is trying to legislate good eating habits. Well, maybe someone is, but it isn’t Alice.

Waters is one of a growing number of activists that recognize the government already has too big a hand in governing what we eat, specifically through controlling what is available. Currently the federal government (i.e. tax payers) subsidize the mass production of food and products known to cause heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

Decentralizing our food supply means putting our food production back into the hands of people who grow real food rather than high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat. Why this is “unrealistic” is beyond me.

His economic argument–as if Bourdain knows anything about being poor–is equally infuriating:

“We’re all in the middle of a recession, like we’re all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market.”

It is a common misconception that eating fresh, seasonal food is prohibitively expensive. This is simply not true. Sure the produce at Whole Foods is pricey (you pay for what you get), but their dry goods are inexpensive and of high quality.

You know what’s expensive? Brasserie Les Halles.

Farmers markets are becoming more prevalent every year and local, seasonal produce is some of the highest value food you can buy. Cooking at home is far more cost effective (in price, long-term health and often time) than eating out.

Once again, thanks for the advice Tony.

Does Alice Waters annoy the s*** out of you too?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Soda Tax Is A Great Start

by | Dec 19, 2008

New York Governor David Paterson recently proposed a state tax on soft drinks, defending his argument to readers on the CNN website.

After reading his proposal, I agree with him completely. I just wish Starbucks would be forced to carry some of the responsibility as well.

Taxing products known to be deleterious to public health is a proven way to reduce consumption, increase state revenue and raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk commodities (such as cigarettes). There is no reason to suspect New York wouldn’t see similar benefits in the case of soda. Junk foods and soft drinks are currently placing a tremendous burden on our society in both health care costs and lost working hours.

Moreover, high-fructose corn syrup (the primary sweetener in soda) is derived from corn crops that are heavily subsidized by the federal government. These subsidies artificially reduce prices of soda below the true cost of production. It is therefore hard to argue that the proposed tax is putting an unfair financial burden on consumers who wish to drink full-calorie beverages: currently it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the bad habits of others.

So although I still favor completely revising the farm bill, taxing consumption is a reasonable alternative.

Another thing to consider is that these products are essentially to candy what crack is to cocaine (quickly ingested poison), so they do indeed pose a unique hazard to American health and are thus an ideal target for the first junk food tax. The current proposal adds a 15% tax to non-diet sodas as well as fruit drinks that are less than 70% real juice, adding only a few cents to each individual purchase–$0.15 to the dollar.

Paterson estimates the tax will raise $404 million dollars in revenue for the state of New York, that would go toward public health programs, including obesity prevention.

Whatever happens, expect a ferocious battle from industry giants (and FOXNews). They will argue for consumer freedom and against the benefits of switching to diet soda (I agree with this one, no kind of soda is healthy), but will conveniently overlook the data linking junk food and soda to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer, as well as the costs to the American public.

The good news for the rest of us is that if New York does manage to pass this tax it is reasonable to expect California and many other states to follow suit (see trans fat and tobacco), resulting in a tremendous sea change in our nation’s policy toward junk food in general.

This is exactly the change we need.

Currently all Americans are paying for the poor nutritional culture our nation has embraced. The top 3 causes of death in the U.S. (arguably 5 of the top 7) are diet-related. It only makes sense to tackle obesity both as a nation and as individuals to protect our citizens and our economy.


Why Not Starbucks?

Unfortunately, right now it does not seem this tax will extend to the sugary cesspool which is Starbucks.

Did you know that a medium cafe mocha from Starbucks has more calories, sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat than a Krisy Kreme original glazed doughnut? Seriously, don’t go near that stuff.

It seems to me that Starbucks and other mega-chains (Jamba Juice?) selling sugar-blended drinks are just as liable as soda companies for promoting obesity with liquid candy, thus warranting the same burden of taxation.

I am not recommending traditional coffee drinks (espresso, cappuccino, etc.) be taxed–they do not contain sugar–but it is heartbreaking to see Frappuccinos being passed off as a morning pick-me-up when in fact they are no different from a milk shake with caffeine.

In short, I think this tax is a fabulous idea that finally begins to address the true costs of junk food and obesity, and I hope the trend continues.

How do you feel about sugar, taxes and Starbucks?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,