“Why are the missiles called peace keepers, when they’re aimed to kill?”
You probably recognize the Tracy Chapman lyric, from her song “Why?” and it arises in my mind this morning in response to the announcement by Kraft Foods that it will use the Smart Choices nutrition guidelines to determine which foods it will advertise to 6- to 11-year-olds.
On the face of it, the move suggests vision and leadership, and perhaps those are accurate impressions. Really, they could be — look at Wal Mart, which has legitimately gone from corporate scourge to corporate not-bad guy. But no one alive in today’s world should accept anything — except my pearls, of course — without looking a little further, and these are some of the points apparent:
* Just because they called it the Smart Choices program, doesn’t mean they’re smart choices. You know how they say that one should never get in an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel? I’d add to that axiom to say, Never listen blithely to those who spend tens of millions of dollars to shape what they say.
* Smart Choices was created, in part, by … Kraft Foods! Certainly, the program’s criteria require nothing to that Kraft Foods couldn’t swallow. Agreeing to follow your own paradigm — it’s not unlike setting up your own country, writing the constitution, and then pledging to follow it. Huzzah.
* The commitment is to use their guidelines in advertising to 6- to 11-year-olds. But what about those older, and especially to those younger? Here’s the lead to a document from the American Psychological Association:
Research shows that children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits as evidenced by today’s youth obesity epidemic. For these reasons, a task force of the American Psychological Association (APA) is recommending that advertising targeting children under the age of eight be restricted.
(It’s good to acknowledge that the APA is itself a large organization not without its own oxen to gore, but my assumption is that they are less commercially driven, and therefore less likely to seek to mislead. I’ll also concede that this statement addresses only TV ads, but I’m cavalierly extending it to all advertising. Make your own judgement. Anyway, back to the age range…)
* While claiming milestones, the announcement is mum about how it will advertise to most of the least-discerning group. My assumption is that the ability to discern increases with age, and that by age 6, many nutritional tendencies are set. Even in a far less sophisticated age of advertising, I know I was already an abnormal eater by that age.
* Smart Choices is a voluntary program. A primary reason to impose your own voluntary “safeguards” is to forestall actions that might not be voluntary. Please point out for me all the societal safety strictures that have been left voluntary, because “folks’ll do the right thing.”
* So what are these standards, anyway? Here’s an excerpt from a Smart Choices page:
Specific qualifying criteria were developed for 19 different product categories, such as beverages, cereals, meats, dairy, and snacks, based on the presence of nutrients to limit (e.g., fats and added sugars), nutrients to encourage (e.g., calcium and potassium), and food groups to encourage (e.g., fruits and vegetables, whole grains).
On its face, not too bad. But the little piece of evil (yes, a strong word, but I considered it carefully) is the word I bolded. According to my dictionary, a nutrient is “a substance the provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life,” which makes the “added sugar” in that sentence complete crap. No food has essential added sugar. They could have used a neutral word like “substance,” but they chose differently. Remember, these people put millions into saying exactly what they want conveyed.
* The issue here isn’t just wordplay, either:
No more than 25 percent from added sugar? Alert the frickin’ media. Same for the fat “restriction” of no more than 35 percent of calories. I guess that puts the kibosh on the Suet Supreme.
Meanwhile, gander at the “nutrients to encourage,” which is to say, “nutrients.” To qualify, a food must provide at least 10 percent of one of them. That means you’d have to eat 10 servings to get all you’d need. Of one of the nutrients. Doesn’t seem very healthful to me.
I’m not saying that Kraft, or any of the other food superconglomerates, never makes a healthful food. I’m sure they do. But let’s stay clear here: Their missions are to make profits, not to ensure our health. If they can do both, I’m sure they won’t object. But if they have to choose, which one do you think they’re going to go for? The money, of course — it’s what corporations do. Voluntarily.
Corporations, generally, are not agents of public welfare. To the extent that they are, it is because we have influenced them, not only through the imposition of involuntary regulation, but even more so through our making smart commercial decisions in the face of billions of dollars spent to influence us to do otherwise.]]>
The facet I like most about Charlie Radoslovich’s Rad Urban Farmers business model is that he is a farmer without any land. From the top, you know he’s either a wacko or on to something significant. I’m thinking it’s the latter.
He told me he didn’t devise the ideas, but he’s certainly on the front edge of the wave. If he’s successful, think how much land under lawn-grass cultivation could be converted to productive use.
Anyway, a key component for him is finding OPL (other people’s land), so here’s a bit of perspective from Christine Zendeh of Lexington, whom I interviewed for my Globe story but whose comments I wasn’t able to use.
Zendeh and her husband, Soheil, have given over a 20×25-foot plot of land with excellent sun to Radoslovich. They can expect to get up to 10 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce a week, all for the initial investment of about $100. It’s cheap, but they’re the landlords, after all. Radoslovich, meanwhile, will sell what doesn’t go to landowers at the Lexington Farmers Market.
It’s interesting to note that they won’t reap produce only from their yard. Radoslovich said each plot varies not only in size but in soil and light conditions as well. That means each site will yield different crops, and he’ll consolidate before handing out shares.
Zendeh said they were admirers from the start.
“We thought this was just a brilliant, creative, wonderful idea. We’d been looking into sustainability and being connected, providing for what you need, locally, so we don’t use all the fossil fuels, etc.”
Zendeh said the family has purchases CSA shares before, wanting to support local farmers, whose skills she admires. “I’m not much of a farmer, and Charlie has made that portion of our yard productive and fertile.”
She described her food outlook as “the whole Alice Waters thing.”
“I know when you get something fresh, and it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, you can actually eat it. Like eating a real tomato, instead of a plastic tomato.”]]>
Link to the Technology Review article.
The genetic alterations enabled the animals to convert fat into carbon dioxide and remain lean while eating the equivalent of a fast-food diet. [emphasis mine.]
The feat, detailed in the current issue of Cell Metabolism introduces a new approach to combating the growing obesity problem in humans. Although the proof-of-concept study is far from being tested in humans, it may point to new strategies for borrowing biological functions from bacteria and other species to improve human health.
This is just wrong, imho. First, the story later notes that because the fat isn’t converted into sugar, “which could have the dangerous side effect of promoting high blood sugar and diabetes.” Instead, the story said, it’s as if the fat disappears in thin air. Though I don’t know the volumes of CO2 we’re talking about, do we really want to celebrate a new way to get 6 billion (and rising) people producing more greenhouse gases with every breath? (I dunno; this comment may be akin to the global-climate-change deniers who mock the rest of us by saying that carbon dioxide is “natural,” done by every living being. How could that be bad?)
It’s wrong secondly because the world doesn’t need a technology that allows it to continue consuming at American levels. The costs of profligacy in food have individual effects, of course, in all the gross and misshapen bodies, ill health, and early mortality. But it has collective costs as well, such as all the resources that go into producing all the “extra” stuff we stuff into our faces, ’cause we can.
Likewise, even the individual effects are not confined only to bloat and blighted quality of life. There is a theory that substance abuses (and their consequences) are nature’s signals of spiritual pain, in the same way that exploding pain in one’s chest is nature’s signal of a heart attack.
The implication is that even if science can take away the physical manifestations of a malady, it doesn’t mean the malady is no longer present. Would you really think yourself better off if, say, you didn’t feel pain when you were on fire? It wouldn’t hurt, but you’d be severely injured.
Through years of dieting and hundreds of pounds lost, my life didn’t start getting better — I didn’t start experiencing a routine state of happiness — until I addressed some of the reasons that were feeding my overfeeding, instead of just the overfeeding itself.
If they can come up with gene therapy that fills my spiritual deficit, great. But the current prospect, to me, is just another example of humankind’s ignoring a problem and addressing the symptom instead.]]>
This isn’t her obit, but I thought I’d record … something … this morning. She died Saturday at 100 years, 9 months, and 20 days. It was the 39th anniversary of my bar mitzvah, which means that from here on out, in my totally subjective view of the world, D-Day is now the third-most notable thing to have happened on that date.
In the month before she came into the world, Peary set sail for the North Pole, revolution raged in the Turkish empire, and the forerunner of the FBI was established. In the month after, the first person to die in an airplane crash perished, with Orville Wright at the controls. And before she was two months old, the Cubbies won the World Series for the last time, so far. Also in ‘08: Taft beat Bryan for the presidency, and those who also came into the world included Milton Berle, Henri Cartier-Bresson (five days after), LBJ, Roger Tory Peterson, Richard Wright, JK Galbraith, Jimmy Stewart, Mel Blanc, and Ian Fleming. All of them departed before she did.
Ruth dated Eddy Duchin, who found prominence later as a band leader, but she married Sol Goldberg of Lynn on March 4, 1930. She had two daughters, Joan and Lois, and all factors considered, it wasn’t a successful family unit. Solly was the dominant member, and he did many impressive things, including starting a business in the year of the Depression that survives today. Ruth was his bookkeeper at the start.
They liked to socialize, and not seldomly went down to New York to sample the nightlife. They had a good social circle around Salem as well. For years, they were in a supper club of eight couples, and she was its last surviving member by more than a decade. In her birth family, her younger sister Evelyn of Framingham is now the sole survivor.
Family lore has it that on one trip to the Manhattan, Solly and Ruth attended Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. I know that at least Solly attended the ‘61 Series between the Yankees and the Reds, because the shirt I got is one of my earliest memories. I was 3 that year.
Ruth didn’t start off loving baseball, but she later related that Solly told her she ought to get to like it, because that’s where he was going to be found. For decades after his death in 1978, baseball continued as an interest, and one of her last excursions out of the house was to a game last year in which she went onto the field, to be recognized as a fan in her 100th year. For years, I’d print out the Globe’s month-by-month Sox schedules at 150 percent, so Mama Ruth could read them, and make team rosters so she could tell the players.
Ruth was an active member of life for many years, having served as an officer in the temple sisterhood, the area’s Hadassah, and a volunteer at Salem Hospital. She played mah jongg (I have her well-yellowed tiles), played golf (not avidly, that I know of), and was still playing card games into her last year. She traveled fairly widely.
She was a knitter, and went through a needle jag a couple of years ago where she knit scarves for “everyone,” and at my request, did a blanket for our child. It sits, folded and waiting, in the baby’s crib, which is otherwise empty. We were excited, at one time, to think that they would meet and forge a link that stretched from 1908 into the 22d century possibly, but that wasn’t to be. Still, she or he will be warmed by Mama Ruth’s hand, just as I was many times.
We got to be friends after I moved back to Massachusetts in the early ’80s. I lived for a few weeks in my parents’ home, which was under agreement to someone else. Mama Ruth brought by a load of groceries as a housewarming, and when I remarked how nice that was, she said, “well, I’m a nice person.” And she was. We were close, and grew closer, from that point on.
Her funeral is Wednesday, and I’m going to speak about her for the family, an honor I don’t take lightly. I don’t know if I’ll return here to share what I say, which will be extemporaneous, but for now, for the purposes of this post, I feel finished.]]>
I built the frame out of a 16 foot 2 by 10, cut into two 5s and two 3s. The outdoor screws I had were 2 1/2 inches long, which, I observed, probably should have been longer, but I didn’t feel like going to the store again, so I just went ahead, and the result seemed sturdy…
But then we tried it here, and tried it there, and before I could get it to the spot we chose, it turned from square to parallelogram…
right before it turned into a heap at (on) my feet. Georgie enjoyed it a bit too much, imho…
So I went to the store and purchased both 3-inch screws and corner braces, and after rebuilding, I was able to get to down to sod removal …
Once the area was dug out, we filled it in, with dirt we’d removed from other areas of the yard last year, peat, compost, and lime …
The job isn’t quite completed here, but when we were done, we’d planted two “darling” eggplants, which we’re told are like Japanese eggplant, light colored and more tubular than domestic eggplant; two purple (tastes like green) pepper plants, and a half dozen collard greens plants…
We’re now in a growth phrase. Not so I can tell so far, but what do I know? I’m just learning.
First, I generally don’t care for processed foods. I eat some of them, so it’s not a puritanical thing, but I am convinced that their use is inversely proportional to health. (Speaking just from my experience, I used to eat a lot of it, and I was enormously unhealthy (not to mention enormous), and I’ve gradually moved away from it and grown enormously more healthy. I am not, of course, the originator of this notion; nor am I alone or particularly clever about it.) So the fact that a large beverage manufacturer has shifted from one processed ingredient to another is not big big news.
And yet, it is. What this large corporation is saying (without saying it, of course), is that they’ve decided to make a product with “real” sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Many readers will already know that high fructose corn syrup is in a huge range of products, and that the explosion of its use in processed foods in the ’70s coincides with the explosion of obesity in America. Fewer readers know about Dr. Rick Johnson’s work that implicates HFCS is a range of other diseases as well.
I don’t think for a moment that Pepsi has seen the light on HFCS; I’ve no doubt they’re still one of the most prolific purchasers of HFCS on the planet. But the company must see a market opening; that’s just about the only reason a corporation makes any product decision. For me, this is proof that those who are wary, or worse, about HFCS have gone from fringe element to market segment, which is a huge leap in a consumer-driven universe.
I went looking today for details about the product, and what I found was inconclusive. In February, the website Serious Eats reported that Pepsi would sell Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback (OK, fine, that’s the name; am I the only one who hears an echo for “Pepsi Throw up”? That’s probably unkind to the good folks at Pepsi.) for a limited period, from April 20 to June 13. It observed that “around the same time, Coca-Cola usually rolls out limited-edition Kosher for Passover Coke, also made with real sugar since observant Jews cannot have corn products, hence no HFCS.” So, it may be no more than that.
But I think it is at least a market trial, to see if consumers are interested in a “real” sugar product. With caffeine-free, diet Cherry Vanilla Coke and a hundred other varieties, the soda giants have already shown they’ll sell whatever sells, so this would be just an extension of that. And by announcing it as temporary, they leave themselves an exit strategy without a down side, because if it does sell, they can just say they’ve changed their mind in the face of overwhelming popular demand.
You may have noted my use of quote marks in referring to “real” sugar, since HFCS is definitely real. Just like table sugar, it is the result of a industrial processes in which a grown substance is broken down into parts, some of the parts are removed, thereby intensifying other parts compared to the same volume.
This is what refinement is. Wheat, for example, is a plant. It has a husk, a germ, a bran, and other parts. You can buy it in different stages of refinement — wheat germ, wheat bran, whole wheat flour and white flour are some examples.
I always like to point out that heroin is derived the same way, by growing a plant, and then removing some parts and keeping others. No, I’m not saying white flour and sugar are the same as heroin, but they both originate as agricultural products and undergo very similar processes.
And yes, I do think that, for some people — including myself — refined substances can have grave effects. I eat no sugar and no flour, because my experience is that these substances are bad for me.
I don’t do heroin either.]]>
Well, one answer is hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, to make them (us) lose sight of the obvious, but that’s another post.
This post is just to make this most basic point: It’s not just throughput; what we consume affects how we live. Put in quality and you’re running on quality. Put in junk, and you’re running on junk.
If those basic truths, self-evident, were alive in people’s thinking, we would eat a lot differently.]]>
I love their tagline: “eat well and subvert the corporate industrial food complex.”]]>
Cambridge-Central Square, Parking Lot #5, Bishop Allen Dr. & Norfolk Street, 11:30-6
Cambridge-Harvard, Intersection of Oxford and Kirkland Streets in Cambridge, 12:30-6
Lexington Center, corner of Mass. Ave. and Fletcher Ave., 2-6:30
Arlington, Russell Common Parking Lot, Arlington Center, 1-6:30 p.m.
Somerville-Davis, Day & Herbert Streets, noon-6
Belmont, Belmont Center Municipal Parking Lot, Cross St. and Channing Rd., 1:30-7
Cambridge-Kendall, 500 Kendall Street, 11-2
Malden, Heritage Apartments, 195 Pleasant Street Parking Lot, 10-6
Medford, River Street and Riverside Ave, Medford Square, noon-7
Cambridge, Charles Hotel Courtyard, 1 Bennet Street in Harvard Square, noon-6
Cambridgeport, Morse School Parking Lot, Magazine Street at Memorial Drive, 10-2
Somerville, Union Square Plaza, 9-1
Waltham, Sovereign Bank Parking Lot, Main & Moody Street, across from Waltham Common, 9:30-2:30
Winchester, Town Common, Laraway Road, 9:30-1:30