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Woo Spotting Two: Who’s selling you a line about your food?

Who’s selling you a line about your food?

Recap: There are a lot of unprincipled pseudo-scientists whose business is lying to you about food and your health for profit.

The pseudo-science they pedal is called “woo”. Woo is generally fueled by exploiting anxiety, hope and concerns about health.

“Woo” sites have much in common including ample low hanging signs of disingenuous claims. We don’t need to discuss the values of their message to recognize the genre.

Woo Spotting Rule Number Two: Any person or site Claiming to Know the Cause or Cure for Multiple Disorders is a charlatan.

Bad News charlatans warn that one thing – wheat, a herbicide, artificial sweetener, GMO corn, milk – causes a wide array of ailments.

Remember William Davis, the publisher of the Wheat Belly series? The Canadian Broadcast Company aired a fascinating study of Davis’ claims and practices  in The War on Wheat in the news program The Fifth Estate.  Davis claims that alterations in wheat during the “Green Revolution” are responsible for most of the feared diseases of our age.  In this screen shot you can see some of the ailments Davis claims are Caused by gluten.

Predatory quack William Davis.

William Davis preaches Wheat Belly. CDC: The Fifth Estate.

One food component, gluten, causes all that? Do you really think that possible. Remember the last rule? If it doesn’t make sense it’s probably bogus? Does this really make sense? .

Consider  Kevin Trudeau, the author of The Natural Cures Book  doing ten years in prison for fraud in his diet book. The book promises cures for cancer, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, chronic fatigue syndrome and every other grand 21st century affliction. Trudeau does not focus on one “natural” ingredient but provides a compendium which will save you from modern medicine.

The good news charlatans, Davis’ counterparts, claim on a myriad of web sites that a natural product like Vinegar or Garlic is a better cure than traditional medication for a catalog of ills. This is a little more sinister. People can die and have died from these claims. Steve Jobs did.

Some compounds in some foods and plants do, of course, have impact on disease or metabolic function, but legitimate research deals with these one component and one ailment at a time in disciplined detail.  Science and accurate medicine is not based on instant insight – for instance Davis’ appendicitis revelation – but on years of painstaking experiments. If you believe that the Virgin Mary appeared on a piece of toast, that’s fine, but you should not believe that a scientific truth about a dread disease would reveal itself to someone who then monetizes it.

Science is complicatedWoo is simple.  Legitimate research deals with one aspect of a food at a time, with one disease at a time. Pseudo scientists intuit panaceas.

Woo Spotting Rule Number Two:

Frauds promise easy answers and “natural’ cures for the great puzzles of medicine: Parkinson, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, The Common Cold or Crohn Disease. They exploit the scariest and most dramatic bogey men of health to separate you from your wallet. Parkinson’s is sexier than piles of ingrown toenails.

They dish up misinformation suggesting that conditions which have puzzled legitimate science for years can be conquered with simple ingredients or their own supplements, but, Garlic does not kill cancer .Safeway does not sell Miracle cures. Juice cures cannot replace the tools standard medicine has thus far developed, as incomplete as they are. It’s sad, but it’s true. Nor will a single ingredient prevent cancer or heart disease.

Legitimate researchers need years to determine which components of foods  impact a condition – metabolism, weight gain, tumor growth, dementia, for instance –  positively or negatively, and they never (ever) market their findings themselves. They publish them in scientific journals. Science Daily is a site where you can check for published studies. Charlatans use their observations for which they seek out corroborating anecdotes to create alarm or hope.

Scientists do research. Pseudo scientists feign enlightenment. Scientists publish peer reviewed studies in journals. Pseudo-scientists self promote.

Summary so far: If a web site or a person suggests that a food or food trait causes or a cures multiple ailments or that a food can cause or cure dramatic, feared diseases for which no trained and dedicated teams of researchers have been able to find an answer, they are predators and you are prey. They are messing with you, exploiting your fears and hopes. You have nothing to gain.

 

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Lies Damn Lies: The Great Food Anxiety Con

How to spot the woo pitcher wooing you.

Introduction.

Let’s hear it for Orthorexia Nervosa, the new eating disorder caused by the Internet. It’s a capital way to lose weight – even better than gluten intolerance – but it takes a lot of fun out of dinner.

food wooSufferers fear food, or rather “toxins”,  impurities and unhealthy elements contained in food. They are afraid of “chemicals”, GMO’s, Additives, of government conspiracies to allow “Big-Pharma” and “Big-Ag” to foist dangerous foods onto trusting consumers. Leary of food born poisoning and an endless catalog of dread diseases like cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s they juice, detox, restrict their diets and spend a lot of money on costly supplements, often provided by the people who warn them about the risks in their groceries.

Orthorexia is a form of Anorexia you can catch from blogs and TV. Its alternative name is Food Babe Syndrome, after Internet faux nutrition and pseudo science guru Vani Hari  who alerts her leagues of followers to the dangers lurking on their plates. Hari’s anxious fan base is so vast that her coverage has forced corporations like Subway and large breweries to change their production processes based on incorrect claims regarding their ingredients.

Her followers distrust their food and the sources providing it based on her uninformed pronouncements and scare tactics.  unnecessary angst. 

Hari, who has become so influential that she is one of the choices for Time Magazine’s Person of the year for 2015, is one of  a widening circle of food prophets and profiteers whose product is nutritional angst. Counting on confirmation bias among their followers they sell wheat belly, chemical warnings, agricultural panic and what is generally known as “woo” or food charlatanry to a frightened public through self proclaimed advocacies to “protect the consumer” from supposed lies and machinations and conspiracies of science, government and industry – the ever present them we all know is out to get us.

These “advocacies” are in reality profitable businesses which provide the speakers generous returns from books, speaking engagements, supplement sales along with the fame, all at the low cost of an internet page and a good spiel. The “advocates” are today’s equivalent of the frontier’s traveling snake oil salesman, operating in a nearly uncontrolled wild west environment of the World Wide Web. They prey on scientifically unsophisticated consumers, you and me, with a smoke and mirrors mix of  clever misrepresentation and confounding of scientific data or lack of it and plain hogwash dressed up in scientific sounding words such as “excitotoxin”, a rich command of fallacies and vague references to reports by scientists and  “medical doctors”.

It is easy to see how people come to believe their omnipresent messages. They are inescapable and broadcast by hoards of well meaning or well profiting web sites whose memes flood every social media.

The more popular they become, the more difficult it gets to find factual information about the food risks, wonder cures and all round quackery they disseminate.  Internet search algorithms favor the most visited sites, not the most accurate (although this may change soon if Google actually begins to rank sites for accuracy). 

This is partially due to the fact that legitimate scientists spend most of their time doing science, not promoting it, while the pseudo-science salespeople put all of their effort into marketing their message and themselves. 

Take the wheat belly myth, for instance. A search for William Davis’ highly profitable fiction “Wheat Belly Series” yields pages of misinformation, most by Davis himself. If you succeed in finding any scientifically accurate information on his message it will be after ten pages of links. This exceptional video by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, for instance, can only be found if you know it exists. (update: a repeated search revealed several links to critical commentary on the first Google Page. That was not the case previously, so the new Google algorithm may be in trials.)

The new age snake oil sales men and women’s endeavors find support in mainstream media.  Seeking what readers apparently want to hear or perhaps simply no longer staffed well enough to carry out good research, otherwise reputable publications broadcast unsupported claims regarding foods, additives, health claims, health warnings and holistic cures. Outlets like the Huffington Post and at times PBS have either reported their stories or have adherents on their staff, to the dismay of legitimate scientists. UPI has incorrectly reported pseudo-science as fact, and Consumer Reports has a well known pseudo-science activist on their writing staff.

The level of “woo” on the Internet and in media has exploded in the last three years. It is a serious problem, which has so far attracted very little investigation.

Most of us are not  going to develop eating disorders or buy supplements from Joseph Mercola, but we will be less secure in our food decisions, and we are more likely as citizens to call for government intervention where none is necessary or where a stand by government agencies could have negative effects on issues like genetic crop engineering or food restrictions based on misinformation presented to us as science.

In supporting or not opposing these food cult leaders, many of whom also support the even more damaging message that vaccination causes autism, we support their claims of alternate cancer cures and vaccination opposition. (Oddly, most of them oppose vaccination in addition to accepted food practices and foods. They cause harm.

That’s just wrong. No. It’s evil. Anyone who makes you anxious for eating a hot dog or a cup of cherry vanilla ice cream – Anyone who rains on  your food parade or endangers your health with profit in mind – deserves to be censured, silenced or even imprisoned. This rarely happens.

For the considerable financial rewards they reap, pseudo-science advocates” face scant accountability. Joseph Mercola  who opposes Vaccination (as does Hari) and genetically engineered crops has been censored by the FDA.    ABC’s television doctor Mehmet Oz, who perpetuates the claims of the best known charlatans was chastised in a Senate hearing by Claire McCaskill last June, and TV diet pitchman Kevin Trudeau was sentenced to ten years in prison after violating the terms two previous judicial slaps on the wrist, but for most of the players the risk benefit ration of accountability is heavily weighted to the benefit side with nearly personal risk to the bloggers or authors or messiahs from their misleading and  damaging claims.

That means we are on our own when faced with food questions. If there were no real nutritional threats like e-coli infections or the overuse of antibiotics in meat production, we could simply ignore warnings about the food we buy. That is not the case, so we need ways to determine what information presented to us is credible and what is not.

For the past weeks I have been gathering sites and “tells” which sometimes obviously, sometimes less so show what you can generally assume is woo and what sources can be trusted along with a compendium of fallacies used in the charlatan’s art. There are too many to deal with all at once, so the will be offered  in installments.

Here is a starter:

If it doesn’t make sense, it’s probably not true

Conspiracy theories.

Nearly all of the pseudo-science gurus use conspiracy theories to make their readers  insecure. By undermining trust in existing government watchdogs and scientific organizations they bind their readers to their own ends.

Take the claim that the government and industries are in cahoots to keep you in the dark about the dangers of pesticides and technologies whose end result will be to poison and kill you and make half of the children in this country autistic. (But the guru will save you).

The financial incentives of the villains, both governmental and industrial don’t add up. What would be the outcome if they succeeded.

  1. Death or disablement would remove tax payers from the nation’s income stream.
  2. The expense of caring for predictably half of the country’s children, now autistic and probably orphaned,  and their surviving but disabled parents would break the country, which would have no money anyway, because all the tax payers would be dead or poisoned.

Why would the government do this? What possible incentive could they have? This would require a whole lot of work and time with what reward? And what part of the government is involved in the conspiracy? The FDA? Congress, which can’t even agree on a budget? Are they that organized and effective? The President?

Who would profit and how? What’s in it for “them”, whoever “they” are? Big Ag would not be able to sell its products to a population it has managed to decimate.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  Even your congressional representatives are too smart for that.

Could the FDA be messing up or not doing its job? Surely.  The Veterans Administration did for years, but malfeasance with limited returns is not very likely. Remember there are hundreds of thousands of skeptical science people around the country just waiting for the Department of Agriculture or the FDA to get anything wrong and then point it out in huge gaffaws. They don’t exactly operate in a vacuum.

As a side exercise you might want to ask yourself what Davis earns on his book empire, what Hari asks for a speaking engagement or what Mercola earns from his supplements that might motivate them to create distrust in the establishment.

The conspiracy theory just doesn’t wash. It’s purpose is to intimidate you, to make you dependent on Hari or Mercola or Mike Adams, Deepak Chopra (yes, he’s in the mix..sorry) or any of the other big lie advocates.

Follow the money. Or lack of it. That conspiracy receives a total of five woo stars, three for creativity and two for outrageous.

First rule of spotting woo: Forget your fears and ask yourself: Does this really make sense. Have fun.

More to come.

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Fear and Loathing in the Produce Isles

For several years American Consumers have been exposed to an onslaught of misleading and alarming information about the foods they eat and the plants they grow. The most common of the “pseudo-scientific” or, really, unscientific claims have ignited a passionate anti-GMO movement, whose adherents believe that crops altered by genetic engineering, either by the insertion of a gene slice from the same or another organism or the use of a protein in the organic bacterial pesticide Bacterium Thuringiensis to protect plants from predators are toxic, dangerous and will destroy the environment. The Anti-GMO faction believes that the American Government conspires with “Big Ag” and “Big Food” to poison its citizens, that genetically engineered organisms and the pesticides they are engineered to resist are carcinogens, that the pesticides used on engineered organisms are killing off bees and lepidoptera and will result in over half of US Children will be autistic by mid-century, that the policies of the companies holding patents for the seeds have caused famine in the third world and wide spread suicide among farmers ruined by corporate policy and that GMO crops will cause loss of all plant diversity.

In 2014 I chose the topic of GMO fears as the subject for a paper for the excellent McGill University course 181X, Food for Thought. It’s point was not to refute the anti GMO claims but to examine the means by which half of the “greatest country on earth” and much of Europe have come not only to accept and fear them as proven fact but to defend them tooth and nail against legitimate research. A list of sources of legitimate information, which is extremely hard to find due to the proliferation of pseudo-science on the Internet, is provided below. Here is the paper:

According to an ABC poll [1] earlier this year, 52% of Americans believe that genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat and 13% are “unsure” Two thirds of the American public fear a technology that has been proven safe to the extent that proving anything safe is possible – Genetically engineered organisms have been shown to be safe not only by extensive FDA, independent, and international research. No legitimate studies have been able to show any correlation between modified crop consumption or agriculture and harm to humans, the environment or other organisms.

The European Commission invested over 450 million Euros between the years 2001 and 2010 on research exploring potential risks of modified organisms. None were found. [2] Not one of the many governmental and private research organizations around the world which have tested genetic engineering extensively for potential hazards has yet been successful in detecting risk.

The attitudes of 52% of American consumers and activists range from mild concern to outrage and extreme fear. Activists and voters have attempted and in Hawaii briefly succeeded in passing bans on GMO crops. Over half of the American population demand that any GMO foods be labeled. This demand includes foods containing sugars – fructose and sucrose – which are chemical compounds indistinguishable from/ identical to sugars from non-GMO crops. Consumer pressure has moved corporations like General Mills to remove GMO ingredients from their foods with the ironic result that those products cannot be vitamin fortified and are thus less healthy.

Consumer ecological and world political objections range from fears that modified organisms will wipe out genetic diversity to Vandana Shiva’s claim that practices of companies like Monsanto, the producer of Roundup and patent holder for many GMO seed varieties have driven Indian peasants to commit suicide. [4].

If GMO crops have been researched and found safe by the world’s most respected organizations and promise real solutions for current and coming ecological and world nutritional challenges, how can two thirds of American consumes reject them? How does myth, ignorance and decidedly cultish belief trump empirical data in the national consciousness?

Very few people even understand what GMO means, for one thing.

What is a “GMO”.

A GMO is a Genetically Modified Organism, which leaves the unfortunate impression that there are tiny life forms or chemical bits in GMO products. BT corn and Roundup Resistant soy are GMO’s. Cattle and Pork are not GMO’s, but cattle or chicken which has been fed genetically engineered corn or soy is termed GMO by those with GMO agendas and concerns. Sugar, as explained above, is not GMO, but soft drinks, tomato sauce or baked goods containing sugar produced from genetically modified sugar beets are inappropriately classified “GMO’s”, leading to the inaccurate claim that 90% of the food sold in America is GMO.

Crops are genetically engineered for various reasons and by various methods – generally the process involves isolating a gene from a related or unrelated organism with a desired characteristic, creating a ‘vector’ of that gene, injecting the vector into a bacterium in turn is used to “infect” plant cells [3].The desired altered characteristic of the organism can be water tolerance in rice, bacterial resistance in threatened species like papayas, grapes, mangos or creating grapes resistant to the devastating bacterium xylella fastidosa. A protein from a bacterium (Bacillus Thuringiensis) is inserted into the corn genome to prevent corn borer infection. The most despised and feared GMO products are glyphosate resistant plants, also known as “Roundup Ready”. Roundup is the brand of Glyphosate produced by Monsanto.

Thre are very few GMO crop varieties in production. The only commercially produced crops are corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, squash, and papaya. A newly developed Potato strain has just been released for planting, as well, and a recently announced strain of browning resistant apples is expected to be available for sale in about two years. No distribution company at this stage. however, would be prepared to bring arugula or melons with altered genes to the market. None the less, customers demand that oatmeal be labeled for genetically altered strains and ask at farmers’ markets is the strawberries are GMO free.

Many countries in Europe have bowed to public pressure and have blocked planting of some of these crops. Note that these decisions were made to comply with public sentiment and not scientific data.

We are romantics and we tend to be luddites.
Or perhaps we are simply hopelessly nostalgic. When Alice Waters stood on the steps of San Francisco City Hall and smiled benevolently over the hundreds of volunteers who had fought tooth and nail to have a spot getting their hands dirty in the Garden For America, an entire nation went out and bought potting soil, throwback overalls and canning jars. America now pickles, cans and puts up wearing designer overalls. Chemistry, physics and big industry – big food, big ag, big resale, big chemistry – has no place in the romantic imagination of people who envision their carrots dug one at a time from a halcyon garden.

When Friederich Wohler first managed to synthesize urea from organic compounds (not from pee) in the 19th century, thus paving the way for synthetic adrenaline and many other chemicals the scientific community was outraged at the suggestion that living juices should not contain “vital essences”. Today the “vital force theory” still exists. [3] If God had intended us to fly, he would have given us wings. Our religious roots offer world views based on belief rather than knowledge – sects like Rosicrucians and Christian Scientists reject proven medical treatment in favor of faith. We have snake dancers.

We are lazy thinkers. We want simple answers to complex questions. We perceive, partially due to more and more alarming media coverage, that many frightening diseases have exploded into the population during the same period that GMO crops were being first developed then introduced, so we want to believe that doing away with the science will reduce the incidence of cancer, autism and many others. We would rather believe charismatic speakers or writers than deal with analytical reality, which requires curiosity and some effort. In matters GMO I have heard the arguments, “You may have some facts, but I have to go with my heart” (as in Jonestown or anti vaccination?) and, “It’s best not to fool with mother nature,”, that maternal giver of polio, athletes foot, hemorrhoids, tsunamis and locust swarms. By all means. Trust Mom.

Most of us understand little or no science and are not interested in finding out: We are not a stupid country, but neither are we as a whole well educated. According to New York Magazine writer Jim Holt less than 10% of Americans are scientifically literate. [5] Radical anti GMO activists make fruitful use of this. I once heard an anti-GMO speaker shout to a crowd: “ I want you to ask every waiter in every restaurant, to ask every butcher, every grocer, ‘Is this MUTANT food.” And the crowd roared agreement. The crowd did not know the meaning of “mutant”. As a people we Americans lack both the vocabulary and the critical skills to distinguish between truth and rhetoric.

Americans are not critically trained: We like to believe: We are seduced by sensationalist media and the false prophets, snake oil salesmen, charlatans and quacks. If enough celebrities speak to an issue, we generally believe them. We lack the tools to determine the accuracy of studies and scientific predictions.

The GMO panic began with a 1999 publication in the Lancet by S.W. Ewen and Arpad of the Rowett Research Institute Pusztai stating that rats fed on GM potatoes suffered intestinal damage[6] [11], followed by the publication of a study by Gilles-Éric Séralini[8] stating that rats fed GMO corn suffered alarming rates of cancer. Although the first study was retracted and the research money returned by Rowett and the second ingloriously withdrawn (it has since been republished to provide the text), the anxiety they created remains in a bizarre Internet version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. – the more legitimate science tries to explain how facts worth, the more traction those dealing with angst and hyperbole attain. Anit GMO writers base many of their arguments on “Scientists have proven”, or “A published scientific article proves,” using these studies. They are convincing. Vani Hari actually persuaded the government of famine struck Zambia to reject shipments of life saving food on Hari’s advice. [16]

We are swamped by misinformation: Not only does passionate and irrational GMO opposition linger despite the efforts of concerned scientists to educate the public, but fanned by a celebrity created by the GMO debate it has all but overtaken the Internet and media. The anti-science community is now a profitable and well connected industry. One of the country’s impressive quacks, Dr. Joseph Mercola, has since taken up the anti GMO cause. Mercola [8] who is one of the forces behind the anti-vaccination campaign and who has been censured by the FDA [9] for other dangerous claims and practices is a frequent guest of Dr Oz, a highly vocal GMO opponent. (Oz has begun to distance himself from GMO opposition since the end of February 2014, but it is unclear where he stands at this time.)

Misinformation is an industry: Mercola is a relatively small fry compared to Vedana Shiva, a heroin of the Earth Justice movement, who has been honored for her work. It was Shiva who claimed that hundreds of Indians had committed suicide because they could no longer afford seed, among other things. She has recently been much in the news in a bust up with New Yorker science writer Michael Specter, who challenged the accuracy of her statements. [10] Shiva published a venomous ad homonym response, to which Specter’s editor, David Remnick, replied with violent logic.[17]

Slow Food: The most illustrious name to ascend the soap box is probably Alice Waters: It’s a very big important thing. We are talking about the seeds that gives us life. To imagine a company that wants to buy those seeds, patent those seeds, alter those seeds and and sell them back to us, it’s criminal.” [12] Waters, the poster child for the Slow Food Movement, follows founder and leader Carlo Petrini’s doctrine, and foodies follow Alice.

The disciples: Their followers blog, and blogs become memes. Organic Consumers’ blog tells you ten ways (they say) GMO will kill you. [13] Taking things one step further “Food Babe” has set the Internet afire with claims that “wheat belly”, since the question of gluten sensitivity has been laid to rest, is caused by glyphosate sprayed on wheat – even though the wheat is not GMO. [14]. There are so many of these blogs that finding reliable and fact based information has become extremely difficult.

Innumerable irresponsible sites like Realfarmacy.com, which hosts pieces by Mercola, offer a potpourri of faux science, alarmism and sensational misinformation, which is spread as memes via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social networking has given false prophets a platform and leant quackery wings.

The established media repeats and thus affirms the claims: From lone prophets to the respected media: As the sheer volume of Anti-GMO sites and followers makes data harder and harder to find, legitimate organizations like NPR and Consumer Digest miss on fact checking and support the myth rather than the data. The UPI mistakenly picked up and broadcast vaccination opponent Stephanie Seneff’s claim that glyphosate (Roundup) would make half of all babies autistic stating that “MIT Scientist Claims..” , news outlets reprint the allegations,  and it’s a wrap. The entire country believes false statements, since they come from trusted sources.

Universities legitimize the myths: The interaction of popular intellectual media and Universities have given Anti GMO authors and journalists like Michael Polan and Mark Bittman a legitimizing forum for thee philosophies in which they Believe. Marion Nestle of NYU, Bittman and Polan, who heads the Department of Journalism at Berkeley have all spoken against Genetically engineered crops. [17] University of California Berkely is currently offering a course in Food policy, Edible Education 101 [18] .
Stephanie Senneff presents herself and is presented by the media and Anti-GMO activists as an “MIT scientist,”  which makes here the defacto voice of MIT.

What’s in it for the writers, for the bloggers and the followers? Follow the money: Grants, speakers’ fees, web sites selling cures. Ads on blogs. Vedana Shiva demands $40,000 per speaking engagement. She appears to live well. [16] Mercola pushes miracle cures. Oz has his media empire. As for the new girl on the block, Stepehanie Seneff, whose prediction that glyphosate, the herbicide used in some GMO plantings would cause half the country to be autistic: speakers fees and possibly the gratification of being celebrated as the voice of MIT on issues biochemical. (Seneff is a computer science professor, not a microbiologist).
Further down the disinformation chain there is social cohesion. Belief and belonging foster identity. Once believers join the march they are members of a community which tolerates no contradiction.

What about the politics? A tricky part about the public consensus of democracy is that people believe that everything is democratic, including science. It is not. Science is evidence based, or to use a nice word, “empirical”. Daniel Moynihan’s :”You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”  is poorly understood. Equipped with fear and a surplus of bad information a growing number of not only Americans but Europeans have begun to demand either that GMO foods be labeled or be forbidden altogether. The Council of Europe in a bow to public opinion granted member nations the right to ban import of GMO crops, and some  have. The California County of Sonoma and Kauai in Hawaii voted on outright bans on GMO growing. The Sonoma proposition lost, but Hawaii’s passed. It has since been overturned. Politics overrules science, and by doing so negates science.

Readers’ Digest Version: A small number of blogging public activists used a discredited study to promote an anti-science / pseudo-science agenda. Their misinformation is picked up and promoted first by media figures and food celebrities then by legitimate media sources, leading an unquestioning and scientifically poorly educated public to fear food created by genetic engineering. Activists who profit from the GMO hysteria use this fear to demand cessation of genetically engineered farming and failing that to demand labelling of all products containing any substances derived from genetically engineered crops. A bad study leads to national hysteria.

There are, however, a few bright points. The media seems to be picking up on a nascent “Science is Cool” sentiment. Oz appears to have changed his opinion, Celebrity Scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has come out against pseudo scientists with his usual short tempered accuracy, and hysteria usually dies down at some point. And then there are a few very sane and very clear and unbiased voices.

Nathanael Johnson, a refreshingly unbiased agriculture writer for the ecology site, www.gryst.com, has written a series on the truth and myths of GMO’s. He has a few more ideas as to the cause of the roots of genetic hysteria. For one thing, says Johnson, the company associated with GMO crops and Roundup is Monsanto, the company responsible for and still closely associated with Agent Orange, which, in turn, is emotionally linked to Roundup. “For most people, I suspect, GMOs are a metaphor — a stand-in for of all that is vaguely frightening in our food system. People attach their mistrust of agribusiness and fear of the unknown to this metaphor.”

Bibliography and Footnotes.

1) Gary Langer. Skepticism of Genetically Modified Foods. ABC Poll. June 19/?. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=97567Poll: Skepticism of Genetically Modified Foods 2) A Decade of EU Funded GMO research 2. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, decade of EU Funded Research, ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9 / doi 10.2777/97784 3) Ronald, Pamela C; R.W. Adamchak, Tomorrow’s Table. Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. 5) JIM HOLT, Madness About a Method. New York Times Magazine December 11, 2005 6) David H. Freedman Scientific American The Truth About Genetically Modified Food Aug 20,2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-genetically-modified-food/?page=1 7) Worstall, Forbes. 11/30/2013 That Appalling Seralini GMO Cancer Paper Has Been Withdrawn 8) Joseph Mercola’s Blog: http://gmo.mercola.com/ 9) Quack Watch.Com – http://www.quackwatch.com/11Ind/mercola.html 10)Michael Specter, Seeds of Doubt. Annals of Science August 25, 2014 Issue http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt

11) Mischa Popoff & Patrick Moore & Robert Wager, Organics versus GMO: Why the debate? October 15, 2013, Genetic Literacy Project http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/15/organics-versus-gmo-why-the-debate/ 12) Alice Waters Discusses Food, Community, and GMOs November 14, 2012 Yoli’s Green Living. http://yolisgreenliving.com/2012/11/alice-waters-discusses-food-community-gmos/ [13] Alexis Baden-Mayer & Ronnie Cummins, Ten ways GMO foods are killing you – And the Planet Organic Consumers Association, February 1, 2012 http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_24800.cfm 14) The Healthy Home Economist. http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/real-reason-for-toxic-wheat-its-not-gluten/
15) Carlo Petrini. Ten Reasons to Say No GMOS Italy – March 5, 2015 – Carlo Petrini http://www.slowfood.com/international/food-for-thought/focus/71683/ten-reasons-to-say-no-gmos/q=25F06E 16) Keith Kloor, The Rich Allure of a Peasant Champion. Discover Magazine. October 23, 2014 3:29 pm 17) David Remnick, New Yorker editor David Remnick responds to Vandana Shiva criticism of Michael Specter’s profile The Genetic Literacy Project. September 2, 2014 http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/02/new-yorker-editor-david-remnick-responds-to-vandana-shiva-criticism-of-michael-specters-profile/ 18) Nathaneal Johnson, Panic-Free-GMO’s. Grist.com July 8, 2013 continuing.

16) BBC: Zambia rejects GMO food aid. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2371675.stm

17) Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman and Michael Polan
Rebuttal to Mark Bittman on GMO’s

Mark Bittman gets the science wrong (again) on Roundup – New York Food | Examiner.com

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/01/06/agent-orange-gmo-after-usda-backs-24-d-seeds-michael-pollan-marion-nestle-lead-activist-hype-of-discredited-link/

18) The UC Berkely course Edible Education 101. http://edibleschoolyard.org/ee101

Further reading:

http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/15/organics-versus-gmo-why-the-debate/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/11/30/that-appalling-seralini-gmo-cancer-paper-has-been-withdrawn/

Nathanael Johnson, Gryst. http://grist.org/food/rat-retraction-reaction-journal-pulls-its-gmos-cause-rat-tumors-study/ GMO mythbuster.

http://grist.org/food/gmo-labeling-trick-or-treat/

Nathanael Johnson’s Panic-Free-GMO series in Gryst.com beginning 8 Jul 2013 http://grist.org/series/panic-free-gmos/

(this post is about 07 Adverse Food Reactions / Food Production Stories)

Scienced Based Medicine: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org

International Scientific Organizations and State and international health organizations stating that GMO’s cause no risk. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/GLP-Science-and-GMOs.pdf

The New York Times on Vani Hari, the most prolific of the anti GMO food bloggers and vaccination deniers: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/style/taking-on-the-food-industry-one-blog-post-at-a-time.html?_r=0

 

 

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The Most Amazing Kickstarter Celebrity Chef Restaurant Campaign and TV Battle. Ever. O.M.G.

How not to raise money for a new restaurant, but it will probably be successful anyway

I have just been solicited to donate to a new restaurant opening TV competition by someone named Jason Akel. He asserts it will be the most amazing culinary experience I have ever had. Rather than comment on the mail, concept etc here – and the entire entrepreneur via Kickstarter is rife for discussion – He wants me to yelp and facebook it. I’ll do him one better. Here approach and response. Hate it? comment.

Dear Jo Lynne,

Would you buy a ticket to a live, interactive competitive cooking show where two top chefs create a dinner that you get to taste and judge? If yes, you can buy advance tickets to that exact experience at a new restaurant called RIVAL, coming to San Francisco next year:

WATCH THIS VIDEO

This will be the most amazing, ultimate “foodie” event that will surpass any dining experience you have ever had in the past. So step aside “Iron Chef” and let Rival take center stage.

We’re raising money on Kickstarter, and your ticket will help us open with lots of sparkle. We’re on a roll; in fact, we were just honored with as a Kickstarter Staff Pick! I invite you to help build and be a part of this revolutionary concept. I really hope to see your name on our roster of supporters. Thanks, Jo Lynne!

1. Visit www.rivalshow.com
…watch the short video

2. Select reward level
$199+ for tickets

3. Then tell friends on Facebook and Twitter about the show

response

Dear Jason Akel (Or Stephen Walker, whose name is at the bottom.)

1) Who are you?

2) In answer to your question, nothing.

3) I staff restaurants. I don’t invest in them, certainly not for food. The last time I helped a chef with his dream it took me seven years to get the money back and somehow I ended up with a huge grill on my deck, which he won’t take back. I did have a bunch of chefs over for a great kid on it, though, so maybe that was good. Still, aside from the grill the investment carried no interest. I don’t think this would pay me interest either.

4) Define “celebrity”. I take it to mean there are simply too many credulous groupies with time on their hands following sensational but mediocre food media. I mean, if celebrity chefs in New York are now charging $100 for brunch and there’s waiting list, you’ve got a demographic with a yen for buck nekkid emperors, Or no? The guys I work with get flat feet and back aches and put their pants on one leg at a time. The media feeds off them, but they would I think never consider themselves celebrities, although some are. “Celebrity” is a tool and a myth for foodies. We do not be foodies. At some point the touching of robes and kissing of rings becomes tedious, anyway.

5) Easy on the superlatives—most amazing etc. Ever? Do you know how old I am? There’s a hell of experience in my “ever”. There is a finite resource and stuff like this depletes it. I have decades of eating behind me, some of which with a lot of money, and trust me, this can’t top them. The most amazing was probably a Slow Food Leaders’ event with Italy’s top chefs between the ruins of Pompei, but there was that thing on the alp, too. Never mind. You are surely too young.

6) I was with Gary Danko’s team at the opening of Rocco DiSpirito’s restaurant for the kickoff of the show “The Restaurant” Apart from a very entertaining discussion about how to keep your white laundry from getting colored by a stray washcloth or socks (Color Catchers) with Gail Gand, Rick Tramonto, Susan Spicer, Gary and I can’t remember who, it was a disaster. The food was memorable in a bad way, even if Rocco’s mother made it, and I nearly got myself in a position to be sued by some kid who asked about a local crack head celebrity, which I answered with some comment about back under the rock where he belonged until some idiot with o.p.m bailed him out (which happened). When I got back to the table Tramonto noted that the guy was wearing a wire and I spent the rest of the season watching every God Awful episode of the show with my attorney’s address next to my chair. Fortunately I have neither sufficient T or A to be put on TV, but I swore never to watch a food show again. I accidentally clicked on one recently, and they have got even worse, if possible.

7) I have occasionally been asked to staff television shows, generally by people who believe that I would do it for the connections – that is without charging them. I asked one once what they were willing to pay for the service, and they were flabbergasted Obviously these sweet, bright young things don’t have irksome issues like Rent and Groceries to deal with but live off the energy promoted by celebrity. Good for them. I need a roof and calories. I thus am not fond of or much involved with the buzz of food TV. . I don’t think I like these people, so I wouldn’t give them money.

8) I recently was asked to find a great chef to hook up with a chicken bus which would be shipped from field to field and talk about things that come from dirt. Jeremiah Tower may still be talking to them, but the person who was handling the connection would not talk to me (this was for money) and just emailed me that all she wanted were the head shots. No more food TV. Not even watching. Celebrity Chefs.

9) Say “please”. I wouldn’t tweet or FB you anyway, since that’s reserved for my business needs (actually I will in a way) or Tweet this to all my friends. One envisions Colonel Klink punctuating his order to share with all my friends with a snappy one armed salute. “ Vee know how to make you Tveet.”

10) The concept as food as battle rather than as civilization is one of the great cultural oxymorons of the 21st Century. I never watched dog fights and I don’t even like dogs all that much. I love my chefs. Why would I want to watch them turn the usual comradery and kitchen love into a tension filled food fight? Make kale salad in a mason jar, not war.

12) It is neither illegal nor immoral to take money from stupid or silly people. Frankly, I probably would have married PT Barnum if the timing had been right and he’d asked. I wish you all the luck with your venture.

Best wishes

Jo Lynne Lockley

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Escape from canned spaghetti: How breaking local saved the world.

I lived an involuntarily local existence for ten of the twenty or so years in Switzerland.

It is the kind of food experience mourned  by tediously delusional dreamers who have not participated in  it – with a pervading nostalgia for a photo-shopped emotional landscape of happy cows and crofts and the simple elegance and purity of an age they feel  we should never have left behind.

This was the good part: Fresh eggs from the farm, carried home in saved flour bags. Half a pig and  half a calf butchered by the local butcher and divided under his supervision to be put in the freezer.  Mache and fabulous winter salads in season, berries, stone fruit leeks and tender beans straight from the field or orchard. Fresh  pressed apple juice on frosty late summer mornings and air filtered ten gallon bottles to dispense apple juice throughout the winter.  Real veal. A fresh chicken every time we ran  one over on the road home. Otherwise on order.  Fresh cream. Wood oven baked Meringue. Bread made in a hollow of the dying coals of an oven fired at 5:00 am.. A really great still which produced Kirsch that burned with a pure blue flame. Sides of raw smoked bacon to cut off in little tiles whenever you wanted. Landjaeger, square sausages. Emmentaller. Fondue. Raclette. Venison or wild boar any time somebody ran into one on the steep road into the village. Dole wine sitting in front of a roaring fire and looking out over the snow white fields towards the black forest.

This was the rough part: Initially almost no citrus, and then at a price. Non raw milk needed to be ordered a week in advance. No avocados. Long winters. Eight or so months living on roots and cabbage.  Two to three weeks of hot, sticky canning during the season in addition to a full time job. Having to break down the calf and the pig in a cold cellar until your fingers ached and the blood stung in the scratches on  your hands. Seafood restricted to fish sticks (inland country). A local market with the worst of frozen foods. Canned beans. Canned peas. Canned asparagus. Leberkaese.  Horse flies. Tough beef.  Canned spaghetti. Tape worms (fortunately  none of them ours).  Grit and dirt in everything from leeks to peas.  The fine smell of animal and human fertilizer sprayed over snow in winter (so it would soak in gradually) and the times when some fool farmer sprayed it on ice instead, so it entered the water system. Going down to the town with old milk cans for water until the system cleared. Dead hedgehog stuck in the dryer vent for weeks. Canned milk when we couldn’t get it fresh. Raw milk that tasted of nothing but udder and barn. Cowbells at 2:00 am.

So we cheated: We crossed the border for white asparagus. We drove all the way up to Germany to get into the American PX for beef. Of course it wasn’t cheating then, because we didn’t know we should eat local. Except for smuggling everything past customs. Fortunately Swiss customs guards never looked too closely at cars with two women and either screaming or sleeping babies in the back seats, stuffed in between the boxes of Post Exchange pampers ( not yet available in Switzerland) with American beef and plunder stuffed in between.

The day Migros finally opened  a supermarket within a 30 minute drive, I joined all the women from the surrounding villages, lining up for hours to buy  Spanish oranges and Israeli avocados, lemons, $40 a pound American steak and French wines and cheese. Migros is the anathema of contemporary sustainability standards:  Seasonal be damned, big box and discount with a massive variety of everything including a full service cheese department that would put any cheese shop in the US to shame.  The supermarket had a counter of the best of European varieties that extended from the front to the back, a full butcher shop and fresh seafood. We loved it. I still love the place, as food politically incorrect as it may be.

My forty minute commute from the school where I chaired the English department passed along a frontage road by the freight rail tracks. Things in Switzerland tend to be pristine and perfect, but beside the narrow road was  an unmarked, roughhewn wood structure, like a temporary construction office, from which I had noticed people  emerging with shopping bags. When I needed milk too close to the 5:30 local shop closing time,  I decided to see if I could buy some there.

Inside the shotgun structure was whitewashed with myriad cheeses, produce, and salumi displayed at the front in upturned produce crates stacked to form a crude counter. Prosciuto and dried vines dripping wrinkled up tomatoes hung from the rafters, and oil, pasta, sweets and canned goods were stacked on simple pine shelves at the back.

The apparent owner was speaking rapid fire Italian to  three or four men in splotchy overalls, probably guest laborers from the nearby chemical plants, and a couple of older women in black, grabbing things from the shelves, measuring out olives, rice, and cornmeal into brown paper bags. She ignored me.

I stood fixed to the floor, staring at the exotic foods and not understanding a word.

In a pause I  managed to say “Scusi,” which I had heard at the butcher shop, and pointed to a cheese, holding out my hands to show the size of a piece I would like. She cut it and signaled another, apparently praising it, cut a little piece for me to taste. I took a hunk of that, too.

A man emerged from the back of the store, exchanged a few words with the woman, then turned to me  and said forcefully, “Parmiggiano Raggiano della Prima Qualita”, my first real Italian phrase, pointing to the wheel. “Very good,” he said in German. I nodded and was given a piece.  I signaled the tomatoes and then the prosciutto and was given a vine and a number of slices on waxed paper. They handed me pasta, olive oil. He kept saying “Very Good”. I kept nodding.

I was in a daze. What they proposed with hand signals,  unintelligible Italian and a the man’s Swiss German vocabulary of perhaps twenty words.  I bought. The  other customers had purchased a hundred grams of salumi or mortadella, a box of cookies and perhaps a brick of ice cream. I spent about a tenth of a month’s salary, filling the back of our tree frog  green 4cv hatchback with boxes of food. We parted friends.

Initially my husband was not pleased.  We had what I then would have best described as cold cuts for dinner with Italian cookies for dessert. He came around. The next night we had fresh pasta.

I told my neighbors and my best friend, Ruth, who grew up in Tecino, across the border from Italy.  She showed me what to do with the polenta and the tomatoes – I did not know. She went down that week, then told her friends.

I told my colleagues at work about the market. The chemistry teacher began bringing the more adventurous offerings for after class breaks. Swiss schools then were civilized, and we  had white wine and food in the two long pauses. We started an antipasti pool.

The store became more crowded. I signed up for Italian lessons.

We left local in the rear view mirror and never looked back.

In those years the Swiss didn’t think much of the Italians, the Greeks or the Spanish, probably because most of them were guest labor permitted to remain in the country as long as there were jobs the Swiss wouldn’t do. Too many Swiss thought them dirty, lazy, stupid and mostly dishonest and treated them accordingly.They called them cinquen after the card game the men played in the pubs at night, a word vaguely equivalent to WOP (which interestingly enough means “With Out Papers”) and accused them of any crime or mishap in the area. Some Swiss claimed that the Italians would dilute pure Swiss blood and Swiss culture. That may sound vaguely familiar.

I had little opinion, except that I knew from my experience with our old house manager, Leo Delvasto, who worked by day as a mechanic, that they were neither lazy nor dirty, and surely not dishonest. Leo’s wife, Marinella, had moped our stairway every time one of the high rise tenants passed, outswissing the Swiss, and lured me into their apartment to pour tiny cups of strong coffee with boxed cookies every time I passed on the stairs. I liked Marina and Leo.

There  is hardly a Swiss today who would own to ever having looked down on the Italians. The children of the grease monkeys became doctors and business men. My old neighbor Leo DelVasto has retired after owning the most prestigious Ferrari dealership in Northern Switzerland. Today everyone wants to speak, eat, and furnish their homes Italian. I think I always did.

I suspect, without denying the immigrants their due for hard work and intelligence, that  my hut of a store and others like it throughout Switzerland helped pave their way.  Pasta diplomacy. The shop, I have been told,  has since moved to the center of the town and is breathtakingly  expensive today. Well, good for them, although I would have wished it had stayed right where and just as it was, and that I could go back any time I got to Basel.  It was one of those wonderful experiences you appreciate at the moment, but perhaps not quite enough.

The Swiss Italian culinary rapprochement and the resulting endless fun of eating those wonderful,  strange foods we now all take for granted, discovering new tastes and flavors is the absolute opposite of the current locavore belief system, which places provincial prejudices above the vast offerings of the world beyond tribe, village, state or country – a silly little idea based on the false algorithm of Local = Better.

Excluding any and all distant enterprises or agriculture from commerce comes down to protectionism. Exclusively supporting your local farmer or fisherman in all fairness would implicate in the extreme that your local farmer or fisherman should not invade others’ commercial territory, Minnesota would have no oranges and Phoenix no blueberries. Whether or not that economy would function if resuscitated is a mute point, as the global economy has long crossed the Rubicon. Talk about spoilsport.

Local is not a synonym for good food and global is not an irresponsible choice. The opposite of good is inauthentic, over processed, stale, warehouse ripened, bad. Not foreign. Not imported. Not produced out of state. Everything is local somewhere.  But that’s just my opinion, and those who hold eating local a necessity won’t be influenced by it. How sad for them. We apostates will enjoy the bananas, Grana Pedano and  Epoisses they disdain. The injustice will remain that we will enjoy not only the best of what is grown here but supplement it with what the rest of the world produces. Back yard honey or maple syrup – the choice is ours. Pity the poor locavore. Viva Italia. Viva Helvetia.Viva il Mondo.

 

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Guns and Cupcakes.

Two of the this week’s historical events:

  1. The NRA has shared their solution for the country’s exploding shooting death toll: If every sane man, woman and adolescent in the country is armed, nobody will get shot. – We shall create a permanent internecine American Cold War with our schools, malls, sports arenas and public squares guarded by armed minimum wage employees and
  2. Mattel, the Barbie and GI Joe people, have announced the dawn of a gender neutral Easy Bake Oven. Talk about serendipitous events!

The NRA has once again shown that not being part of the solution to this issue makes them the problem – while Mattel’s open minded reasoning makes it a solution to many things.

Having a dog in this fight,– more a purse poodle than a pit bull – I have strong feelings about the gun issue, the greatest of them being perplexity at the level of cowardice and denial in our elected representatives. In the fifty years since my own mad shooter experience nothing has been done, apparently because a front for various gun makers has members of Congress on both sides firmly by the short hairs.

I am equally perplexed that otherwise seemingly intelligent people subscribe to “Arm the Schools” and concealed carry  philosophies  based on their beliefs that the cow is now over the cliff and we have to deal with the situation we have rather than the situation we want (reasonable gun control). There are by now, they maintain, too many guns in circulation for Congress and the country at large to turn back the ballistic tide, so we need to turn our schools into armed fortresses and  pack heat ourselves.

As Joe Biden would say, Malarkey. If Australia and Britain were able to call in guns and ammo, so can we, Congress can regulate extreme and excessive firearms and limit ammunition. Early discussions of potential gun laws discuss measures like reporting gun sales exceeding one a week and ammunition purchase of over 500 or 100 rounds. 500 rounds??  I am still using the last half of the 500 Q-Tips I bought in 1986 – Why are our lawmakers still thinking bulk when it comes to weaponry?  It’s high time for congress to grow a spine.

The weapons in circulation? There is no non-self-interested reason for Congress not to recall “assault” weapons. The argument that people would not turn them in holds only if insufficient incentives are included, which brings us to Mattel.

Easy Bake oven in girlie colors.

A Mattel Easy Bake Oven in exchange for every returned gun would be poetically just in view of Mattel’s contribution to our gun culture.  Mattel’s Thommy Burst automatic machine guns were to today’s old guard gun nuts what Easy Bake Ovens were to their sisters. . Reports of every teenage ninja murderer note that only boys engage in school shootings. Girls don’t do this. Well, big surprise. Who the Hell do you think got the Easy Bake ovens and who got little plastic Rambo dolls?

If the Jimmies and Donnies of the world had been taught the Zen of baking rather than the manly rush of emptying a clip into the “enemy” (a disturbingly vague concept), there’d be a lot more muffins and a lot fewer head stones.

Toy rifle sold today.

 

Think this through with me for a moment: Would you rather have your home smell of gunpowder or warm chocolate cookies? Not sure? Take the test. Rate from 1 to 10, where one equals I detest them and 10 means great:

 

Muffins      1        2             3             4             5             6             7             8             9             10

Massacres  1       2             3             4             5             6             7             8             9             10

No contest, what? Cupcakes are bound to trump corpses on the popularity scale every time.

Sure, shooting off two hundred rounds at a paper target gets rid of pent up aggression (so does shooting a few dozen mall visitors), but wait until the survivalists and avid shooters try knocking the gluten silly in a couple of pounds of bread dough – true catharsis without having to wear hearing protection.

With or without the Easy Bake for gun exchange, here my two Christmas letters to the gun bearing and legislating communities.

Dear gun freak, you don’t need 100 rounds to fell a doe (or you really should not be out there in the woods – you’re dangerous) and there is no excuse for your stash of AR-15’s and “Action Pistols”.

As for your second Amendment right – it stands until the point at which it conflicts with my right to life. Is it an American tradition? Remember cock fighting and dog fights? They’re traditions.

Dear Congress Member:  As tragic as it is that all of the “Good Guys with (automatic) Guns” are going to have to find another pastime just because the “tiny minority” of “Bad Guys with Guns” are ruining it for everyone, your mandate is composed of a far greater and less vocal population of Good Guys without guns, many of them as we have been sadly reminded children. You duty is to answer to that majority with effective, realistic legislation – not watered down proposals which would allow gun owners to purchase 52 guns a year unchecked or hundreds of rounds of ammo because going to the gun store is such a nuisance. It is time to ban weaponry designed to kill more than one deer (or neighbor) at a time.

Make muffins, not mayhem.

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Seasonal you: Your inner caveman, circadian rhythm and food

Culinary memes die hard. Like baby carrots in the eighties and nineties – or the original fusion, which half a generation of chefs found to be their passion and pursued long after the ovine dining public had shifted its attention to the next thing, which if I remember correctly was $20 servings of mac ‘n cheese and meatloaf.

The current meme is the Chez Panisse triad: Local, Seasonal and Artisan with a side of Organic – an endless restatement of the obvious which is getting a bit old these days. ( You expect any restaurant that charges seventy dollars for perhaps fifteen bucks worth of groceries to serve good food, which in general will be seasonal and not have been in storage for months.) For my part I am pretty tired of hearing about seasonality and wish we could get on to whatever comes next, just so long as it tastes good.

There is, however, another kind of seasonality, which resides in us rather than the list of available groceries: Circadian rhythm. The drive to put seeds in the ground or law away stores according to time of year.

Bears curl up in caves. We make soup, regardless of the outside temperature or our awareness that you can also get great soup at the Easy Freezy or Whole Foods.  When the sun begins getting up after we do, we start acting differently with food. At least I do.

I’ve been subject to culinary circadian fits since my first German winter and definitely since a Swedish year when the Sun give a short guest appearance every day, but they seem to be gaining on me. Even now, with blinding late autumn sun over San Francisco’s hills, I am behaving like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter or a hedgehog building a nest under leaves and stones.

Circadian rhythm, at least the culinary version, is an atavistic,  visceral drive, an urge rising from the marrow and sweeping aside rational resolutions not to make bread or cookies this year – not to put up fruit. It commands metabolism and metabolism hijacks everything:  insulation packs on like the shaggy coat on a winter horse. The same diet that stripped fat for seven months stalls, then goes into reverse. I crave fat, warm bread and jam. After months of never being able to get enough Caprese and watermelon salad with feta, every cell nags for pork or grilled cheese sandwiches.

oven baked tomatoes

Real nesting behavior sets in about the end of September.  A freezer blissfully ignored for half a year demands to be cleaned out then filled again with baked peaches, corn kernels and baggies of stock for barley soup. Not baking requires an act of will. All this food will all be wonderful, but I was not going to do it this year. I made a promise to myself not to. But: Ten pounds of peeled early girls are baking down in the oven now for pizza or pasta, after I swore only to buy grapes at the farmers’ market. Butternut squash and apples for frozen packs of curry soup followed me home.  As for the cookies I have definitely decided not to make, an order for ten pounds of peeled hazelnuts has already  been placed.

This late summer cooking drive may be genetic – I remember my mother doing the same thing, flying out of her elegant working clothes and cooking down apricots and baking bread well into the night as the days shortened. The night before I was born, although she had no idea I was going to arrive the next day, she got up and  baked a week’s worth of bread. Who says we aren’t connected to the earth’s rhythm – or the sun or the moon.

Everyone has some sort of seasonal circadian rhythm – I assume the culinary version is stronger in people who cook and who cook for quite a few years, although I would have no way of knowing the alternative. I know plenty of cooks who, although they are probably not aware of it, follow the pattern. So do you. They will say, “I didn’t intend to do this this year, but then …”. It’s the call of our ancestors telling us to get in the root vegetables or we won’t make it to spring.

Atavistic, by the way, means something like “throw back”. It’s  usually used to describe things like tails on babies, but I figure circadian cooking is precisely that. Instinct over intellect.

—————————————————————-

About those baked tomatoes:

I used to can tomato sauce, but I was never comfortable with the thought that tomatoes can be sub acidic and thus carry  some danger of botulism. Several years ago I decided to freeze them but needed to get rid of the water.

The answer is baking them. Simply peel the tomatoes by giving them a few minutes in boiling water, letting them cool and slipping off the skin – early girls are wonderful for this – and cut them up in a a roasting pan. Put them in the oven at about 375 to 400 F and let them cook for one to four hours, depending on how many you use. You needn’t stir them, but it will prevent the tops from getting caramelized. When the liquid has baked in, ie they  no longer bubble, let them cool then put them on zip lock bags, which you lay flat on top of each other in the freezer. The reduced tomatoes will be sweet and intensely flavorful – perfect for pizza or sauces – allowing the five minute pasta. You can, of course,add herbs and garlic, but I generally leave that for later.  If you just need a little of these concentrated tomatoes you simply break off a corner of the block by whacking the baggie against a counter and reseal the rest for later use. Note: If you pack all of the bags together in a larger bag, they will not develop freezer taste. (Baking soda in the freezer also prevents it).

You can do the same with any fruit. Baked peaches are velvety and have an intense flavor. They make fabulous sweet snacks or easy desserts (dash of something white and sweet on top, or not). They should be baked until the syrup that develops is brown but not black. I usually freeze three in a baggie, which also lies flat, so I can take them out individually.

baked peaches, stll frozen

 

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Kids and Food: Don’t waste childhood. Put it to work.

The Blog Title, “Culinary Promiscurity” allows musings on about anything related to food.

As anyone who has had or known one or its parents knows, kids have a lot to do with food. Either they won’t eat it, or they want more or they eat like a herd of wild boars on two legs. They’re allergic to dates or spit out the pablum. There are picky eaters and insatiable walking stomachs. Some are fat, some are not fat enough, and some are irritatingly food precocious   (Headlines like “12 Year old Culinary Phenom cooks with the top chefs of Poughkeepsie”  make one glad to live on the other end of the country so one is in absolutely no danger of running into him or his mother at Safeway.)

My son the empty pit, who oddly turned into one smart eater after years of begging to be taken to McDonald’s (He wasn’t), didn’t want to cook or eat anything from the ocean until well after he left home. He figured it out too late for my benefit.

I feel deprived in hindsight. It could have been otherwise. When John was young we sent him to  canoe camp and we sent him to Whale Watching Camp, which turned out to be a radical environmentalist propaganda machine – he was kicked out for standing up for the rights of “Big Oil (he was an odd child), Most camps then were pretty much all about horses and canoes or basketball. Boy oh boy, has that changed for the better.

Young parents take note. Camps today offer everything from hacking to foreign affairs, but the real deal is Cooking Camp. Wow! Cooking camp can, suggests a recent article, teach your child to respect food and choose health and nutritional elements to promote his lifestyle.

Yeah. Nice. As if anyone who sends their kids to cooking camp doesn’t already do that. The article misses the point: Cooking Camp teaches the munchkins and revolting adolescents to cook! For you! Brilliant! For a price you can turn your picky eater or undiscriminating empty legged gobbler  into your own personal chef.  Strike that: GOURMET chef.

Not only that, any cooking camp worth its salts is going to teach them to clean up!  After themselves. After you!

Exploitation? Hardly. Imaging the experience, the camaraderie: Can’t you picture the campers, all in their adorable white uniforms with camper badges, seated around 2500 BTU burner making s’mores with marshmallows they made themselves and Scharffenberger 60% Chocolate while they sing camp songs – “Does your sauce Bernaise lose its flavor overnight, can you stick it to the bedpost, can you toss it left and right..”  Imagine the bragging rights they take back to school: “Yeah, Dimbrain, you may have learned how to break into the Kremlin’s cyber vault, but I bet you can’t even make a decent Tarte Tatin, and your Genoise sucks!”(neener neener neener).

Why would you want Jennie to learn to saddle and groom ponies or paddle canoes and identify moose droppings, skills poorly suited to daily life, when she could come home and beg, “Mom, can I make a soufflé tonight? Puhleeeassssse! PleasePleasePleasePlease. You like promised.”

I have stinging regrets of opportunities missed: “Hey John, want to cook for a party of twelve? Got your Vitello Tonato game on?” – “ will you lend me a hand with this piglet I am stuffing? Or “Would you mind watching the fritto misto?”

I wish I could have said, “If you don’t like it, cook something better,” knowing that I’d at least be able to expect a Caprese or coque au vin.

If I still had small children or were expecting one, I’d be rushing to doors of every cooking camp in the country to sign them up at birth.  Voluntary child labor. What a stupendous idea.

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Food math puzzle. There will be a test.

Remember the math puzzles your high school teacher used to give you to solve? Here’s one from real live.

Recent polls, studies and surveys have revealed the following trends:

  1. More Americans are cooking at home.
  2. Americans are eating out less often.
  3. Americans are spending less on groceries.
  4. Americans are throwing away  more food.
  5. Americans are gaining weight faster.

To summarize: We are cooking at home more but buying  fewer groceries and throwing more of them away. We are eating less in restaurants.  From fewer groceries and less dining out we are still getting fatter.

Huh?

Tonight’s homework: reconcile these statistics.

There will be a test.

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Save the Planet: Have dessert for dinner.

 

A recent picture of a Blintz/Blini posted on Facebook by Farallon’s fabulous pastry chef Emily Lucchetti set me off on a long explanation that Blintzes are considered Ashkenazim fare, but that they are part of a larger European cuisine called Eierspeisen and Mehlspeisen (egg dishes and flour dishes) which extend from the Balkan states through Germany, more popular in Southern Germany, and reaching what I have always assumed to be their acme in Austria, the one time capital of the “Danube Monarchy”. Blintzes  may or may not have begun in Hungary.  Their German name, Palatschinke, comes from Rumania and has nothing to do with “Schinken” or ham, but rather is derived from the Latin word for Placenta. Fair enough, if you can escape the visual image. It’s the sort of things mothers use to keep their sons close.

Balkan/Germanic flour and egg cookery encompasses a wide variety of magnificent foods from omelettes to Knoedel (dumplings) to a kind of cinnamon, sugar and butter  smothered French Toast jumble called “Arme Ritter”, or “Poor Knights”.  The occasionally manage to spoil Knoedel (steamed dumplings) by filling them with liver, but most Eierspeisen tend to be slightly sweet.  They are on the whole “Lecker”  (somewhere between tasty and delicious).

Germ Knoedel are only slightly sweet steamed dumplings, soft and mushy spungy, filled and covered with  poppy seeds and butter. Blini/Blintzes/Palatschinke are crepe like pancakes filled with Quark or “Topfen”, a low acid farm cheese and a little egg yolk sugar, and usually served with apricot jam. Many, like Clafoutis/Kirschpfannkuchen  and Swiss “Waihe”, a flaky pastry tart filled with fruit and custard then baked until the top is golden brown, contain seasonal fruit.

Eierspeisen are poor people’s food – good sources of energy and protein, less expensive than meat. Most of them – they are not overly sweet – serve as main dishes for lunch or dinner, generally accompanied by a simple salad.

When I first lived in German territory not that long after the war, poverty or at least lack of wealth was a lot more common than it is today (except Switzerland, whose recent declaration of the Happiest State in Europe definitely replaces the stupid saying that money doesn’t but happiness with the fact that a lot of money buys a lot of happiness),  meat was a luxury  enjoyed by many only once a week, usually on Sunday. Chicken was a luxury.   The rest of the week was filled with cold cuts (considered cheap back then, how times have changed) or cheese or “Auflauf” dishes – baked casseroles – plus a salad.

Waihe was usually Friday lunch or dinner, as Friday was house cleaning day, and the tart is quick easy to make before beginning the tasks, so we could  gather for “Kaffele” and maybe a town stroll with friends in the afternoon.

Eating dessert first was the done thing, as it probably still is. I liked it. A lot. There’s nothing like Apfelauflauf”  (apple casserole) to top off a rotten, cold, rainy grey day, of which northern Europe has more than its share.

Over the past three decades – perhaps more – I have seen the nightly cheese plate, cold cut plate, salad, casserole or Waihe replaced by more  meat dishes. In Germany, as a friend noted, the three main choices are still pig meat, pig meat and pig meat, but beef has gained popularity.  Veal, once a small luxury, has become a staple.  I think it’s a pity.

So do many environmentalists, who identify livestock, particularly cattle, as a source of greenhouse gasses equal to automobile emissions, noting the rising rates of climate change to be expected as the rest of the world adopts our levels of meat consumption. We are all going to Hell in a handcart..unless..

…We turn the tables and pick up what they are leaving behind. Trust me – you’ll like it, and Eierspeisen provide the perfect excuse for nutritional/environmental smugness: Heavens no, I am not living a six year old’s dream having apricot custard for dinner – I am suffering for the environment. Please pass me another piece of that peach souffle.”

Health? Don’t worry. Considering that the dishes generally contain fruit and protein (apricot jam is a fruit, ja?) it’s also a moderately balanced diet. Most of these dishes are low sodium and surely no more onerous than a plate of prime rib or Mac and Cheese. Live a little. Feel virtuous.

So try this one:

Apfel Auflauf (apple casserole, also known a bread pudding)

You will need a couple of apples. A bag of Zwieback, milk, five eggs, sugar, butter, a pinch of salt and cinnamon, raisins, nutmeg or lemon peel if you want.

Peel the apples. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a form – it can be a soufflé form or a lasagna form – whatever you have. Souffle is deeper and takes a bit longer to cook.

Beat 3 eggs with about 3 cups milk and ¼ cup of sugar.

Cover the bottom of the form with Zweibeck, breaking off corners to fill in holes. There should be only a single layer.

Cover the Zwieback with the custard mix. Layer on the apples, add raisins, peel spice if you like. Carefully cover with the custard. Repeat layering. A pyrex bowl will hold about 2 layers of apples between three layers of Zwieback. You can end with either Zwieback or apples. If your final layer is Zweiback, they should be soaked in the custard. (If you run out of custard, make a little more). Let it sit for a few minutes, then put in the oven. Let bake for 15 minutes to 30, depending on how deep the form is (If you let it back longer, cover it for the first fifteen).

Waihe:

Swiss "Weihe" or apricot custard tart.

Swiss “Waihe” or apricot custard tart.

Cover the bottom of a low rimmed quiche pan with flaky or short crust pastry of your choice (In Europe it is sold by the pound, so nobody makes it). Pierce the crust with a fork to let the steam escape.

Cover the crust with thinly sliced apples, berries (blackberry or raspberry), apricot or Italian plum halves or quarters. If using half or quarter fruit, place the skin side down, so the moisture does not soak the crust. Put in the oven until the fruit begins to bubble a bit and some  moisture is gone..about 7 minutes.

Mix 5 eggs with ¼ to ½ cup of milk and ½ cup to 1 cup of sugar.  Pull the (hot!) form from the oven and gently pour on the custard mix. Return and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust begins to darken. When the crust is set, you can sprinkle sugar on the top, which will caramelize nicely.

Put the form on the bottom rack of a 400 F oven and cook for about 7 minutes or until the fruit is a bit dried out.

Serve salad first, then the egg dish. Fruity whites work just fine with  Eierspeisen. The Swiss usually drink cider or tea. Can be followed with cheese. I rarely have room.


Linguistic aside: * “Lecker” is the precise German word for “Yummy”, equally insipid and annoying. If one has nothing better to say about food than “Yum”, one should concentrate on chewing.

 

 

 

 

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