Friday, May 6, 2011

Big Bag of Food: food safety, food movements, and paternalism

Levistky, a Cornell nutrition professor, discusses the drawbacks of high-protein, low-fat,low-carb diets (basically: they don’t work). On the other hand, the Cornell dieticians  I have worked with highly recommend a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb diet. The main problem they find is that most people really eat a high-fat diet when they shoot for high-protein. M. Nestle, on the other hand, thinks we all eat too much protein already and that somehow the advice nutritionists have given us for the last 50 years can remain unchanged. Yeah, it’s still a mess.

Of course, then you have the problem that a study found “nearly half of supermarket meat and poultry samples to be contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus,” and that half of that was resistant to antibiotics. Though M. Nestle appropriately ridicules the meat industry for passing the buck to consumers, the industry is factually correct that proper cooking procedures remove the threat.  So cook your meat thoroughly because the industry isn’t making major moves to improve food safety or revise its antibiotic policies.

M. Nestle comes out in favor of the plan to ban SNAP recipients from using the money to purchase sugared soda. Originally she was against the idea just because it seems rather patronizing and patriarchal and other words that evoke controlling male figures. The two turning points for her were the growing body of evidence (quite literally) that liquid sugars account for the bulk of increasing obesity rates among the poorest and realizing that if there is no objection to the WIC program – that provides benefits only for very specific, politically favored commodities – this is less a radical change in personal freedom and more a shift from traditional food aid to a more WIC-like program. If we don’t complain about WIC being an infringement on people’s freedom, why complain about this one?
Another Cornell prof, Wansink, had people try Cheetos without the yellow food coloring (which almost look like the red-white-and-blue mock-Cheetos below). It affected the objective taste in no way,  but had a profound impact on people’s enjoyment and sense of taste: It no longer tasted like cheese!

Indeed, color often defines flavor in taste tests. When tasteless yellow coloring is added to vanilla pudding, consumers say it tastes like banana or lemon pudding. And when mango or lemon flavoring is added to white pudding, most consumers say that it tastes like vanilla pudding. Color creates a psychological expectation for a certain flavor that is often impossible to dislodge, Dr. Shelke said. ...
As yet, natural colorings have not proven to be a good alternative. They are generally not as bright, cheap or stable as artificial colorings, which can remain vibrant for years. Natural colorings often fade within days.
M. Nestle also celebrates the “food movement” – which to me are multiple, quite different movements that just haven’t fractured yet – going mainstream. The most surprising thing to her was that the head of USDA actually seems to have an intelligent, informed opinion. Who'd've guessed? My snark aside, she said:
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack came, gave thoughtful remarks, and responded with equally thoughtful answers to not-always-friendly comments from the audience.  This was the first time I’d seem him in person and I was impressed by how carefully he has thought through the issues he has to deal with.   Even when I viewed the issues differently,  it seemed clear that his were the result of much intelligent thought and weighing of alternatives.

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