Guest Blogger Tari: Want to Save the U.S. Economy? Go on a Diet!

So this morning, Australian Shapeling Marg sent us an article with the headline, “Americans must diet to save their economy.” Yeah, really. The basic idea is, since producing food uses so much energy, we could halve our energy demands and hold off fuel price increases if we all just stopped eating so much. Yeah, really.

Our friend Tari is not only a fat rights activist but a goddamned hippy an ecologically conscious badass who pays serious attention to where and how her food is produced, in hopes of having the smallest possible impact on the planet. I figured she could rant about this one far better than any of us could, and I was right. (She’s also dang speedy with a rant!) Tari, thank you so much. Shapelings, please enjoy. –Kate

By Tari Follett

Want to save the US economy? Go on a diet.

So says New Scientist environmental reporter Catherine Brahic (big time Sanity Watchers on the comments, of course). I have to admit, although I was skeptical at first, by the end of her writeup, I totally saw her point and was on the verge of calling Jenny! Or, you know, NOT.

So, why is it that we must diet to save the economy? Because the economy is tanking due to the energy crisis:

That’s the message ecologists are trying to get across this week. They say the apparently looming energy crisis could be averted if US residents cut their calorie intake.

David Pimentel of Cornell University and colleagues have drawn on an extensive body of existing studies to highlight the wastage in the US food production chain. To bring their point home, they have estimated how much energy could be saved by making a few relatively simple changes to the way corn is produced.

Wait…where’s the part in there about going on a diet? I mean, anyone who’s read their Michael Pollan has heard about how horrible the industrial food system is, putting corn into every fucking thing in the grocery store, supporting inhumane CAFOs and environmental devastation, oppressing farm and factory workers around the world, yada yada yada. Telling Americans to go on a diet is NOT the same thing as changing the way corn is produced, and considering how much “diet food” is chemically-flavored corn byproduct, I don’t think it would have quite the effect Brahic seems to think it would.

‘Cause, see, the big problem with corn production is not that people eat too much. It’s that corn farmers grow too much. (Hint: it’s the system, not the people.) Moving swiftly on…

Their conclusion is that energy demands could easily be halved. That could stave off the prospect of further rises in the costs of fuel, they say.

To do that, however, would require a considerable change in the average US diet. The average American consumes about 3747 kcal per day compared to the 2000 to 2500 kcal per day recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The 3747 kcal per day figure does not include any junk food consumed.

Producing those daily calories uses the equivalent to 2000 litres of oil per person each year. That accounts for about 19% of US total energy use.

Okay, so I used some advanced Google-fu to try to track down what David Pimentel (a noted biofuel skeptic, longtime ecologist, and generally reasonable science type) and his colleagues actually said in whatever published report Brahic is talking about. I just couldn’t imagine that someone who knew the intricacies of the industrialized food system, and its devastating environmental and economic impacts, would boil it all down to telling people to stop shoving baby donuts in their pieholes. Especially since, in the very quote above, it’s the reporter drawing that false conclusion – energy demands being halved is not the same thing as people eating fewer calories. Most of the food-related calories Pimentel is referring to come from the fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides being sprayed on the production end of the system, transit costs, and that sort of thing….not so much the actual kcals in the baby donut itself.

I couldn’t find any recent statements or research from Pimentel. (If anyone else tracks it down, pass it on – I’d dearly love to review it.)

Brahic (who, as far as I can tell, is using Pimentel’s research - wherever it came from – as a vehicle to promote her own views) next moves on to the ever-popular “go veggie” argument. Now, as a committed flexitarian (meaning I eat mostly veggie with occasional meat), I agree that reduced meat eating has a huge environmental impact – especially if it’s mostly (energy intensive) factory farmed meat being cut out. Seriously, I think taking money away from those sick de-beaking fucks at Tyson is a wonderful thing…but it has nothing to do with going on a diet. Just switch it up to some nice ethically-raised free range chickens from your local family farmer, and you’re cutting the fossil-fuel kcals in your food without necessarily changing your caloric intake one whit. (Of course, that’s disregarding the limitations of class, location, and finances that make this not so much a workable solution for lots of people.)

Even Doc Pimentel agrees with that:

In 2004, Pimentel estimated 6 kilograms of plant protein are needed to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein. He calculates that if Americans maintained their 3747 kcals per day, but switched to a vegetarian diet, the fossil fuel energy required to generate that diet would be cut by one third.

The next part is a little trickier. Brahic is using some crazy new math I don’t really follow.

In addition to the 3747 kcals, the average American consumes one third of their calories in junk food and Pimentel and colleagues suggest this could be cut by 80% and the total calorie intake be reduced by 30%. That could drastically cut the amount of energy which goes into feeding Americans, as junk food is typically low in calories, but energetically expensive to produce.

Okay, for starters, where the fuck is she getting the data that says the average American consumes 3700 kcals, PLUS a third more calories in junk food? Say what? That’s over 5600 kcals. Every day?
Seriously? I mean, the odious Morgan Spurlock didn’t even quite pull that off by eating at Mickey D’s three times a day… and I somehow doubt that’s a habit of the average American. In fact, per the latest data (2004) from the UN Food and Agriculture Office, Americans average 3770 kcal per day. Now, I’m not sure if FAO is including junk food in there or not, but I’m guessing they probably don’t count junk food calories separate from regular ones (especially since they have a dietary breakdown that includes fats and sugars and other junk-food-type ingredients right there on the same page).

What’s really just pants-pissingly hilarious, though, is the bit about reducing that phantom third-of-overall-calories-from-junk-food by 80%, which somehow reduces the overall number by 30%. Now, I wasn’t a math major, but lemme see if I can add this up: 3747 + 1874 (the extra third, assuming that 3747 is two thirds) – 1499 (80% of the 1874 junk food calories) = 4122 kcals. Hang on a sec, 70% of 5600 is only 3920! Hey, wait…maybe she lives in a land where numbers don’t have a constant value?

I also particularly LOVE the “junk food is typically low in calories” line. Make up your own joke.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of the actual, substantive points of the article. Factory farming is horrible for animals, the environment, the economy, and for people. Eating less meat demonstrably reduces overall energy usage on a global scale. Single serving packaging wastes energy and materials needlessly. Reducing the amount of meat and processed food we eat is a step towards better physical and environmental health for most people.

But you know what it ain’t? A diet.

In trying to stay abreast of what’s going on in the environmental movement, I see a lot of fatphobia. The constant flourishing of a fatass as the foremost symbol of Classic American Overconsumption is a popular theme, and speaking out against it in environmental circles often a difficult and thankless task. In that context, quite frankly, this is a pretty mild example of the usual “if we stopped burning fossil fuels and eating meat, we’d all be skinny vegans riding bikes everywhere” rhetoric.

It’s a cheap shot, though, and the reasons for making changes to how we look at what we eat are strong enough to stand on their own - without bashing fat people, without using Madison Avenue marketing smoke and mirrors, without playing on the engineered fears and insecurities of a constantly bombarded populace. But then, Brahic and her editors (who knows which of the two slapped the headline on this article?) aren’t in the business of actually making the world a better place. They’re looking for clickthroughs and ad revenue… and everyone knows, chicks can’t resist an article with “diet” in the
title!

127 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Tari: Want to Save the U.S. Economy? Go on a Diet!

  1. Thank you for writing this. I, as a fat environmentalist trying to get back to my long-term vegetarian-ness, am sick to shit of hearing about how the fatties are fucking up the planet. Of course we are. (sarcasm) My reasons for ending my 13 year vegetarian “diet” are complex. I ended up going back to it last year, and my 8 year old followed. When I got pregnant this last time, I followed my practice of listening to my body, and it asked for meat. I didn’t like it, but I had a helluva time with this pregnancy, so I did what it asked and I felt better for it. When I’m not pregnant, I feel so much better not eating meat, but that’s me. I agree 1000000000% about factory farming. I wish local, organic meat was available in my area and budget, but it’s not. So I do my best.

    Having said all that, I wish that Brahic’s math would become standard – I’d fare so much better in the world getting to use math that is so flexible!

    There is so much more that I would like to say, but I’m working on a LOT of incomplete papers right now (holy goddess, send my some Sanity Watchers Points, b/c this research is taking it out of me), and my son (NOT the 8 year old!) wants to nurse for epic stretches at a time. Those are combining to leave me with very few usable brain cells, and I’m sure that others will say it much better than I could right now. :-)

  2. This is an excellent article, and I’m going to read it again later when I’m focused enough to absorb it.

    For now, though:
    pants-pissingly hilarious
    is AWESOME.

  3. Sorry? 3700 kcal/day? Really?

    I know I have personally questioned the wisdom of talking calories here and I don’t want to trigger anyone (if it’s inappropriate, please call me on it.) People eating what they need to is all good, whatever that is.

    It’s just, well, I’d had this idea that the average consumption was a lot less then this. So this information, for me, completely slams the last nail in the coffin of that “our bodies are each perfectly attenuated for optimal thermodynamics conversion with the identical rates of burn and identical energy loss profiles” — the old brutally flawed calories in/calories out theory, stated as it should be stated.

    No one who’s ever heard of fuel efficiency in vehicles should spend more than 30 seconds beating people up with thermodynamics, yet somehow it’s everywhere. I doubt an actual physicist or engineer would be stupid enough to try to use thermodynamics … although hate can lead to bad science. So maybe. (… won’t anyone think of the cars? …)

    Anyway. I’m getting more kilometers to the litre, over here. Given my size relative to the average, and my consumption relative to the average, and my *exercise* relative to the average, there’s no fuckin’ way we all work the same way. Period, end of story, the last shred of doubt I have has been hosed by actual data.

    Some of us here may not be hybrids – some folks may have set points higher and need to take in more fuel than that average, and so I really don’t want to make anyone feel weird. I didn’t understand the range, and so I don’t know what’s likely. Maybe there’s a tweenie eating 7000 calories a day! Who knows? It’s a whole new world.

    It’s likely that people each have different physical profiles with different physical strengths which causes fuel efficiency and body weight to independently vary. So exciting.

  4. This is marvelous.

    I swear, once my blinders came off, it just seemed so transparent, the way that “unhealthy,” “fat,” “lower-class,” and “everything that’s wrong with our country’s presence in the world” are being artificially lumped together byso as to serve the interests of those well-off morally-superior control-freak Cultured People who are TOTALLY not to blame for ANY of it. TOTALLY.

    It’s hard for me to remember back when I didn’t see how transparently self-serving it was. Even though it was only a year or so ago.

  5. ARRGH!!! You all I KEEP MAKING STUPID TYPOS AND I’M SORRY!!

    I’m sick and they don’t know what’s wrong with me and I have to take potassium iodide which makes me feel bleh.

    /whine

    anyway, I do realize “byso” isn’t a word.

  6. Wurd A Sarah,
    A year or so ago reading stuff like that would have made me miserable and swear that I would work harder at dieting. (Which I never did, I didn’t go on 1000 diets like most of the fatosphere because I really am lazy and undisciplined. I think I went on 4, total, ever. I just pretended it was because they never worked for me.)

    So yeah, anyway, YAY for realizing that fat people are just being blamed for jerk’s inability to control the world.

  7. …and btw, that’s goddamned dirty hippy!

    LOL, I totally almost added that, but I decided to be conservative.

    Arwen, I think your comment’s in bounds, and I must say, I was surprised at that figure, too.

  8. And that should be jerks’. Do you think we could have caught poor spelling/grammar from the trolls? I hear it might be contagious, just like being fat.

  9. A Sarah – that’s funny, because I was feeling a little silly (read: dumb) for not knowing what ‘byso’ meant. :-) I thought it was another “smart” word, like viz that I hadn’t learned yet. Doesn’t take much to make some of us “girl-folk” question ourselves, huh? And by some, I mean me. :-)

  10. And what about subsidized corn grown in the U.S. that is so cheap that farmers around the world can’t compete with it because they aren’t being subsidized? So U.S. corn gets shipped around the world when conceivably that corn could have been grown closer to home.

    And how much of the food produced in the U.S. actually gets eaten, and how much gets wasted?

    And why, why, why, does my local grocery store sell apples from Chile at the height of the local apple harvest?

    I don’t see how my (or anyone else’s) dieting could help with any of that. Assuming that I would diet, that is.

  11. Shinobi, you are correct. I just read what I posted and missed a few things, huh? I HATE when I fuck up the grammar! GD trolls!

  12. It is! It’s the Shakesville trolls! I caught their bad grammar disease too! And THAT’s what gave me erythema nodosum, the painful immune response that I’m currently suffering through. Ha! It all fits. I hate trolls.

  13. won’t anyone think of the cars?

    Bwahahahahahaha!!

    And, Katia….all of that stuff is totally part of the overall problem with an industrialized food system. When you actually start looking beyond just what’s convenient to grab at the supermarket, it becomes such a clusterfuck of obvious stupidity. The kind of thing that could only be driven by blindness to any benefits that weren’t legal tender.

    And it won’t be fixed by eating less and exercising more, that’s for fucking sure.

  14. Arwen, I had the same reaction to the 3770 number.

    The last time I got talked into calorie counting (without restriction, “just to find out how much I was really eating”), I was regularly eating between 2000 and 2400 kcal a day. Seriously. On a particularly hungry day, I didn’t break 2500.

    And by the way? The aunt that convinced me into counting calories and is ALL about calories in and calories out? An engineer.

    Seriously, though, I totally agree with the buying as locally as possible. We can’t afford organic meat, but we buy organic, free range eggs and fruits/veggies in season and without air or boat travel (with the sole exception of bananas, which come from Morocco to Germany, because sometimes I need to eat them).

    And I also agree with A Sarah that fat people or poor people or… (groups of people with less power ad infinitum) shouldn’t be blamed for this. But are.

  15. Crappy reasoning and bad math aside, how could I give any creedence at ALL to an article that states:

    “as junk food is typically low in calories”

    ??

    With a pants-pissingly hilarious (BWAH!) line like that, why should I pay attention to *any* of it?

  16. junk food is typically low in calories

    Seriously, is this some definition of “junk food” that I was previously unaware of?

  17. Katia- I just got into this conversation with my aunt last weekend. She made a comment that our prices would be lower if we didn’t have to grow food for everyone else. I politely informed her that our system of subsidies/the Farm Bill (talk about lobbying power!) and overproduction makes it impossible for local growers to compete. Small loan programs that are meant to assist family farms in places like Ghana are failing, as there is no way they can control the influx of U.S. produced agricultural goods.

    Moving away from global food economies, I’d also like to add, though, that here in the U.S., commercially owned farms have greater capacity to engage in environmentally protective behaviors. Programs we have that subsidize farmers for taking land out of production in environmentally sensitive zones (like along streamways/areas of high erosion) can be time consuming and difficult. The big owners usually take advantage of these to a greater extent than small farmers, who are less able to afford the loss of revenue from crops. I cringe when people use the phrase “factory farm” because so many people don’t understand what that means (I am not saying you don’t, Tari, just that some people really imagine a factory). States dictate the rules governing CAFOs and the like (though they are subject to federal environmental laws) and some states have failed miserably on the ethical treatment front.

    Anyway, I will stop now. I could (have?) gone on all day.

  18. between the 3770 and the “junk food is typically low in calories,” I feel very comfortable ignoring the article. I learned a lot of interesting things from Tari, though . . . thanks Tari

  19. WTF, Bald Soprano, your engineer aunt? GAH! I mean, okay, yes. Energy doesn’t get created or destroyed. 2nd law. But we’re not even guaranteed the food matter people put into their faces gets converted into energy equally. Just like with combustion engines. You got to convert it, burn it, and then capture the burn, right? Any point there, that energy could go more to muscles and heat or go more to storage. She’s not thinking clearly.

    And once burning, it obviously burns differently in different systems. To an engineer the human range of body temperatures, body volume compared to skin area, body shapes and how they move, different rates of muscular adjustments, cell regeneration, intake efficiency, waste processing efficiency, oh for christ sakes — should make it obvious that our calories OUT formula is fluctuating within a range.

    And, as Fillyjonk so well pointed out, calories IN are being used multi-dimensionally — fueling all independant systems simultaneously. An engineer should get that too. GAH GAH GAH!

    But, yes. If you don’t eat, you’ll have less energy, full stop.

    Eventually your body will move to some use of energy stores it has, full stop. How MUCH of your energy stores it will use to cover how MUCH of your physical energy requirements has a lot more to do with system design than thermodynamics, tho’, doesn’t it? The US doesn’t just use up its oil reserve because gas prices are up, does it? No. Because that would be REDONKULOUS.

    (BTW: isn’t your pseudo the title of a play? Ach, my poor memory…)

  20. Dudes, tell me about the junk food line! I almost thought it had to be a typo, except that the very next thing they mentioned was a Diet fucking Coke.

    I cringe when people use the phrase “factory farm” because so many people don’t understand what that means (I am not saying you don’t, Tari, just that some people really imagine a factory).

    I know what you mean. I feel for mid-size and small farms, just because the system is so entirely rigged (from stem to stern) to help the corn processing mega-corporations, and keep everyone else beholden to them for a living.

  21. Arwen, I’ve read the “US consumes an average 3700 kcals a day” is based on total food produced in the US each year divided by population.

    Guess what? It’s inaccurate. Most people eat the meat and toss the bones. Some people toss the potato peels. Some people eat the broccoli florets and toss the stalks, or vice versa. Some food gets thrown away because you’re too full or it spoiled or whatever.

    I wonder if the 3700 figure includes the corn used in ethanol?

  22. JenK, per the FAO website, “Per caput figures represent only the average supply available for the population as a whole and do not necessarily indicate what is actually consumed by individuals. They are arrived at by dividing total calories by total population acutally partaking of the food supply. ”

    In writing this up, I looked for data on actual consumption, but was unable to find anything beyond lots of ways to find out what my own calorie consumption might be. Since the number was so close to Brahic’s figure, I am guessing she got her number using a similar resource (which would make sense if she’s referring to data assembled by Pimentel, who’s an ag prof).

  23. They are arrived at by dividing total calories by total population acutally partaking of the food supply

    Ahh. So you’re right, the real problem is overproduction and waste of food, not the amount people are eating.

  24. Dude! Surely, you guys don’t have to apologize for typos here. We all make mistakes, especially when we wanna get something funny/poignant/good up here. Flawed and fabulous.

    But, maybe Kate (via Al) can now step in and say with a sarcastic grin:

    Learn to word, people!

  25. So you’re right, the real problem is overproduction and waste of food, not the amount people are eating.

    Yep. On top of which, jackholes writing this sort of article that will inevitably reinforce the idea that OMG fat Americans are eating SOOOOO much.

  26. JenK, that would make sense. I’m happy for the shock of the number, even if wrong, because it caused me to really walk through through the 2nd law argument and it doesn’t make any sense on any level. I’d not really tried to construct the 2nd law argument before! So it was a good exercise because it’s so irrelevant… if mammals could perform fusion in their stomachs given injested baby donuts we’d could all burp helium! THE 2ND LAW SAYS SO!

  27. Dude! Surely, you guys don’t have to apologize for typos here.

    I’ve noticed that A Sarah, despite being one of the most consistently brilliant, funny, incisive, and well-loved commenters here, apologizes a lot.

    I was feeling like I should have a talk with her about it. Then I realized that being hyper-aware of how she’s coming off to others is probably part of what makes her such a delightful internets contributor.

    Seriously though, A Sarah… you can relax. There’s little you can do that would make us think less of you. (That could be taken as a compliment or a sneaky insult, but it is the former.)

  28. Arwen: yeah, she’s a chemical engineer who works for Dupont.

    And good catch, my pseudonym (and blog title) is a translation of a Eugene Ionesco play title. “La Cantatrice Chauve”

  29. Arwen, I’ve read the “US consumes an average 3700 kcals a day” is based on total food produced in the US each year divided by population.

    OMG, that makes so much more sense.

  30. I found the just-published article from Pimentel (Human Ecology) online first article, and the referenced 2004 article. (not google-fu, I have university access to many online journals). In both, he uses the USDA as the source for the 3747 kcal per day figure (approx 3800 in 2004). He doesn’t describe how it arrived at, but states that it is the consumption, which is more than the recommended consumption of 2000-2500 kcal. So he seems to uncritically accept it as what people consume, even though by the calories in calories out metric, shouldn’t we all be gaining 2lbs a week on that? It was pretty clear from the writing that he hadn’t though through the points JenK makes.

    Sadly, Pimentel et al do say

    “Reducing the calorie intake to a lower level would significantly reduce the energy used in food production.”

    And in the conclusions

    “Reducing food consumption and following healthier diets would facilitate even greater energy savings, while improving the well-being of the American population. The average American consumes 3,747 kcal of food per day (Table 1), more than 1,000 cal over the recommended daily intake for a relatively active male. We suggest that the amount of meat and dairy products could be reduced by 50%, while still maintaining the necessary quality and quantity of nutrients (Table 1). This would be especially true if amounts of cereal grains, fruits, and vegetables were increased, as outlined in Table 1. Relying to a greater degree on less processed foods reduces the amount of fossil energy required in the food system.”

    The junk food stuff was clearly misquoted by the New Scientist. From the original article

    “Based on preliminary data, Block (2004) estimates the average American consumes 33% of their total calories in junk food. Reducing junk food intake from 33% to 10% would reduce caloric intake to 2,826 kcal, conserve energy, and improve health (Table 2). Consider that a kilogram of potato chips has 5,667 kcal of food energy, whereas a kilogram of potatoes has only 548 kcal of food energy (USDA 1976).”

    So that makes it clear that of the estimated 3747, 1/3 is estimated to be junkfood, rather than being another 1/3 on top of the 3747.

    I can’t lay my hands on my copy of Campos “the obesity myth”, but I am pretty sure I remember that he contrasts the calories of what the food industry makes per person per day with the actual consumptions, and it was around 1000 calories surplus. Uncritical acceptance of other’s data without parsing through how they got it, both by Pimentel and the New Scientist. That’s not good science.

  31. I was feeling like I should have a talk with her about it. Then I realized that being hyper-aware of how she’s coming off to others is probably part of what makes her such a delightful internets contributor.

    Seriously though, A Sarah… you can relax. There’s little you can do that would make us think less of you. (That could be taken as a compliment or a sneaky insult, but it is the former.)

    OMG I LOVE YOU FILLYJONK!! This made me laugh so hard because I have totally been called on my overly-apologetic tendencies before, many many times, which, of course, I then promptly apologized for. And then I think on some occasions I actually followed that up with an apology for an apology. :)

    Fancy feeling like one is known and understood and appreciated over the interwebs. And at a time in one’s life when one feels that so infrequently elsewhere. Wow. You three have done such an amazing job of creating a little community here.

    I shall try to relax. :)

    (Oh, and incidentally, speaking of real-life meetings: other Michiana folks, I haven’t forgotten my offer of tapas, I just got delayed on the dissertation chapter due to getting sick and haven’t come up for air yet. I still want to get together though!)

  32. I’ve read estimates that about 25% of food purchased is wasted. They’re based on British studies though, so the US may be more or less. And that doesn’t take into account food wasted in retailing and processing – tossed for being bruised or dented, all the too-big potatos that get peeled down to average size before they are sliced into chips, almonds that fall before the mechanical tree-shaker comes along, etc. Some estimates say adding that in would put us up around 1/3 of agricultural production wasted.

    Thank you for the rant, Tari. The intersection of FA & green is very, very small (or very, very silent maybe). I started reading the fatosphere because I was getting too much fattie-hate in the greenosphere.

    p.s. you can always call the CAFOs “confinement operations”, or “shit-lagoon feedlots”. It’s what they are, after all. “Factory” sounds so clean and efficient.

  33. A Sarah- Yay! I was hoping the get together was still in the works! Word to the wise re: “dissertating”: for the love of all that is good in the world start formatting the stupid thing NOW. Like, right this second. I think depositing the stupid effing thing yesterday was harder than actually writing it.

  34. Energy doesn’t get created or destroyed. 2nd law.

    Conservation of energy is First Law.

    (BTW, I am a trained thermodynamicist, and the calories-in/calories-out argument is, shall we say…simplistic, at best.)

  35. Carolyn, are you the same Carolyn from the Shakesville thread? Because if so, I want to make you my livejournal friend and also marry you if that’s cool.

  36. FJ, I am. ;)

    I also live in MA, so we can totally get married if you can find some way of getting rid of my fiance. (He’s 6’2″ and built like a bouncer, so be careful, my love!)

  37. I have totally been called on my overly-apologetic tendencies before, many many times, which, of course, I then promptly apologized for.

    Me too, which is why your doing it stood out for me… I was like “A Sarah is doing a very familiar thing here.” The only reason you don’t see me doing it here is that I’m kind of in charge — otherwise you’d probably get to see all my self-effacing insecurities as I fretted about my position in the community and whether one misstatement would bring it all tumbling down. I promise you, it won’t!

  38. Carolyn, are you the same Carolyn from the Shakesville thread? Because if so, I want to make you my livejournal friend and also marry you if that’s cool.

    Seriously! “Do it like USENET” made me cry!

  39. Carolyn, much love from Shakes, if that is you! And also much love on physics geeks! Thanks for the correction, and I’ll come be a fangirl at the Carolyn/FJ wedding…

  40. Oh gosh you are a rocket scientist from Woosta, be still my heart.

    My fiance’s 6’0″ or 6’1″ and built like a fat guy with muscles, so maybe the two of them can… um, play Scrabble or something. (Dan is kind of non-violent.)

  41. Thanks for the correction…

    You’re still better at it than some of the senior engineering students I’ve TAed for…. *shudder*

  42. I’m supposed to be a software engineer, (although I appear to be a “procrastinating at SP” and considering a career change engineer, which is a different story), so physics was a long time ago but systems analysis is closer by. Generally not with Real Things That Go Zoom, though.

  43. Does New Scientist still run a page of reader-submitted absurdities on their last page? Because if so, this seems a prime candidate.

  44. Eucritta, the snarky recursion of that is impossibly delicious. (And yeah, last I saw, they still have that feature.)

  45. How is the economy going to improve by killing the meat industry?

    ‘Cause gas would be cheaper and stuff, and we’d all be thin and need less of it.

    Personally, i’d rather save the planet than the economy. (see above, re: goddamned dirty hippie)

  46. Thanks, fj [g].

    Alas, I just skimmed through the comments to the article — and I think there’s exactly *one* post that questions the assumptions used in the article. *One.* Sigh.

    Critikal thimking, they is doing it wrong.

  47. exactly *one* post that questions the assumptions used in the article

    …and I’m pretty sure it’s from Marg, the Shapeling who sent this in in the first place.

  48. I’m happy to see this topic being discussed on SP. I have, in the past, had a particular fat-acceptance blog take down my comments because I dared to say something about how it’s important to talk about food as a moral issue with regard to what and how we produce and consume (something that all the ‘OMG fat iz baad’ talk diverts society from discussing). Eating a chocolate bar is not immoral because it’s “fattening.” But consuming a chocolate bar for which people have knowingly been exploited or killed is not ethical.

    Why some people insist on hearing ‘dieting’ when I write/say ‘veganism’, I’ll never understand. Do I look like I’ve been ‘dieting’ for the last ten years? :-p

    Just switch it up to some nice ethically-raised free range chickens from your local family farmer.

    I have to say that seeing this really bothered me. I feel it perpetuates the ‘happy meat’ myth that so-called free-range animals are raised and slaughtered ‘humanely’. (Btw, when ‘humane’ chicken slaughter is discussed by chicken producers, this usually refers to killing chickens in gas chambers. If people think that’s ‘humane’, I despair for the world.) Besides, this doesn’t really work as an environmental argument — no matter how an animal is raised, it still consumes many times the usable vegetable protein as does eating the plants directly, involves large amounts of water, land, and other resources, and the animal’s waste/emissions are still an issue.

    I do have to say that I don’t really understand the confusion in this post’s analysis of the article. It was clear to me on the first reading that by “In addition to the 3747 kcals…”, the author means, “Another point in addition to the [supposed] fact that we consume 3747 kcals,” and is not referring to *more calories* in addition to said amount.

  49. Tari & Bald Soprano: Another second generation hippie. I’m going to go with the BG amen:: “So say we all”.

  50. Vidya…I’m with you in that I believe the world would be a better place if people were more conscious of how food gets from farm to table. And certainly, I agree that even ethically-raised animals are more energy-intensive than veggies…but I come from a rural farm family, and I have been personally involved in hunting, as well as what I consider ethical slaughtering practices; I’m unlikely to ever be convinced that there is *no* way to eat meat ethically.

    I’m also not saying that a full-on veggie diet isn’t the least energy-consumptive diet available…it is. I just don’t believe that’s a choice everyone is able to make, for a variety of both mutable and immutable reasons.

    (And, while I find this topic endlessly interesting, I’m not sure this blog is the best place for that conversation.)

    the author means, “Another point in addition to the [supposed] fact that we consume 3747 kcals,” and is not referring to *more calories* in addition to said amount.

    I would agree with you if the author hadn’t also stated, earlier in the article, “The 3747 kcal per day figure does not include any junk food consumed.”

  51. vegetative, thanks so much for that info! I agree, it looks like people were not so much with the checking of the data and stuff.

    I wonder if that uncritical acceptance of the data on Pimentel’s part meant that his figures were based on reducing the 3747 by, say, 1000 kcals that people aren’t eating already? Which would make the problem (still) production? Hmmm.

    And now I’ll stop posting every three seconds, and go make some music. Woo hoo!

  52. It’s so tricky, moral eating… because on the one hand, there’s the exploitation involved in food production, which is critical to understand, particularly as the system does its darnedest to make it invisible to those who are doing the consuming.

    But then on the other hand, there’s the fact that representations of morally-pure eating are anymore overwhelmingly sexist, racist, and classist. (Not to say that you fit this description, Vidya; in fact I haven’t gotten that impression at all.)

    To wit: I was looking at the current issue of Eating Well, which my dad sent me as part of a care package while I’m sick.

    Number of representations (including ads) of white folks? 55
    Number of representations (including ads) of people of color? SIX.

    Moreover, there were instructive differences in what the white people were doing as compared to the people of color. The white people were depicted skating, racing, doing yoga, gathering with friends, “rescuing” heirloom plants, having hip socially-aware rooftop cookouts with properly-paired wine, farming the land their family has had for generation after generation after generation. (In fact, there was more than one instance of the precious white family farm dating back generations. And one presumes were are just NOT SUPPOSED TO ASK how this lovely lily-white family GOT that land five generations ago, or who they took it from, okay? Don’t. Ask.)

    And always, always the white women were shown making “good choices.” (Two white women — TWO! — had FRIGGIN’ HALOS over their heads for having chosen the “healthier” food option. This was in TWO DIFFERENT PICTURES.)

    The people of color, however, were represented thus:

    1) First representation (this was in one of the halo pictures): A white woman is seated in the center, at a restaurant table, with friends, facing the camera. She has a halo over her head, because (the copy tells us) she chose to take care of her health. On her plate are salmon, greens, and a lemon wedge. In her glass? Water. There are two women with her, one white and one African-American. The other white woman is eating lasagna and drinking iced tea; no halo for her. The WOC is eating a steak sandwich and French fries, which for some inexplicable reason are served in a small metal bucket. She is drinking soda. No halo. This is also the only place in the magazine where soda is depicted or, as far as I could tell, mentioned.

    2) Second picture, which included five black children so it counted as five: An ad in which Drew Barrymore stars in Attack of the Nice White Lady, Part Stomptillion. She’s shown beneficently doling out ladlefuls of something from a big pot, to black children who are lined up with cups. Unlike almost every other picture in the magazine, the food is not made up here to be beautiful, is not artfully photograph… heck, we can’t even see what it is, and the photo’s in black and white. The only part of the picture that’s in color is the cup that her magic ladle has just touched. (It kind of reminds me of a princess wand.)

    And that’s not even to talk about all the morally-freighted language for the kind of food that savvy white people are shown eating. “Pure.” “Tradition.” “Family.” “All that life has to offer.” “Performance enhancer.” “What the elite eat.” It’s like, gee, is this a crunchy cooking magazine, or did I just wander into a Eugenics Society meeting from 1920?

  53. How the heck does Junk food have LESS calories. That does NOT make sense at all!! I think this lady must be from planet crazy! Also its not what we eat individually. If people would just stop wasting food that would go a long way in helping the situation.

  54. I’m a vegan who bicycles EVERYWHERE, I don’t have a car, and my husband and I have a huge veggie garden in our front and back yards where we pick our lunches and dinners and I am FAR from being skinny … hell, I am a fat vegan who bicycles everywhere.

    I’ve noticed that stereotype in bike-riding-everywhere/vegan circles myself. It’s really annoying and so untrue!

    I think people would be healthier and (maybe) happier if they were to bike everywhere (assuming that everyone is able-bodied of course!) and the world could sure use less single-occupancy cars on the roads but that doesn’t mean those people will be thinner as a result … I actually gained weight because of the extra muscle. I also think the world would be healthier if more people ate more locally grown organic veggies (because clearly everyone has that option!) but that also doesn’t mean those people will become thinner.

    This was a great post.

  55. Vidya, as a current meat-eater, I do think that it is unethical, in most cases, to kill animals for food. However, there are many, many people who do not have a choice (location, money, parental control. etc.) or who choose to eat animals. I think that if we are going to eat meat, it is far better for the animals and the environment to eat organic meat from small farms. I would rather see an animal slaughtered after a good life than after a horrible life in one of those disgusting “factories.” Like someone else said, this probably isn’t the place to discuss in depth (so, yes, I posted anyway, I know!), but I did want to put another way of viewing it out there.

  56. This is a great post, and I really value the opportunity to read about how others interested in FA think about the ethics of eating, in regards to environmentalism and the treatment of animals. I’m a fat vegetarian (soon to go full out vegan) and I often feel marginalized. The vegetarians who constantly harp about the veggie lifestyle being healthier, which of course means it makes you skinny (rolls eyes), often want to ignore my existence, or they view me with suspicion.

  57. LilahCello and others…There are (at least) two issues being disussed with tegard to eating meat here. The first is the ethical considerations with eating meat and the way in which the animal is killed to eat. The second is the argument that organic, free range meat is better for the environment. The second issue is really fuzzy. It depends on which facet of “better for the environment” we choose to focus on. Organic is better because there are less fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxins being trapped in the soil, water, and the meat (and us). However, in terms of erosion and land use, though, free range is actually worse.

  58. I’m also not saying that a full-on veggie diet isn’t the least energy-consumptive diet available…it is. I just don’t believe that’s a choice everyone is able to make, for a variety of both mutable and immutable reasons.

    My endocrinologist actually recommended against a vegetarian diet saying it would aggravate my PCOS symptoms. It did, much to my chagrin. Now I’m on a bunch of new meds and back to eating meat. Sigh.

    Organic is better because there are less fertilizers, pesticides, and other toxins being trapped in the soil, water, and the meat (and us).

    Organic is better for the farmers and harvesters themselves. They’re the ones one the front lines of pesticide and fertilizer poisoning.

  59. I think the reporter got calorie density mixed up with nutrient density. It’s hard staying up on all the current nutrition buzzwords sometimes.

  60. That 3,747 calorie figure that the authors cite from FAOSTAT includes food that gets thrown wasted without us eating it, so we shouldn’t take it to mean that Americans on average actually consume that much, but it’s a useful figure for us to understand how much is produced for each of us. As the authors discuss, calories are not all equal in the resources required to produce them, so the take away point is to cut back on packaging, animal products (they mention going lacto-ovo or Mediterranean), more than going on a diet.

    Bernard Brown
    PB&J Campaign
    http://www.pbjcampaign.org

  61. I have no problem with the science – more people should be aware that it takes 3700 kcal of energy to produce one can of one kcal Diet Coke.

    But the headline???

    If more Americans switch to over-manufactured diet food, it will have an even worse impact on the economy and environment. I suppose “Americans should consume less over-processed cr*p” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Americans must diet to save their economy”

  62. Caralyn, you put that beautifully. Driving less and eating with a mind to the environmental effect of your food are good things for our planet, but they do not automatically translate to “eat less and exercise more” nor will those choices necessarily show in the size of your ass.

    Eating totally awesome fresh, organic local foodstuffs doesn’t always fit into the budget around here, especially considering a couple of difficult food intolerances we have, because unfortunately, they are still a little pricier, but when I can afford to choose organic, I do. And I find those organic foods tastier, and more satisfying.

  63. Right on! This post is the epitome of win.

    Tyson de-beaks their birds?! HOLY FLIPPIN TORPEDO NUGGETS. I know that serious animal-abusing, meat-contaminating, chemical-stuffing, planet-endangering SH#T goes down at factory farms for all critters, but THAT little piece of info was one I was not down on.

    I’ll never purchase another product with “Tyson” on its label, ever again.

  64. I just subscribed to a service that delivers a box of organic produce to your door once a week. It is expensive, but I like to cook and food is important enough to me that I don’t mind cutting elsewhere… although honestly, the way food in the supermarket is going up, there might not be much difference in the long run. There’s also an option to get local produce only which is a cool idea, at least in principle. The idea of eating spending a whole winter getting all my vitamin C from cabbage doesn’t appeal much.

    I think this will be good for us and better for the environment, but… everything A Sarah said. The halos and the yoga and the Martha Stewartish art direction and the unbearable purity of the rich doing their part while those awful, awful poor people eat non-free trade chocolate bars and mad-cow burgers. How crazy is it that we have to pay extra to get our food with minimal extra poisons? How crazy is it that the people hwo harvest crops usually can’t afford to eat them?

  65. (Certified) Organic farming isn’t necessarily free of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. It’s just free of certain types of those things. The kinds that you can use are not necessarily any better for farmers, workers, the environment or you. :/ You have to invesitgate all your produce sources to find out what’s actually been used. Many botanical pesticides have not been fully investigated for human safety, for example, and there are other chemicals that can be used in Certified Organic farming that can harm wildlife and waterways. Potassium permanganate, pyrethrin, copper sulphate, etc, to name but a few.

    I agree with the principles behind organic farming, I just prefer full disclosure and consumer education on what we’re actually getting.

    This is why I like to buy from a local farmer’s market – it’s usually the growers themselves selling their produce and even if it’s not certified organic (they can’t afford the certification process), I’m satisfied that they’re unlikely to be using *icides that are harmful for themselves and their families – and I can ask them just what they use. I grew up on a farm, and that’s how we operated. I’d like a vegetable garden but we have a sunless balcony only!

    But I digress. *ahem* Fatties causing the downfall of the economy? My, my, but we are powerful! Through sheer force of will, since obviously we are stuck to our couches whilst snarfing pizza continually, we are causing monetary mischief and mayhem! And they say we have no willpower. That’ll learn ‘em.

  66. Certified) Organic farming isn’t necessarily free of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. It’s just free of certain types of those things. The kinds that you can use are not necessarily any better for farmers, workers, the environment or you. :/

    Really? Fucking hell. You learn something depressing every day.

    I’ll have to look into this service some more, although I do know that it’s a co-op run by local farmers. It sounds good, but as you point out, you never know.

  67. Like some other people in this thread, I do my best to eat organic or local or free range or whatever I can get my hands on out here (money allowing), but if I gave up meat I would literally starve with my food intolerances. I would get almost no fat or protein. There would just be almost nothing left. I mean, I REALLY want to be as ethical as I can in how I live my life, but I also want to, well, live, you know?

  68. Note that this is neglecting eggs and dairy. I could probably get by on cheese. Vegan, though, is right out.

  69. Potassium permanganate — snakebite antivenom? Huh. Odd thing to use as a pesticide.

    Anyway, yes: they thought malathion was biologically inert for many years. Heh. They don’t anymore.

    Don’t read Silent Spring when you’re ten. It’ll mess you up for life.

    The article? Shoddy math and improper conclusions. How to solve it? Most likely we need to, you know, fix the (industrial) system. I mean, yay, local produce, but *insert complaint about classism of localvores*.

  70. Part of me wants to dive into an over-the-top analysis of the differences between industrial farming, industrial organic farming, small scale organic farming, and family farming….but it’s a long and complicated conversation, and Michael Pollan already wrote a whole (admittedly fat-phobic) book on the subject. I highly recommend giving it a read – or, as a free instant-gratification option, check out th archives of Victual Reality, a column by Grist’s Tom Philpott that delves into a lot of the same territory as Pollan covers.

    The truth about food (as I see it, of course) is that I never know the bottom line unless I grow the plants, tend the animals, and harvest the food myself. Anything less is always a crapshoot…but if I can’t grow it myself, I’m putting my money in the hands of farmers when I can, organics when I can’t, and jerkoffs like Tyson NEVER. (’cause seriously, the de-beaking is only the beginning. Their environmental record is hideous, not to mention their funneling migrant workers through their factories – and shipping the plants to China when they got caught!)

  71. I’ve read the “US consumes an average 3700 kcals a day” is based on total food produced in the US each year divided by population.

    OK, that prompts a giant question from me. Are they basing that figure on single-ingredient foods (sugar, wheat flour, etc.) or finished products that contain multiple ingredients? For example, if they count all the sugar produced as just sugar, they can’t count it again in all foods that are made with sugar.

    Or maybe it’s just easier to say the whole thing smells like (free-range, organically raised) bullshit to me.

  72. Or maybe it’s just easier to say the whole thing smells like (free-range, organically raised) bullshit to me.

    That is the most pungent kind!

    The truth about food (as I see it, of course) is that I never know the bottom line unless I grow the plants, tend the animals, and harvest the food myself. Anything less is always a crapshoot…

    And besides, there’s always real life getting in the way. One of the criticisms of the slow food movement is that the people doing this back-to-earth, time-consuming, labour-intensive work are mostly women. Men write books decrying the sad state of our food system, but women are expected to pick up the “slack”. Sometimes when I come home from work I barely have the energy to thaw two servings of soup from the freezer, never mind creating some masterpiece or working on the next day’s crockpot masterpiece.

  73. Stephanie- You read Silent Spring when you were ten? Ten? That’s incredible and a little bit scary :)

    Tari- Yeah, you don’t know unless you do it all yourself. And sorry for going OT so much…Farm and environmental policy is my research area, so I can get a little excited when people start talking about anything even tangentially related.

  74. Sniper….I totally hear that. I think, with the system built the way it currently is – and with mammoth hurdles to overcome in order to shift it even a smidge – compromise is pretty much my constant companion. What can I do, considering my day job, my extracurriculars, my other commitments, my budget, ad infinitum? And for folks with kids….ye gods! (I’m reminded of Sarah Haskins.)

    And kristin, I can’t blame you for getting excited – I do the same thing; food activism and fat activism are really entwined in my world view, and so few people see how they intersect! It’s just a really loooong conversation. If you’re in Chicago, I’d say we could bash industrialized food over some drinks! (I know this place that does a nice local vodka…)

  75. thanks for this write-up. Nothing gets me riled up more then bad food research and/or poorly reported food research. Do any of you here at SP have the energy to take on the new AAP recommendation for 2% milk for 1 year olds – ’cause that one pisses me off. a lot.

    But mostly thanks for the word ‘flexitarian’ – now I finally know what to call myself! … – I’m really excited about knowing this word right now.

  76. (I’m reminded of Sarah Haskins.)

    Hah! I love her. And she’s quite right. If, in addition to everything else (and that covers a lot of ground) women fail to keep their families at peak health and happiness at all times… well, they’re just failures!

  77. Besides which, if we all got skinny we’d lose our fat, which turns out to be a rich source of stem cells:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723103259.htm

    I found this fascinating, why would fat in different areas have different amounts of stem cells? Those tissues must be doing different sorts of things. And that fat has so many stem cells must be important for the body somehow.

    I wonder, could those stem cells be related to why fat people tend to survive diseases and surgeries better? Can you tell I like to speculate?

    Anyway, clearly most people cannot pull a thousand calories out of their daily diet without serious problems. I’d be down to about a thousand calories a day, and I know there are lots of people who eat a lot less than I do. Not healthy. Now if they want to reduce waste in the system, food being thrown out when it’s still edible and so forth, I’d be fine with that. I know that when I eat out, there’s often a lot that I can’t finish on my plate, which they also can’t feed to anyone else and has to be tossed. Food that passes it’s sell by date and etc. all seem to be obvious places to save.

    You know, what they really need to do? Find a way to turn all that food waste into biodiesel. It wouldn’t bump up food prices the way using corn has, and it would be a useful way to use all those moldy leftover calories. I see a new red recycle bin in our future, where cleaning out the ‘fridge becomes an exercise in rightousness.

  78. Emily, I thought the 2% recommendation was to try to get them to eat more solid food? Is it really an obesity thing? WTF?

    I’ve got a seriously underweight 3 year old, and his pediatrician had us try no juice and lower-fat milk for a while to see if it made him eat more…it didn’t, so we went back to full fat milk, but he does have days when he seems to only drink milk and then not be hungry for any other foods, which is problematic for vitamins and minerals.

  79. Save the environment, maybe? Save the economy…I doubt it. Killing the food industry (or any subset thereof) is going to have a negative impact that will offset any gains made by fuel savings. Energy is the real crisis here. We are being strangled by our dependance on fossil fuels, foreign or otherwise.

  80. A little off topic, but the corn is actually going up in price due to the ethanol demand. I have Iowa (yawn) extended family and they just luvs the corn prices now! In reality, corn may be in short supply, er, IS in short supply now because of the demand from other countries and our own gas crisis.
    I have long held the belief that corn use in food increases calorie density in food. Sugar is harder to farm. How much of the overproduction of corn actually makes it into food products? It takes 800 acres of farm property to turn a profit. 30 years ago that number was half as much.
    What all that has to do with the blaming of teh fatties food consumption on energy use is beyond me. lol

  81. Another thought…..why aren’t the food production companies responsible for making their use of energy more efficient? Isn’t that just an obvious thing here? I understand supply and demand and all…but the big companies have responded to the decrease in their profit margins by making their products smaller. I bought bar soap the other day and it was smaller than the one I bought before. Same with ice cream…a half a gallon is not 1.75 quarts. Milk now comes in 3/4 gallon containers. All these things are the same price or higher so what gives?
    Maybe I’m just too logical, but why not demand the companies using the energy actually streamline their production process instead of forcing the consumer (who doesn’t have a factory) stop eating????? Since gas prices have gone up I try to lump my errands into a day or two a week instead of every day, why shouldn’t they do more to increase efficiency?

  82. Hi, I’ve been a reader for several months now, but this is my first comment. I’m trying to keep this post within the bounds of the comments policy, but it’s turning into a big science-based rant… or lecture (this written after re-reading myself). I’ll understand if it doesn’t show up, and do better next time. ;-)

    See, after reading Arwen’s first few comments, I’m having an epiphany about the calorie in-calorie out myth. I’ve been drawing on my undergrad work in biochemistry and molecular biology to analyze the concept, and it has got to be absolute, total, complete bunk. It makes absolutely no biochemical sense: most of what we eat doesn’t end up as “burnables”. The fats are preferentially targeted to making new cell membranes. The amino acids and DNA bases go preferentially to making proteins and DNA, not to energy production. This is so our bodies can renew the cells of the skin, the blood, the intestinal lining, the liver, etc. The old, damaged cells? The components get broken down and the results mostly get excreted. Don’t pass go, don’t collect energy. The part of our food that goes towards these ends actually costs us energy, because not only is that food not being used to produce any energy, but the processes for which it *is* used take up energy, and old-cell clean-up uses up some more. Then, there’s the part of the food that ends up in the toilet, and there’s no way absolutely all the calories–nutrients, and other useful stuff–have been absorbed, because other organisms live on our shit. Literally, and thrive, too. TMI, I know.

    That accounts for most of “calories in”, which should really be referred to as nutrients, dammit, because we’re NOT eating actual energy…. (deep breath). And we’re left with not-very-many calories’ worth of mostly carbs to actually use as fuel to produce the energy that powers our bodies, which is what would end up in storage if in excess, and if a body’s metabolism was genetically inclined that way. Did that make sense? I think I’m losing sight of my point, but anyway.

    About energy production… Yes, production. The food we eat isn’t fuel to begin with, it has to be converted (at a somewhat staggering loss, because, you know, the third law of thermodynamics) into usable chemical energy (hereafter called ATP). An enormous percentage of the ATP made by the cells, mostly from carbs, (I can’t remember the exact figure, but it’s surprisingly high) goes into cell & overall organism maintenance: the processes outlined above, plus all the routine stuff a body does like having a heartbeat, breathing, keeping the old brain alive, whatnot. At this point, you haven’t even moved yet. You haven’t done any hard thinking, or dancing, typing, singing, getting out of bed, working in the garden… you get the picture. To do most of these things, the ATP has to be converted into mechanical energy in the muscles, at another staggering loss (that pesky third law again). This is the mythical “calories out” so touted by the diet pushers, a teeny tiny little fraction of what goes into a person’s mouth.

    Bunk.

    And this doesn’t even consider fast and slow metabolisms, which depend on which combination of enzyme variants a person owns, and how efficient they are. Which is dependent on, guess what? Genetics. My enzyme cocktail seems to be terrifyingly efficient–I get hungry no later than three hours after any given meal unless I’m absolutely stuffed. And it doesn’t change my body type one bit, either: if I lived in “Calorie In, Calorie Out” Fairyland, I wouldn’t have that fourth meal I eat most days, and I’d *OMG* lose weight!! What really happens when I do that is that I fucking starve, and get junk food fantasies, and binge. And get near-homicidal, too, because I’m hypoglycemic.) I have to wonder where these so-called nutrition experts get their facts. My bet is a Cracker-Jack box.

    (gets off soap box)

  83. OK, suppose we eat x normal calories and y junk food calories a day. If we reduce the junk food by 80% and get 30% less calories in total this can be expressed as:

    0.7 ( x + y ) = x + 0.2 y
    0.7 x + 0.7 y = x + 0.2 y
    0.7 y – 0.2 y = x – 0.7 x
    0.5 y = 0.3 x
    y = 0.3 x / 0.5
    y = 0.6 x

    So our extra junk food calories would have to be 60% of our normal calories in order for reducing them by 80% to make a 30% overall reduction. Ie we’d have to be eating 3742 cals + 2248 junk food cals or around 6000 calories a day!

    If however the 3747 *includes* the junk food calories, then the sums come out closer to right.

    3747 = 2498 + 1249
    2498 + ( 0.2 x 1249) = 2748
    2748 / 3747 = about 73 %

    Oh dur, and now reading the comments I see that vegetative has found the original study and it _was_ talking about the junk food being a third of the actual food. Still, at least I showed that makes the numbers work :-)

  84. the big companies have responded to the decrease in their profit margins by making their products smaller. I bought bar soap the other day and it was smaller than the one I bought before. Same with ice cream…a half a gallon is not 1.75 quarts. Milk now comes in 3/4 gallon containers. All these things are the same price or higher so what gives?

    That’s exactly it – it’s because prices are increasing (for producers as well as consumers afaik) and rather than hiking the price of the product really noticeably (causing consumers to switch brands or change their habits) a lot of companies are trying to cut the portion size down so that the price can remain about the same, so more consumers will just keep buying the “same” thing they always did and not really notice the difference.

  85. Eleanor Blair, I am dazzled by your math skillz. And I think the fact that the original study was including junk food in the total is just more evidence of how irresponsible Catherine Brahic was in writing about this.

  86. I see a new red recycle bin in our future, where cleaning out the ‘fridge becomes an exercise in rightousness.

    Oooooh, Piffle, do you know the joys of composting? We had a huge freezer that quit working and sad as I was to lose all that food at least it went into the compost so all was not lost.

    (Of course composting isn’t really possible for everybody, which is really too bad, because it is so wonderfully satisfying. It’s very easy, too, if you do it the lazy way. Which I do.)

  87. I guess what I don’t ultimately understand is this sentiment:

    “if we stopped burning fossil fuels and eating meat, we’d all be skinny vegans riding bikes everywhere” rhetoric.

    As someone concerned with environmental and ecological rights, this never really crosses my mind. What I do end up thinking is that in my experience, when I am eating less meat, drinking less soda, and riding my bike, this often translates into weight-loss, fitness, and tone for me – Not like I am shedding the evil fat-monster that has taken over my psyche and makes me want to kill the earth.

    For me, I see some issues with obesity related to some of our economic priorities, not the other way around. I don’t see big box stores run by crazy, evil fat folks who are hell bent on selling environmentally unfriendly products or volume – I see them as top 1%ers forcing us into often-unhealthy, unsustainable consumption decisions.

    This is ultimately why I couldn’t get behind the criticism that came at Wall-E for being anti-fat – The idea wasn’t that a colony of malicious fat people were responsible for the end of the world – it was that a monolithic hegemon had absorbed into it the entire economy, re-prioritizing consumption over any sense of emotional, intellectual, or physical health.

    I agree with the quote above: “Eating a chocolate bar is not immoral because it’s ‘fattening.’ But consuming a chocolate bar for which people have knowingly been exploited or killed is not ethical.” When the chocolate bar, and other products that it symbolizes, becomes so inexpensive as a result of the practices of cultivation, and unhealthy choleric intake goes up as a result, it is not the resulting body mass that is looked at as the reason that the cultivation methods are lack-luster. It is fulfilling and exploiting a desire for all consumers to prefer cheap over responsibly made (and this is, admittedly, an industry-created desire).

  88. Eating local cuisine here in Wisconsin involves a lot of meat, a lot of cheese, and a lot of fish. Sure, you can be veggie and local, especially if you and/or your farmer has a giant canning cellar and freezer. But there’s a reason that pioneers ate a lot of high fat items (and not just because many of them came from Germany and Switzerland). It is winter here a lot of the time. In the northern part of the state, the soil sucks, and it’s winter more of the time. Staying warm when it’s 30 below requires a hell of a lot of calories, especially if you’re going to turn down your thermostat. However, it can be extremely difficult to grow enough food in the short growing season to fuel you through the winter.
    Know what grows during every short growing season, though? Grass.
    Know what eats grass and turns it into preservable, delicious, fat-filled, calorific, warming meat and milk? Animals.
    Know what’s better than a truckload of cabbages for keeping you alive through a Wisconsin winter? Sausages and cheese.
    Granted, it’s less true now, what with the thermostats and the coal-burning, but if we’re really trying to lower our energy use, eat local, and re-establish local cuisines, then I get my Friday fish fry and cheese curds.
    And that’s clear with the diet of the tribes that lived in this area, too: There was corn, beans, squash, and wild rice, but it was *heavily* supplemented with fatty fish and game.
    But I’m sure that now, fatty fat mid-westernfats can turn off the heat over the winter and eat carrots, and that will save the world.
    PS – The diet industry is billions of dollars. We *do* diet to save our economy – just not in the way the paper means.
    PPS – All I know about traditional local Australian food is that it involves grubs. I’ll think of you, beloved reporter who I’m sure is following your own advice, while eating my fried cheese curds.

  89. Katia, yep, I actually do compost a lot of my food scraps, carrot peels, rotton potatoes, even paper towels; but I don’t do the moldy cottage cheese or mysterious meat sauces because we have black bears in the area, and I’d rather not have them come turn my pile for me. Odd, I know. :)

  90. Yeah, kristin, I did — I’m sure I only understood about 50% of it, but that was certainly enough to scare me into being an environmentalist for life. I went through a Rachel Carson phase just after my Gloria Steinem phase, and right before my Shirley Chisholm phase. (I can haz feminist icon plz?)

  91. Piffle, not attracting black bears (or any bears thank you) would be imperative, I’d think! No black bears where I live so I can be a more adventuresome composter.

    Okay, lets bring on the moldy-cottage-cheese fuel!

  92. Rosa: “I’ve read estimates that about 25% of food purchased is wasted. They’re based on British studies though, so the US may be more or less.”

    We do keep getting that figure thrown at us, along with being told to WASTE LESS FOOD. (I eat food rather than throw it out; I expect someone from the government to turn up at any moment, smack me round the ear and blurt, “BUT DON’T EAT IT! EAT LESS FOOD! DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S AN OBESITY EPIDEMIC?”)

    Certainly in Britain the food-wasting statistics don’t seem to count factory waste, so by peeling my (local, organic) potatoes and putting the peelings in the bin, I’m classed as generating more food waste than someone who buys mass-farmed, ready-peeled, chlorine-washed potatoes in a plastic bag.

    At slight tangent, during the second world war the British relied heavily on fresh fruit and veg, with limited meats, cheese, fat and sugar and eggs… and the average woman went up a dress size. (According to a programme I watched, anyway – I can’t find the statistics online.)

  93. i have a vague recollection of the new scientist being, you know, SCIENCEY. but even not-at-all-fat-friendly hang-outs like the bad science blog forums seem to have concluded it’s turned into crappy tabloid “science” these days. *pines for my youth when it was b&w and had more writing and less pictures*

    also, as i am de-lurking and there’s been so much assholery around the internets of late, i would like to take this opportunity to issue a general “you people ROCK” notice to the bloggers and posters hereabouts. not that anyone requires my seal (or *cough* other pinniped) of approval – i just wanted to say.

    (i am an average sized ally – or trying-to-be-ally, at least, i’ve got work to do – who has found both her personal esteem issues and her feminist thinking much helped by this part of the internets – for which, thank you all!)

  94. After months of silently loving SP I am de-lurking to thank you all for posting, once again, exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. As another fat, enviornmentally-minded flexitarian (thanks for the word BTW) with a bunch of like-minded but skinny friends, I find myself in a lot of conversations where I’m either fighting an uphill battle against the “obesity=American overconsumption” model or, worse, tacitly accepting it so as not to prompt a round of “But we don’t mean YOU.”

    Yes, skinny friends. When you say fat people, you do mean me. I am a fat person. And if that causes some cognitive dissonance, the solution is not to declare me honorarily not-fat, the solution is to change how you think about fat people.

    This has been really getting under my skin a lot lately, to the point where I’ve actually been questioning my own “greenness” (cause if I was really doing this eating ethically stuff right, wouldn’t I be thin? So my virtue would be visible to all?) and just reading this post and these comments has helped reminded me how ridiculous that kind of thinking is.

  95. ‘Flexitarian’. That’s a nice concept. I like that. Can I use that? Cuz I think that’s really really applicable to my dietary habits. (And I maintain that “happy chickens” do taste better, but the “happy chickens” that I’ve consumed have been proven to be slaughtered via head-chopped-off, so… YMMV. Whatever.)

    And the “if we stopped burning fossil fuels and eating meat, we’d all be skinny vegans riding bikes everywhere” argleblarghle IS not only pervasive, it strikes me as… what’s that logical falacy called again? If Everything Is Better When You’re Thin, and Saving The Environment Will Make Things Better, then… Save The Environment, Be Thin! …wait, no. No, not so much, no. It looks to me like a symptom of fat hatred, where everything “bad” is lumped in with “teh fatz”. (Yeah, it’s been said upthread, and said better, but I wanna say it again!)

  96. It looks to me like a symptom of fat hatred, where everything “bad” is lumped in with “teh fatz”.

    I will not be at all surprised if in the near future being fat is seen as a sure sign of excess energy consumption. As in, now people feel free to sneer at the fat woman in the park playing with her children (because she obviously never exercises). Soon they’ll sneer at the fat woman walking or biking who obviously uses too much gasoline. Or the fat person driving, because we’re the only ones who do that.

  97. FYI, I can’t take credit for the “flexitarian” concept. Apparently it was coined in 1992. So, if you identify as a flexitarian, feel free to call yourself one!

    Welcome to the club; we meet on Tuesdays!

  98. liveparadox – luv luv luv!!! I’m a physics major, so I knew the “carories in = calories out” stuff was crap (pesky laws of thermodynamics!), but didn’t know enough about the actual biology bit to say why it was so screwed up.. Thanks for the biochemistry lesson!!

  99. Let’s have a little bit of intellectual honesty and consistency here: if we need to diet in order to reduce calorie consumption and save the world, how about we immediately stop all sports and unproductive exercise? We could reduce our food consumption quite a bit more if we stop expending all those calories moving our bodies around.

  100. To do most of these things, the ATP has to be converted into mechanical energy in the muscles, at another staggering loss (that pesky third law again). This is the mythical “calories out” so touted by the diet pushers, a teeny tiny little fraction of what goes into a person’s mouth.

    So, would it be fair to say people could differ in rate of burn (within a range) via:
    Digestive efficency…
    Metabolic efficency…
    Mitochondrial efficiency for intercellular energy gack…
    Muscular/Bio-mechanical efficiency for how well we transfer that into movement….
    Other stuff I’m not thinking of…..

    The first three would be part of your Basil Metabolic Rate – which has got to vary. The fourth is exercise. BMR is chugging away all the time, using available calories, exercise adds just a tiny bit. (Exercise is healthy, but not because it burns fat!)

    But none of that is necessarily tied to appetite, and none of it specifies that a given system is operational at specific levels of calories in or body fat. You could go into shut down with sufficient fat stores if your system refused to convert it enough.

    Thermodynamically, anything your body makes into energy has to be used as energy or stored, but that doesn’t mean that all our systems will be configured to allow us to live thin and weight stable. That’s a different set of parameters that has nothing to do with thermodynamics, not even a bit.

  101. this is my first comment. I’m trying to keep this post within the bounds of the comments policy, but it’s turning into a big science-based rant… or lecture (this written after re-reading myself). I’ll understand if it doesn’t show up, and do better next time. ;-)

    liveparadox, if you can “do better” than that, I eagerly await your next comment. :)

  102. liveparadox, if you decide you’d like a platform to expand on that comment, feel free to contact me; I’d be happy (thrilled!) to have you write a guest post on that topic for my blog.

    (and you’re my new hero, too)

  103. A whole bunch of you are my new heroes, including Tari. I especially thank all of you for the excellent scienciness and mathiness that so very nicely illustrates what I can only express as rage.

  104. I really think Liveparadox should expand on that comment and it be a full blown post on this blog.

    I can has pretty please?

    I have a mathy-friend who’s convinced that “calories in calories out” works, which we all know is bullshit. But I want to prove her wrong with SCIENCE!

  105. Ladies… I just had to bring this here, because I am dying to see your take on this one!

    Besides being responsible for global warming, and just about all the evil in the world… we are now… CONTAGiOUS!
    I kid you not! Someone actually hade the nerve to sponsor, realize and publish a study that shows that by hanging with fat folks, skinny people will get fat too!
    The original news was at the BBC site, and on Medical News…but here’s the scoop
    http://news.icm.ac.uk/science/fat-friends-lead-to-obesity/587/

    Don’t know if I am supposed to laugh hysterically or sob convulsively.

  106. I’ve been away from the Fatosphere for too long; I love you guys!

    This comment really has no purpose but to say I missed this site while I was on my hiatus. Keep up the great comments, I’m learning a lot from this thread. :)

  107. Yes, skinny friends. When you say fat people, you do mean me. I am a fat person. And if that causes some cognitive dissonance, the solution is not to declare me honorarily not-fat, the solution is to change how you think about fat people.

    This is perfectly said.

  108. The wording they chose in the headline of the piece was probably used to create buzz; after all, who doesn’t love a good diet story?

    As far as this: “Tyson de-beaks their birds?! HOLY FLIPPIN TORPEDO NUGGETS”

    and that’s just (one aspect of brutality against) chickens….you may want to look into how pigs, cows, lamb, and turkeys are mistreated in CAFOs also.

    Y’all, if you’re going to eat meat, or dairy, or soymilk and tofu,
    just do your research. We all owe it to ourselves to be educated consumers. If you want to eat meat, super, but watch the videos about factory farming first, and THEN decide if it’s for you. If you’re still okay with it, awesome. If not, make your choice, find an alternative source, or give it up altogether. Ditto with tofu and soymilk. Understand that it most likely contains GMO soybeans and contains phytoestrogens. If that’s cool with you, drink up. The food industry does a REMARKABLE job of divorcing the final product – that goes into your mouth – from it’s original source. This is done purposefully and consciously. Because in a case like Tyson, they are readily aware that if more people knew about their inhumane practices, less people would be eating chicken. They’re not going to tell you the truth, so it’s our responsibility to seek it out.

    Like how Tari got to the bottom of the 3,700kcal figure and it’s true meaning.

  109. Aww, shucks. I couldn’t post yesterday, I was too busy blushing… :)

    Arwen: “So, would it be fair to say people could differ in rate of burn (within a range) via:
    Digestive efficency…
    Metabolic efficency…
    Mitochondrial efficiency for intercellular energy gack…
    Muscular/Bio-mechanical efficiency for how well we transfer that into movement….
    Other stuff I’m not thinking of…..”

    Pretty much. A lot of this is determined by genetics, and by how healthy a given part of the system is at a particular point in time (eg. you might have trouble assimilating food at the gut level for a variety of reasons). Appetite, on the other hand, is hormonal; it’s controlled by a complex feedback loop that responds to blood levels of nutrients, insulin usage, and stored energy usage. I think this is why people who diet end up stabilizing at a higher weight than their original stable point: the organism sees that its reserve was insufficient to weather the period of starvation, therefore it makes more storage. But I can’t back that up with published research.

    As for the offers of guest-posting, I am incredibly honored. This could easily turn into a 10-page college paper, research-wise at least, and right now I have obligations to be met that preclude such research… But thank you. That did wonderful things for my ego. :D

  110. Other Emily,

    The new AAP recommendation from what I understand is that kids age 12-24 mo with a family history of heart disease / high cholesterol and/or who are overweight should be put on 2% milk instead of whole milk, because obviously dairy fat is evil. The recommendation for skim milk for everyone over age 2 remains the same. All this despite the fact that whole milk has been linked with brain development, and that young kids need a calorie dense diet AND there is absolutely no such thing as an overweight one year old. The press release I read did very little to hide that they are essentially encouraging a diet for babies.

    It would be nice if the recommendation was to help kids eat more foods, but sadly that is not the impression I got.

  111. I’ve just discovered this wonderful blog, hope no one minds me jumping in so quick. Re the 3,700 daily categories (I’ve skipped some comments, so maybe someone else has covered this) this figure is extrapolated from US agricultural food production and import/export records. However, there are a lot of things that haven’t been subtracted from it – like the fact that some of this food is eaten by animals – farm/pets. Also, because of centralisation and shelf life issues, a lot of it is dumped before it is sold. Ask your local supermarket/restaurant how much food they have to dump every week. You’d be amazed. Also, lots of it is dumped after it is sold – check out your own waste bin, or if you have one, your compost bin. So kcal produced does not equal calories consumed. Obviously, the kcal consumed must equal something significantly less than 3,700. I don’t know where the “junk food” on top of this figure could possibly have come from – sounds like nonsense to me. Excellent blog, which I’m delighted to have discoveres. I will shortly be pointing several friends in your direction.

  112. I’ve seen that “OMG to be ecological we must all diet” thing before and it makes me splutter with rage. GAH. Thank you for being articulate about it. I usually just end up keyboard mashing.

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