14 February 2008

The ethics of what we eat


I was prompted by a recent post over at Action Skeptics to pull out my copy of The Ethics Of What We Eat (also published as The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter) by Peter Singer and Jim Mason and re-read it.

Akusai was on the warpath over some misguided PETA members on the campus of his uni, and really let them have it.

I must admit that I don't think terribly highly of PETA - to me they're nearly as irresponsible as Sea Shepherd although this is probably unfair on PETA.

But when it comes to animal welfare, I like to think that I at least try to do what I think is the right thing. Which is where this book is actually pretty good.

I really liked the way that this book broke down all the different ethical issues in what people eat - Singer and Mason really do kinda just put the issues out there and let you make your mind up, even though you just know that they're leaning towards vegetarianism.

And you know, this was a great read, I thought personally. So much so, that this blogger is attempting to go organic. Well, at least with regards to vegetables.

Organic meat is so unbelievably expensive.

Anyway, Singer and Mason's ("S&M" - Heehee) book is a genuinely good read, but there were a few things that I didn't really get the first time that I read it.

Now I do.

Here's a couple of criticisms I had:

1. Fruitarianism

One of S&M's key gripes is that where something has the ability to feel pain, one shouldn't be killing them. This is fair enough, but at no point do they examine the question of killing species that cannot feel pain. This in my opinion is quite arbitrary, as it becomes a bit "speciesist". Animals do feel pain. Does this make them more worthy of not killing than plants on this basis? Particularly if humane killing methods exist - and they do, as S&M point out throughout.

Thus, where the opportunity to discuss the ethics of fruitarianism exists, and it does, S&M pointedly refuse to make any mention of it. I say pointedly, because I refuse to believe that S&M merely forgot to address the issue. In addition, the pair of them would most certainly be aware of the concept.

Fruitarianism seeks to avoid harming living plants (which cannot feel pain, natch) by only eating nuts and fruit which have fallen from the tree. The fact that they devote zero space to it is a major deficiency.

2. Comparisons of land use and greenhouse gas emissions

S&M's analysis uses good examples of where land use for grazing compared to crops yields less. However, while they consider land use for growing the food, they do not consider land use for fertiliser requirements.

Likewise, where they are quick to target cattle for methane and CO2 emissions, I don't recall coming across the emissions from crop farming equipment compared to grazing cattle.

3. The ethics of veganism

Oh this section made me mad.

The worst part about it was that S&M don't appear to be even convinced by their own arguments. All the way through, for example, they keep qualifying a vegan diet as being a "well planned vegan diet".

Anyone who has ever tried to cook vegan food will tell you that it is easier to learn brain surgery than to construct a balanced vegan diet.

In reality, it's exceedingly easy for omnivores to have a balanced diet. It is frustratingly difficult for vegans to do this.

On top of this, their suggestion that veganism is ethical on the basis that humans can choose to be vegans, is truly breathtaking irrelevance.

To be fair, they do admit that a vegan diet is deficient in vitamin B12, but they view this as a minor trifle. I found this to be irritating given that a few chapters prior they considered the issue of turkeys requiring artificial insemination due to oversized breasts (i.e. they can't have sex) to be a major issue.

But if they really were being fair and not continually qualifying vegan diets with the "well-planned" line, they would have to acknowledge that most vegans normally also require iron, calcium and maybe zinc supplements frequently as well. Possibly even omega-3 too.

----------------

Yeah, so that's it. On the whole, it really is a good read, but some parts are pretty light on for detail, which is not what you'd expect from possibly the world's foremost ethicist and his journalist buddy.

And it's not going to make me a vegetarian (or a vegan for that matter) but it's still largely good reading.

24 comments:

Akusai said...

Watch the "organic" movement. Often "organic" is just a cover for a whole bunch of woo-woo beliefs about planting only during certain cycles of the moon and not using modern pesticides (but they're allowed to use 150-year old "natural" pesticides that are actually worse for the environment and people), and many studies show that the food is no different than "regular" food.

Organic farming is quite often just a side-effect of the new age hatred of all things "synthetic" and "non-natural," as if those words had any meaning they way they used them.

Don't get me wrong; I buy organic lettuce, but not because it's "organic," but because it lasts longer in the fridge than anything else I've tried. I just think it bears further looking into before you make a wholesale switch.

Dikkii said...

I'm not sure that the woo element has that big a hold over the organic market over here.

"Organic" is a pretty tightly regulated term over here. I had to go and look up the rules about pesticides, herbicides, fertiliser and the like - anything really environmentally unfriendly appears to have the qualifier "demonstrated need only" appended to it.

I know about the hatred for things synthetic and non-natural, and this is the weird bit, I don't really mind that sort of stuff with vegetables. It's the meat that I wish was cheaper, because battery chickens and intensive piggeries are an abomination.

I suppose that I'm trying out the organic veggies to show that I'm doing my bit, even though it's the meat that I'd prefer to be organic about. I just can't afford organic meat, except for chicken.

Indefensible said...

Ah organics, the subject that turns otherwise rational people into dimwits. I loathe organics on almost every level.

By any measure, the further we get away from an organic diet, the longer we live, and the more efficient our food production becomes.

Organic foods are the biggest thumb to the nose that leftist elites ever made to starving people worldwide. The subject makes me apoplectic.

Dikkii said...

Ah yes. Organic food is a predominently "leftist" thing.

The only problem with this assessment is that it's not the leftist elites leading the slow food revolution or the push to import cave-fermented unpasteurised French sheep cheeses. Natural/traditional. It's the same thing under another name.

Thank FSM for us moderates who can bag lefties and righties equally, eh?

By any measure, the further we get away from an organic diet, the longer we live, and the more efficient our food production becomes.

Baby. Bathwater. Out.

Dunc said...

Often "organic" is just a cover for a whole bunch of woo-woo beliefs about planting only during certain cycles of the moon ...

That's really biodynamics, not organics. Very, very strange... The best description I've heard of it is "like a mixture of homoeopathy and necromancy."

By any measure, the further we get away from an organic diet, the longer we live

Correlation != causation. The move away from "an organic diet" just happens to coincide with the development of modern medicine, which I suspect may have more to do with it.

Organic foods are the biggest thumb to the nose that leftist elites ever made to starving people worldwide.

How the hell do you figure that? Seriously, I cannot imagine what process of reasoning you're using there.

Me, I like organic food - but mainly because I'm not convinced about the overall energy efficiency of "modern" agriculture, I'm worried about the wider ecosystem effects (soil erosion, loss of beneficial insect species, eutrophication, etc), and I care about the conditions of the people who have to work with those chemicals directly. Pesticide exposure is a serious problem for many 3rd-world agricultural workers. Of course, I try and avoid imported food anyway, as far as possible... But nobody grows cocoa round here.

Plonka said...

That we shouldn't kill anything that feels pain is complete crap. Obviously, whoever said that has never had venison.

We're homo sapiens for crying out loud. That means we're at the top of the food chain and we call it a "food chain" for a reason.

Huinca said...

do

Huinca said...

dammit. Here goes again.

Plonka, you make me laugh. 'Top of the food chain', hehe. You are creationist aren't you?

Now, my 2 cents. Interesting entry.
Under the header 'the ethics of veganism' you discuss mostly technicalities of a vegan diet, no the 'ethics of veganism'. So it's not clear what makes you so mad.

Then you go on to say 'it's exceedingly easy for omnivores to have a balanced diet'. Do you have data to back that up? How about this:

http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/maps/

Man, 25% of the (omnivorous) US is obese! I don't have figures for vegans, but I assume they spend a lot of time and energy thinking about whay they eat (my girlfriend is one) so I would find it surprising if they fell into an unbalanced diets. Granted, you have to take supplements.

Then, 'their suggestion that veganism is ethical on the basis that humans can choose to be vegans, is truly breathtaking irrelevance'. Why? I don't see your point, but I can clearly see theirs. Actually, so does Steven Pinker, who usually cites Singer's idea of the expanding circle.

And finally, 'some parts are pretty light on for detail, which is not what you'd expect from possibly the world's foremost ethicist and his journalist buddy'
Actually you don't raise any valid point against the ethical arguments, just some minor technicalities, well that's QUITE what I would expect from them, they are not agronomists!

Anyway, good entry. I've added you to my rss feed.

Cheers

Akusai said...

That's really biodynamics, not organics. Very, very strange... The best description I've heard of it is "like a mixture of homoeopathy and necromancy."

The modern organic movement was heavily influenced by biodynamics when it first came about in the mid 20th century. Their outright dismissal of all modern breakthroughs in agriculture is based on an a priori claim that anything "synthetic" or "artificial" is bad.

Dikkii said...

Their outright dismissal of all modern breakthroughs in agriculture is based on an a priori claim that anything "synthetic" or "artificial" is bad.

This is quite correct about the organic movement. However, as S&M point out in their book, problems with run-off/water contamination, pollution and animal maltreatment are greatly minimised in an organic setting.

And while it would be good to have different shades of "organic" where chemicals with questionable levels of badness are allowed but ones with known issues are not, I suspect that your average punter doesn't have time to find out and would much rather throw out the baby with the bathwater (ooh, twice in the same comments thread) and just go for one or the other.

Dunc and Akusai - it's interesting, but S&M's book doesn't actually touch biodynamics. Therefore, I had to go and look this one up.

I've come to the same conclusions as you on this, and although the history of organics is greatly influenced by the biodynamics movement, the present day reality seems to indicate (at least in Australia) that they are maybe not poles apart, but serious leagues removed from each other, at least.

Dikkii said...

Hi Huinca nice to have you back:

Plonka, you make me laugh. 'Top of the food chain', hehe. You are creationist aren't you?

Oh Huinca. If only you knew.

Under the header 'the ethics of veganism' you discuss mostly technicalities of a vegan diet, no the 'ethics of veganism'. So it's not clear what makes you so mad.

I guess that it was precisely that which made me so mad. They look at this section which they titled 'the ethics of veganism' with only a passing glance at the technicalities.

Which would be kinda like me writing a book on how the world would be better off without lawyers only to ignore the problem of how to solve disputes.

Then you go on to say 'it's exceedingly easy for omnivores to have a balanced diet'. Do you have data to back that up?

Ignoring your link to obesity trends for a moment, do you remember being taught about food pyramids at school? About vitamins, minerals and which foods have these? About protein, fats and carbohydrates?

If not, that's fair enough, and I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. However, I suspect that you do, and therefore have to decline your request to provide evidence for that statement on the grounds that the onus is on you to provide evidence to show that it is just as easy to have a balanced vegan diet as an omnivorous one (which is the part of the quote that you declined to copy and paste - context is important). Anything else is shifting the burden of proof.

If we consider the link that you provided, let's assume for a moment that obesity is solely caused by poorly balanced omnivorous diets and not other factors such as unbalanced non-omnivorous diets, overeating, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, etc.

Are you suggesting that your average omnivore with a poor diet will instantly make balanced diet choices if they were to switch to veganism?

I assume [vegans] spend a lot of time and energy thinking about whay they eat (my girlfriend is one) so I would find it surprising if they fell into an unbalanced diets.

You assume correctly, and that kinda proves my point. I don't spend much time thinking about my diet and yet I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that my diet is pretty well balanced.

Granted, you have to take supplements.

Which is almost a capitulation on the "balanced" bit. ;-)

Then, 'their suggestion that veganism is ethical on the basis that humans can choose to be vegans, is truly breathtaking irrelevance'. Why? I don't see your point, but I can clearly see theirs.

I'm guessing that you've read S&M's book. For an ethicist like Singer to defend a point in a book about ethics with a "because we can" argument is not only weak from an ethical perspective, but verges on the irresponsible.

And it's irrelevant. Ethics should be about "You can do this because it won't affect that..." not "You can do this because you can."

I can see their point, but surely he (and Mason) can do better than this? What the reader is looking for from this section is concrete ethical arguments for why veganism is OK.

Actually you don't raise any valid point against the ethical arguments, just some minor technicalities, well that's QUITE what I would expect from them, they are not agronomists!

OK, maybe I was a bit harsh. But my point was that having a book grounded entirely in ethics with no consideration of the reality of the situation would not only be useless, it would make for a fairly boring read.

S&M acknowledge this - most of the rest of the book examines three actual families and the reality of their lives in attempting to satisfy ethical eating habits.

And I didn't raise ethical issues - that wasn't my intention. S&M have this all well covered, albeit with some assumptions of biblical proportions in tow.

Plonka said...

Nice link. Thanks Dikkii...:)

Huinca said...

Hi Dikkii. Thanks for your reply, I guess you do have a point.

Have you read 'The meme machine' by Susan Blackmore? I'm finishing it and I was looking for someone to discuss it.

Btw you seem to have a nice love/hate relationship with Plonka.

Cheers

Dikkii said...

Hi Huinca.

I haven't read Blackmore's book yet, but it occurred to me that this might be science's first big move into a sphere traditionally occupied by the humanities.

I wonder what Akusai would make of it?

I think that I will have to read it.

I do appear to have a love/hate relationship with Plonka. Although I think it's mostly love.

Cheers, and do pop by again.

Dunc said...

The modern organic movement was heavily influenced by biodynamics when it first came about in the mid 20th century. Their outright dismissal of all modern breakthroughs in agriculture is based on an a priori claim that anything "synthetic" or "artificial" is bad.

It's a grave mistake to think of the modern organic movement as monolithic. It's also a mistake to judge it by the extreme standards promoted by some of its less practically-oriented boosters. Actual organic practitioners tend to be a great deal more open-minded and pragmatic. Ask any practitioner what they think of their local certification scheme, and you'll hear lots of complaints, usually about the plethora of stupid and arbitrary rules about what is or isn't allowed. In many cases, the "allowed" treatments are worse than the modern alternatives in every sense - but that's a problem with specific certification schemes, not with the general principles of organic agriculture. It's really a design ethos rather than a set of rules. (Or at least, that's my take - but then I'm more towards the Permaculture end of the spectrum.)

It's also completely incorrect to suggest that the "organic movement" rejects "all modern breakthroughs in agriculture". Modern scientific organic practice is fundamentally based on the ecology of soil micro-fauna. A proper understanding of the basic principles relies on scientific insights made in the last 20 years, and there is a lot of real scientific research ongoing.

If you think all organic practitioners and advocates are in favour of a return to the 18th century, then your understanding of the organic movement is deeply flawed. It's actually a very big tent - and like all big tents, it's got its fair share of nutters and idiots. (Well, more than its fair share, but anyway...) The thing is that it's mainly the nutters and idiots that get the media attention - the people who actually know what they're talking about are mostly too busy to waste time appearing on TV.

And while it would be good to have different shades of "organic"

That is exactly the current situation, in the UK at least. There are several different certification schemes, each with their own rules and regulations. I've heard a friend who runs an organic farm refer to the Soil Association as "a bunch of cultists", whereas the Scottish Organic Producers Association are much more reasonable.

Dikkii said...

Dunc, it was put best to me that even though organics have their roots in the biodynamic movements, the modern day reality of organics (at least in Oz)is very different.

Yeah, there is a phobia of technology there. But the whole "sow during the full moon phase while a virgin dances over the pasture" thing is non-existent in organics, at least where Australian organic sellers are marketing.

Are they engaging in this sort of woo? There really would be a motivation to use this sort of thing in marketing, but it's non-existent in Australian organics. What would be the motivation to do this secretly?

And GM plants? OK, most of the fuss made about GM has no basis in science. And there is an awful lot of bullshit spoken about the impact of GM foods - take the butterflies in Canada for a start. But then so too, most of the motivation for GM plants has no altruistic science based motivation at all.

Take Monsanto's work with herbicide resistant canola and soybeans. It's designed to make Monsanto sell more Roundup. Even blind Freddy will tell you that submerging a Roundup resistant pasture under a flood of the stuff is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.

The argument that Monsanto's herbicide resistant canola and soybeans has been trialled scientifically with no ill effects and enhanced productivity is a bit of a red herring. The figures that Monsanto are not revealing is the projected increase in Roundup sales which is, let's be honest, the real reason that this sort of stuff is being developed.

Creating a market by manipulating demand has nothing to do with science, just canny economics.

Terminator seeds - there is no good reason for these. Sure, the technology is pretty good, and I don't see any ill effects, but the only good arguments for this technology is that it'll benefit Syngenta shareholders.

Having said that, opting for organic vegetables on the grounds of taste and health is a bit up in the air.

Organic meat (i.e. free range, no hormones, RSPCA certification etc) on the other hand... if only it was cheaper...

Dikkii said...

Incidentally, Dunc, I toned down the green. It's a little less bright. Did you notice?

Dunc said...

Yes, the green is much better now, thank you. :)

Are they engaging in this sort of woo? There really would be a motivation to use this sort of thing in marketing, but it's non-existent in Australian organics. What would be the motivation to do this secretly?

Well, like I say - there's plenty of nutters out there (go to any farmers market around Nimbin and you'll find 'em). But it's mainly happening at an individual level, whereas the marketing is mostly done by the associations, who are much more corporate. But much of the marketing is still rife with the naturalistic fallacy.

I completely agree on the GM topic - I've no fundamental objection to the technology in principle, but I have a lot of doubts about the specific uses it's being put to, and the IP regimes involved. Personally, I suspect that most of the intra-species biodiversity you might want is already there, if you look hard enough.

Having said that, opting for organic vegetables on the grounds of taste and health is a bit up in the air.

Well... Taste, possibly, depending on the specific produce in question. Most conventionally-grown commercial tomatoes taste like crap. Health, at least end consumer health, I suspect is a bogus issue. I strongly doubt there are any significant health risks arising from pesticide residues, for example. However, the health of the workers who handle pesticides in bulk (especially without proper safety equipment and procedures), and of anyone regularly exposed to significant quantities (e.g. through living down-wind), is certainly a different matter.

Organic meat (i.e. free range, no hormones, RSPCA certification etc) on the other hand... if only it was cheaper...

Yeah, tell me about it. Dairy produce is just as significant though, and it's much more affordable, at least here in the UK.

KitKat said...

Wow, this became a long list of comments before I read them. I haven't been reading your blog as much as usual Dikkii, because I have to admit I loathe the white text on puke green background. I find it very hard to read.

What started out as a post on food ethics (having not read the book, "ethics" seems a term open to so much interpretation) has clumped together a whole load of things that I think are pretty tenuously related.

Organic food: Organic food is a minefield. Your claim, Dikkii, that organic food here in Australia is tightly regulated is not necessarily true, I think. To be "certified" organic, yes, is I believe a very rigorous process, however, I also believe that it is possible to put the work "organic" on food, without the origins being certified. Food labelling is in very flaky ground in general.

Organic meat: Be careful here. Animals can be organically produced, ie. no chemical food supplements, organic feed, but can still be intensely and potentially cruelly farmed.

Otway Pork, which is available here in Victoria, and possibly the rest of Australia, is not organic, however it is RSPCA certified. When I spoke to one of the Otway Pork farmers at an RSPCA open day, I asked about the lack of organic rating. They said the pigs are not injected or fed with hormones or other chemical supplements, are not intensely farmed (hence the RSPCA certification), but were not eligible for organic rating, as the grain they were fed was not organic. I would prefer this balance. In this case, I believe an organic rating may not add much to the quality of the animal's life, or the quality of the meat. I did not ask about how the animals were slaughtered, which is something to be concerned about. I hate seeing those huge trucks of obviously stressed animals being shunted about the place on the way to the slauteryard. BTW, Otway Pork is the best pork I've tasted. Sausages are excellent.

Lilydale chicken is organic, but I have no idea of how the chickens are farmed or slaughtered. I did know someone who worked at a chicken slaughterhouse in Lilydale (may be coincidental) and it sounded horrific - his job was to hang the chickens upside down from a moving belt type system, the belt then carried the chickens past a spinning blade which cut their heads off. Chicken, anyone?

Plonka, when you said "venison" (deer) I think you meant "veal" (foetal/infant cattle). Often slaughtered very cruelly (by electrocution, I believe).

Food pyramids and balanced diets: The original food pyramid was, I believe, produced in 1974. It was revised by the US in 1992. Now, 16 years after that second revision, I would think that it would be difficult to justify using it as the only source of food guidance. I'm very sceptical about it anyway. I am very interested in research into what humans ate as a primative diet. Probably meat a couple of times a week, and lots of fairly unprocessed grains and vegetables. But again, what to eat is a minefield - we get bombarded with all sorts of information by the media, often large research projects condensed into 3 paragraph sound bites. What to believe? Be discerning.

The problem with balanced diets is that I don't believe they necessarily address the issue of portion size. They have relative proportions of types of food, but with a nebulous number of "serves" advised. This, I believe, (along with overprocessed foods), is responsible for the "obesity epidemic". I am as guilty as anyone of eating far bigger portions than necessary.

The food pyramid also does not address what I will call "quality" of food. By this I mean that it indicates x serves of grains, but does not distinguish between highly processed white bread and say, a wholemeal, wholegrain bread. Nor between lean meat and fatty (but tasty) chops and sausages.

Overprocessing foods retains their calorific (energy) content, but allows us to digest them a lot quicker, making us hungry again. Even porridge oats can be drastically different in this regard. "Quick" oats, that are microwaveable, must be so highly processed (ie rolled) that they are digested very quickly. Old fashioned oats, like your grandfather had to soak overnight, are much slower to digest and hence much more satisfying.

More recent research into "Glycaemic Index (GI)" is worth looking into. All food is broken down into glucose, and GI is roughly an *average* measure of this. The longer it takes to break down, the longer your hunger is satisfied. *IF* you only eat when you are hungry, this can be very effective. It has its own pitfalls - high fat food has a low GI, so purely using GI as a guide is fraught. Be discerning.

That's about me for now. I could go on!!!

By the way, Dikkii, Coke does not feature on any healthy eating guide. Stop drinking it and drink water instead.

Dikkii said...

I haven't been reading your blog as much as usual Dikkii, because I have to admit I loathe the white text on puke green background. I find it very hard to read.

Hi KitKat. I actually did tone the green down. And the text is in fact a cream colour. White was a bit severe on the eyes by comparison. But I am begrudgingly investigating other options.

What started out as a post on food ethics (having not read the book, "ethics" seems a term open to so much interpretation) has clumped together a whole load of things that I think are pretty tenuously related.

You're quite right. Really, the case that Singer and Mason build is one for vegetarianism, although they cut a few corners in the process.

Your claim, Dikkii, that organic food here in Australia is tightly regulated is not necessarily true, I think.

Not sure that I agree. We already have the case of G O Drew where the ACCC have effectively indicated (admittedly, in what appears to amount to obiter dicta) that if you sell something as being organic without having received certification from NASAA (which is the certification body for organics in Australia) they will come a calling with extreme prejudice.

Although NASAA isn't a regulatory agency, the legimacy given to this by the ACCC effectively makes it so in my book.

To be "certified" organic, yes, is I believe a very rigorous process, however, I also believe that it is possible to put the work "organic" on food, without the origins being certified.

See my comments above about the Drew case. In any event, whilst NASAA do insist on a reasonably high level of certification, where ingredients are sourced from third parties is something I haven't looked up. I expect however that producers of organics would be being foolhardy in not insisting on their own certification process them selves - see below.

Organic meat: Be careful here. Animals can be organically produced, ie. no chemical food supplements, organic feed, but can still be intensely and potentially cruelly farmed.

Can be, technically. I based my usage of this word on Singer and Mason's usage, which appears to indicate that this is not the case. It's interesting to note that section 6.3.3 of NASAA's animal husbandry requirements within their organic standards appears to place a direct prohibition on intensive farming methods.

Anyway, allowed or not, is there a likelihood that an organic meat provider would use intensive methods? I'd say that we're talking snowballs and supernovas here.

Otway pork, incidentally, sounds great. I'll have to look for it.

You're skeptical about food pyramids which are, admittedly quite old. And it's good to see that you recognise the pitfalls of the latest fad in food categorisation, the Glycaemic Index ®.

KitKat, it annoys me when advertising attempts to sell the benefits of bacon and eggs as being "low GI" when there is nothing glycaemic about them (this should ring alarm bells), or when we're told that we should have something low GI for breakfast... chocolate cake and Nutella are considered low GI. Bet you didn't know that, nor would you consider having this for breakfast.

And I have to say that I see people I consider reasonable and intelligent basing their dietary decisions on this - one of our mutual friends once told me that there was no difference between white and wholemeal breads, because they were effectively the same from a GI perspective. She then acted like I'd just sworn at her when I pointed out the screamingly obvious dietary fibre issue.

The GI has it's place, however it serves to muddy the waters for ordinary punters.

And even though the food pyramid doesn't delineate between different types of breads, or highly-sugared low-fibred fruits, or lean versus fat meats, it's a good high-level guide, which is why state nutrition agencies still plug it.

And no, my interest in this is not health based. Which is why my Coca Cola consumption will be staying where it is for the time being!

KitKat said...

if you sell something as being organic without having received certification from NASAA ... they will come a calling with extreme prejudice.

What I've been hearing and reading ("Eat It", 3RRR, Sunday noon, G Magazine) is that there are a lot of uncertified, unchecked organic products around.

Anyway, allowed or not, is there a likelihood that an organic meat provider would use intensive methods? I'd say that we're talking snowballs and supernovas here

Don't know what you mean by "snowballs and supernovas" (supernovae). I would not assume that anything about an organic meat provider intensively farming. I expect some of them are organic farmers for the moral/ethical values, some are organic farmers because they can charge a lot for their meat. I do not know the proportions.

it annoys me when advertising attempts to sell the benefits of bacon and eggs as being "low GI" when there is nothing glycaemic about them (this should ring alarm bells),

That's why I wrote this: we get bombarded with all sorts of information by the media, often large research projects condensed into 3 paragraph sound bites. What to believe? Be discerning.

Bacon and eggs are largely made up of proteins and fats. Protein is broken down in the body by a fairly slow process, with the final product being single amino acids. Thus, no release of glucose into the body from protein. Fats are non-soluble in water and also require a complicated process to break them down. First, fat molecules are broken into fatty acid and glycerol molecules. This mass is emulsified by bile. The fatty acids (95%) are stored and the glycerol (5%) are converted to glucose - and hence would raise blood glucose levels. But since it is true that GI should only be applied to foods with a reasonable carbohydrate content, then the advertising you mention is in fact in error. But is this a reason to wipe out the entire school of thought of GI? Be discerning. Baby/bathwater/out.

or when we're told that we should have something low GI for breakfast... chocolate cake and Nutella are considered low GI. Bet you didn't know that, nor would you consider having this for breakfast.

Bet I did know that. Bet that's why I wrote: It has its own pitfalls - high fat food has a low GI, so purely using GI as a guide is fraught. Be discerning.

Baby, bathwater, out?

And I have to say that I see people I consider reasonable and intelligent basing their dietary decisions on this - one of our mutual friends once told me that there was no difference between white and wholemeal breads, because they were effectively the same from a GI perspective. She then acted like I'd just sworn at her when I pointed out the screamingly obvious dietary fibre issue.

Our mutual friend is, as you know, a Type-I diabetic. Hence, her blood sugar (glucose) levels have to be maintained manually by frequenct self injection of insulin to balance the glucose produced from the foods she eats. Too much sugar, and her organs will accumulate damage. Too much insulin, she will lose consciousness until her body breaks down enough of itself to replenish her blood sugars. Poor long term control can lead to blindness, gangrene etc.

Regulation of her diet using the glycaemic index of food seems very sensible. She constantly has her diet regime checked by doctors, endocrinologists, rhuematologists (as part of her arthritis care), dieticians, nutrionists - she's even gone to a naturopath but decided to discount most of her advice. Her blood sugar control is consistently excellent, with her specialists making particular comment on this. I think she is onto something, and I think her dietary advice is more current that the 1974 food pyramid you were taught at school in the 1980s.

Wholemeal bread? Have your researched it? Depending on the source, some quote wholemeal bread as having 2g fibre per slice, compared to standard white bread at 1g per slice. Wow, 100% more! Our daily requirement? 30g. An apple: 3.1g. 1/3 cup bran cereal: 5.6g. 1 cup cooked spaghetti: 3.2g. So if you eat 4 slices of either in a day, your fibre intake will differ by 4g, (ie bugger all). And many other things are double or more the fibre content of wholemeal bread. And since grains used to make wholemeal bread are often soaked to soften them, bread made from these grains will than have a low GI.

You're skeptical about food pyramids

And even though the food pyramid doesn't delineate between different types of breads, or highly-sugared low-fibred fruits, or lean versus fat meats, it's a good high-level guide, which is why state nutrition agencies still plug it.

And no, my interest in this is not health based. Which is why my Coca Cola consumption will be staying where it is for the time being!


I'm not necessarily sceptical about the "Food Pyramid", I'm just sceptical about people who think they are following it, when they clearly are not... Following it but not following it... Isn't that like being mostly a vegetarian, or nearly a virgin...

Dikkii said...

What I've been hearing and reading ("Eat It", 3RRR, Sunday noon, G Magazine) is that there are a lot of uncertified, unchecked organic products around.

There’s a lot of people ripping off car stereos and not getting busted as well. Here’s an experiment you could try: start selling food labelled explicitly as “organic” without certification. Then ring up the ACCC and let them know. Exactly how long do you think that you’ll last before you’re asked/forced to stop doing this?

Let me put this another way: can I legitimately conclude that theft is unregulated given that people nick car stereos all the time and don't get caught?

And if you know of specific examples of food labelled "organic" erroneously, report them. This is a clear breach of Section 52 of the TPA and the ACCC have ruled to that effect in the past.

Don't know what you mean by "snowballs and supernovas" (supernovae).

You’ve genuinely never heard the saying “a snowball’s chance in a supernova”? Well that was unexpected. And yes, it’s not like me to get the plural of supernova wrong.

My point was, even though you’re possibly technically correct about this, any producer who gets found out about this faces financial ruin if they try this on. Particularly if (given NASAA’s accreditation criteria, more like a when) they don’t qualify for certification – the organic community is, according to Singer and Mason, well connected and informed about such goings on.

They’re also, in Australia, anyway, a small enough community for product boycotts to be effective.

“Eat It”, by the way, is usually pretty good about broadcasting names and details of producers who get found out not doing things right (e.g. selling unaccredited “organic” food). I’d be surprised if they weren’t well known within the organic community. In the example you gave up above, did Eat It or G Magazine name names and examples? You know we get bombarded with all sorts of information by the media, so you do have to be discerning about this sort of thing.

But is this a reason to wipe out the entire school of thought of GI? Be discerning. Baby/bathwater/out.

You’ll have to forgive me KitKat because this has become a lengthy comments thread, but I don’t actually recall actually dismissing the entire GI school of thought. I called it a fad, this is true, and I did dismiss basing one’s whole diet on this concept. Thus I reject your accusation of throwing out the bathwater, much less the baby, except maybe a few litres.

The FAO and WHO appear to prefer that the GI should be viewed within the context of a closely related concept – that of Glycaemic Load (“GL”) (or “glycemic” as they like to spell it) which appears to be far more of a meaningful concept, but even then, the FAO and WHO appear careful to qualify statements with phrases like, “…used with information about food composition…” and the like.

Bacon and eggs... is this a reason to wipe out the entire school of thought of GI? Be discerning. Baby/bathwater/out.

Your story of what happens in the human body with regards to fats and proteins is mighty impressive, but again, you’ll have to remind me where I dismissed the concept of GI outright. Once again, I reject your accusation of throwing out the baby or the bathwater, except maybe a little of the soap-scum on top.

Bet I did know that. Bet that's why I wrote: It has its own pitfalls - high fat food has a low GI, so purely using GI as a guide is fraught. Be discerning.

Yeah the comment about chocolate cake and Nutella was pretty dumb. Yet valid.

But since everything that I have ever read about GI says exactly this, I reject your third accusation of having thrown out the baby with the bathwater and replace that with my accusation that you are overusing clichés on my blog.

Overusing clichés is my territory!

Our mutual friend is, as you know, a Type-I diabetic…

Sigh. There were two reasons why I didn’t mention this. Number one was that she was the first example who came to mind, but I know of others (non-diabetics) who also place a degree of over-importance on this.

Number two was as the only person I can think of off the top of my head who is a type-I diabetic, and the only person that most of my friends know who I know is a type-I diabetic, specifying this information is providing slightly more information than what I’m comfortable with for someone who was supposed to remain (relatively) anonymous for the purposes of my previous comment. To anyone else who knows both of us who reads this comments thread (of which I doubt that there are any, thank goodness), you’ve effectively outed her.

In any event, I am aware that this is a major issue for diabetics, although again, what I read of this concept appears to make the point that, especially for diabetics, GI needs to be viewed within its GL context. (Funnily enough, all the papers that I read on this are quick to quote the FAO and WHO as recommending the exact same thing)

She constantly has her diet regime checked by doctors, endocrinologists, rhuematologists (as part of her arthritis care), dieticians...

As I would expect her to.

...Nutritionists...

Wouldn't the dietitians have been enough?

...she's even gone to a naturopath but decided to discount most of her advice.

Thank goodness for that. You only mentioned this to annoy me, didn’t you? >-O

Wholemeal bread? Have your researched it? Depending on the source, some quote wholemeal bread as having 2g fibre per slice, compared to standard white bread at 1g per slice. Wow, 100% more! Our daily requirement? 30g. An apple: 3.1g…

Goodness you raised some interesting questions and points here. I consider myself an enquiring mind, so I thought I'd share them with you:

1. In a discussion about bread types, is it valid to introduce non-bread types such as apples, bran, spaghetti etc? I thought that this might be like comparing apples with bread types, but I could be wrong.

2. Should I have gone so far as to suggest to our friend, that she might be better off having an apple, for example, rather than bread? Of course, doing this without considering the non-fibre issues contradicts my point that I raised earlier about considering more than just one criterion when considering diet but I never said that I nor anyone else was consistent.

3. In the interests of fairness, should I follow your lead and introduce other completely unrelated foods into the discussion? I must admit, I don't know various foods' fibre content off the top of my head, but I do know that herrings, especially red ones, have no fibre at all.

4. You inspired me to experiment with some of our food at home. I can happily conclude that bran cereal and spaghetti are useless, but apples can be sliced as thinly as bread and, what's more, are bitching when spread with honey. Naturally, this would not be appropriate for vegans.

5. It’s a good thing you raised daily fibre intake. Up until now we’d completely avoided talking about it, instead focusing on relative comparisons. My bad. I am aware that relative comparisons automatically require absolute limits to be discussed. Why, just this morning, I reminded a couple of my colleagues who were talking about the drag racing that they did on the weekend that the speed limit is 50 km/h in built up areas. I could tell from the look on their faces that they were thankful for this reminder.

In my post, I discussed vitamin B12, iron, calcium zinc and omega-3:

B12: 6 µg (men) or 3 (women, unless they’re pregnant or lactating)
Fe: 7 mg (men) or 12-16 (women, unless they’re pregnant or lactating)
Zn: 12 mg (except for women who are pregnant or lactating)
Ca: 800 mg, 1,000 mg for women over 54 and 300-400 mg for pregnant or lactating women
ω-3: 1g per day unless you have elevated triglyceride levels or suffer from rheumatic pain. Then you need more.

Did I miss anything?

Just in case I did, the 2007 limit for Baltic herring caught in Finnish waters was 50,000 t.

This is absolutely rivetting stuff, isn't it?

I'm not necessarily sceptical about the "Food Pyramid", I'm just sceptical about people who think they are following it, when they clearly are not... Following it but not following it... Isn't that like being mostly a vegetarian, or nearly a virgin...

Interesting statement, KitKat. You clearly have someone in mind, here. Is it possible to say who, or would you prefer that they remained anonymous?

KitKat said...

It's all a load of twaddle, Dikkii.

There are actually only four food groups you need to consider:
1. Food from cupboards
2. Food from fridges
3. Food you ring up for
4. Beer

I know this is true, I read it in the paper once.

Now I'm off to make myself a nice chocolate cake, bacon and apple sanger ready for lunch. Low GI and high in fibre! YUM!

p.s. The Type-I diabetic I was talking about was Halle Berry. Who did you think it was???

Dikkii said...

Halle Berry, eh? Well I might have met her once or twice but I had her down as a casual acquaintance rather than a friend, so you've got me there.

Enjoy your sandwich - how can anything that good be possibly bad for you?