Month: August 2015

Black-Eyed Susan’s continues to excel

Black-Eyed Susan’s continues to excel

signBlack-Eyed Susan’s at 10 India St on Nantucket, has the charm of a sort of “hand-made” restaurant, but a very good one. We’ve eaten there mostly for breakfasts, but they have an intriguing dinner menu as well. At breakfast, they have most of the usual dishes, plus a number of fascinating additions.

The restaurant is a lot of fun, because the kitchen is right there and you can watch them make your meal.Grill counter

Portugues scramble
Portuguese Scramble

At this visit, we tried their Portuguese Scramble: scrambled eggs with linguica, tomatoes, spinach and garlic, and found it excellent, especially when served with the Nantucket Bakeshop’s Sunflower Oatmeal bread. The linguica sausage added a mild hotness to the scramble, and the tomatoes and garlic added an excellent mixture of flavors.

Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict

For our other entrée, we had their delicious Eggs Benedict, served with an ample slice of tender ham and a nice, lemony hollandaise sauce on a toasted English muffin. Not too many restaurants do this one right, but Black-Eyed Susan’s decidedly does.

On weekends, you will probably see a line for breakfast/brunch, but they move quickly and you probably won’t wait too long. In addition to their indoor seating, they have a lovely back garden with more seating in good weather.

Black-Eyed Susan’s is open from April through October, but be forewarned: they do not take credit cards.  However, they are perfectly willing to wait for you to run to the nearest ATM. They told me this happens quite often!

Rosa Rugosa
Rosa Rugosa

 

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Krimsky’s ‘Illusory Consensus’ is itself illusory

Corn silk
Corn silk

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences at Tufts University has published another in a series of articles and books attacking the safety of genetically modified plants (GMOs). Professor Krimsky’s appointment is in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, but he holds and adjunct appointment in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. Krimsky holds a masters in physics, but his PhD is in philosophy. Thus, many of his arguments have already been rejected by biologists.

Last year Krimsky published The GMO Deception at Skyhorse publishing (who also published RFK jr’s anti-vax book). While the book’s anti-science point of view is obvious from the title, it received a devastating review at Biofortified , who pointed that the book is nothing but a repackaging of old, discredited articles from GeneWatch archives. That site is hosted by the Council of Responsible Genetics, where Krimsky is the chairman.

Getting to Krimsky’s latest publication “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment,” it too brings up a number of discredited articles and workers.

The thesis of Krimsky’s article is that there is not a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, because he has uncovered about 26 articles attacking them. Krimsky’s paper is published in the journal Science, Technology and Human Values, where Krimsky is on the editorial board.

In discussing articles on biotechnology, it is useful to remember  The Seralini Rule, published in the Skeptico blog, which states that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

That Skeptico article summarizes all the problems with that discredited and withdrawn paper, noting that if you cite this paper as serious science you haven’t taken the trouble to consider all of its scientific weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Professor Krimsky’s paper fails this test, citing 5 papers by this discredited scientist.

Krimsky’s  article is divided into three parts. In the first part, he summarizes eight recent review articles on GMOs finding some very critical and some much less critical. We read several of the more critical ones to see if we could understand his point.

He first cites “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” by Maghari and Ardekani, published in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology. This paper is basically a summary of potential concerns, none of which are supported by actual science. Suggesting that transgenic DNA might break up and reintegrate into the genome (which has never been observed), he cites two non-peer-reviewed reports by Mae Wan Ho, who has been criticized for embracing pseudoscience. Even more risible is Maghari’s assertion that GMOs may be responsible for “food-borne diseases” such as the “epidemic of Morgellon’s disease in the U.S.” In fact, Morgellon’s disease is a delusion that one’s skin is crawling when no cause can be found, and is considered a psychiatric ailment, not one caused by diet.

The second paper we read from his list was a literature review by Domingo and Bordonaba, which also violates the Seralini rule, and asserts without proof that studies showing the safety of GMOs have been performed by biotechnology companies. This is in fact contrary to the findings of Biofortified’s GENERA database of papers, which found that more than half of the studies were performed by independent researchers.

The third paper he cites, by Dona and Arvanitouannis also violates the Seralini rule, and completely misstates the doctrine of “substantial equivalence.” The correct statement of this principle is that if a GM and a conventional crop have similar origins, then their “substantial equivalence” can be the starting point for testing of the GM version to see if it has different properties that might make it dangerous to the consumer. It does not mean that no further testing is required. It also erroneously suggests that the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, which is found on all cauliflower, is dangerous if used in biotechnology. This is, of course, rubbish, since we eat it every day on most brassicae.

In checking these papers, we quickly wander down a “rabbit hole” of papers referring to other papers and to each other, but all seeming to cite the same erroneous information. After citing some inconclusive studies, Krimsky quotes the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which is listed on QuackWatch, and is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It has been criticized by Science Based Medicine, and is considered a dubious certifying board.

Arpad Pusztai and Giles-Eric Seralini

In the second part of his paper Krimsky focuses on the poorly regarded work of Pusztai and of Seralini, carefully omitting some of the more damning details about their work.

Pusztai was asked to evaluate some experimental genetically modified potatoes, and reported that they damaged the stomach lining of rats. After an investigation by his employer, the Rowett Institute, found that his data did not support his conclusions, he was fired. However, Krimsky does not note what Chassy and Tribe have pointed out: the potatoes Pusztai used were an experimental and unapproved variety, and that the rats were fed uncooked potatoes, which are always harmful to rats. Moreover, two expert panels concluded that no scientific conclusions could be drawn from his work. Pusztai has become an anti-GMO activist, travelling the world giving scary talks, but has not carried out any further science.

Professor Giles-Eric Seralini has published a number of papers critical of GMOs, and their confusing style and lack of rigor have been criticized long before his rat tumor paper. However, when Seralini published his 2012 paper, scientists immediately began criticizing its small sample size, lack of double blinding, animal mistreatment, and unsupported conclusions: Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors anyway, which is why they are suitable for 90 day experiments but not 2-year experiments.

Krimsky notes that Seralini revealed his association with CRIIGEN, a French anti-GMO organization he headed, but did not mention that Seralini’s work was sponsored by Carrefour grocery chain and the Auchan retail group who wanted to promote their new line of organic (non-GMO) products.

When many, many scientists protested to Food and Chemical Toxicology that this paper did not represent good science, the journal editor, A. Wallace Hayes, convened a new group of referees to review the paper. After nearly a year, the review panel concluded that the paper should be withdrawn because of its scientific flaws, and it was. Krimsky fails to mention the panel, but suggests the editor did this unilaterally.

Krimsky also cites an article which suggests that a “new assistant editor” joined the board of Food and Chemical Toxicology who had previously worked for Monsanto. This old conspiracy theory is easily laid to rest: biologist Richard Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 and then joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, long before Seralini’s paper came to light. He was an assistant editor during the Seralini controversy, but Hayes specifically excluded him from the review panel at Seralini’s request.

Author’s Conclusions

Professor Krimsky’s conclusions rely on the fact that he claims to have found 26 animal studies that found “adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.” We didn’t read all of them, but we have already read some which are discredited and/or published in very low-level journals.

  1. Ewen and Pusztai, “Effects of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes,’ Discussed above.
  2. Ermakova, “Genetically Modified Soy Leads to the Decrease of Weight and High Mortality of Rat Pups.” Not published in any journal.
  3. Seralini, Cellier and Vendomois, “New Analysis of Rate Feeding Study with GM Maize Reveals Signs of Hyporenal Toxicity.’ The EFSA has debunked this paper.
  4. Aris and LeBlanc, “Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Pesticdes Associated tp GM Foods in Eastern Township of Quebec, CA.” Critiqued by Anastasia Bodnar.
  5. Carman, Vlieger,Ver Steeg, Sneller, Robinson al., A Long-Term Toxicology Study on Pigs Fed a Combined GMO Soy and Maize Diet.” Published on a non-peer-reviewed journal. Bozianu’s work rebutted this paper. Rebutted by Mark Lynas  and  by David Gorski.
  6. Seralini al. “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup herbicide…” Discussed above, and debunked by Skeptico and by Wayne Parrott.
  7. De Vendomois, Spiroux and Seralini, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” Reviewed and debunked here.

Conclusions

Professor Krimsky has recycled old, discredited papers and arguments as if they were new to try to imply that there is a serious doubt about the safety of GM crops. He brushes aside the thousands of papers that make up the scientific consensus over the few weak ones he has dredged up to make his point. And Professor van Eenennaam’s billion animal study simply closes the door on this discussion.

HFCS versus sugar

Sugar crystallizing on left, sugar plus lemon juice on right.
Sugar crystallizing on left, sugar plus lemon juice on right.

Ever since Michael Pollan mentioned HFCS  (High Fructose Corn Syrup)in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, everyone is sure that HFCS is quite evil. To try to understand it, let’s do a little kitchen experiment. You can do this one at home and it’s kind of fun.

We’ll start as if we were going make rock candy, by putting one cup of sugar in a saucepan with ½ cup of water and bringing it to a boil. Let it boil gently until all the sugar has dissolved.

Then pour half of the mixture into a small bowl like a custard dish. You could also use a small juice glass as along as it is heat resistant.

Now, add about 1 tsp of lemon juice to the remaining sugar solution and stir it in while you bring it back to a boil. Let it simmer for 30-60 seconds and remove it from heat. Pour this remaining sugar solution into a second small bowl. Let the two bowls set undisturbed for 24-48 hours.

When you look at the two bowls after this time, you will probably see large sugar crystals forming in the first bowl. The other will probably remain pure syrup with few if any crystals. This is exactly the experiment we did in the picture shown at the top of the column, and you will see large crystals in the left flask and no crystals in the right flask. The only difference is that we use these tall slope sided (Erlenmeyer) flasks so you could see the crystals better. Since there is very little evaporation from these flasks it took a couple more days for the crystals to form.

sucrose color
Sucrose structure. Glucose on left, fructose on right.

OK, now what is going on here?

Table sugar, also known as sucrose is actually made up of two smaller sugars: glucose and fructose. They both have the same formula, C6H12O6, but slightly different structures. (One has a 6-membered ring and the other a 5-membered ring.) After adding the weak acid in lemon juice, the two sugars come apart into the simpler sugars and the solution is no longer a single compound, but two quite different compounds which compete with each other and cannot crystallize because they are both there in equal quantities. The result is that the second dish stays a syrup and never crystallizes.

Sucrose split into glucose (left) and fructose (right).
Sucrose split into glucose (left) and fructose (right).

And what is that syrup? It’s 50% glucose and 50% fructose. This syrup is called invert sugar and is sometimes used in baking. It’s also pretty much the same thing as honey, which starts out as a sugar syrup, but the bees secrete the enzyme invertase which unzips it into glucose and fructose just as we did.

But wait a second! HFCS or High Fructose Corn Syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, almost the same thing as this syrup. In fact, if you wanted to make it exactly the same as HFCS we calculate that you could do this by adding a teaspoon of Agave syrup, which is often about 90% fructose.

So, we just made a syrup which is identical to HFCS, except we made it from sugar instead of corn. Clearly this syrup is just about exactly the same as the sugar we started with, and perfectly safe to eat or cook with, (except that that trace of lemon juice might be just slightly perceptible.) So there is no major difference in sweetness nor in nutrition or caloric value. It’s still a flask of sugar syrup.

Corn Syrup

But hang it all, we didn’t make it from corn! How can it be the same as corn syrup. But it is. By the time we’ve gotten it to this form, it is just a couple of simple sugars and it really doesn’t matter where we got them from.

Corn syrup is made industrially from cornstarch, because this scales better for large batches. They start with cornstarch, which is actually just a long chain polymer of glucose units and unzip them using a simple enzyme, alpha-amylase. When you get done with this treatment you can get pretty much pure corn syrup out of the reaction, a solution of pure glucose, also sometimes called corn sugar.

The problem with glucose is that is isn’t quite as sweet as sugar is, and if you want to use it in cooking or baking you need to make it sweeter. Well it turns out that fructose, or fruit sugar, is sweeter than glucose, and a mixture of the two can mimic the sweetness of table sugar or sucrose.

If we had to go and isolate fructose from fruit juice, this would be an expensive process. But, it turns out that you can convert glucose (6-membered ring) in fructose (5-membered ring) by mixing it with the enzyme glucose isomerase. Then we can mix the glucose and fructose 45-55 to make HFCS. Why not 50-50? Well, once you unzip sugar into glucose and fructose, it isn’t quite as sweet and you need a bit more fructose to get the same sweetness as sugar.

So what’s our conclusion? If we can essentially make HFCS from table sugar it can hardly be dangerous. It’s the same thing as sugar and perfectly safe. And, incidentally, it doesn’t matter whether that sugar came from cane or beets: it is still a single pure compound. Sugar can easily be purified to a very high degree of purity since it crystallizes so easily and any traces of impurities from farming are removed during that purification. The same holds for cornstarch.

Oh, and if you are wondering where those two enzymes come from, you can get the common bacterium bacillus amyloliquefaciens  to make alpha-amylase, and the streptomyces flavogriseus bacterium to make glucose isomerase for you.

Does Neil Young know where his insulin comes from?

stalks in sun

According to the WHO, some 171 million people suffer from diabetes mellitus, and as Walsh has spelled out in his review, insulin therapy is absolutely essential for the survival of those with type I diabetes. It is also used to help control the more common type 2 diabetes as well.

Queen Victoria’s physician first noted in the 1800s that there were crystals in the pancreatic tissue of deceased diabetics. And research shows that dogs developed diabetes within 2 days of having their pancreas removed. In 1921, Banting and Best discovered that extracts from a region of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans could revive diabetic dogs, and in 1922 after testing this extract on each other, they administered this crude insulin preparation to a diabetic patient, beginning the era of insulin therapy. You can read a summary of this work in a paper by Bliss.

Early production of insulin by Eli Lilly and Nordisk International relied on the extracts of slaughterhouse animals, and work continued for some years on methods to purify this relatively crude insulin extract. The problem was that extracts from pigs and cattle could be allergenic, and thus not all diabetics could use them.

Human insulin was sequenced in 1960 by Nicol and Smith, and it was found to differ from bovine insulin by 3 amino acids, not including beta alanine, and from porcine insulin by 1 amino acid. Work immediately begin on removing that amino acid in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, the pancreas of a single pig can only provide enough insulin for 3 days for a single diabetic.

Biosynthetic insulin was first developed by Chance and Frank in collaboration with Genentech in 1978. Initially  different strains of E. coli  were used to produce the A and B chains of insulin, and they were then combined chemically thereafter. Later, a single bacterial strain was used to produce the complete chain. A more modern method using genetically engineered yeast strains (Saccharamyces cerevisiae). Such insulins were approved for human use by the FDA in 1982.

It is now possible to create fast-acting and long-acting insulins to be administered under different circumstances, leading to prandial insulin therapy.

Today, all human insulin products are produced using genetically engineered yeasts and other bacteria, and it is perfectly possible to create exact copies of human insulin much less available using animal extracts.

Meanwhile, singer Neil Young is going about the U.S. promoting his album, The Monsanto Years, which has been heavily criticized for its inaccuracies.  More to the point, Neil Young suffers from diabetes and takes genetically engineered insulin daily, even while railing against the techniques of genetic engineering that are keeping him alive. Sometimes looking into the science is really worthwhile.

Nantucket Restaurants change in 2015

Birds on Madaket beach
Birds on Madaket beach

We’re looking forward to our fall visit to Nantucket and interested in all the new restaurants and changes. If you’re coming any time soon, you might find these suggestions really helpful.

American Season
American Season

First and foremost, American Seasons was sold to Chef Neil Ferguson, after having an excellent ten year run under Michael and Orla LasScola. They remain the proprietors of The Proprietors, a notable small plates restaurant.

Ferguson was most recently the chef at Galley Beach, but has a great deal more freedom in his choices at American Seasons, where his menu includes rabbit terrine, pork chops, ribeye and chicken Ballotine. This hints that the playful aspect of American Seasons remain intact and we can hardly wait.

Corazon sign
Corazon sign

Seth Raynor’s Corazon del Mar has closed, although the Raynors still run both The Boardinghouse and the Pearl. Restaurateur Marco Coelho as bought and remodeled this space, but hasn’t opened anything there yet. However, if you are looking for sushi, you can find it at the relatively new Café V Sushi in the elegant Vanessa Noel Hotel, as well as at Sushi by Yoshi.

Galley Beach, having lost Neil Ferguson, has brought back chef W. Scott Osif, who did a bang-up job before he left two years ago.

Flounder at Galley Beach under Osif
Flounder at Galley Beach under Osif

Meanwhile, if one barbecue restaurant isn’t enough, (we wrote up B-Ack Yard Barbecue last year), Atlas BBQ and Fish House has opened at 130 Pleasant St, not far from Stop and Shop, in the space formerly occupied by Pazzo, and before that by Sfoglia. The Atlas menu is barbecue heavy, but you will find salmon, chicken and Friday fish and chips among their extensive selections.

Also new this year is the Grey Lady at 2 Chin’s Way, featuring coastal seafood under chef Dave Nevins. It is a sister to the Grey Lady on Manhattan’s lower East Side. They also have opened a Grey Lady in Aspen. If the address sounds familiar, the Grey lady occupies the space of the old Bamboo Supper Club.

It looks like another great visit to our favorite island!