Category: Food science

Ben Platt is deep in pseudo-science as well as Tony awards

benplattBroadway actor Ben Platt sings the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, a spectacularly successful show nominated for 9 Tony awards, included one for Platt as Best Actor. Platt was profiled in last Sunday;s New York Times “He sobs 8 times a week,” in a article discussing the stress the character puts on Platt, who sings six songs, including a gut-wrenching second act number that he sings while crying. If you sing at all, you have to admire Platt’s dedication and talent, because this is really hard to do. Neil Patrick Harris is quoted as saying that he couldn’t do it, “I’d sound like a goat.”

But the Times article while praises Platt’s enormous talent, is way too accepting of some of the alternative medicine crap his coaches are putting him through.

First off, the article describes 4 circles on his back from “cupping,” a weird Gwyneth-level fad where small flasks are heated and applied to the skin, causing suction as they cool. This is supposed to impart relaxation or something. It doesn’t. We have previously discussed cupping when Olympic swimmers were trying it last summer. But as we noted, there is simply no evidence that cupping has any effect at all. Articles by Brian Dunning and Orac  (David Gorski) confirm that this is superstitious nonsense. All it does is leave ugly circular bruises. Some web sites suggest the cupping can help “detox” your body, but as we have noted before, there is no such thing as “detox.” Your liver takes care of this by itself.

Platt is also on a gluten free diet, which is only sensible if your have celiac disease. For anyone else, it is just a fad, as there is no clear evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. He also is on a dairy-free diet, perhaps to keep his weight down, but in fact studies have shown that full fat dairy is linked to a reduced rate of obesity.

Platt also takes oregano supplements, despite the fact that there are no studies showing any benefit. He also takes a zinc supplement, which is only useful in developing countries. In the US, there is no evidence that it helps with the common cold.

Finally, his voice coach used peppermint oil to treat his voice when he had an infection, but there is no evidence that it provides any relief for any malady at all.

Plat is undeniably one of Broadway’s finest young actors who certainly deserves his Tony, but it is a shame that his “handlers” are forcing these quack regimes on him. It is also a shame that the New York Times doesn’t question this quackery in their articles.

And remember:

Alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If something works, it is called medicine.

benplatthansen

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Worried about diet soda? Strokes are not likely.

diet cokeLate last week, the popular press began touting a paper by Matthew Pase and coworkers in the journal Stroke on the newfound risks of diet sodas, (artificially sweetened beverages, ASBs) as compared to sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs). Most of the articles have been pretty accurate, NBC, CNN and Arstechnica got it pretty much right. Only Meredith Bland, writing as Scary Mommy went a bit off the deep end.

What the researchers did was examine data on 2888 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, looking at their reported consumption of ASBs and SSBs, and the results of their regular examinations, which ended in 2001. Surveillance continued for 10 years, ending in 2011.

They found that “higher recent and cumulative consumption of ASBs were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” Specifically, they found that stroke was 2.96 times as likely and dementia about 2.89 times as likely.

This sounds really worrisome, but bear in mind that this is a single study, and that they found a correlation, not any actual cause. In fact, they didn’t propose any cause, because these results are very difficult to explain medically. They do, of course, note that “future research is needed to replicate our findings and investigate the mechanisms…”

What many writers did not specifically mention, is that there is an accompanying editorial in this same journal by Wersching, Gardener and Sacco, that is quite critical of Pase’s paper. In addition to pointing out that they show correlation and not causation, the editorial notes that while Pase reported that those consuming SSBs did not seem to have strokes or dementia, they suggested that this could be because of selection bias because those consuming sugary beverages may have died earlier. They note that previous studies have indeed found negative outcomes from those consuming SSBs.

As regards those consuming diet beverages (ASBs), the editorial suggests that “reverse causation” cannot be ruled out. What they mean is that those who know they are at risk may have chosen to switch to diet beverages and thus their strokes and dementia were incorrectly being correlated with the diet beverages instead of their already existing risk. They specifically point out that “disentangling these effects” is “challenging” in such studies.

Finally, they note that there is no obvious biological pathway to explain these cardiovascular events in those consuming diet beverages. They suggest that the current body of research, including this paper, is inconclusive and that carefully designed studies, following subjects from childhood would be necessary to establish these effects for certain.

So, for the moment, it would seem that nothing has really been established concerning diet beverages, and you can go ahead and sip yours without new worries.

 

 

Teaching organic farming in the classroom

Teaching organic farming in the classroom

According to the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom grants of up to $1000 are now available for teachers to “creatively enhance the understanding of organic agriculture for kindergarten through eighth grade students.” The purpose is to integrate organic agriculture into regular classroom instruction. The grants are jointly supported by the California Certified Organic Farmer’s Foundation, and the application deadline is May 15, 2017.

From the scientists’ point of view, teaching students about organic agriculture would be intriguing because while historically, experiments led to the procedures, organic farming is essentially pre-scientific and much is based on the naturalistic fallacy.

However, there is a lot to be learned by studying the ideas and best practices of organic agriculture, and herewith we present an outline for an ideal curriculum.

Indore

Much of the earliest work by Sir Albert Howard at the Indore Farms he supervised in India had to do with the development of compost from vegetable and animal waste, and his first book in 1931, The Waste Products of Agriculture may have been his most important work. Howard noted that decomposition of compost only took place at neutral pH and added lime to achieve this. He believed that good soil aeration and quality humus were all that one needed to prevent disease, which was not supported by later scientist’s work, and his book, An Agricultural Testament contained a number of such ideas which caused him to lose support among botanists.

Sir Albert correctly believed that understanding of the mycorrhizae that lived on most plant roots was important and should not be left to mycologists, but his attacks on overspecialization in agricultural science as well as flaws in his later theories caused him to lose much of his initial scientific reputation, but this only increased his stature among non-scientists.

Lady Eve Balfour

Lady Eve Balfour was one of the first women to study agriculture at a British University and upon graduation she used her inheritance (she was part of the prominent Balfour political family) to buy farm land in Haughley Green in Suffolk, where she began experiments comparing her organic methods with conventional farming methods. Many of her experiments were published in her book The Living Soil in 1943.

Lady Eve was also the founder of the Soil Association, which although small in size, is a major proponent of organic farming in Britain, and she eventually donated her Haughley Green farms to the Association. She also attempted to moderate some of Sir Albert Howard’s extreme positions, but because of some of her other extreme spiritualist positions, Howard refused to join the Soil Association.

The Soil Association has also taken some extreme positions that are unsupported by science, suggesting that animals be cared for by homeopathic means (which cannot possibly work) and taken extreme positions on genetically modified crops which have no scientific basis.

J.I. Rodale

In the United States, Jerome Cohen, writing under the pseudonym of J. I. Rodale, took up promotion of organic farming and gardening with his Rodale Press and Rodale Institute, beginning in 1948, with his book The Organic Front, published by his own press. While Rodale promoted organic farming tirelessly, his views were hard to take very seriously because of his huckster style of writing:

Along comes your scientific agronomist, who should know better, but who recklessly throws a monkey wrench into this microbial universe, by dousing it with strong, corrosive chemical fertilizers. He believes that the conveyor belt method must be introduced into every aspect of farming.

Rodale took on all sorts on anti-scientific views, suggesting that the polio vaccine was a bad idea, and that rimless glasses and salt water cause cancer. He was also a racist. While he boasted that he would live to be 100, he died at 72, bizarrely during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show, although that episode never aired.

Rodale’s has also undertaken a study of organic versus conventional farming, which they published in a glossy brochure, but have never published in any peer-reviewed journal. An article by Pimentel and colleagues in Bioscience analyzes their findings: that organic and conventional farming techniques have similar yields and that in drought conditions, organic crops may do better. Pimentel also examined the economics and found that the two systems generated similar income, but only if you include a 10% organic price premium.

In another recent trial, they rotated their organically grown crop out and planted other soil enriching crops in 2 of the 3 years, and compared the yield with conventional crops grown without rotation. This was hardly a comparable trial.

The National Organic Program

Until the year 2002, farmers choosing to use organic techniques followed one of several sets of standards, but encouraged the USDA to set nation-wide standards so that organic crops would be comparable. The Agricultural Marketing Service within the USDA codified these standards as the National Organic Program, carefully noting that

Our regulations do not address food safety or nutrition. 

While the general fiction put about by the organic industry is that organic crops are grown without pesticides, this is demonstrably untrue, as there are quite a number of permitted substances listed as permitted. This is discussed in some detail by Porterfield.

Pesticides

Some consumers think that organic foods are somehow safer because they are not grown using synthetic pesticides, but plants make their own pesticides all the time and most of the synthetic pesticides in use are similar to the ones plants already make: toxic and carcinogenic in large quantities. But as Bruce Ames has shown, the plant-made pesticides occur at 10,000 times the concentration as the traces of pesticides added during farming.

Organic nutrition

You might think that organic crops grown with minimal pesticides and so forth might be more nutritious, but research has shown that there is essentially no difference. Dangour and coworkers systematically reviewed articles on nutrient content and found that “here is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” Similarly, Brevata and Smith-Spangler “found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.”

Organic Yield

Since organic rules prevent the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, you might ask if the yields differ between organic and conventional crops. There are a number of research articles indicating that organic yields are 50% to 80% of those from conventional farming. The diagram below is from de Ponti’s article “The crop yield gap between conventional and organic agriculture.”

COmparison yields

A similar gap was reported by Seufert. DePonti reported an average 80% organic yield and Seufert a 68% yield. And, the USDA’s report on yields was only a little better.

nov15_feature_mcbride_fig02

Carbon Footprint

When you plant and grow crops, and harvest them, you are taking away nourishment from the soil. You need inputs to replace those nutrients. In organic farming, this is usually composted manure and other plant debris. But the composting process itself produces greenhouse gases, as Savage notes. Farmers typically apply about 5 tons of composted manure per acre. In fact, the greenhouse gases generated for one acre are equivalent to those generated in manufacturing enough fertilizer for 12.9 acres. This doesn’t seem to be scalable.

Organic Farming causes more pollution

A study at Ben-Gurion University studied the groundwater runoff in a group of new greenhouses, some using manure fertilization and some using drip fertilizer irrigation. They monitored a zone well below the roots and just above the groundwater for nitrogen contamination, and found that nitrogen pollution in the groundwater was 10 times as much in the organic greenhouses as in those using drip irrigation to fertilize the plants.

No-Till Farming

One of the greatest advances in soil maintenance has been no-till farming, where the ground is not plowed up and turned over every season. When you use crops that are resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, you can kill the weeds before planting and plant using a seed drill without disturbing the soil. This preserves the soil structure and prevents soil runoff. Unfortunately, genetically modified crops that are resistant to herbicides are not currently permitted by organic standards. If soil care is important, this standard needs to be changed.

Organic Marketing

Organic foods are marketed throughout the United States by the Organic Trade Association, and the Organic Consumer Association (which regularly spreads misinformation). The definition of “organic” in the US is products “produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. “ Since a number of pesticides have been approved for organic use, this is clearly misleading. The Environmental Working Group also is a major promoter of organic products, through its “Dirty Dozen,” which attempts to paint pesticide residues far below danger levels as being unsafe. It also clearly contradicts the findings of Bruce Ames we discussed above.

Thought Questions for Students

  1. What advantages do you see in organic crops?
  2. Are you concerned about pesticide levels on conventional crops?
  3. Why does the organic industry say that no pesticides are used?
  4. If a farmer has 1000 acres of farmland, and hopes to grow 160,000 bushels of corn, how much corn would he be able to grow if he switched to organic methods?
  5. If a farmer wants to make the same profit, how much would he have to raise his prices to grow organic corn on the same amount of land?
  6. Farmland is expensive. Would the farmer be justified in buying more land to grow the same amount of crops? Do you think there is unused farmland he can buy?
  7. In this article, Henry Miller argues that organic farming isn’t sustainable. Do you agree?
  8. In this article, Roger Cohen refers to organic farming as a “fable.” Is that fair?
  9. If you have a limited budget for buying food, as most of us do, would you be willing to pay 10% more for organic foods? How about 50% more? Why?
  10. Organic farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by using an Anaerobic Digester to compost their manure. How much do they cost? How big a farm do you need to pay for one?
  11. Roger Cohen argues that “organic” is actually just an ideology? Is that an exaggeration?
  12. How else could no-till farming work?
  13. By 2050, we project that only 2.5% of US cropland will be certified organic. Is that enough?

US Trend

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Recently we were discussing approaches to weight loss with a group of friends in Wilton, and one pointed out that Dr Oz had said that coconut oil was good for weight loss. This seemed surprising since it is an oil made of saturated fats, so we looked into it. You can buy coconut oil  almost everywhere now and from quacks like Dr Mercola.

Dr Oz did indeed endorse coconut oil on a recent show, claiming that unspecified “recent research” said it was good for weight loss, skin conditions and treating ulcers. He didn’t claim it would walk your dog or fold your laundry, but that might be in the next segment.

Dr Oz trained as a medical doctor, and some of his straightforward medical advice can be pretty helpful, but he increasingly has moved to endorse alternative medicine, pseudo-science and even faith healing. Many scientists and physicians feel he has gone completely “over to the dark side,” eschewing science-based medicine for a lot of hokum.

Coconut oil may very well make a good skin treatment, as you often find it in suntan lotions and the like. But there really isn’t much peer-reviewed research to support Oz’s assertions. It has been linked to impaired memory performance in rats. But there are no studies linking coconut oil to the stomach ulcer bacteria h pylori. There are, however, a number of sites hawking coconut oil that make these claims, though.

There is one preliminary study on 20 obese Malaysian males that showed some reduction in waist circumference and another study showing increasing obesity upon ingestion of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Finally there is a study among Filipino women showing that coconut oil improved the lipid profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

However, these are small and preliminary, and no definitive conclusions have been reached. On the web site sharecare.com, the Mt Sinai Medical Center answers a query about coconut oil, suggesting it is unlikely to be useful.

The bottom line, according to the Mayo Clinic and others is this: People on coconut oil diets showed higher arterial fat after just one meal, it can increase cholesterol and, if it is not reducing your caloric intake, coconut oil can actually lead to weight gain.

And the Mayo Clinic web site points out

Although eating coconut oil in moderation for a short-term diet probably won’t harm your health, it may not help you lose weight. And keep in mind that coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than do butter and lard. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

There are some articles on Oz’s web site but mostly by blog contributors, many with only Naturopath training (which is not science based medicine) and even they come back to these same preliminary studies. There is also one by a board certified dermatologist touting essentially the same studies.

The only places strongly touting coconut oil are quack doctor Joe Mercola’s site and the even more suspect site at the Weston A Price Foundation. The paper Mercola appears to be referring to is also the 2009 Brazilian study where 2 groups of volunteers were fed either soybean oil or coconut oil over 12 weeks and instructed to walk 50 minutes a day and follow an otherwise balanced low calorie diet. Both groups lost weight, but HDL (good) cholesterol was higher in the coconut oil group.

In conclusion, there is a bit of preliminary evidence for some benefits,  but since it seems counter-intuitive that eating a high saturated fat diet can help you lose weight, it is probably better to follow the advice of the established experts such as WebMD and the American Heart Association who recommend against it.

 

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut State representative Charles Ferraro has introduced a bill (HB 5759) entitled “AN ACT ESTABLISHING A CONNECTICUT HEALTH FREEDOM AND ACCESS ACT.” In essence, this bill is designed to protect alternative medicine practitioners from being prosecuted for practicing without a license.

Here’s the entire bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That the general statutes be amended to permit a health care provider who is not licensed, certified or registered by the state to provide health care services in the state, provided (1) such provider does not perform surgery, set fractures, perform any other procedure on any person that punctures or harmfully invades the skin, prescribe or administer x-rays, prescribe or administer drugs, devices or controlled substances for which a prescription by a licensed health care provider is required, perform chiropractic adjustment of the articulations of joints or the spine or hold out himself or herself as licensed, certified or registered by the state, and (2) such provider makes certain disclosures regarding his or her unlicensed, uncertified or unregistered status to anyone seeking his or her health care services.

Statement of Purpose:

To provide the public access to practitioners providing health care services with appropriate consumer protections.

In other words, an unlicensed health care provided can practice his quackery without fear of prosecution despite the fact that none of their practices are supported by any science.

If you doubt the bill’s intent, look at statements by NationalHealthFreedom.org. They describe this as

a bill that protects access to the thousands of traditional, complementary and alternative health care practitioners (such as homeopaths, herbalists, energy healers, and more) who are providing great services to health seekers in Connecticut.

Now let us remember that

Alternative medicine is made of up things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If they worked, we would call them medicine.

This bill does nothing but exempt quacks scamming the public with pseudo-science from being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. These charlatans do a great deal of damage by persuading people that they can actually provide science-based medicine when they are actually talking utter nonsense and taking money from the gullible.

The fact that millions of people seek out care from alternative health providers is no evidence that any such treatments actually work. In fact, there is no such evidence. Homeopaths, naturopaths, aroma therapists, herbalists, energy healers and crystal wavers are selling arm waving nonsense for which no scientific studies exists. This also applies to acupuncturists, who may or may not be covered by this outrageously stupid bill. There is also no evidence that acupuncture works.

It should be worth noting that the Organic Consumers Association, an industry funded lobbying group for organic food providers, supports this bill, which demeans both the bill and the lobbying group.

If you live in Connecticut, contact your legislators and tell them  that this “safe harbor” bill protects dangerous quacks from being held responsible for their nonsensical practices. Alternative medicine is bunk.

 

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

In Saturday’s NY Times, Stephanie Strom, no stranger to pseudo-science, wrote an article praising how friendly Boulder, CO was to development of new food products “where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”

The trouble is every single company she mentioned is peddling products based on scaring into buying them. That’s right, all of these companies are peddling bullsh*t.

Quinn Snacks

Starting with Quinn Snacks, whose goal was “cleaning up food,” we find that their plan is no GMOS (um, there is no such thing as GMO popcorn)  combined with English and science illiteracy:

“we’ll take  real butter over carbonyl group (=C=O) any day of the week.”

Grammatically, it’s either “a carbonyl group” or “carbonyl groups.” Chemically, you should write a carbonyl group as >C=O to show two different bonds coming off the C. But come on, ninnies, butter flavoring is usually diacetyl

CH3-(C=O)-(C=O)-CH3

which has TWO carbonyl groups, and occurs naturally as a major flavor component in butter. So real butter contains diacetyl and has two carbonyl groups. They also claim that all their ingredients are pronounceable, which, of course, is really reassuring if you are functionally as well as chemically illiterate.

And Quinn perpetuates the Big Lie, that “GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a process. GMO crops are the most heavily tested class of foods in the world and not a single problem has ever been found in over 20 years of use.

Of course Quinn’s foods are “organic,” which is the triumph of PR over science. There is simply no evidence that organic crops, using pre-scientific rules are any healthier or more nutritious than conventional crops. Organic crops have a yield that Is 50-80% of conventionally crops, deplete the soil, and have a greater carbon footprint. And yes, they spray pesticides on organic crops, too. Just different ones.

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth  sells “ancient grain granolas,” at $6.99 for 12 oz (probably about two servings) which is fully buzz-word compliant: gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, organic and sweetened with “coconut sugar,” which they claim erroneously to be low glycemic, and baked with the ever popular foodie coconut oil, which has no discernible benefits except profitability. They also claim to provide support to organic, anti-GMO organizations like Slow Food USA and the Rodale Institute, whose entire reason for being is to promote organic farming.

Coconut sugar and palm sugar are the same thing, and are at least 70% sucrose, with the rest being glucose and fructose. While the Phillippine Department of Agriculture claims to have measured the  glycemic index for coconut sugar at 35, others have measured it at 58, close to that for sugar.  Chris Gunnars explains his skepticism of these measurements.

The glycemic index is a measure of glucose content, or more accurately how available the glucose is, but while this was formerly of interest to diabetics, current thinking according to the American Diabetes Association is that total calorie count is more important, and obviously, the calorie count for sugar is the same whether derived from cane, beets, or palms.

Madhava Sweeteners sells “organic sweeteners,” such as the ridiculous coconut sugar just mentioned, and organic honey, which is more or less a sweet illusion according to Scientific American. Incidentally, honey, too, is just sugar (sucrose) but the bees secrete invertase which breaks the sugar up into its two smaller sugar components: glucose and sucrose. It is not a special sweetener:  it’s sugar.

You can make similar criticisms of the bogosity of other mentioned companies like Made in Nature who make organic fruit and grain snacks, and Good Karma Foods, whose products but seem to be “flax milk” and yogurt made from flax seed, and of course are “non-GMO,” gluten free, non-dairy and allergen free.

Gluten free, of course, is only of concern to the approximately 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. Evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is minimal, and going “gluten-free” is a lifestyle choice, not treatment of a medical issue.

Birch Benders

Finally we come to Birch Benders, who makes a line of pancake mixes. We’ve never understood the appeal of pancake mixes, since pancakes recipes only contain about 6 ingredients you can stir together in less than a minute, but we had to try theirs, because they claim to be “just like grandma’s.” Well, we have our grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk pancakes and thought we’d compare ours against theirs. This recipe has been in the family for probably 100 years, and is just:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • buttermilk (about 2 cups)

You just stir the ingredients up (this really takes only a minute) and bake them on a griddle or frypan at medium heat, turn once and serve.

Birch Benders has a classic pancake mix as well as a gluten free version, both are, of course, organic. They also  make a buttermilk pancake mix, but only the traditional one is available in stores in our area.

My grandmother never heard of either “organic” or “gluten free,” of course. But there are only 2 ingredients in making their pancakes:  ¾ cup of pancake mix and 2/3 cup of water.  Um…really?

Well of course, with those proportions, the batter came out the thickness of milk, and cooked into something thin and ridiculous that stuck to the pan.

We mixed in about 3 more Tb of flour to make a decently thick batter and tried to make comparable pancakes. Well they were about the same size as ours, but not as puffy and they had no taste except sweet, and in fact they were too sweet. There was no buttermilk or wheat flavor at all. They were actually pretty awful.

 

Their pancake mix is made from “organic evaporated cane juice,” which is just a cryptonym for sugar, organic wheat flour, baking powder, non-GMO cornstarch, organic potato starch and organic cassava starch. We paid $4.99 for a 16 oz package at Caraluzzi’s in Georgetown, CT. But never again.

The point of this rant is that the New York Times really needs to point out that these expensive little startup companies that form a coven in Boulder offer nothing new but unscientific malarkey. Claims like “organic,” “gluten free” and “GMO free” attempt to scare you into buying into their nonsense. And some of them aren’t even very good.

 

Veal Zurich style: Zurig’schnetzlets

Veal Zurich style: Zurig’schnetzlets

Veal Zurich Style, or Veal Swiss Style is usually referred to on Zurich menus as Zurig’schnetzletts. It is spelled in dozens of ways and is one of the most popular dishes on Zurich menus. It’s a simple, creamy veal dish you can make in half an hour, while your rosti are cooking. Rosti are essentially Swiss hash browns, and are very easy to make. We’ll start them first.

Rosti

  • 2 or more medium potatoes
  • 2 Tb butter
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Shred the potatoes using a food processor shredding disk or the coarse side of a grater. If they are very moist, dry them a bit on a paper towel.
  2. Melt the butter in a cast iron frying pan and press the shredded potatoes down. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes on each side. You want them to be crispy on the outside and the interior of the potato cake cooked through.
  3. Keep the rosti warm in the pan until the veal is done. Then lift out the entire cake and serve it on a plate, cutting it into segments.

rosti-in-pan

Zurig’schnetzlets

  • 1 lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 Tb butter
  • ½ lb veal cutlets
  • 2 green onions, white part only, chopped
  • 10-12 oz beef or chicken broth (low salt). We used our own homemade beef stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  1. Melt half the butter, and sauté the mushrooms until they give up their water and begin to brown. Remove to bowl.
  2. Pound the veal and cut into small pieces
  3. Saute the veal, a few pieces at a time in the butter. Add the chopped onions to the last batch.
  4. Remove the veal to a bowl and add the wine and stock. Since you are boiling it down, it is important to use low salt stock or the salt will concentrate and the dish will be too salty. Add any liquid from the meat and mushrooms.
  1. Boil down the wine and stock to about ¼ cup, being careful not to let I burn.
  2. Add the cream and the veal and heat through.
  3. Put the veal mixture in a serving bowl and top with the sour cream. Stir it in at the table as one last flourish before serving.

Serve with the rosti.

rosti

Farmer wants subsidy for keeping his pricey chickens outdoors

Farmer wants subsidy for keeping his pricey chickens outdoors

In the article National Burden in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Wyatt Williams writes of Georgia farmer Will Harris’s experience with bald eagles attacking his chickens. It is against the law (with severe penalties) to kill a bald eagle, and you even need a permit to scare one away with a noise maker.

Soon after Harris began raising meat chickens he began to see bald eagles roosting in nearby trees, looking for a tasty luncheon. And sure enough, as they became braver, they did attack his chickens, the article claims “thousands of his chickens.” This could be true, because the scale of Harris’s White Oak Pastures farm generates millions of dollars of revenue, according to the article.

Now it turns out that there is a USDA program, the Livestock Indemnity Program that essentially reimburses farmers for animals killed by predators. The rate of reimbursement depends on the animal and the region, and they subtract a percentage for normal livestock deaths. In Georgia, the normal chicken death rate is 4%, assuming the chickens are housed in barns. But in Harris’s case, they estimated that since the chickens were pastured outdoors, the normal death rate would be 40%. Much of the article deals with Harris’s attempts to negotiate a more reasonable death rate. They finally settled on 18%.

Well, one might ask, if the eagles are chomping on the poultry in such numbers, why in the world aren’t they using barns to raise the chickens in? (Incidentally, all meat chickens are raised “cage free.”) The disappointing answer in the article is that would

“snip the last strings connecting them to nature.”

Of course, chickens have been raised outdoors for centuries, but according to Hillmire, large scale pasturing of chickens is a “new management practice,” and “pastured poultry growers face steep price competition with the conventional industry and must rely on niche marketing.”  She also notes that

The top issue for pastured poultry growers was carnivore predation of birds, with 44% of growers commenting on this in a question regarding challenges

The end result, of course, is that these chickens are much more expensive.  A package of 2.5 lbs of bone-in pastured chicken breasts runs $18.13, and a whole medium chicken $15.49 and a whole large chicken $20.99. Oh, and shipping is $39.95. They are also available, of course, at Whole Foods, always willing provide overpriced products.

And how do they taste? Well, they “recommend cooking in a manner consistent with classical and rustic cooking techniques, such as slow roasting or braising.” In other words, they may otherwise be tough.

Harris’ chickens are pastured, organic, cage-free, hormone-free, non-GMO and fully buzz-word compliant. If you doubt this, you can admire the beautifully written PR claims on their web site. They make no health or nutrition claims, however. And hormones are never given to chickens anyway: it is illegal.

What this boils down to is that Harris is asking the USDA (taxpayers) to subsidize his risky outdoor pasturing of chickens, for which he then charges premium prices, because people believe (without evidence) that they are somehow better.  In fact, as Simmons explains pasturing uses far more land, and is more harmful to chickens, with death rates estimated at 13%.

This is simply the organic myth writ large. Organic isn’t better, just more expensive.

 

For Trump: Science is hard

For Trump: Science is hard

According to the Onion, a National Science Foundation Symposium concluded that Science is Hard. It really isn’t any harder than governing or public speaking or performing arts. Each has their own vocabulary and courses of study. But somehow, the general public thinks it is hard.

This has been borne out for years by our Congress, where only two members have degrees in any sort of science.  So it is not surprising that the Congress makes poorly informed decisions or assertions, like Senator Imhofe, who brandished a snowball in winter to assert that global warming is not real. Even worse, he cited biblical references to support his view, a book in which many people find comfort, but which was written by bronze age goatherds and unlikely to cover climate change.

So it is not surprising that incoming President Trump has dubbed climate change a “Chinese hoax.” To the contrary, Beijing is actively participating in policies to reduce carbon emissions, as are most countries.

You cannot expect a President to be an expert in all fields of endeavor, but you can expect him to appoint advisors who are experts in these fields, and it is here that the 28 appointments Mr Trump has made (out of about 660 that require Congressional approval) fail to support or understand science.  As we noted earlier, science is not a branch of politics, where many views may seem to be correct. Science is the result of rigorous experimentation, study and peer-review, and far less debatable than politics is. Or, to quote NGT, “Science is true, whether or not you believe  in it.”

In this context, it is deeply disappointing that Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the EPA told Congress that “the extent of [human] impact [on climate change] is subject to continuing debate.”  In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2013 that more than half of the climate warming from 1951 to 2010 was due to human activity. And it was just reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year.  This is no longer subject to debate, and government administrators cannot put off vigorous action if we expect our children and grandchildren to survive.

Likewise, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has expressed reservations on climate change and does not view it as an imminent national security threat.

The most horrifying recent hearing was for billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. DeVos has been a forceful advocate for charter schools, even though studies have shown that they are not particularly effective, especially in Michigan where DeVos has spent millions promoting them. From a science point of view, it is equally disturbing that Ms DeVos believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Her hearings have also shown that she knows nothing about education, either.

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, has just been nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. He once led a prayer ceremony in front of the Capitol, asking God to be forgive Georgians for being wasteful with water. According to the barely credible Environmental Working Group, as a former fertilizer salesman, Perdue seems less than likely to understand the water pollution problems uncontrolled fertilizer runoff can cause. The Agriculture Department has been involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and while we do not know Perdue’s positions, his  boss has expressed significant skepticism on this issue. Perhaps more comforting is that as governor, Perdue established a seed capital fund, focused on the life sciences industry, and allocated $30 to$40 million towards strengthening biotech research at the state’s universities.

And, of course, Rick Perry, who is slated to take over the Energy Department, is famous for wanting to close it, once he remembered it’s name. Joking aside, though, in Congressional hearings, he was completely unwilling to admit that climate change poses a global crisis.

Every incoming President provides a mixture of hope and skepticism to the public, and our skepticism on his approach to science is substantial.

Gary Taubes says sugar is poison

Gary Taubes says sugar is poison

Science writer Gary Taubes has been writing columns everywhere promoting his new book The Case Against Sugar. He has written columns in The Guardian, and  The New York TImes among other places, and has been reviewed somewhat critically in The Guardian, Food Insight and The Atlantic.

Taubes’ central argument is that calories from sugar are not the only reason for obesity, but argues that sugar itself is uniquely toxic.

Taubes: “If the research community had been doing its job and not assuming since the 1920s that a calorie is a calorie, perhaps we would have found such evidence long ago.”

In a nutshell, the flaw in his argument is revealed in the above statement in the Times article. There must be more to sugar’s causing obesity than just calories, but researchers haven’t been doing their job!

And, in fact, despite Taubes’ persuasive writing, this is most of his argument. He cites no research in his articles (I have not read his actual book) or even mentions researchers who agree with him.

His thesis echoes that of Dr Robert Lustig, who makes much the same arguments in his book Fat Chance, and in the movie Fed Up but both Lustig’s and Taubes’ similar ideas have been debunked in articles, such as this one in Science Based Medicine. And Food Insight called this “blind fealty to correlation as causation.” Scientific American pointed out the fallacies in this argument in 2013.

In fact, while obesity continues to increase, sugar intake in the US actually decreased from 1999-2008, mainly because of decreased consumption of sugary soft drinks.

Taubes’ other somewhat distressing argument is that the sugar industry has been influencing research outcomes for years by sponsoring research. This suggests that not only that scientists are unethical but that the journal peer-review process itself is corrupt, and that is hard to swallow. The idea that research funding influences outcomes had been thoroughly debunked in this article by van Eenenaam, who notes that such corrupt research is a sure path to a short academic career.

He cites this PLoS One paper which reviews papers for their findings, correlating them with the source of their support. The authors suggested that papers with no declared “conflict of interest” are more likely(83%) to find that sugar sweetened beverages could be a risk for weight gain, but for those “disclosing some financial conflict of interest” 83% found that there was no such correlation.

The trouble with that paper is that there are only a few such studies: there were only 12 in the first category and 6 in the second category, and only 10/12 and 5/6 supported the author’s conclusions.

There are other reviews of sugar consumption that we need to consider. For example, Weed et al. studied reviews of health outcomes from sugar sweetene beverage (SSB) consumption, and rated the review quality using the AMSTAR review rating scheme, and found that most of them received moderately low quality scores, regardless of the conclusions of the paper. This would mean that the conclusions of these reviews are probably not entirely convincing, and basing Taubes’ sugar conspiracy theory on such weak data is not fully substantiated.

Moreover, this recent paper by Keller et al. reviews papers on sugar sweetened beverage consumption among children and adolescents, reporting that 9 reviews found a correlation between obesity and SSB consumption, while 4 did not. But that the quality scores of the reviews was low to moderate and that the two papers with highest quality scores reported discrepant (inconclusive) results.

The most important conclusion we can draw from reading Taubes’ many opinion pieces is we eat too much sugar, but that studies so far have not shown that sugar is more to blame than calories from any other source. No such research seems yet to exist.