On a whim one day I wrote a very brief Amazon review for Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. I ended by suggesting that all one needed to do to manage weight and eat healthily could be conveyed in a six-word diet book: Don’t Put Junk in your Mouth.
My review may have won the “most reviled ever” award for Amazon reviews. My one paragraph whimsical review fomented hundreds of pages of utter contempt for my baseless and vile inference that eating well and managing weight could be so simple. Had I no shame? Had I no appreciation for how complicated and troubling and tortuous and elusive and, indeed, near-impossible, it is to eat well? Had I no empathy for the tens of millions of Americans who are obese for absolutely no fault of their own?
These responses to my review – which was literally one paragraph – grew to hundreds of pages in a matter of hours! My one paragraph slam of Taubes’s work set off an alarm that sparked an automatic transmission of diet-speak to stem at the bud anything that might countervail the conventional wisdom – which is, as far as I can tell, that we are all innocent victims of forces beyond our control or understanding, and that our salvation lies in eschewing any science-based nutritional behaviors and reverting back to the days of bacon grease, milk shakes, and cave-men emulation.
I am not a nutritionist. Or a doctor (well, I’m sort of a “doctor” in the non-medical Ph.D. sense of the word). Nor am I terribly interested in nutrition at a passionate level. I am a devotee of science — of research well-designed and well-executed. And I am respectful of the personal and public implications that we can extrapolate from good science. For example, I believe in the reality of global warming — not because I want to, but because it is supported by 100 percent of the unbiased, un-loony, scientific community. I know there are ideological extremists who are convinced that global warming is a farce – or that doing something about it might thwart the divine trajectory of the Rapture when the devout right-wing all ascend unto Heaven. So let me come absolutely clean with you from the start. I go with the science, not with the scriptures or with extreme political ideologies.
So it is with nutrition. There is a mature, fundamental, scientific basis for sound nutrition – for healthful eating. Regrettably, we never hear of the science of nutrition. Instead, we treat diet as a moving fad feast, with the only thing in common linking one fad to the next are the essential products of the industries that foment each new fad. The money is in telling us to eat junk (as I will define it in my first blog entry). For example, the dairy industry, a humongous agri-business sector, will always make sure that the Department of Agriculture (home of the USDA dietary guidelines), the public school system, and every institutional commentary on diet lauds dairy products as essential and salubrious. But they are neither. Indeed, dairy products are not just unhealthy — they are unsafe for human consumption. I say this because that’s what the unsponsored science tells me. Look at it for yourself. Exclude industry-sponsored propaganda masquerading as science.
I spent much of my early youth on my grandparent’s farm in northwest Ohio. I “helped” my grandpa milk the cows twice a day. The sale of milk was his primary revenue source. My other grandfather ran a shoe store in Elmore, Ohio, where 90 percent of his revenue came from cigar sales. My family was in the dairy industry and in the tobacco industry. Science hasn’t been kind to either. I’m going with the science, not with my family heritage.
This blog is not anti-diary, or anti-meat, or anti-olive oil, or anti-coconut milk, or anti-potato chip, or anti-SAD (standard American diet). It is pro “nutrition as a science.” It is anti “nutrition as a fad feast.” My writing is often irreverent and caustic and strident. Forgive me in advance if I call you an idiot for having once dallied with the Atkins Diet. We have all been idiots at times – most of us in multiple facets of our lives. Excuse me for calling you a naïve sucker for thinking that milk is safe. Or for thinking that obesity is caused by poverty. Or for thinking that olive oil is the elixir of vitality and longevity. Or for thinking that you should eat more protein and less carbohydrate. Or for thinking cavemen had the last word on human nutrition. Or for thinking your cross-fit trainer knows crap about nutrition. Or for relying on recommendations of the United States Department of Agriculture. Or for believing what you were taught in school about nutrition, or what your local science center says in special health exhibits that are generally sponsored by agri-business interests.
If you are at all like me you favor science over religion, politics, and prostitution. If you hate what I say in this book because it belies everything you believe in about what you should be eating, then you may be choosing, knowingly or not, to ignore science in favor of what your parents taught you, what your teachers taught you, what your doctor recommended for you, what you have been told by the popular press, and what you have been told by your government. In the late 1970’s an entire Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition was pulled from distribution – and never published – because of lobbying efforts of agri-business, especially the dairy and meat industries, and by legislative and executive prostitutes who took their orders from agri-business pimps. I’m sorry if this comes across as a bit cynical. But a prostitute by any other name – senator, congressman, FDA official, journalist, author – smells as rotten. I’m not terribly happy that our elected government lawmakers are whoring for the gun industry. Or for the dairy industry. Or for the tobacco industry. But this is a reality and a truth that we have to face. What is – is! Acknowledging and accepting what is real is not the enemy of change – it is the precondition to change.
I invite you to vigorously oppose everything I write in this blog. Do your own meta-analyses of independent nutritional research – research that is not sponsored by the industries that benefit from poorly-designed studies and by selective manipulation of data. It’s a shameful truth that the most predictive explanatory variable in studies published by the world’s leading medical journals is the source of the funding! If a study is financed by a drug company, it will be designed and executed to support the efficacy of the company’s new drug. If a study is financed by the dairy industry, it will be designed and executed to produce outcomes that support the contention that dairy products are safe and healthy.
This is called bad science — at best. It should be called fraud. Perhaps child abuse. Maybe even genocide. And the research protagonists that compromise their integrity, as well as the journal reviewers and editors, should be called prostitutes. What would you call a public spokesperson for the tobacco industry? You would call that person a prostitute, one who sells himself or herself for vile and disreputable purposes. Now imagine that other agri-business interests who sell products that are deleterious to the public health – albeit not as gruesomely savage as tobacco – are also committed to promoting the image of their products as healthy, safe, and desirable. And imagine that they will stop at nothing to promote that view of their products, regardless of what the independent nutritional science may be showing. Manipulating public opinion and public impressions of nutrition is critical to every industry in the food supply. Doing so should be called prostitution.
I’m pretty sure you won’t like what you will read in these blog entries. You won’t want it to be true. And you don’t have to believe it. You can hold the imprimaturs of the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association in such high regard that you will accept, on the standards of their reputations, that low-fat diets are no different from high-fat diets in the incidence of breast cancer, and that the Mediterranean Diet is profoundly more salubrious than an alternative “low fat” diet. But if you are a research scholar, and take ten minutes to look at the outlines of these recent studies, you will react in disbelief. You will be incredulous at the lack of research design integrity that gains acceptance in these two prominent medical journals. I am a business professor, and I can assure you if I held a forum for my research colleagues in finance, economics, marketing, accounting and management, and showed them the research behind the aforementioned assertions from the NEJOM and JAMA, they would think I was pulling their legs. The Journal of Finance and the Journal of Marketing Research wouldn’t let this level of research chicanery through door one in the review process. It’s that bad.
The following blogs will be short, five-minute summaries that convey the essence of nutritional science and lay out what it means when I say Don’t Put Junk in Your Mouth. Most of you reading this won’t be able to make the transition from the SAD (standard American diet) to a junk-less eating regimen overnight. It’s okay – even great – for you to just become more aware of what you are eating – especially when you are putting junk in your mouth! Self-awareness is foundational. It won’t hurt you to simply know when you are eating cheese that you are eating something that is bad for you. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s just ignorance. Being aware of eating junk is a huge leap by itself. It’s a great first step. Take it.