G.F. Will, Michael Pollan, and Tom Vilsack: “Do No Harm”

George F. Will has a nice column in today’s Post about American agriculture policy, Michael Pollan’s warnings in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and the ascent of Iowa’s Tom Vilsack to the Department of Agriculture.

WASHINGTON — Tom Vilsack, Iowa’s former governor, calls his “the most important department in government,” noting that the Agriculture Department serves education through school nutrition programs and serves diplomacy by trying to wean Afghanistan from a poppy-based (meaning heroin-based) economy. But Vilsack’s department matters most because of the health costs of the American diet. If Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics and, in a sense, Iowa.


Vilsack’s department is entwined with the food industry that produces a food supply unhealthily simplified by the dominance of a few staples such as corn. This diet, Pollan says, has made many Americans both overfed and undernourished.

Hippocrates enjoined doctors: “Do no harm.” He also said something germane to a nation that is harming itself with its knives and forks: “Let food be thy medicine.” That should be carved in stone over the entrance to Vilsack’s very important department.

Will is hardly a “crunchy” conservative or ardent localist, but his willingness to look beyond the mainstream of conservatism, to embrace policies and ideas that simply make sense, and have roots reaching deeper than Reagan, is always appreciated, and I’m quite happy to see as widely read and respected a national conservative columnist as he spreading this message.


Have you ever wanted to eat a car?

From Cake Wrecks, the most delicious automobile ever.

Green Prisons

LITTLEROCK, Wash. – Of all the things convicted murderer Robert Knowles has been called during his 13 years behind bars, recycler hasn’t been one of them.

But there he was one morning, pitchfork in hand, composting food scraps from the main chow line and coffee grounds from prison headquarters — doing his part to “green” the prison.

[ . . . ]

As around-the-clock operations, prisons are voracious resource hogs, and administrators are under increasing pressure to reduce waste and conserve energy and water.

In 2007, states spent more than $49 billion to feed, house, clothe, treat and supervise 2.3 million offenders, the Pew Center on the States reported this year.

As the prison population has grown this decade, up 76 percent from 1.3 million in 2000, the number of prisons and jails has risen with it. The latest U.S. Bureau of Justice data show 1,821 facilities in 2005, up from 1,668 in 2000.

Pretty damn cool, huh? I think it’s a pretty fantastic idea, implementing go-local food culture, recycling, a means whereby, ideally, to re-connect felons with the society, at least abstractly and indirectly, that they have spurned, and a general plan of semi-self-sufficiency. Imagine, now, if we stopped locking up every prostitute (I’m all for throwing the books at pimps.), coke-head, and small-time marijuana grower, how much more we could save on prisons. Just a thought. For now, though, the greening of prisons seems to be a pretty admirable step in the right direction.

In further defense of culinary conservatism

I realize that potato chips and similar processed snack junk hard fit the bill of culinary conservatism, any-way, but, I won’t lie, I do, sympathetic as I am to the crunchy persuasion, but only to a limited extent an active partaker, enjoy, more frequently than I ought to, stuffing my face with pure crap, chips in particular. Some-thing about this, though, gives me pause and compels me to contemplate more assiduously selecting with which foods I choose to nourish my-self.

California sued H.J. Heinz Co., Frito-Lay, Kettle Foods Inc., and Lance Inc. in 2005, alleging they violated a state requirement that companies post warning labels on products with carcinogens.

The companies avoided trial by agreeing to pay a combined $3 million in fines and reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products over three years, officials said.

No Big Macs for you! Come back in one year!

Courtesy of Will, Time reports that Los Angeles has enacted a one-year moratorium on new fast-food establishments in a low-income area of the city.

I sympathize with those who seek any sort of remedy to soaring obesity rates, particularly amongst the urban poor; how-ever, such nanny-state tactics, meant to save people from themselves, send a chill down my spine. On the other hand,

Councilwoman Jan Perry says residents at five public meetings expressed concern with the proliferation of fast-food outlets in the community plagued by above-average rates of obesity.

Striking the balance between appropriate governmental restraint and legitimate action some-times requires delicacy; that (some segment of) the residents of the area support(s) the moratorium makes it comparatively more palatable, although the residents whom Councilwoman Perry adduces may constitute a vocal minority, rather than an accurate representation of the populace. (Moreover, I think I have, before, suggested that I question the merits of relying too heavily on the wishes of the people, particularly at the local level, where, for whatever reason(s), I tend more authoritarian than I do at higher levels of government.)

Beyond the nanny-state health-policy question, I support this moratorium for reasons best described by dcporter, commenting on Will’s original post:

Having spent a lot of time in a town that bans fast food restaurants (meaning McDonalds and the like – they’ve still got places that make your food quickly), I have to say that I like it. And it’s always nice when local government stands up to oppose international capital accumulation.

Any-one who knows me well enough knows that I positively disdain chains (and, even, franchises), avoiding fast food almost always, steering clear of national sit-down restaurants almost as constantly, and buying local when-ever possible. (I even own a share in the Greenbelt Co-op grocery store!) For voluminous reasons, I support measures, which I should passionately oppose when directed toward other ends, that preclude formula restaurants and chain stores from establishing them-selves in communities; additional to cultural and economic grounds, I oppose chains on pretexts political, aesthetic, and land-use-related. Kudos to Los Angeles: Let’s see other municipalities, maybe states, too, enact such legislation, or, at the very least, enact ordinances and statutes, reasonable in nature, that favor local establishments over corporate entities.

Update: Finally, after three in the morning, I made it beyond the front section and Scrabblegram of Wednesday’s Post and noticed an article, head-lining the Business section, written apropos of Time‘s report.

One in three children in this country are overweight. But, until now, it was unclear how much the nation’s largest food and beverage companies spent influencing kids to eat unhealthy foods.

The companies spent about $1.6 billion marketing their products — mainly soda, fast food and cereal — to children in 2006, according to a Federal Trade Commission report on food marketing to children released yesterday.

One-point-six billion dollars spent on marketing junk food to kids, four hundred and ninety-two million dedicated to carbonated-beverage advertising, compared to a paltry sixty-seven million spent on the “Got Milk?” ad’s. (Yes, I intended to use an apostrophe there: “ad’s” is a contraction of “advertisements”; I have strange writing habits, I know.) All the more reason for the right to embrace culinary conservatism. Unless we aspire to portly populism, reactionary rotundity, or tubby traditionalism, that is.

Slaughtering cows, messing with a good thing, rather than encouraging personal responsibility

First, allow me to make some-thing perfectly clear: I love meat. I generally eat it five, if not six, days weekly (I have taken up the penance of fasting there-from on Fridays.), usually in the form of steak. However, I sympathize, completely, with the culinarily conservative, earth-friendly, crunchy attitude toward raising (rather than manufacturing) natural, organic meat (even if my buying habits rarely, presently, reflect this). Not only do I dis-dain factory farming practices; I, also, have a problem with wasting food, because I love food, sicken a bit at the thought of an animal’s dying, only for its death to be de-meaned in such a sad way, and recognize that food that could be feeding the millions, if not billions, of severely hungry and starving people across the world, ends up in a land-fill some-where. Finally, I rather loathe the nanny state and any attempts to curtail, say, health problems, that rely on methods other than encouraging personal responsibility.

All of this being so, that this article in to-day’s Washington Post frustrates me ought not to surprise the reader.

LA PLATA, Argentina — The quest for the perfect hamburger, as any ambitious barbecuer knows, is an exact science. And science is all about trial and error.

“How many hamburgers have we made?” says Noemi Zaritzky, head of Argentina’s Center for Research and Development in Food Cryotechnology. “In total, you mean?”

She’s stumped. . .

[. . .]

They explain the basics: 40 hamburgers for each formulation. Hundreds of formulations to test microbiological reactions, oxidation, texture, taste . . .

“A lot of burgers,” summarizes Silvina Andrés, a biochemist who helped lead the project.

The result is a lean beef burger that is low-fat, low-sodium and juicy, without saturated fat, and that tastes — according to limited consumer tests — as though it probably shouldn’t be good for you.

Essentially, what the scientists have done is take the beef fat out of the meat and replace it with a combination of substitutes less likely to clog arteries. Those substitutes include high oleic sunflower oil and fats from seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which many studies suggest benefit cardiovascular health. They also added phytosterols to the mix — a byproduct of soybeans that can lower the body’s cholesterol absorption.

[. . .]

The average Argentine in 2006 consumed more than 140 pounds of beef, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. None of the other nationalities studied consumed even half that amount, with the exception of Americans, who consumed an average of 97 pounds.

Argentines have one of the highest levels of heart disease in the world, according to the American Heart Association.

[. . .]

In a boxy building about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, more than 100 researchers in white coats mill around test tubes, big-bellied flasks and centrifuges, working on food-related science projects that are funded in part by the Argentine government.

Really, why not tell Argentines to eat less hamburger and to exercise more, stop wasting their tax dollars, stop messing with this delicious, perfect every-man’s cut of meat, and halt the need-less slaughter of the number of cows sufficient to supply forty hamburgers for each of hundreds of formulations? Long live paternalism, eh?

Millions of peaches, peaches for me (One last post before I act productive to-day)

Although, I suspect, heating them detracts from the nutritional value, I have discovered that using the George Foreman Grill on peach slices brings out a fair amount of taste in otherwise dull, hardly flavorful grocery store produce.