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Showing posts from April, 2012

Organic food and agricultural romanticism

A seed has three main parts: an outer husk to protect it until germination (bran), a reserve of energy (endosperm) and the cells that have the DNA to kick start growth (germ). After planting into the earth with sufficient moisture to break down the bran, the process of growth starts. The germ cells use the nutrient reserve in the endosperm to get started in making fledgling leaves and roots and eventually, the seedling breaks through to the infinite energy of photosynthesis from sunlight. The roots develop and start to move water from the soil through the plant to be evaporated from the leaves and in so doing, the water brings the minerals the plant needs to grow, of which one is nitrogen.  Nitrogen is absorbed from the soil as either ammonium (NH4+) or as nitrate (NO2-). Both are released from commercial fertilizers and both are released from farmyard manure. The ammonium and the nitrate ions of both commercial fertilizers and manure are absolutely identical and there is simply no way…

Michael Pollan's "In defense of food" - a critique

Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food’ has been a global best seller within the genre of books on food and health. It appears to be extremely popular among journalists since it bashes conventional wisdom on food. Twice, correspondents for the Irish Times chose to feature this book and marvel at its wisdom. Pollan’s book is peppered with half-truths, circular arguments and highly selective supporting material. His fundamental point is that we should focus our dietary choice on foods and not bother too much, if at all, with all of this nutritional advice that abounds today.

Pollen’s belief that health is the driver of food choice in the modern era is a cornerstone of his argument. Take for example the statement he makes: “That eating should be foremost about bodily health is a relatively new, and I think, destructive idea”.As I pointed out in my blog of April 2nd, the interest in healthy eating is as old as civilisation and this obsession is the pursuit of a relatively minor section…

Even fat people can go hungry

Any word association involving obesity will quickly throw up the word ‘America’. It was in the US where obesity was first seen in epidemic proportions and it was in the US that fast food, Coca Cola and super-sizing originated.It is the gold standard of an obesogenic environment with a cheap and abundant food supply and, of course, most of its urban sprawls actively promote the car over shank’s mare. The concern over obesity begins with the First Lady herself and embraces all elements of US health policy. But within that obesogenic environment lies hunger and lots of it. Even the obese can be hungry.
The story of hunger in modern US can be traced back to 1967 when the US Senate Select Committee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty moved its hearings from Washington to a heartland of unemployment in Jackson, Mississippi, in April, 1967. The testimony that they received was dominated by stories of hunger and starvation and the stories told were so unbelievable as to persuade the young Sena…

Sleep, obesity and the rhythm of life

We make ourselves and break ourselves day-by-day, hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute. The only time this stops is when we pop our clogs and die. The molecules that make up the chemicals that give form and function to your liver today will not be there next week. Some (Carbon & Oxygen) will leave the body to the atmosphere and some (Nitrogen & Hydrogen) will vanish down the loo. Next weeks liver will be today’s salami and tomorrows mushroom soup. This constant synthesis and degradation of all human organs has one enormous survival advantage. In times when food is short, the body can prioritise which organs are more precious than others such that they get priority for re-synthesis. Usually, the brain, the gut and the immune system get priority over muscle, fat and bone because they perform more vital functions. Why look like Arnold Schwarzenegger when your immune system is in trouble.
The constant making and breaking of the human body is cyclical and almost all biological systems …

Sex, obesity and the seven deadly sins

In 2003, The Economist carried a major article on obesity and featured the topic on its front cover, which has become a PowerPoint icon in obesity lectures.The images imply that throughout time, our ancestors were lean and fit and that obesity is a modern phenomenon, arising from today’s food industry, as witnessed by the use of a McDonalds package in the illustration of modern obese man. ‘Not so’, says Louise Foxcroft in her recent book “Calories and Corsets” which documents the history of obesity and dieting and which forms the basis of this blog. The Venus of Berekhat from the Golan Heights is believed to date from 500,000 BC, prior to Homo Sapiens and in the Era of Homo Erectus. Like later figures such as the Hohle Fels Venus from 35,000 BC, females are portrayed as being grossly obese with pendulous breasts and multiple folds of fat. It is of course impossible to say whether these were based on real cases or are merely symbolic of the recognised need of a minimal amount of body fa…