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  #1   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 05:48
kyrasdad's Avatar
kyrasdad kyrasdad is offline
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Default Food Without Fear

http://nytimes.com/2004/11/23/opinion/23barber.html
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November 23, 2004
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Food Without Fear
By DAN BARBER

Pocantico Hills, N.Y. — Now that the bloom is finally off the Atkins diet rose, now that the instinct to, say, make a purée of potatoes feels slightly less suicidal, let us take a moment to realize that, when it comes to food, Americans have the tendency to lose all reason. With the same collective head-scratching that goes on when we look back at the big hair and shoulder pads of the 80's, we would do well to ask: What were we thinking?

This question, of course, applies not just to the Atkins diet but to pretty much every diet fad Americans have followed over the last 30 years. In addition to catchy names, these diets tend to have one thing in common: they focus on what we eat - not on where what we eat comes from or how it was grown. Good nutrition has been conveniently, and profitably, reduced to an ingredient list. (Remember the grapefruit diet?)

That's a shame - and there's no better time to explore the ways in which we've been led astray than during Thanksgiving week, a time when Americans are particularly focused on food. (And, coincidentally, a time when we are blessedly between diet fads.) With a little scrutiny, we can see that our reductionist diet logic dissolves like a lump of sugar. Just consider the traditional Thanksgiving spread: it may appear to represent the American pastoral, but looks can be deceiving.

Start with the turkey. If your image of a turkey's life is one of green grass and rolling hills, look more closely. Nearly 300 million turkeys are raised today on factory farms where they live in windowless buildings illuminated by bright lights 24 hours a day. (This keeps the turkeys awake and eating.) The birds stand wing to wing on wood shavings and eat an overly fortified diet that enables them to reach an ideal dressed weight of 15 pounds in 12 to 14 weeks. The most popular breed is the Broad Breasted White, aptly named because these turkeys develop disproportionately large breasts, which makes it difficult for the birds to walk (if they had room to do so) and procreate (assuming they'd want to) without artificial insemination.

So what kind of bird would fit more accurately with our agrarian fantasies? Well, how about one that spends most of its life outdoors? Such birds - called pastured birds - are able to move around freely. Instead of having to be injected with antibiotics to stay healthy, they doctor themselves, seeking out certain plants at certain times of the year for pharmacological reasons. Because they expend so much energy moving around, they also grow more slowly: it takes them a month longer to reach slaughter weight than factory birds, which is one of the reasons pasturing is less attractive to industrial farmers. Scientific research comparing the health benefits of conventionally raised turkey to pastured turkey is scarce, but some work has been done on chickens. A study sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in 1999, for example, found that pastured chickens have 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat, 50 percent more vitamin A and 400 percent more omega-3 fatty acids than factory-raised birds. They also have 34 percent less cholesterol.

The pasture principle isn't limited to fowl. Compared to most American beef, which is raised on a grain-intensive diet, pasture-fed beef offers 400 percent more vitamin A and E. It is also much richer in beta-carotene and conjugated linoleic acids, all of which inhibit cancer. It's also higher in omega-3 fatty acids, which are a major inhibitor of heart disease. These benefits don't exist at these levels in animal that are fed an unvaried and unnatural diet.

The pasture principle can be applied to vegetables as well. We don't live off the food we eat - we live off the energy in the food we eat. So while Mom asked us, "Did you eat your fruits and vegetables?" today we might well ask: "What are our vegetables eating?"

It seems axiomatic but it's worth remembering that in order to experience the health benefits of the roasted broccoli at the Thanksgiving table, that broccoli needs to have been healthy too. We can be forgiven for ignoring the obvious because most every diet I've seen treats a head of broccoli the way Gertrude Stein talked about a rose - but a broccoli is not a broccoli is not a broccoli, especially if you consider how and from where its grown.

Sadly, the broccoli and the other brassicas on your holiday table (brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, kale, mustard greens) were most likely grown in a monoculture - a place where, with the help of large amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, nothing but the crop is allowed to grow. Fertilizers are as pervasive in these large farms as tractors, especially synthetic nitrogen. And you can understand why: the chemicals bulk up vegetables beautifully and quickly, enabling them to withstand the rigors of long-distance travel so that they can arrive at your supermarket unbruised and brightly colored. But it's a little like dating someone on steroids: the look and feel may be an initially appealing, but in the end it's all kind of disconcerting.

And think what gets lost. A serving of broccoli is naturally rich in vitamins A and B, and has more vitamin C than citrus fruit. But raised in an industrial farm monoculture, shipped over a long distance and stored before and after being delivered to your supermarket, it loses up to 80 percent of its vitamin C and 95 percent of its calcium, iron and potassium. Fruits and vegetables grown organically, however, have higher levels of antioxidants. That's largely because a plant's natural defense system produces phenolic compounds, chemicals that act as a plant's defense against pests and bugs. These compounds are beneficial to our health, too. When plants are grown with herbicides and pesticides, they slow down their production of these compounds. (Even more important, from a cook's point of view, organically grown fruits and vegetables taste better - their flavors practically burst from the ground and demand to be expressed, and we chefs merely comply.)

The same rules apply to the root vegetables, whether potatoes, sunchokes, beets, parsnips or carrots. Seek out ones grown in nutrient-rich soil for the greatest flavor and benefit. You can't buy good quality soil in a bag any more than you can buy good nutrition in a pill. Most organic farmers encourage complex relationships between crop roots, soil microbes and minerals - relationships that become wholly disrupted by chemical additives.

What about the milk and eggs that go into Thanksgiving pies and tarts? The industrialization of our food supply did not spare the dairy industry. Not surprisingly, pastured dairy cattle and laying hens produce more nutritious milk and cheese - pastured eggs in particular, with their glowing yellow yolks, have up to three times the amount of cancer-fighting omega-3's of eggs that come from factory hens.

As a chef, I am often mystified as I hear diners, rooting around for a nutrition and dietary cure, ask for this steamed and that on the side, and in the process deny themselves pleasure. Choosing what dietary advice of the moment to follow by putting a wet finger up to the wind, our patrons decide, or succumb, en masse, to a pummeling of such wearisome regularity that it begins to resemble the "rosebud'' of "Citizen Kane": the clue that solves everything but means nothing.

There is an ecology of eating. Like any good ecosystem, our diet should be diverse, dynamic and interrelated. In 1984 Americans were spending roughly 8 percent of their disposable income on health care and about 15 percent on food. Today, those numbers are essentially reversed. An ever-more reductionist diet - protein this year, carbohydrates next year - ignores plant and animal systems loaded with genetic complexity, and the benefits that complexity passes down to us.

So as you're getting ready for Thanksgiving, think of yourself less as a consumer of the harvest bounty and more, in the words of Carlo Petrini of the Slow Foods movement, as a co-producer. Try to remember what you know intuitively: that we can't be healthy unless our farms our healthy; that the end of the food chain is connected to the beginning of the food chain; that we can't lose touch with the culture in agriculture (it dates back to before Dr. Atkins). To the extent possible, shop at farmers markets for your Thanksgiving foods. Try to choose diversity over the abundance that the big food chains offer. Your food will be tastier, fresher and more nutritious. You'll be able to have your cake (and your bacon and your bread and your potatoes) and eat it too.

Dan Barber is the chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
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  #2   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 12:41
fluffybear fluffybear is offline
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Nice thought, but not very do-able unless you live on a farm.
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  #3   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:03
grandpa grandpa is offline
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Is he suggesting that if we were to eat "pastured" agricultural products we could go back to spending 15% of our income on food (versus 8% now). Turning back the clock on efficiencies gained in our food supply would probably result in far more than 15% being spent on food. He also seems to imply that the increase in health care (8% 1984 to 15% today) is due to not eating "pastured" products. Malpractice insurance and defensive medicine don't figure into this increase?
I don't know about most people, but I'm not looking as meat products as a source of beta-carotene in my diet.
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  #4   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:28
tom sawyer tom sawyer is offline
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I agree, the whole idea that our food supply is unhealthy is a crock. OK so we sacrifice a few percentage points on certain vitamins and minerals. We more than make it up in variety and abundance.

Our nation's health problems aren't due to a lack of free range chickens in our diet. Its due to the consumption of too much fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Once we get that straightened out, only then might we spend some time looking into ways of making our diet marginally healthier.
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  #5   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:32
EvelynS EvelynS is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grandpa
Is he suggesting that if we were to eat "pastured" agricultural products we could go back to spending 15% of our income on food (versus 8% now).


Fifteen % seems very reasonable to me, what could be more important than our health and good food? And those efficiencies have other costs to the environment and animal welfare.
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  #6   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:41
fluffybear fluffybear is offline
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Default

I totally agree we should be eating whole foods rather than processed foods and engineered foods. As far as "organic" foods and range livestock, go, I am not so sure that is not somewhat of a gimmick. An egg is an egg is an egg. And I doubt we can really buy dairy products made from cows that have not either been fed a lot of chemicals. I really don't have the time or the money to search for such food and living in a metro area as I do, I don't have access to a farmer's market. My dream is to have a few acres and at least grow my own produce, but with the price of land being what it is, that is probably a dream that will never be reality for me, and even then, SEEDS are also genetically altered nowdays. Nothing is 100% natural and untouched by humans in their race to always make everything bigger and better.
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  #7   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:51
grandpa grandpa is offline
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To really get away from "engineered" chickens and beef, we would have to find non domesticated breeds common before mankind became agrarian since we have selectively only kept chickens that would be easy to keep, and were somewhat tasty for 10,000 years.

Once we find some of these pure strains the second generation of them will began the artificial selection or "engineering" of the breed since only the ones who thrive in our care / climate survive to reproduce.
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  #8   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 13:59
grandpa grandpa is offline
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EvelynS, You are right, 15% is probably a reasonal amount of money to spend on food, but keep in mind that is the average of the population. Food is somewhat of a fixed cost that doesn't increase proportionally with income. For those with an income of 1,000 per month, $150 is a lot to spend on food. If it held true for all incomes, then some who makes $100,000 per month would be spending $15,000 on food. Obviously it isn't a linear relationship. So an average of 8% increase in food costs is regressive in that it would hurt lower income people much more than the average or high income family.

But a great thing about a free economy is if the consumer values the perceived benefit of free-range chicken, they are free to spend their money on it! And if enough think the same way, more and more people will get into the free-range chicken business to cash in on the demand. This can occur whether or not there is any truth that it is better for us.
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  #9   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 14:24
ceberezin ceberezin is offline
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It's an interesting article. Too bad he feels compelled to starting it off by bashing Atkins, but that's typical of the New York Times food pages.

What he says about industrial farming methods is undeniable. The fact that unpastured meat, poultry, and eggs, unfarmed fish, and organic, local vegetables are expensive and not readily available is not a refutation of the excellent points he makes. It's merely an example of the poor choices that get made once we grow food for profit and not for people. So broccoli is cultivated for color and shelf-life, not for its nutritional value. We should not accept those poor choices so complacently.

While it is true that there are many reasons for the rise in the percentage of our incomes spent on health care relative to food, it cannot be denied that part of the reason for that increase is the poor quality of our food and farms. There's a systemic relationship here. Unfortunately, it's a relationship that Dan Barber, with his Atkins bashing, wouldn't recognize. When you consider that 80% of the disorders for which we take prescription drugs are related to insulin resistance, you can begin to see the connection. Would you rather spend your money on high quality low carb foods, including organic local vegetables and unpastured animal products or give it to the pharmaceutical companies. Take your choice. In that light, the greater expense of low carb eating is a bargain.
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  #10   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 14:34
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Nancy LC Nancy LC is offline
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Quote:
Dan Barber is the chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.


Sounds like he's drumming up business for whatever he is selling.

I briefly worked in sales, with sales people, and its a basic technique to use FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to get people to buy your stuff. I can smell FUD a mile off now.
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  #11   ^
Old Tue, Nov-23-04, 15:11
kyrasdad's Avatar
kyrasdad kyrasdad is offline
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Plan: Atkins
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grandpa,

Our food budget is higher than 8%. Buying meat, veggies and ignoring cheap carbs has ramped it up. On bad months (when we eat out too much) it can ding above 15%, and is rarely less than 10%. I don't know how to eat for less without loading up on cheap carbs.
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  #12   ^
Old Wed, Nov-24-04, 09:31
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ItsTheWooo ItsTheWooo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nancy LC
Sounds like he's drumming up business for whatever he is selling.

I briefly worked in sales, with sales people, and its a basic technique to use FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to get people to buy your stuff. I can smell FUD a mile off now.


Yep.
While I agree most processing we do to food is unhealthy, sometimes we forget there are benefits. The processing of milk may kill off some enzymes, but it also kills dangerous life threatening bacteria. The same goes for cooking meat and veggies - you lose some enzymes and vitamins but you also kill off bacteria and/or break down fiber allowing for better absorption of the nutrients left.

Ideally we would eat grass fed meat and dairy and veggies, but I don't have that sort of money.
Besides, eating factory farmed meat and veggies is still better than eating tastycakes or special k. This isn't a "hunch" - I can observe the very real benefits of eating better in my own health.
Selecting raw, unprocessed dairy (fresh yogurt, milk, cheese, sour cream), meats, nuts fruits and veggies are better for me.
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  #13   ^
Old Thu, Nov-25-04, 05:19
EvelynS EvelynS is offline
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Plan: high fat low carb
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ItsTheWooo

Ideally we would eat grass fed meat and dairy and veggies, but I don't have that sort of money.
.


How much money would it take to buy a pint of organic milk vs. conventional milk once a week? Over here organic milk is just a few pence more.

When I see the junk (food and otherwise) that people of all incomes buy, I wonder. Setting aside those who genuinely can't afford it, there are clearly a lot of people who could afford to make a small change like this. And just think what a difference it would make if, say, 80% of the population made the switch.
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