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I’m eating sliced steak en croute with organic flour and organic butter and quite possibly organic meat, I don’t recall.

This may or may not be particularly laudable. But soon it could be impossiblle.

Two months ago I wrote about HR2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. This is an attempt by theFederal government to kill small and organic farms, whether or not that’s what supporters believe they want to do. What there’s no indication it’ll do is enhance food safety in any meaningful way.

Nothing I mentioned then has changed (including the unfortunate preponderance of crazy people opposing it), but it is has passed the House of Representatives, with the Senate expected to vote after the August recess. The time to act is now. If you’re American and support small, independent farms, and support organic and sustainable agriculture, contact your senators, and tell them to oppose this bill. It’s not too late.


Following in the footsteps of popular New York Governor David Paterson and his tax on non-diet soda, a group of Scottish doctors are calling for a tax on chocolate.

This is different from the soda tax for the very important reason that I don’t drink soda and I do eat chocolate. I also need chocolate; six months ago I was underweght by anyone’s standards and my adult weight has varied over a range of 135 pounds. So when the British Medical Association and David Paterson and all such are trying to modify my behavior through tax policy, they are actually acting against my interests.

That’s because there are no panaceas, no nutritional or medical approach that is always and only good for everyone. Is chocolate bad for you? Proabably not, but I know someone who’s allergic to it. On the other hand, there’s some evidence chocolate is actually good for you. That’s not even a contradiction—chocolate, like anything else, contains multitudes. As does the populace

Today’s Times brings us the tale of Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician in California who strove to have himself certified organic.

Organic foods in the United States are certified under rules developed by the National Organic Program of the USDA, though the actual certification is done by private groups that may be for-profit. If a product bears the seal, it means at least 95% of the ingredients are organic, a designation that presumably includes (filtered) water. For an ingredient to be organic, it needs to be raised without antibiotics or hormones or grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizer (as appropriate) and producers—a loaded word, that—must follow soil and water conservation procedures and treat animals with a minimum of humaneness. I was surprised to learn that; I hadn’t realized organic meat was antibiotic-free. Michael Pollan notes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that antibiotics are needed to produce maketable meat from cattle raised on a maize-based diet because cattle do not thrive on a maize-based diet.

The system isn’t perfect. For often perfectly benign reasons, regulations such as those for organic foods tend to be written and enforced to favor industry. The cost of certification—not organic practices, maintaining the paper trail and paying the inspectors—can be more easily borne by large businesses.

The biggest problem is that the regulations govern technique, not outcome. So the oregano you grow in your window box or the tomatoes you grow in your garden are not organic, no matter what you did or didn’t do in growing them. More seriously, a farm such as Polyface in Virginia can’t be certified because it’s a lot of frankly unnecessary work to maintain the necessary records. Organic livestock has to eat only organic foods for three years, just as Dr. Greene did, and they won’t just take the farmer’s word for it. This doesnt mean the farm doesn’t operate under principles that I, at least, trust will produce food that’s no less healthful or sustainable than the duly inspected products of the nutrition industry.

One benefit of the system, however: when you eat organic, you know what you’re getting, which is more than you can say for processed foods.

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