mm469: Blast from the Past! No. 41

August 15, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

So, back into the archives yet again, but hey, recycling is IN, right? We’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, one of my first Sandy Szwarc posts, originally posted October 26, 2007, and titled “mm177: Healthy eating — Overrated!”

MUDGE’S Musings

Sandy Szwarc has, at least twice this month, provided health related stories that I’ve seen no where else, in her blog, Junkfood Science.

In a previous post, I highlighted her evaluation of recent under-reported studies showing counterintuitive results: that fat people survive cardiac episodes better than thin ones!.

She even responded politely to the post, even though I thoroughly and consistently misspelled her name! How embarrassing for MUDGE! Sorry, Sandy Szwarc!

She toppled my world again last week. She writes about a gigantic study launched in 1993 to pursue the relationship between what’s been known forever as healthy eating, and good health.

Remember reading about this study? I don’t.

Guess why. Because, once again, the results were startling.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm447: Blast from the Past! No. 36

July 24, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Well, today was that Thursday that actually began at 10:00pm last night, flowing seamlessly from Wednesday, and save for about two hours between the end of one meeting at 2am and the preparation for the next at 5:15am, sleep for yr (justifiably) humble svt has been as scarce as home buyers.

So, we’re on a reduced blogging schedule, with just enough energy to faithfully observe the Prime Directive: Thou Shalt Blog Daily.

As we’ve opined in the past (recently, actually) one of our favorite bloggers regardless of topic is Sandy Szwarc.

The first time we found her was last October. Enjoy!

lhc7601904[3]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, originally posted October 8, 2007, and originally titled “mm165: Junkfood Science: Obesity Paradox No. 13 — Take heart.”

MUDGE’S Musings

Welcome to one of the newest members of the Left-Handed Complement blogroll, Junkfood Science.

Sandy Szwarc seems to have the credentials, and she has a point of view.

Points of view are not lacking in the blogosphere (although credentials may be!), but I was attracted to hers immediately.

Anyone glancing at the rendition of Yr (Justifiably) Humble Svt that graces the top of the sidebar of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© can probably tell that one might charitably describe MUDGE as horizontally challenged.

Fat.

Obese even.

A war fought over all but six decades. Oh, a battle won here or there, but the trend is lousy. And, the implicit message has always been: get skinny or die early.

Well, heredity and Snickers bars have long impaired my ability to do the former.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm445: Another dietary mistake

July 20, 2008

dreamstime_3286477

© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Summertime. People are vacationing. The weather, here in the Northern Hemisphere, at least (reportedly quite chilly in Oz, sorry guys!) is excessively hot and humid. The beach beckons.

News is sparse, but the need to sell the advertisers’ wares means that the 24-hour news cycle keeps on spinning.

Thus a story in the New England Journal of Medicine received undue prominence this week: a report on a clinical study of a comparison of two popular diet programs, the Atkins diet (once a tool of yr (justifiably) humble svt) vs. the Mediterranean diet (a favored tool of an official brother of y[j]hs). So it was all over the headlines for a day or so, midweek, filling those column inches and 30-second sound bites during the summer doldrums and of more than a little personal interest.

This was a 2-year study, and the weight loss reported was depressingly small. What was going on?

I turned, as often I do when trying to dig beneath the headlines on medical issues, to Left-Handed Complement‘s favorite authority on such medical studies, especially as regards weight loss, Sandy Szwarc, writing in her amazingly wise blog, Junkfood Science. Here are some previous occasions when she cut through the jargon and the statistical distortions for us.

Junkfood Science: Sandy Szwarc’s Genius

mm390: Mudge’s Healthy Obsession
mm363: “60 Minutes:” Dead wrong?
mm305: Google Health – 1984 for the 21st Century
mm276: Fat Tuesday…
mm197: Short attention span
mm177: Healthy eating — Overrated!
mm165: Junkfood Science: Obesity Paradox #13

Sure enough, yesterday’s Junkfood Science post provided a thorough analysis, detailed but not excessively technical, of the study. Were you aware, for example, that it was partially funded by the Atkins people?

Read the rest of this entry »


mm177: Healthy eating — Overrated!

October 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Sandy Szwarc has, at least twice this month, provided health related stories that I’ve seen no where else, in her blog, Junkfood Science.

In a previous post, I highlighted her evaluation of recent under-reported studies showing counterintuitive results: that fat people survive cardiac episodes better than thin ones!.

She even responded politely to the post, even though I thoroughly and consistently misspelled her name! How embarrassing for MUDGE! Sorry, Sandy Szwarc!

She toppled my world again last week. She writes about a gigantic study launched in 1993 to pursue the relationship between what’s been known forever as healthy eating, and good health.

Remember reading about this study? I don’t.

Guess why. Because, once again, the results were startling.

As she writes,

junkfoodscience

Everybody knows what it means to eat healthy. We’ve heard about healthy foods and the importance of eating right our entire lives: “To be healthy and prevent heart disease, cancers and other chronic diseases of aging — and to maintain a slim, “healthy” weight — we should eat a low-fat and high-fiber diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.” This advice comes from respected doctors and health officials and we hear it everywhere, so it is unfathomable that these dietary beliefs have never actually been clinically tested…until recently.

So to rectify the lack of hard evidence a seriously mammoth study was created. Sandy Szwarc reports,

According to the National Institutes of Health, it was “one of the largest studies of its kind ever undertaken in the United States and is considered a model for future studies of women’s health.” It was a major undertaking, costing $415 million and was conducted at 40 medical centers across the country. It was a well-designed and carefully conducted study and researchers were confident this would prove the rightness of eating “right.”

The comparison, among over 48,000 post-menopausal women (the age group most at risk for heart disease and cancer) divided the group by diet:

The women in the healthy eating intervention group cut their total fat intakes down to 24% of their calories and 8% saturated fat the first year — well below the control group eating about 38% total fat and nearly 40% more saturated fats. By the end of the study, the “healthy eaters” were still averaging 29% fat, compared to 37% in the control group. The “healthy” dieters also ate about 25% more fruits and vegetables, grains and fiber than the typical American diet of the control group.

By now, you see where this is going. In the four major areas of concern, the results of years of study showed:

Cardiovascular disease (the biggest cause of death as we age): Healthy eating proved to have no effect on cardiovascular disease….

Breast cancer: Healthy eating proved to have no effect on breast cancer incidences….

Colorectal cancer: Healthy eating proved to have no effect on colon or rectal cancers….

Body Weight: Not only that, but the women following a “healthy” diet for 8 years didn’t end up thinner….

These results only hit the news in “spun” form, because the health establishment refuses to be confused by the facts. Turns out that the conventional wisdom is more properly characterized as unsupported by clinical findings conventional wis-dumb.

Sandy Szwarc says this much more eloquently than I can. Take a look:

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Junkfood Science: Junkfood Science Exclusive: The big one — results of the biggest clinical trial of healthy eating ever

One has to wonder: what have I been doing beating myself up all these years? Hating myself for not eating healthy; despising my inability to keep discipline and lose all that ugly fat once and for all; feeling certain that I’ll die before my time and they’ll have trouble finding a casket that fits.

And all that self-denial leads to… nothing? No substantive difference?

I’ll repeat Sandy Szwarc’s final graf:

Health is not evidence of moral character and pristine diets. Don’t let anyone try to scare you, threaten you, or get you to believe that if you don’t eat “right” (whatever their definition) you’ll get fat, cancer, heart disease, or die sooner. There is simply no good evidence.

Be sure to check out part 2 of her blockbuster report, reporting on analyses of the findings in relationship to cancer.

Junkfood Science is a wonderful blog.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm165: Junkfood Science: Obesity Paradox #13 — Take heart

October 9, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Welcome to one of the newest members of the Left-Handed Complement blogroll, Junkfood Science.

Sandy Szwarc seems to have the credentials, and she has a point of view.

Points of view are not lacking in the blogosphere (although credentials may be!), but I was attracted to hers immediately.

Anyone glancing at the rendition of Yr (Justifiably) Humble Svt that graces the top of the sidebar of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© can probably tell that one might charitably describe MUDGE as horizontally challenged.

Fat.

Obese even.

A war fought over all but six decades. Oh, a battle won here or there, but the trend is lousy. And, the implicit message has always been: get skinny or die early.

Well, heredity and Snickers bars have long impaired my ability to do the former.

And over the past decade, the promised life-shortening chronic diseases have appeared as threatened: diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, all controlled as well as can be expected through (to some extent diet, but mainly) the wonders of the pharmaceutical arts, which is pretty well indeed.

This past summer, a promising exercise program that played to the only exercise MUDGE can comfortably handle (other than blogging!), walking, turned into Achilles tendinosis, and the pounds lost so arduously over the past four years are packing on again, as the recreational and therapeutic walking halted while various medical professionals in MUDGE‘s life attempt to figure out how to end the annoying ankle pain.

Then, the other day, thanks I believe to reddit.com, I encountered Sandy Szwarc.

For the first time in MUDGE‘s time in the ‘Sphere was I tempted to write: “WTF!” But I won’t.

Take a look:

junkfoodscience

What is most amazing is how long it has been known that body fat doesn’t cause heart disease or premature death, yet how vehemently people hold onto this belief. “The notion that body fat is a toxic substance is now firmly a part of folk wisdom: many people perversely consider eating to be a suicidal act,” wrote Dr. William Bennett, M.D., former editor of The Harvard Medical School Health Letter and author of The Dieter’s Dilemma. “Indeed, the modern belief that body fat is a mortal threat to its owner is mainly due to the fact that, for many decades, the insurance companies had the sole evidence, and if it was wrong they would presumably have had to close their doors.” That can still be said today, although the obesity interests have since grown considerably larger.

But the evidence that fatness is not especially harmful has been shown from research that dates back to the 1950s — more than a half a century ago. While many remain incredulous, the soundest body of evidence has shown, and continues to show, that being fat is not a risk factor for heart disease or a cause of premature death, even controlling for the effects of smoking or cancer.

The people of the U.S. are simultaneously getting fatter, and living longer.

Well, knock me over with a feather (not too likely in practical terms; you probably would be more successful doing so with a 3,000-pound bale of feathers).

Quoted is Dr. William Bennett, former editor of the Harvard Medical School Health Letter:

“Detailed epidemiological studies, too, show no impressive connection between obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The occasion for Szwarc‘s article is another new, very underreported study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Medicine, led by cardiologist Dr. Seth Uretsky, M.D., at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, showing the same counterintuitive findings: fat people survive cardiac episodes better than thin ones!.

Take a look at the full story:

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Junkfood Science: Obesity Paradox #13 — Take heart

Is it really possible that I’m supposed to be losing this lifetime battle against obesity?

And if so, why have I been lied to– er, misled all of these years?

Bears researching further I’m thinking, and Sandy Szwarc‘s Junkfood Science blogroll2 blog will now become a regular read.

Because, funny thing: Except for this pesky ankle, I feel pretty good.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,


mm152: Study Finds Evidence of Genetic Response to Diet

September 25, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This is a story from several weeks ago, “banked” in Windows Live Writer’s Drafts section waiting for an appropriate day.

This is that day, starting hours later than usual because MUDGE‘s pesky personal life keeps intruding into blogging time. The nerve!

As mentioned before, this writer is what a politically correct person might call “pleasingly plump,” or perhaps “horizontally challenged.” As you might have figured out by now, faithful reader, MUDGE does not have a politically correct bone in his body (as if he or anyone else could see any bones inside all the blubber), so he just calls himself fat.

It’s a lifelong problem, and has predictably led to the usual middle aged complications.

Having tried countless diets; having lost countless pounds, we fight this battle every frigging day.

Maybe there’s a magic bullet after all…

nytimes

by NICHOLAS WADE

Published: September 10, 2007

Could people one day evolve to eat rich food while remaining perfectly slim and svelte?

This may not be so wild a fantasy. It is becoming clear that the human genome does respond to changes in diet, even though it takes many generations to do so.

Researchers studying the enzyme that converts starch to simple sugars like glucose have found that people living in countries with a high-starch diet produce considerably more of the enzyme than people who eat a low-starch diet.

The reason is an evolutionary one. People in high-starch countries have many extra copies of the amylase gene which makes the starch-converting enzyme, a group led by George H. Perry of Arizona State University and Nathaniel J. Dominy of the University of California, Santa Cruz, reported yesterday in the journal Nature Genetics.

The production of the extra copies seems to have been favored by natural selection, according to a genetic test, the authors say. If so, the selective pressure could have occurred when people first started to grow cereals like wheat and barley at the beginning of the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago, or even much earlier.

… if not for MUDGE himself, perhaps for his great grandchildren, anyway.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Study Finds Evidence of Genetic Response to Diet – New York Times

Sorry to burden some of you with the concept of evolution, also considered in this space previously.

That’s not just a theory, guys, that’s the law!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm103: How to hack Starbucks. – Slate Magazine

August 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Starbucks — what else is there to say?

Quite a lot actually, at Slate.com today.

slate

Hacking Starbucks – Where to learn about the ghetto latte, barista gossip, and Nicole Kidman’s usual.

By Michael Agger
Posted Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, at 7:02 PM ET

Starbucks Coffee Cups. Click image to expand.Starbucks coffee

Perhaps you’ve noticed: The Internet has an obsession with Starbucks. Maybe it’s because the two have grown up together. In 1995, Starbucks had just launched its master plan to become “a third place for people to congregate beyond work or the home,” while the Web had a lot of gray pages with text and “hyperlinks.” Now, the coffee chain has become the new McDonald’s (44 million customers a week), and the Web has become a 24-hour global exercise in collective intelligence gathering. Gourmet coffee culture and Internet culture have fed off each other, and Starbucks in particular has become a punching bag for the indie spirit that pervades the Web. So I wanted to discover who has the upper hand: Does Starbucks dominate us with its convenient locations and potent caffeine, or do we, thanks to the Web, ultimately call the shots?

Exhibit A in the online cheekiness and wariness toward Starbucks is an old monument: the Starbucks Oracle, which went online in 2002. You enter a drink, the oracle spits out a profile. Here’s the response to my regular order, a tall coffee:

Personality type: Lame

You’re a simple person with modest tastes and a reasonable lifestyle. In other words, you’re boring. Going to Starbucks makes you feel sophisticated; you’d like to be snooty and order an espresso but aren’t sure if you’re ready for that level of excitement. … Everyone who thinks America’s Funniest Home Videos is a great show drinks tall coffee.

Please go ahead and finish this article, and be sure to check out the videos referred to. 171 Starbucks…

… is about 10 minutes long, but worth the time.

And Bryant Simon’s scholarly examination of the Starbucks phenomenon is 18 minutes long; I recommend taking your laptop into your neighborhood ‘Bucks, settling down with your drink of choice, and enjoying it.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

How to hack Starbucks. – By Michael Agger – Slate Magazine

I admit it freely: I really enjoy Starbucks coffee and the atmosphere of the stores. Until Starbucks came into my life, I didn’t frequent coffee shops — they seemed so counter-cultural and/or collegiate in my town.

I don’t consider myself an addict — this post is not the place for MUDGE to discuss his addictions save to assure faithful reader that Starbucks is not one of them — but I am definitely a fan (and full disclosure of another type: a holder of a fewer than 50 shares of its stock [blast! can’t retire on that!], which lately has been a disappointing experience).

As a person perpetually on a diet, or recovering from the guilt of falling off one, or reeling from guilt in general, a black venti Americano (go ahead and check out Starbucks Oracle regarding MUDGE‘s drink of choice — I resemble that!) represents a guiltless pleasure. How often does that happen?

Read the Slate stories — they caffeinated my day, less expensively than usual.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm046: sp!ked review of books | Stop Planet Chicken, I want to get off

July 3, 2007

We’re nothing if not eclectic here at MUDGE’s Musings, and I found this fascinating, lengthy review (and site, UK based, hereby added to our blogroll) via Arts & Letters Daily (–>). If I can overcome the Britishisms here, so I’m certain, can you:

Stop Planet Chicken, I want to get off
To complain about the ‘injustice’ done by humans to chickens – those cannibalistic balls of faeces and feathers – is to call into question the entire basis of human civilisation.
by Mick Hume

Books You Probably Can Judge By The Cover, Number 373. Apart from the title, ‘Planet Chicken’, and the subtitle, ‘The Shameful Story of the Bird on Your Plate’ (that’s your plate, notice, not theirs), there is also the cover illustration. It shows a chicken’s head with a tear falling from its eye; indeed the tear is rather bigger than the eye from which it is falling. Never mind your smart Alec questions about whether chickens can cry. Hattie Ellis’ moral message is that ‘the world’s favourite bird’ has been turned into the wretched of the Earth, suffering the terrors of factory farming to feed our addiction to cheap meat, and we should weep for them. 

If I seem a bit cynical in contrast to Ellis’ obvious compassion for her subject, let me declare an interest. I don’t like chickens, oh no. I eat them of course, although the cloying texture and relative lack of taste make it far from my favourite meat. But the idea of having tender feelings for the live birds strikes me as frankly squawking mad. Regular readers will know that, in an anthropomorphic age when those who suggest that man is superior to beast are branded ‘speciesists’, spiked writers rightly insist upon drawing a clear and uncrossable line between humanity and the ‘animal kingdom’. I am tempted to add a personal, admittedly unscientific, distinction between other animals and the chicken.

As a young man I worked one summer on a Ministry of Agriculture farm, where I soon discovered the chickens we were supposed to be caring for were horrible, cannibalistic balls of faeces and feathers, an unpleasant underclass of the farm bird world. One morning a couple of other student summer workers and I were sent into a shed in huge souwesters and raincoats and told we had half an hour to ‘clear’ – that is, kill – the 200-odd chickens occupying it with our bare hands; we soon discovered that the rainproofs were for when you pulled a neck too hard and the head came off, turning the bird into a blood-spurting chicken pistol. I am sorry to report to chicken lovers that no tears were shed in the killing shed, either by hen or human.

Some animal rights’ activists might suggest that this shows I suffer from an irrational ‘henophobia’ bordering on fascism (after all, that Nazi Himmler started off as a chicken farmer you know). But an unsentimental attitude towards farm animals is actually sensible and human. Those who have to work with them for a living have always been the most clear-eyed about these matters – at least until the advent of hobby farmers who give their hens names like ‘Chickpea’.

“If you pull the neck too hard and the head comes off, chickens become blood-spurting pistols”

But Planet Chicken is about more than Ellis’ personal warm feelings towards the foul fowl. Through its critical examination of the poultry farming industry, it suggests that there is something seriously wrong with the relationship between man and chicken today, and that the shitty way we treat them is a stain on modern humanity’s heart.

She starts by offering some startling statistics about the growth of the global chicken industry through intensive farming methods. At any moment there are now almost twice as many chickens alive as humans. People in Britain alone eat five times as much chicken as we did 20 years ago, now accounting for almost half the meat we consume. Britain produces more than a million tonnes of chicken a year, mostly in factory farms where big production lines can kill 9,000 birds an hour. In the USA, apparently, 24million chickens are killed every 24 hours.

Globally, chicken now account for the majority of the 50billion animals eaten every year. As Ellis notes: ‘The world is currently in the middle of what is termed a “Livestock Revolution”. This is the animal equivalent of the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which spread chemically sustained crop farming around the globe. In this case, it is about the rise of industrially farmed creatures.’

Now, to me this sounds like a fantastic human success story. Through the increasingly industrialised farming of chickens, producers are feeding the world by turning meat that, even in Britain, used to be reserved for special occasions, into an inexpensive everyday source of protein. That, surely, is something to crow about.

The message of Planet Chicken, however, is that the rise of ‘industrially farmed creatures’ is a bad thing. It assumes that there must be something morally suspect about ‘cheap’ meat produced by factory methods. More broadly, it is an attack on the development of industry and human society, and its separation from the animal world.

The reactionary strain in the argument is spelt out in the foreword by the TV cook and celebrity cottage farmer, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He observes that we evolved from ‘savages’ into farmers, but that ‘the industrialisation of farming has brought us full circle’: ‘We have reduced, through mechanisation, the contact between “farmer” and livestock to the point where the sentience and natural inclinations of our farm animals is all too easily ignored… This is industrialised savagery, and for the sanity of our own species, as much as for the welfare of those animals we are so ruthlessly exploiting, this savagery has to end.’

“Supermarket chickens remind Ellis of ‘naked, shrink-wrapped babes’ on magazine covers”

To support this contention that the advance of civilisation is in fact a return to savagery, Ellis takes us on a journey through planet chicken. There is some brief and interesting history of the evolution of the species, from jungle fowl, through birds bred for their looks and cock fighting ability, to the mass-produced meat of the twentieth century. Following the success of industrialised methods in the USA, the first broiler strains came to Britain in 1956. ‘The post-war priority for farming – an entirely understandable reaction to austerity – was productivity. After 14 years of food rationing the bountiful harvest of cheap meat, brought about by the appliance of science, was a beacon of progress.’

So far, so good. But Ellis is quick to emphasise that ‘we’ now know how wrong that productivity-centred approach to farming was, both for the birds (who are still apparently wild jungle fowl at heart) and for the consumer. ‘Have we really changed so much’, she asks, ‘that this form of meat production and eating is natural?’ Well, hunger might be ‘natural’, but that does not necessarily make it right….

Ellis goes on to look at the packaged chickens on the supermarket shelf where, in her odd bird’s-eye view, ‘behind their tight plastic, the meat reminded me of the naked, shrink-wrapped magazine babes lined up on the top shelf of the newsagents’. Next she visits a crammed chicken shed where they grow sitting on their own litter, and seems childishly shocked to discover that ‘it was almost impossible to see these creatures as individuals – as creatures even. It couldn’t be further from a storybook farmyard image.’ Then she reviews a Compassion in World Farming video of a chicken-killing plant where there are apparently ‘birds with monstrous breasts, the Jordans of mass produced meat, barely able to stand up’. (Poultry-as-porn seems to be emerging as a theme.)

Meanwhile Ellis offers as an alternative an unappetising bitch of self-righteous prigs opposed to industrialised farming. There is the man from the Real Meat Company who pompously announces that, ‘if you don’t like factory farming, you’ve got two choices: buy ours or become a vegetarian…. If you buy an ordinary chicken you know that it may have led a ghastly life, been transported terribly, lived badly, been killed badly. And you’re responsible. Who else is?’ This ethical marketing pitch is backed up with pictures of factory farming on his company website. Never mind that people’s primary responsibility might be to feed their family as economically as possible.

Then there is the ‘quietly charismatic’ Italian animal rights activist who, Ellis says, helped persuade the EU to outlaw battery cages by 2012.  He tells her: ‘I knew I was risking a lot. But…if you believe in something you should invest in it to make it happen. What I could invest at that moment wasn’t anything else but putting my life on the table.’ Anybody would think it was him being bred in a cage and slaughtered for meat. Ellis assures us he is ‘not a crazed martyr’. Of course not.

Ellis is an evangelist for the advance of farming methods that claim to produce ‘happy chickens’, ‘slow chickens’, and higher-welfare eggs. She reports of one of these more naturalistic farmers that ‘whenever they have to be confined, for example when part of a shedful has to be collected up for slaughter, Susie told me the chickens emerge like schoolchildren let out at break-time’. Which I’m afraid strikes me as a truly sick attitude to take to birds you are breeding for slaughter. Ellis also has to admit that there is some considerable confusion over what terms like ‘free-range’ eggs and ‘organic’ chicken really mean today, and she lets slip her disappointment that freer chickens don’t live up to that storybook farmyard image either: ‘They may be able to display more natural behaviour, but unfortunately this can include vicious pecking and even cannibalism.’ That’s sounds like the chickens I know I detest.

Of course it is good to be able to eat better-quality eggs and meat, and to develop better techniques for producing them. But that is not about making chickens ‘happy’ so much as finding ways to make us happier to eat them. As Ellis has to concede, this comes down to money. Whether she and her ‘real meat’ mates like it or not, people want and need cheap meat. She quotes a professor of science policy who ‘immediately snapped any precious ivory fork in two’, declaring himself ‘bored and irritated’ by well-to-do friends who ‘sit around boasting about the lengths they go to have local, fresh, organic produce when actually it’s an exercise in conspicuous consumption – showing off their wealth and leisure’.

“Great strides forward for human nutrition are dismissed as ‘inhumanity to animals’”

However, she soon sets aide such humanist concerns to conclude that ‘there is a bottom line. The production of cheap meat at a terrible cost to the chicken’s welfare is wrong…an everyday symbol of man’s inhumanity to animals.’

Like many issues to do with food and farming today, this chicken debate is not really about the details of different techniques for raising them. It is pecking at bigger targets: industrialised farming and, by implication, the social and economic advance of our society. The demand that we should all ‘reconnect’ with the animals that provide our food, for example, is really a call to turn back the clock on a social division of labour that has been developed over centuries. I am happy to leave the connecting to those unlucky enough to work with chickens. Ellis says that ‘chicken harvesting is widely acknowledged as being one of the worst jobs in the world. All you can say is that it must be even worse for the chickens.’ All I can say is that it is far worse for the humans, who unlike the brainless birds know what is going on as they slosh about in the blood, guts and chicken dirt.

The notion that the wonders of modern farming amount to ‘industrialised savagery’ is the product of a conveyor belt of overfed dull ideas in our Chicken Little society, where people who should know better rush like headless chickens from one food and health panic to another (as epitomised by the bird flu scare about UK poultry). It reflects a culture that not only fears the future, but has also lost faith in the achievements of its own past, so that a great stride forward for human nutrition can be dismissed as ‘inhumanity to animals’.

In the past it was said that you could judge the level of a society by its treatment of its prisoners. Frederick Engels argued that we should judge it by the way it treated the female half of its population. But only a society up to its own neck in misanthropic crap would accept that civilisation be judged according to how it treats its bloody chickens.

Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.

Planet Chicken: The shameful story of the bird on your plate by Hattie Ellis was published by Hodder & Stoughton. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK))

sp!ked review of books | Stop Planet Chicken, I want to get off

We eat a lot of chicken here at Casa Mudge, and I agree with Mick Hume that while it may not be my favorite entrée, you can’t beat it for cost-effective nutrition and flexibility. And in keeping with an earlier post today, if not battered and fried in trans-fat, chicken is the foremost component of a practical weight control regime. 

Civilization occurred when our forebears came down from the trees to better exercise their carnivorous tendencies. I’ve always been impatient with vegetarians, and those, like the author of the book reviewed here, who sentimentalize the food chain.

Pass the nuggets, please (oops!)…

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm045: How to eat junk food without getting fat. – By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

July 3, 2007

 Am I ever ready for this! Sign me up for the trials!

Scientists found a chemical way to eliminate fat. Findings in mice: 1) A natural substance called NPY translates stress and junk food into fat. 2) If you put it under skin, fat grows around it. 3) If you inject a NPY-blocking chemical, mice don’t get fat even when they eat junk food and are stressed. 4) The NPY blocker can dissolve half a fat deposit in two weeks. Previous finding: Humans don’t get fat if their NPY receptors are impaired. Authors’ spins: 1) We can get rid of fat! 2) We can fatten your boobs, in a good way! 3) It’s all-natural! Critiques: 1) In humans, the NPY blocker might fail or cause bad side effects. 2) Mice that didn’t eat junk food didn’t get fat. 3) Mice that ate junk food but avoided stress didn’t get so fat, either. (For Human Nature’s take on gluttony and sex without consequences, click here. To discuss the wisdom of helping people stay slim while eating junk food, click here.)

How to eat junk food without getting fat. – By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

I don’t eat as much junk food as I used to, but it seems to me that this should apply to food in general, and I’m addicted.  This line of research seems a better choice than the newly released Alli, which sounds terrific as long as you are always within 15-seconds of a clean restroom! Sigh. Smokers can quit, and live. Drinkers can stop drinking (we all hope) and live. We horizontally challenged folks can’t stop eating, so bring on the (safe, side-effects-free) therapies!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Quote of the Day:
Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.
–W. C. Fields

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mm004: Mid-day update

May 10, 2007

I always knew it was my mother’s fault!

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