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Oil…

February 29, 2012 2 comments

This will make eating more expensive.

I don’t think there is a any part of the food chain that oil doesn’t effect.  No, I’m not talking about Extra Virgin here.  I’m talking crude.

This article from Yahoo finance discusses some of the reasons why gas prices are likely to rise in the coming months.  That’s only gas prices though.  Unfortunately the price of oil and gas effect far more than just what you put in your car.  The things you have to really think about in the cost of food, are all the other things that go into getting that food from the farm to your table.  Some form or distillate from oil goes into pretty much every aspect of food production.  From chemical fertilizers to transportation, to packaging.  All of it involves oil.  So if the price of gas goes up, you can bet that the price of all other petroleum based products will rise as well.

For example, it takes 1.2 gallons of oil to produce a single bushel of feed corn.  Because of government subsidies, corn is by far the cheapest way to fatten animals quickly.  The cattle industry says it takes about 16 pounds of grain (corn) to raise 1 pound of meat.  Most beef cattle are slaughtered at somewhere around 1200 pounds.  That would mean that a steer would be fed somewhere around 19,000 – 20,000 pounds of grain in it’s lifetime.  At 60 pounds per bushel, that comes to 316  to 335 bushels of grain (corn) per animal.  If it takes 1.2 gallons of oil to produce 1 bushel that comes to 380 to 402 gallons of oil just to raise the cow.  There are 42 US gallons in 1 barrel of oil, this means every cow raised for beef needs 9 to 10 barrels of crude oil.  At this point we haven’t done any more than bring the animal into this world and feed it.  With the current average cost of a barrel of crude being about $113, that means up to this point the cow has cost in oil somewhere between $1017.00 and $1130.00.

No, I’m not calling on people to be vegetarians.  It takes as much if not more money to bring enough variety of vegetables to the table to make a vegetarian diet healthy.  So that isn’t the answer either.  The reality is that because of the price of oil and gas, we are also on the brink of a food crisis.  We produce so little of what we buy in the supermarket locally.  Not only do we get food trucked in from factory farms in California, Texas, and Florida, we also have it flown in from other parts of the world.  Tomatoes and grapes from Chili are common in the markets during the winter months.  Also because size and appearance are much more important that nutritional value and sustainability, we’ve consolidated the majority of our food production to certain areas.  Idaho potatoes, Washington Apples, Wisconsin Dairy (currently being usurped by California), Florida Oranges, all these areas are known for their products for a reason, and it has little to do with quality and more to do with what grows best there and what would bring the biggest subsidies.

I don’t know that I have a real solution though.  The best answer is to find local growers and buy from them.  Better still would be to grow as much of you’re own food as you can using heirloom seeds so that you aren’t tied to Monsanto and its evil genetically modified, franken seeds.

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Pizza Is A Vegetable …

December 5, 2011 1 comment

That’s what the news media would like you to believe about the Childhood Nutrition Act of 2011.  The truth is congress just upheld the Reagan era nutrition guidelines that declared 2 tablespoons of tomato based sauce (Ketchup) a serving of vegetable.  First, let me just dispel the first and most obvious problem with this, tomatoes aren’t a vegetable, they’re a fruit.  So to be most accurate, it should count as a serving of fruit.  I guess that it really doesn’t matter since the food pyramid (in use during the Reagan era) counts fruits and vegetables as equal.  Ok, so I guess for the Reagan era we can let it stand the way they wrote it.

The original bill for 2011 wanted to have the quantity of tomato based sauces raised from 2 tablespoons up to 1/2 cup in order to be considered a serving.  That seems like a reasonable amount of tomato sauce to be included as a vegetable.  It would force schools to stop counting 2 packets of ketchup that accompanies the french fries as a vegetable to meet the federal guidelines so they could get their government funding.  It would also mean that they would have to serve additional fruits or vegetables on spaghetti day since the sauce would no longer meet the guideline.  As far as it goes for tomato based sauces, the original bill, making a half cup of sauce equal a serving of vegetables, does more to look out for the health and nutrition of our children than what was signed into law.

This is what Michelle Obama says is a step in the right direction to end childhood obesity.  Its not just the tomato sauce issue that makes this bill a horrible mess for childhood nutrition though.  Its not even that the bill continues to place nutritional guideline development in the hands of the USDA that makes this bill bad.  What makes this bill bad is that it allows the food producers and the industry lobbyists set the agenda on what is nutritionally sound for children.  Of course the industry wants to sell their products, and they want to be able to sell their cheapest products for top dollar.  The lobbyists want to make sure that they have the government’s blessing for their food producer clients.  The USDA of course wants to promote US farm products to the world, and by extension the American public.  And again Mrs. Obama praises this bill.

There is some good that this bill does though.  First it makes school meals available to more children.  With the economy the way it is  right now and families living right on the edge, kids need to be given a chance.  School breakfast and/or lunch, for some children, are the only meals they get during the week.  I won’t even get into how deplorable that situation is given the place the United States holds in the world.

Second, the bill opens the way for garden to table lunch programs.  That means that schools could plant and tend their own garden THEN serve the vegetables in the lunchroom.  That’s one thing that until now they couldn’t do because gardens wouldn’t pass health inspections for commercial produce.

Really!?!

I think that this portion of the bill was helped along by the number of commercial fruit and vegetable producers who have had recalls because of contaminated foods.  In recent years there have been recalls on peanuts, lettuce, eggs, and cantaloupe, that I can recall off the top of my head.  Food Safety News gives a good overview of the number and type of commercial food problems in the Obama era.  This with the USDA overseeing farmland food safety?

So this is a good thing.  Schools can now grow some of their own food and not only make it a classroom experience, but also a lunchroom one.

Unfortunately, that’s about all the good that comes out of this bill.  And rather than take the real stand that she should have, the first lady praised it.  NO!  IF your want to do something about childhood obesity Michelle, take a stand.  Tell them what parts of this bill are doing more damage to children than help and make them fix it.

Sugar Isn’t Just Sugar…

June 13, 2011 2 comments

The High Fructose Corn Sweetener groups have been advertising that their product is the same as sugar.  They’ve gone to the extent to petition the USDA and FDA to allow them to change the name of the product to sugar.  Simply sugar.  Making no distinction as to the source of the product, nor alluding at all to the chemical manipulation that corn sugars undergo to concentrate the fructose component making it far sweeter than the raw corn sugar.

Technically, they’re right.

Table sugar; be it labeled cane, beet, or corn; are all chemically very similar.  After all, there’s a reason we don’t often see the distinction between them on the grocery store shelf.  Of course, there is one notable exception which labels their product “Pure Cane Sugar.”  That’s really just a marketing ploy though.

So, what is sugar?

Do we really need it?

I’ll answer the second question first.  Yes, we need sugar in our bodies in the form of glucose.  Every cell in the body uses glucose as fuel.  Our brains would completely cease to function without glucose.  Glucose though is the very simplest form of sugar and the only one our bodies can actually make use of.  So yes, we need a sugar, but our bodies produce that sugar, glucose, from the foods we eat.  So, no, we don’t need to eat sugar in our diet in any form.

Now, let’s delve into just what we mean by sugar.

Let’s define table sugar first.  Table sugar is any crystalline form of sucrose and/or fructose.   You can buy refined fructose, which is highly refined fruit sugar and nothing else.  You actually use about half as much because of how highly refined it is.  But table sugar is really a combination of fructose, glucose and other compounds.  The difference between cane, beet, and corn sugar and high fructose corn syrup is the ratio of fructose in the sugar.  Regular sugars are 50% fructose and high fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose.  Like I said, the HFCS people are technically correct, there’s no real difference between their product and what is currently known as sugar.

So what is so bad about High Fructose Corn Syrup?  And by extension, sugar?

The real culprit here is the fructose.

“But John, doesn’t fruit have fructose in it?”

Yes, it does.  Its the primary sugar in fruit.  But there is also a ton of other nutrients, not to mention the fiber which helps to move the sugar through your system.  You see, fructose is difficult for the body to break down, so if you have the fiber to help it move along, you don’t actually absorb much of it.

So, how is fructose in sugar so bad for you?  Refined fructose does get processed in the body though.  It just doesn’t process very nicely.  It actually messes up your body pretty profoundly while it breaks down.  Unlike other sugars that are broken down in the stomach and intestines, fructose can only be processed by the liver.  Because of this, the break down of fructose causes the liver to produce very-low-density lipoprotein (really bad cholesterol), which is even worse for you than low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol).  This raises your triglyceride level and thus your risk of heart attack.

If heart attack isn’t enough for you, fructose also changes the way your brain recognizes your consumption of other foods.  Fructose changes the way your brain reacts to leptin, which is a protein hormone that regulates your energy intake and expenditure.  What happens is that fructose changes the way the brain reacts, and instead of feeling full, you keep eating because the brain doesn’t get the signal to stop.  One of the tips they always give to dieters is that they should drink 8 ounces of water about 20 minutes before a meal to help the dieter feel full.  Now, if you drink 8 ounces of soda made with HFCS 20 minutes before a meal you actually won’t get that full feeling that signals you to stop eating.  Your brain doesn’t recognize leptin, you don’t get the signal you’re full, you continue to eat, you get fat.  Its a rather simple connection, and it starts with fructose.

The biggest plagues to modern man, coronary artery disease and obesity, can both be attributed to high fructose corn syrup.   The more refined the food, the higher the HFCS content, the more deadly it is.  Oh, and here’s a tip, low fat foods need something to make up for the loss of flavor and texture.  What’s used to replace that flavor and texture? High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Its cheap and plentiful.  Besides, sweet foods taste better than anything else.

Yea, if you happen to be a 3 year old…

What the Heck!!!!

April 17, 2011 1 comment

Now another fast food chain has come forward to tell us that they’re offering a healthy choice.  Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt sound like a better alternative than the usual fast food fries.  They even have a bit of skin on them to prove that they’re really made from potatoes.  But they really aren’t that good for you.  Loaded with chemicals that just can’t be food for people to eat.

So, here the chemistry experiment that is Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries.  From Yahoo! Finance, Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries:  Better Tasting, Yes.  Natural, No.   “The fries are sprayed with sodium acid pyrophosphate, a chemical that prevents them from turning brown from two baths in frying oil — one at the factory and the other at the store. They’re also dusted with dextrose, a sugar derived from corn, for similar purposes.”  Further, “And just like every other large fast food chain, Wendy’s frying oil is dosed with dimethylpolysiloxane, a silicone-based chemical that helps keep the vegetable oil from getting foamy after countless rounds of frying.”

Ok, so even though they use sea salt on them which isn’t nearly as high in pure sodium as plain old table salt, they soak the cut potatoes in a salt and other chemical solution to keep them from turning brown when they’re fried.  I always wondered why the hand cut fries I make come out browned.  Now I know, I don’t have any sodium acid pyrophosphate to dose my fries with.  I knew there had to be a reason.  Even though they use sea salt, the actual fries ring up just as high as other fast food fries.  Pity that, I had such high hope that the fast food place that prides itself on fresh meat, never frozen, would go with fresh fries.

Then to make matters worse, we get silicone in the oil?  Hey, isn’t that the stuff that a few years ago was being blamed on all manner of illnesses because it was leaking out of breast implants?  If its so bad there, how can it be good for us to eat?  Even if it is small amounts of residue on our fast food fries?

Categories: Bad Ideas

Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to get away from internal combustion engines…

February 28, 2011 2 comments

Mass. company making diesel with sun, water, CO2

Yet another possible good idea that has the potential to go horribly wrong.  This could be even worse than genetically manipulated foods.  Genetically manipulated primative organisms have a greater possiblility of contaminating the environment than Monsanto’s killer seeds.  Think of a possible inadvertant release into a lake.  Instead of having a body of water with a living working ecosystem, you could end up with a dead, alcohol or biodiesel covered pond, ready to become a pool of fire.  Not to mention that everything in the lake would be killed because of this. 

We need fuel.  True…

We need to get off the crude oil pipeline.  Absolutely…

Should we manipulate and create life forms to do it?  NO…

We should be putting more effort into fuel cells, wind, solar, storage batteries.