Friday, June 5, 2015

Clueless Meddlers Part 2

Last time, I discussed clueless meddlers who misread, misunderstand and give useless advice on an individual level. This time, I'm looking at a few clueless meddlers who do it on a scale to attract media attention.

Remember The Guy from CSPI, the vegan group that got saturated fats at restaurants replaced with trans fats? Food companies may now be replacing trans fats with something worse, another lab creation, according to Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.

Here's The Guy from CSPI in action in a video from Fathead by Tom Naughton:


Another crusader against fast food, Kia Robertson, put her nine-year-old daughter up to scolding a McDonald's CEO at a shareholder meeting. It wasn't fair that big companies tricked kids into eating food that isn't good for them, said daughter Hannah, who of course wasn't being manipulated in any way and apparently felt herself smarter than the other kids. At this writing, McDonald's is still selling Happy Meals, advertising to kids, and offers a third-pound sirloin burger bacon cheeseburger that's pretty tasty. No word on how Kia Robertson's publicity stunt has affected how her daughter gets along with her classmates.

Currently, food blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, makes claims about "dangerous chemicals" in food, painting them as disgusting, and has gotten food companies to eliminate them from their products. Well, maybe. Remember Julian Bakery, whose "low-carb" bread was found in a lab test to be just as carby as regular bread? The fact is,

The FDA does not have the staff or resources to police food labeling. Companies can get away with label fraud and they do. Only one company marketing fraudulent low carb foods has ever paid a penalty. That occurred in the case of the 1990s Atkins Advantage bars that were labeled as containing 3g of carbohydrate while actually containing 20g.  
But the penalty Atkins Nutritionals was forced to pay after a class action suit was settled in September of 2002, was so miniscule that it could easily be written off as a cost of doing business.(1)

If a company mismarked products in a way that could seriously harm people and got a miniscule penalty, how minor would the penalty be for including innocuous ingredients? If the ingredient really is harmful to some people, it sucks to be them because  if it's no longer on the label.

With so many people needlessly worrying about ingredients, it can suck to be someone with a genuine food intolerance among the clueless. Chemist Yvette d'Entremont writes,

I have celiac disease, and there are people with genuine life-threatening allergies. When people like me go into a restaurant, we're at the whim of a waiter who may have just served twenty fussy assholes from the Food Babe Army who think that gluten causes your spleen to turn radioactive, or whatever lie she's using to sell organic kale dipped in yak's butter this week. So when I tell a server that I can't do gluten, that waiter might roll their eyes at me because of people like Vani Hari.

A word from a commenter of d'Entremont's article:

Well done! I'm a former chef and a farmer. Since my family has grown crops my entire life, I've always had to argue with people about food safety —it's the recent trend of people declaring themselves 'allergic'' to all kinds of food stuffs. Every-time that response would come into the kitchen, i'd sigh. Because i'd guess that probably only 2% of those requests were REAL requests—the rest? Nope, idiots like this. That, yes, make people in the food service super annoyed. Our kitchen was small enough, that we could, and did, take the time to carefully meet these requests (sanitizing surfaces, new cutting boards, knives, making sure no bread crumbs were around), but a lot of times it'd follow with the server informing us that the same person who said they were gluten free, was drinking a beer. Or eating the barley. Or...you know...whatever idiots do. Of course, the worst, would be the ones who'd complain that they're very special order with no butter, gluten, onions, etc—was taking so long.

I'm afraid this makes people with real food intolerances look foolish or at least suspect, since the Food Babe's very popular site is so, well, full of shit. The top web site searches for her site come up with articles trashing her as a scientific illiterate. And she's disingenuous. The Kraft macaroni and cheese she criticized--and actually got the company to slightly change, maybe--is something you'd never, ever buy if you were gluten-free, as she advises. The absence of the offending ingredient isn't going to make any difference to Vani Hari and her followers. It just makes those of us who really do need to make special requests look like nothing but high-maintenance whiners.

A tip: if you're not celiac, if trace exposure doesn't hurt you, just say "no bread" or throw away the bun.

1. Low-Carb Problems Solved: Say Goodbye to Stalled Weight Loss, Failed Maintenance, and Poor Blood Sugar Control by Jenny Ruhl. 2015. Kindle location 423.

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