We have Mark Bittman’s cookbook. It’s huge. It’s full of interesting recipes. My husband keeps trying them and they have so far been universal semi-duds–good ideas that are not fully realized in some crucial aspect–undercooked, under-flavored, or oddly textured (a thing I’m admittedly super sensitive to), over-flavored. My husband keeps trying because they recipes look so interesting and so good and are so healthy. He’s a great cook–he learned in grad school when he and his classicist friends got themselves a copy of Julia Child (they lived about a block away from her house) and set to. They are all great cooks to this day.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not my husband’s techniques. I’m pretty sure it’s Bittman’s recipes, which I tend, not unpredictably, to suspect of having been over-puritanized into what, for me, translates into inedibility. The point of this introductory digression is that Bittman published an op-ed in a recent Sunday NYT about sugar. He’s a little bit of an anti-obesity idealogue, but it’s comparatively mild. I think the same bone-deep commitment to healthy eating that drives his actually extensive scholarship on the subject of food does, in the end make him reliable on a number of levels, his unsatisfactory recipes notwithstanding.
One of the interesting things in the op-ed (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/its-the-sugar-folks/?smid=re-share&pagewanted=all) is the extent to which he bends over a little backwards to avoid the standard OBESITY=BADBADBAD discourse. He doesn’t quite manage it, but he almost gets there, and I’m willing to cut him a little slack on this, especially because of the real content of the editorial. It’s based on an arguably very important study (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057873) that suggests powerfully and authoritatively that sugar is pretty much toxic. At the same levels as, say, tobacco.
I’ve been hearing/reading hints about this for a while. There was the documentary King Corn a number of years ago that took on, among other disturbing truths about our food supply, the issue of high fructose corn syrup. It’s worth noting that the corn lobby responded with those monuments to the careful use of topiary-ed factoids to lie, the commercials touting the safety of hfcs. I imagine the cane sugar lobby was delighted. It may be a little less toxic (I did some not-very-scientific tests on my own sugar and can verify that not only does my blood sugar react less wildly to cane sugar than to hfcs, but it reacts less violently to organic cane sugar than to chemical-ridden regular cane sugar, but the differences were not huge.)
Here’s my favorite paragraph from Bittman. It follows one that covers the reasons the study is pretty much inarguably sound:
This is as good (or bad) as it gets, the closest thing to causation and a smoking gun that we will see. (To prove “scientific” causality you’d have to completely control the diets of thousands of people for decades. It’s as technically impossible as “proving” climate change or football-related head injuries or, for that matter, tobacco-caused cancers.) And just as tobacco companies fought, ignored, lied and obfuscated in the ’60s (and, indeed, through the ’90s), the pushers of sugar will do the same now.
Bittman links to this also-very-interesting/terrifying/infuriating article from Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/10/sugar-industry-lies-campaign MJ chronicles the history of Big Sugar’s bamboozlement of the populace over the past decades. Like so many of the articles in MJ over the years, it’s simultaneously enraging and depressing. And right.
I have a brilliant friend who has fussed at me for my knee-jerk anti-corporate bias. I wish he were right about it being unjust. But he’s not. As long as so many corporations own the Congress and act so consistently in malign-to-the-point-of-criminality ways to protect CEO salaries and short-term stockholder profits at the expense of the Rest of Us, prove-ably, consistently, blatantly, murderously, then I’m going to hang on to my belief that whatever bastardized form of capitalism it is that we’re living with is a whole stew of REALLY BAD ideas, and that the sons of lies who are complicit are a bunch of small napoleons/pol pots/stalins/pig-dogs who should be rotting in prisons.
And none of it makes sense. Costco makes more per-employee profit than Sam’s Club. It’s overwhelmingly acknowledged that behaving well is good business. But not in the short term. It requires some sense of being a member of the whole human race for a CEO/top exec/congressional-whore (my apologies to the sex workers of the world) to look beyond his/her own Cayman bank account.
So what’s the deal? The usual–powermoneypowermoney and some nauseating version of Calvinism (which has, to my mind, a lot to answer for) that says that obscene wealth is proof of your superiority–the belief that unearned privilege is a sign of God’s favor (some god, anyway). The damnable Prosperity Gospel, which really just is the latest iteration of the perversion humans insist on imposing on nearly every religious/spiritual system ever born. It all reminds me of something I read in one of my favorite books, House of Rain (Craig Childs): apparently the Anasazi in Chaco Canyon bred Yucatan Parrots in the dark–in rooms far back in the cliff buildings. Without sunlight, the birds’ bones torqued into weird bendy shapes. It must have been painful as hell for the birds. But the Anasazi kept breeding them–most likely for some sort of ritual purpose–one of the zillion purposes of ritual is to get a god’s attention, earn/request/demand the god’s favor. So, most likely, the much-romanticized Anasazi were engaged in the ritual mutilation of gorgeous birds because they thought some god or other would like it. Kind of reminds you of the relationship between Big Sugar, Big Guns, Big Oil, Big Corn, Big Pharma, Big Diet, Big Whatever with the rest of us, doesn’t it? But I’m pretty sure the Anasazi hadn’t figured out how to make the parrots pay them to be tortured. That bit of dubious genius came later.
Possibly the smartest thing my father ever said to me was (something like) “Always pay attention to who’s making the money.” That bit of trenchant social/philosophical/cultural wisdom makes a nice pair with Matthew 6:21, where Jesus (an acute observer of human behavior, whether you think he was God or not) says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Eventually this slime-crawling savagery will catch up with itself. It is, essentially, contrary to the interest of the species (I hope–this concept of Too Big to Fail is worrying me). To cite a famous example, Hitler damned his own project in several ways–first there was the war-on-two-fronts-with-limited-resources bit, then there was the attack-Russia-in-winter thing, and, somewhat less discussed, the commit-huge-percentage-of-rolling-stock-to-a-secondary-project (genocide) thing, followed by the piss-off-the-US thing–all of which sort of trivializes WWII and its enormous complexities, but which does emphatically suggest that perverted power-mongering can be its own defeat. God, I hope so. It’d be nice if the coal companies died before they manage to level the Appalachians.
So, back to sugar. I read something on line recently that suggested that eliminating sugar completely would starve cancer. I haven’t tracked it down, so can’t speak to it’s scientific veracity, but it’s a provocative suggestion. There’s a meme on FB currently–a photo from a demonstration. Several people wearing V-for-Vendetta masks are holding up a sign saying “The Pharmaceutical industry does not create cures, they create customers.” Another provocative notion–one that bears thinking about. Certainly Big Tobacco has provided the Medical-Pharmaceutical Complex with a lot of customers over the years. Now it looks like Big Sugar is in the same category. Yippee effing skippy.
The scary thought that follows on that is that this is going to just add fuel to the righteous fires of fat-judgers. Sigh. Of course, there is the not at all small difference that if I’m eating cake next to you in a restaurant, I’m not polluting your body thereby, the way a smoker is.
But it does mean that I am going to have to take a good, long look at my own tendency to look my 20-year old hipster charges in the eye and suggest to them that it’s a little weird that their authority0disdaining selves are so willing to buy into Big Tobacco’s blandishments. I might have to shut up. Which I hate. And I might have to make some sort of decision about my own personal relationship to an ingredient which involves my knowingly allowing a monster corporate interest to poison me. Insert grumble here.
There was also, by the way, a big article in the Times Sunday mag. about the science of producing food addiction as practiced by outfits like Frito-Lay. Apparently the crunch-fat-SALT trio actually is crack. Not surprising, actually, to me, anyway–I have a much bigger problem with potato chips than I do with scotch, and I LIKE scotch. Apparently, my Irish blood notwithstanding, scotch is much, much less addicting than chips. Which is not entirely bad news, since it means I can go on guiltlessly sipping 3-5 scotches a month.
Yeah, I know. If we started trying to eliminate corporate-profit-driven foods, we’d be growing own or starving. Not practical. But I insist on believing that it is not necessary for big companies to poison us (the air, the seas, the land) to make solid profits. I have no objection to people getting rich–no opera or ballet without serious money behind it, for instance, unless you like the communist model, which has some rather large problems attached. I have a big objection to folks getting absurdly rich by poisoning Everything. And, I will admit, I do believe that there are levels of wealth that are practically, ethically, spiritually, socially absurd.
So, back to the slightly-recipe-challenged Bittman’s op-ed. Thank you, sir. It was important info to get out there. I hope you start something.