It wasn’t long ago since tar and nicotine content labeling were determined misleading and removed from cigarette packaging. Not only misleading, but a powerful advertising mechanism, making addicted customers think they were buying a safer product. Now it’s time to take the next big step in consumer protection, and ban labeling of calories in food.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a measure of heat. Quite literally, in order to determine the amount of calories in food, the food is set alight and the amount of heat given off is measured.
Since our bodies don’t metabolize food this way, there’s no meaningful comparison that can made between calories and human health.
What do we Know About the Effect of Calories on our Health?
Some studies have shown for example a relationship between eating a lot of high calorie food and weight gain, or eating fewer calories and loosing weight. It might be that some health professional recommends some specific diet that might include a change in the number of calories.
Statistics show however that most people who try to lose weight with a low calorie diet nearly always fail in the end, and gain back even more weight. I would be very suspicious of any health professional recommending such a diet.
In any case, this weight gain or loss is not always permanent, and nothing credible can be said about it’s effect on our health. Any generalized statement on public health related to calories would not be credible, and likewise labeling foods with their calorie content is misleading to consumers.
Any public campaign that results in people eating more or fewer calories, is food company propaganda, as they strive to make ever more money off of misleading people in their perception of their own health.
How is Food Calorie Content Used?
Around the time of WWII and just before, protein was used as a measure for food and ‘food quality’. This is the major reason why meat and dairy production was so dramatically increased in the years following the war. In these years, the chicken egg was often identified as ‘the perfect food’, because it’s almost pure protein. In some Germanic languages the word for protein is the same as egg white, probably for this reason.
In the years after choosing protein as the measure of food quality, a major backlash occurred. This was primarily because by this measure a vegetarian diet was inadequate, and most of the world at the time was vegetarian or vegan. There was quite a lot of indignation as institutions such as the WHO began imposing high protein diets on the world’s population, in the name of improving public health.
We should receive current efforts to change our calorie intake with the same indignation.
After much debate, protein was eventually replaced with calories. I think most people involved in this issue don’t recognize calories as a great improvement over protein, only that it no longer stigmatizes a vegetarian diet.
After choosing calorie, it became clear this measure also had it’s flaws. Different people and cultures react differently on a diet with a fixed numbers of calories. It depends a lot on how active you are, as well as your age, sex and genetic factors. They ‘fixed’ this problem by creating various charts, and acceptable calorie ranges, instead of trying to work from a single number.
There’s really nothing any more that can be said about diets being healthy according to calories than there was with protein, only no one has a better idea at the moment of a another measure to use.
The Netherlands is a tiny country, but even still is the worlds second largest exporter of food. Chances are, if you eat a tasteless tomato, cucumber or gouda cheese, that’s been imported, it’s probably from here.
The report goes into some detail on how production of meat and dairy are bad for the environment. Basically the problem is the animal feed here is based largely on GMO soy imported from Latin America, at great expense to the environment and livelihoods of people there. It’s then fed to the farm animals here, which live in factory farms and poop it out. It’s then spread all over the country, which contaminates pretty much everything.
Many farmers are extremely unhappy, because there are actually EU rules on how much animal waste can be disposed of in this way, and they are regularly at or over these limits in the Netherlands. These rules make it much more expensive for the farmers, because they have to export the waste to other countries.
As well as polluting the environment, diets based on this food are making people fat and causing health problems all over the world. This type of food production is also one of the major contributors to global warming.
After a reasonably good general analysis of the problem, the report advises the Dutch government to use their influence around the world to oblige people to eat less dairy, meat, sugar, salt and ‘bad’ fats.
Where did the sugar, salt and fat come from? As far as this report is concerned, it seems to have come out of the blue. The report has a number of citations for different things, but nothing that seems to lead to any credible justification for this. It just is, because, well they are a think tank and so must be awesome.
Of course trying to eat less salt, sugar and ‘bad’ fat, can only lead you to more industrial processed foods. It’s no problem to make processed foods without these ingredients. It may really taste bad, but when you make foods in a laboratory or factory, you can make it any way you want. Small farmers on the other hand, depend on these ingredients.
Nothing in this report suggests people should eat more locally or naturally produced food. Could it be that the people’s message, demanding higher quality and sustainable food, is being spammed by governments and the food industry?
How I ended up viewing this video is a long story. You know how sometimes you think about one thing, that leads to another, and pretty soon you end up some place totally unexpected?
Anyway, bananas are sometimes an example held up as to why we need genetic engineering. Banana breeding is very difficult, and has been pursued by experts for many years. Habitats for wild bananas, and crucially the bat that was their primary pollinator, have mostly been destroyed by man. We also don’t have enough germplasm in store in genebanks. We are reaching the end of life of the ‘cavandish’ banana we all know because of disease pressure.
The solution we are all told is that we have to accept GM bananas.
Of course a major part of the problem is we insist on intensively cultivating monocultures of bananas in chemical intensive environments, causing many of the the disease problems.
Here’s a small group of people trying to find a new public domain solution, targeted towards small farmers.
Plant breeder and seed saver Alan Kapuler did a fantastic series of videos for the Cooking Up A Story website. I’ve posted some of the earlier ones before, but here’s the complete series of 5.
See here for a list of events to find one near you!