“Ultra-processed” foods and cancer

So there’s a “study” making the rounds claiming to have found evidence of a link between consuming “ultra-processed foods” and developing cancer. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that processed stuff like bacon and pastrami leads to cancer, but this one expands the range of “processed” to the more scary “ultra-processed” to include the following (handily summarised by the BBC):

Leaving aside what exactly even are “foods made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils and fats”, it’s an excellent example of the kind of rubbish headlines that lead to the worst outcomes of social media, and of the resulting issue of people being rightly confused about what, or what not, to eat,  because it’s so beautifully tweetable, but mostly bullshit (scientifically speaking):

The main issue here is fairly simple to explain, but it unfortunately comes with consequences that are less simple to undo with a few words on Twitter. Continue reading ““Ultra-processed” foods and cancer”

Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?

I’ve recently confessed my confusion about how to make sense of the case of the homophobic baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple (because it’s obviously wrong. Unless it’s not, because one could grudgingly respect an asshole who’s willing to forego money for the sake of sticking to his (wrong) beliefs?). Apart from the philosophical conundrum it presents, I was intrigued by the legal implications of the case, which seemed to rely on whether the (non-existent) cake in question could be considered a work of art, in which case it would magically be protected by the rights to freedom of speech. Or not baking. Whatever floats your homophobic boat. Continue reading “Snail porridge not by Heston: homage or plagiarism?”

The problem with cake

Cake has been getting attention lately, not because it’s delicious and should be enjoyed by all (which it is, and should be), but because it’s the subject of a controversial hearing about free speech. Specifically, whether it’s OK or not for a homophobic baker to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The baker in question, the Washington Post informs us, also refuses to make Halloween cakes for religious reasons:

To be compelled to do so would, he says, violate his constitutional right to speak freely. This, he says, includes the right not to be compelled to contribute his expressive cake artistry to a ceremony or occasion celebrating ideas or practices he does not condone. Well.

The First Amendment speaks of speech; its presence in a political document establishes its core purpose as the protection of speech intended for public persuasion. The amendment has, however, been rightly construed broadly to protect many expressive activities . Many, but there must be limits.

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Theatre of Life: Massimo Bottura’s plan for wasted food

The documentary Theatre of Life is a lovely film about a lovely initiative, started by a lovely man. (Yes, most sentences are impoverished by adjectives, and the worst sentences contain three repetitions of the same adjective. Not off to a good start then.)

It’s a film about what started as chef Massimo Botturo’s idea to deal with all the wasted food at the 2015 Milan Expo (that tagline of which was rather ironically “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”). It was (and remains) a fantastic initiative – everyone’s favourite Danish chef René Redzepi after all told Massimo that he’s now “in it for life!” (ie. Robert De Niro, below) – which basically involves getting star chef buddies from around the globe (hello Ferran Adrià, Joan Rocca, Mario Batali, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, et al.) to fashion amazing food out of stuff like stale bread and veggies no one (who’s paying) wants to eat.

Massimo and Bob planning their next strike

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When food porn got boring

Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?

It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️

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Watson gets it all wrong

So Watson the computer has just released a cookbook. Or rather, you can now buy a cookbook full of weird pairings generated by Science.

Now Watson’s been hanging out in the [bon appetit] kitchen for quite some time already, where (s)he/it has been “learning” about which foods go together for the purposes of helping to inspire chefs and other people who like to play in kitchens about surprising combinations that apparently work. As I wrote in the Mad Dispatches on the topic of “What is Cooking”, the idea behind Watson isn’t to ‘render the human cook obsolete, but rather to put the superior speed and memory capacities of a computer to the service of human creativity by analysing, for example, similar compounds in a multitude of flavour-pairings. In theory, Watson could then come up with combinations that make complete sense but might have taken us another several decades to discover in the kitchen.’

So how exactly does it work?

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Eat this now, before you die (or, some schizo[hive]phrenia)

As I pointed out the other day, Twitter is really a place of diverging views.
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Which is nonsense, of course. Because my Twitter is only what I’ve decided to make it, and here I will pat myself on the back for choosing not to live in a filter bubble where I only see things that please me.

Continue reading “Eat this now, before you die (or, some schizo[hive]phrenia)”

Science or fiction?

In the “Science or Fiction” segment of the (then) latest Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast (where host Steven Novella serves up one fake and two real news segment(s) for his panel of skeptics – or “rogues” – to figure out), the one that turned out to be fiction involved the recent approval of a genetically modified potato designed to contain up to 40% less calories than conventional potatoes. One of the rogue’s reasoning as to why this must be fake is that there is so much research going into making foods that are more calorifically dense (think Plumpy’nut, or peanut butter “amplified”) to treat malnutrition that it would make little sense for scientists to be working on something to contain less calories than necessary.

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A bad rap for sugar

Sugar is so convenient, isn’t it? If you believe the people behind the (predictably challenging-to-watch) film Fed Up, sugar has been a convenient way to hoodwink America into a full-scale obesity epidemic. But even more than that, it turns out to offer a really convenient way to explain away any complexities related to health and eating. Or just as a target for a (simple syrupy) finger of blame.

There have already been several excellent reviews of what’s wrong with Fed Up (very well summarised most recently by Harriet Hall), so I’ll just mention a few points that stuck out for me.

Continue reading “A bad rap for sugar”