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.

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Sugar addiction for dummies

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Vox just published a Q&A with Robert Lustig (“famous” for his viral “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” lecture), purporting to lay out the case for treating sugar like a dangerous drug.

The hyperbole about sugar (it’s like cocaine!) has become pretty standard fare by now, not least thanks to films like Fed Up, and the whole fat-loving, carb-bashing brotherhood (now with its first ever physical filter bubble conference).

But Lustig made a couple of points I thought might be handy to keep in mind:

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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.

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Vegas baby!

Las Vegas is awesome. There are literally huge women everywhere.IMAG2229 IMAG2226

It’s also awesome because this year I got to attend The Amazing Meeting. It’s too much to describe (the Philosophe is doing daily round ups of all the cool stuff). But in summary, between 24-hr access to slot machines, $1 Bloody Marys, and some 65 very clever people talking about very clever stuff, let’s just say my dopamine levels are deliciously high.

About which, some of the talks I’ve so far enjoyed the most have been by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld on the problems with popular misunderstandings of neuroimaging and the abuses of addiction-lingo.

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Fancy some cocaine with your tea?

So we’ve just attended an event called “EthicsXchange“, billed as ‘a platform for some of South Africa’s leading opinion makers to challenge our thinking and behaviour when it comes to ethical decision making.’ It was an interesting morning, and some very good speakers (and of course some not so good). Some I’ve also heard before, notably Leonie Joubert, and Tim Noakes.

But I was disappointed by Joubert’s talk for two reasons: first, it was basically the same as her TedX talk, which while a nicely packaged talk (as TED’y type talks are meant to be), seriously oversimplifies the issues around the interactions between our bodies and the environments we live in. It’s simply not true, as she argues, that cities make us fat and sick. It is true that urban environments conduce to making us make poor choices when it comes to what to eat and how much to move (or not). But that’s of course a key problem with TED-y type talks, because delivering big ideas in under 20 minutes leaves no space for nuance or complexity.

She also told the audience that sugar is toxic and addictive, just like cocaine. Well, we’ve been down this road before. And that is also simply not true. The same bits in the brain light up when you eat as when you take cocaine? Yes, that’s because the same bits in the brain light up when we do something pleasurable, and guess what – eating is nice. Most people enjoy it. Nobody seeks out horrible food.

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Not the 9 o’clock news: Food companies want you to buy food

There’s a lot of noise, these days, about how food is killing us. Evil sugar is the overlord, but it has many minions in the form of pizza, and pasta, and bread (whither French culture!), and if we are to believe the noise, indulging in any of these is going to lead us to much nastier place than the world of Despicable Me.

The latest, a Guardian piece called “Fat Profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity”, is a good reminder that articles that are very earnest, and very long (is it me or are things actually getting longer, as if we somehow have more time to read?) can also be nonsense.

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