Saturday, December 13


"The familiar 'percent Daily Value' figures included in Nutrition Facts boxes, which are required on the labels of most food products in both countries, are not based on the most current scientific information," said a federal advisory panel on Thursday. The amount of vitamins and minerals recommended as part of a healthy diet should be drastically changed to more closely resemble the needs of an average person, they said. If the FDA adopts the changes, the recommended daily values of some vitamins and minerals would change dramatically. For example, the amount of iron and Vitamin B-12 that is recommended each day would be cut by two-thirds. Vitamin D would also be reduced. The recommendations for fiber and Vitamin C, meanwhile, would increase slightly under the proposed changes. Hmmmm. What does that diet sound like?

And not only that..."Some of the strongest recommendations come in urging regulatory agencies to reduce daily allowances of cholesterol, saturated fats and trans fats to as low a level as possible and to set one combined daily limit for saturated and trans-fatty acids. That could mean recommending consumers eat as little as half the daily amount of saturated fat currently recommended." Hmmm. What kind of food is high in saturated fat? Heck, the panel may as well have come out and simply said "The average American should be striving toward veganism" and been done with it.

Friday, December 12


Heh. "Obstacles in Way of Healthy School Lunch" is the headline on this who-knows-what-can-be-done story. Wonder what those "obstacles" might be? Oh yeah - "Two-thirds of the $939.5 million the USDA spent on lunch commodities in fiscal 2003 went toward meat and dairy products. A little more than one-quarter of the total went toward fruits and vegetables, mostly canned and frozen." The piece does give a shout-out to visionary educator Antonia Demas, director of the Food Studies Institute, mentioning her conviction that "the classroom must be part of any solution. She wants nutrition education mandated the same way New York schools are required to teach HIV prevention."


Are animals as smart as Donald Rumsfeld? The Defense Secretary's famous "gaffe" about "unknown unkowns" made a lot of people scratch their heads, though it seems perfectly lucid to me ("We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.") But it appears that animals may at least know that there are things they don't know. In an article headlined "New UB research finds some animals know their cognitive limits," it's reported that some non-humans "have shown the capacity for 'metacognition,' or thinking about thinking, considered to be one of humans' most sophisticated cognitive capacities."

At the same time, the oft-derided "anthropomorphising" that pet owners do, asserting that their dogs and cats have individual personalities has been confirmed as factual by scientific study. "Confirming dog owner suspicions, a new study reveals that dogs have personalities, and that these character traits can be identified as accurately as similar personality attributes in humans. Experts suspect that many other animals also possess unique personalities." The import of both of these is summed up by James King, professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and an expert on primates: "Tool using, culture, and language have recently been shown to not be uniquely human. Now, we are seeing that our personality and personality dimensions are also not uniquely human, but shared with non-human primates and even dogs." So once again, what is it - other than the practice of killing other animals needlessly - is it that "separates us from the animals"?

UPDATE 12/13: Don't know how this fits into the equation, but worms are genetically wired for getting drunk.

Thursday, December 11


Our vice president is "catching heat" (read: hearing two or possibly three "tsk tsks") over his brave act of facing down hundreds of pheasants and ducks in a canned hunt. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "he and nine other hunting buddies shot at 500 ringneck pheasants, killing 417 of them. The V.P. was credited with offing 70 of the birds, as well as an unknown number of mallard ducks." I've already made some salient comments about this on Metafilter, so you can go there if you want more commentary.

Wednesday, December 10


Gosh, it looks like the drumbeat of popular culture might actually have an effect on people's eating patterns that overrides the Power of the Pyramid: "The more television children watch the less fruit and vegetables they eat, probably because the advertising they see leaves them craving junk food instead, a study said Monday."

Tuesday, December 9


This past weekend, the Washington Post had a nice thorough two-part series on the National Zoo's problems, showing exactly how animals died needlessly due to carelessness and/or incompetence on the part of management. "[I]ncompetence in management and veterinary medicine," says the zoo's pathologist, "has led to poor animal care, animal suffering and even animal deaths." Worse, he says records were altered as the zoo tried to cover up its fatal blunders. The zoo's director, Lucy Spelman, speaks on the record and is consistently contradicted by her own documents as to what happened when and why.

Reading through the case histories, a couple of trends become apparent: Animals sometimes die because Spelman seems to not understand their biology, and how can she for so many different kinds of animals? And animals die because the zoo staff are busy with other problem animals. These two problems are the flip-side of a zoo's appeal: A large number of a wide variety of animals grouped together in one spot for easy viewing. Additionally, there are several cases where an animal died of something internal or non-obvious because the staff was concerned with treating how the animal looked to the viewing public (e.g. Nancy the elephant and her lame foot, who turned out, after death, to have had tuberculosis - which was never tested for - or the zebras whose diet was cut in half, and who died, because Spelman thought "they looked fat"). This is another intrinsic problem with the concept of a zoo. They never exist to benefit animals, only to force animals to serve human needs for entertainment.

So a zoo rejoices when a polar bear goes from psychotically pacing one-third of the day to just one-sixth, never stepping back to say, "hey, you know what the problem might be here? Polar bears don't belong here, in this freakin' state, much less in a tiny cage!" The WashPost series, though, brings this thought that much closer.

UPDATE 12/11: MORE ANIMALS DIE AT INCOMPETENT ZOO Rat-Borne Disease Kills Zoo Monkey, Cheetah Also Infected at National Zoo.

Monday, December 8


Researchers said today that girls who do regular jumping exercises around the age of 10 may add bone mass that could delay the onset of osteoporosis in later years. They should also be eating plenty of kale, of course. It's nature's perfect food.


If you've read Gail Eisnitz' Slaughterhouse, you know there's no shortage of disturbing stories coming out of these killing factories. Now Virgil Butler, an ex-Tyson employee, has launched The Cyberactivist, a blog chronicling some of the things he saw on the job. These are some eye-opening tales, if true, of mismanagement, discrimination, secrecy, working drunk, etc., and always at the expense of the chickens - and Americans' food safety. Check it out. Butler's story just got covered in the LA Times, but unfortunately you have to register to read their stuff. (No wait, here it is at CommonDreams.)
UPDATE 12/9: Fascinating stuff, if occasionally way-over-the-top-nightmarish/nauseating, and occasionally a little grandiose. But the entry they're "just" chickens says what I've been trying to get across for a while about how one form of inhumanity dovetails with the other: "I have heard management say, 'They are just line workers. They are a dime a dozen.' Obviously they care even less about the chickens processed every night. They don't strike a single chord on the heartstrings of this type of person. Before very long, there are no strings left to strike a chord on. This is inhumanity. This is also what happens when a person discounts the suffering of anything by saying, 'it is just' anything." Read the rest of it.