Monday, November 22, 2010

Sourdough crumpets, feijoa vinegar and pondering on the middle class?

In this post-industrialised society dominated by service sector jobs, bizarre corporate structures and so many occupations that didn't exist a decade ago, immersed in the information overload of the internet and other media... (yeah, you can probably tell my brain is still frazzled!)... So at the Women's Studies Association conference, on Sunday, when a woman asked me (well, actually commented, rather than asking a question, and I can't really remember what else she said) about 'middle class' - saying she didn't really like the term, I had to think (a dangerous thing for my brain at the moment)... So I've questioned this class thing before, we're no longer in a Marxist bourgeois/proletariat system - we've had the post WWII rise of the middle class and consumerism and many, many household appliances to go along with it.  We still have huge issues with poverty - globally and locally and there are a small group of people with most of the world's wealth (so we've been told over and over again)... there are still a large number of people in 'developed' nations who have a little luxury, but not a lot.  So despite the complex and varied social stratification, I'm going to keep using this term - to paraphrase Johanna's comment a while back: you do have to be middle class to have the luxury to lead the lives that we're blogging about.

The conference presentation went really well - I got positive feedback - and I'm greatly indebted to my food bloggers (as I've started calling you), particularly Johanna and Sandra, who's quotes I used a lot in the presentation.  I wish there was a way to attach the power point.  It was basically a facilitated blog discussion of middle class women's role in the Nourishing Food Movement (entitled: Back to the kitchen).  I'm very grateful to everyone who contributed to the discussion(s) on the blog(s) which will also be in my thesis.  It was interesting that the process of submitting my abstract, receiving critical feedback and blogging about it generated so much discussion that my research and the conference paper were steered in that direction!

So... Feijoa vinegar...

A while back I was making those tasty tasty feijoa drinks and I mentioned attempting vinegar.  At the moment (after leaving feijoas and water in a bucket for months and months and then draining the liquid off) it looks like this:

It tastes quite nice - for a vinegar, a little like apple cider.  I'm going to let it sit until the sediment separates again and then put it in little bottles for xmas presents - I also want to make drunken cherries, chocolate truffles and lip balms - provided I can get this thesis out of the way by then!

Recently, we had a tea party and I made sourdough crumpets - using this recipe from Zucchini and Chocolate.  They came our beautifully (I used the rings from agee jars as crumpet rings) and were absolutely delicious, spread with mascarpone and berry conserve.

I was amazed that crumpets - those things that come in a plastic packet from the supermarket - with the interesting texture - can be made so easily at home - and with sourdough!!! I'm in love with this recipe and I may even be bothered to make it again soon.

I'm presenting the same (or very similar) conference paper at the Women in Psychology conference in Nelson early December - and will be in Wellington from the 5th to the 9th - if anyone wants to catch up

Aroha nui!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Culinary contradictions, internal conflicts, social ties and the soap box

Right now on my kitchen bench I have a jar with an inch of water and a bouquet of fresh asparagus from the farmers market. I have a loaf of my own sourdough bread, baked this morning, a coffee plunger containing freshly picked herbs from my garden; lemon balm, rosemary and comfrey, ready to be made into tea, I have the large sealable glass jars I used to use to collect raw milk in, now filled with culturing water kefir and kombucha, and next to them, looking rather embarrassed, is half a steak and mushroom pie and paper bag of fries from the bakery – which have been deep-fried in cottonseed oil and seasoned with chicken salt which likely contains MSG.  This is left over from my breakfast, and I feel abashed.  I can hardly think straight at the moment, let alone cook, and while my intentions with food are often good, sometimes the low blood sugar and lack of appetite from stress combine in truly evil ways that allow me to seek out and consume the disgusting, deliberately tasty, fast foods that I’m supposedly opposed to.  
My sourdough bread

I feel a lot better when I’m eating real, fresh, whole foods but it seems to be at odds with the society that I live in.  Going to family functions can become difficult when I’m morally opposed to the food being served – supermarket rotisserie chickens or hollandaise sauce from the packet (main ingredient: canola oil) I feel like a fussy child when I request butter instead of margarine.  Throughout the process of my research into food I have eaten better and worse food, alternately.  The more I know about food the more difficult simple tasks like shopping and eating out become, because of my concerns for my individual health and also wider moral concerns.  I read the labels on packets fanatically and struggle over the knowledge that most eggs served in restaurants and cafes are from caged hens.  Food has become something of a religion to me.  My sins are, in part, due to stress, busyness, laziness and the budget constraints of being a student.  Although, if I did have more time and energy I am sure I could eat much better despite my limited income.  This brings us back to that slightly uncomfortable class issue.  
My water kefir

The Weston A. Price Foundation is largely a middle class, female dominated, movement; borrowing wisdom from our global, pre-industrial ancestors and implementing it in the modern kitchen.  For this reason it is important to emphasise the role of middle class women, who may be educated and have free time, in creating social change.  Although some foods recommended by the WAPF, for example, pasture fed meats in the United States[1], are known to be very expensive, overall, the principles of the WAPF are dynamic and there are many cost-effective options which could be applied by people of varying socioeconomic status.  The individualism of modern, Western, culture means that meals are often the sole responsibility of one person to prepare on one or two incomes, whereas various communal arrangements can be more cost effective, enjoyable and require less individual time and effort.  Other factors such as knowledge, access to local farms and the space to grow vegetables can also be important in determining the quality of food.  These can be linked to socioeconomic status but can be more flexible than equations of income.  Modern society is designed to reinforce the dominant corporate industries and we are encouraged to spend much of our time working in order to feed our income back into processed foods and other consumables rather than having the satisfaction of growing and making things ourselves.  I feel it is important to emphasise that these problems are social problems and cannot merely be reduced to the level of the individual although the purchasing patterns of ‘consumers’ can have an effect. 

[1] We are fortunate, in New Zealand, that it is still more cost-effective to raise beef on pasture because we are devoid of large-scale, government subsidised, corn.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Theory section...

I apologise in advance if the theory section of my thesis isn't too entertaining - in fact, if you're not interested in theory it's probably better not to read it, but here goes... (feel free to comment) (oh, and it's also incomplete)

Tapas: Selections of theory 

Because of the eclectic emergent nature of this research a diverse range of theoretical components will be explored in this chapter including praxis, power and discourse.

Sauces of Knowledge(s) – is this part of theory? Where does it go?

Any source of information, regardless of how credible it is considered to be, will be based on assumptions and will, therefore, carry biases.  Even academic peer-reviewed publications will be influenced by the biases of the system and academics involved in the writing and reviewing process.  This work will draw on a wide range of resources, each with varying strengths and weaknesses, in order to bridge the gaps in the literature.  Newspaper and magazine articles can be influenced by the biases of their authors, the leanings of the publications, and the anticipated response of the target audience.  I will use these types of information to look at issues around raw milk, a topic of which very little has been written, academically.  I will use the work of well-regarded scientists as well as scientific journalists such as Gary Taubes, and marginalised scientists who are critical of the dominant paradigm in order to examine the complexities around the relationship between saturated fat and coronary heart disease.  I will use weblogs (blogs) as a source of primary, qualitative data to get an in-depth understanding of a modern-social movement involving food.  I will even use internet open-encyclopaedia Wikipedia, at times, in order to get general understandings of topics that are new and difficult to find information about.  Wikipedia, like blogs, is a dynamic medium of communication and information dissemination.

There exists a significant distrust within the academic community of the incredibly popular and continuously expanding Wikipedia.   Although Wikipedia articles are not academically peer reviewed, they are reviewed in a far broader and, some would argue, less prejudiced way, by an unlimited number of 'peers' with no particular academic biases.  Wikipedia articles do demand references and encourage readers to add to short and incomplete articles in order to improve them.  Many academic articles have come to Wikipedia's defence and studies have found that the articles are remarkably accurate and comparable with a library reference service (Garfinkel, 2008, Shachaf, 2009).  Black (2008) argues that the traditional peer review process is due to be updated in line with the quick dissemination of knowledge characterising contemporary media “The implications of such a concept would have a dramatic effect on the academic community.            (Black, 2008, p. 73).  Furthermore, the International Sociological Association are adopting a Wikipedia-like approach with their ‘Sociopedia’ project (International Sociological Association, 2010).

Wikipedia is also a good example of praxis as it encourages information sharing and evolves through the input of a variety of contributors.  Articles also often include ‘criticism’ sections, allowing room for subversive thought and giving a more balanced perspective than many encyclopaedias.

A Recipe for Praxis

Although the Greek work praxis originally meant "action" or "practise" through the early work of Karl Marx it has come to signify something more complex.  Marx saw praxis as revolutionary, as the ideal process by which social change could be created and a better, fairer world established.  The theory of praxis can be seen as heavily influenced by Hegel’s dialectic which proposes an alternative to the rigid laws of formal logic encapsulating the synthesis of theory and practice necessary for revolution [expand?] (Ninnes, 1983)  Praxis has since been used to describe activity in a wide variety of socio-political contexts, many of them differing from the original Marxist connotations.  One of the theorist responsible for the development of ‘praxis’ as a framing device is Paulo Freire, and it is his conceptualisations of Praxis which I intend to employ in this thesis.

Freire defines praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1970, p. 36).  Freire considered praxis a central defining feature of human life as well as a necessary condition of freedom.  He posited that human nature is expressed through activity that is intentional, reflective, and meaningful. History and culture are also important considerations in Freirean praxis, particularly the dialectical interplay between history and culture which are both created by and shape people’s experiences. The struggle for freedom can be humanising, but could also be dehumanising; making people objects of history and culture, and denying their capacity to be self-defined subjects. Freire argues that overcoming the limits of situations can be achieved through politicising education, respecting everyday language and allowing people to voice their own experiences. This he calls a practice of freedom; a continuous cultural re-creation enabling the greatest expression of human existence, allowing people to become fully human (Glass, 2001). 

Tom Heaney summarises Freirean Praxis as follows:
Praxis is a complex activity by which individuals create culture and society, and become critically conscious human beings.  Praxis comprises a cycle of action-reflection-action which is central to liberatory education.  Characteristics of praxis include self-determination (as opposed to coercion), intentionality (as opposed to reaction), creativity (as opposed to homogeneity), and rationality (as opposed to chance). (Heaney, 1995 page???)

Freire saw praxis as a process of action-reflection-action, whereby the initial action is reflected upon and the reflection feeds back into the future action.  This is a process through which theory can be utilised in a practical way.  Freire’s work was focussed on education and is well known for its implementation in the Cuban literacy campaign.  Creativity is considered by Freire to be an essential component of the praxis of liberatory learning along with ‘empowerment’: “Power is not given, but created within the emerging praxis in which co-learners are engaged” (Heaney, 1995, p.9) giving people the motivation to become critically conscious in order to take charge of their lives in a political sense. 

Praxis is a useful construct for explaining how social change works or doesn’t work. For the purpose of this thesis, praxis will be defined as a working system, whereby theory informs practice and practice feeds back into theory in a progressive way so that both the practice and the theory symbiotically evolve.  Praxis, in this case, also requires transparency in communication, a balance of power and an absence of the power exploitation which could be considered to be ‘dispraxia’: a breakdown of praxis

This thesis is focussed on the praxis of food and nutrition.  The socially dominant perspectives on food and nutrition are largely dictated by the scientific paradigm, influenced by food industry and administered by government and corporate advertising.  In this thesis the theory of praxis will be used to illustrate both dispraxia – in the case of nutritional science and the food industry, and a working model of praxis – in the case of the Weston A. Price Foundation and Nourishing Traditions

Let them eat cake: Social movements and new social movements

This section will begin by attempting to define social movements and new social movements generally and in the context of this thesis.  It will then explore some social movement theory in order to identify key characteristics of new social movements and look briefly at social movement research which is relevant to this thesis.

The term ‘social movement’ covers a variety of collective action aimed at generating social change.  (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000).  Wikipedia provides a concise definition for social movements: “Social movements… are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.”  The entry goes on to mention the importance of education and dissemination of literature as well as other factors of industrialisation which have given rise to modern Western social movements.  Although social movements occur in all corners of the world, “Over the past 200 years, they have become part of a popular and global expression of dissent.” For the purposes of this thesis, a social movement is defined very broadly as any group of people who organise themselves in order to affect change on the world.

The term ‘new social movement’ (NSM) has immerged since the second world war to describe modern movements with a specific focus or interest group, for example, feminism or environmentalism.  (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000).  The Wikipedia entry on new social movements (NSMs) describes it as: “a theory of social movements that attempts to explain the plethora of new movements that have come up in various western societies roughly since the mid-1960s (i.e. in a post-industrial economy) which are claimed to depart significantly from the conventional social movement paradigm.”  This entry suggests that these NSMs may have been affected through the growth of the post-industrial economy, making them different from earlier movements under different economic periods.

Some qualities of new social movements have been said to include a focus on autonomy and qualitative life improvements rather than material benefits and resources (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs are seen to be less oriented toward social-utopian projects or metanarratives of progress than previous social movements and are not necessarily limited to class categories or other more solid identity boundaries, for this reason identities in NSMs can sometimes be more flexible (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs prefer decentralised organizational forms in comparison with more centralised structures favoured by previous social movements, they tend to rely on temporary or part-time membership and informal networks and work mainly outside of the parliamentary political system, although this is not particularly unique to NSMs (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs politicise formerly unpolitical aspects of everyday life (Steinmetz, 1994).  Different NSMs can be brought together or unified through a common cause such as a shared opposition to a system, for example, capitalism (Steinmetz, 1994). 

Some theorists have argued that new social movements are not particularly different from general social movements, pointing out that many of the qualities of NSMs have existed in historical social movements and therefore, are not confined to a particular time in history (West, 2004).  One important factor in recent social movements is the use of the internet as a tool in communication, networking, education, organisation and mobilisation (Hsu, 2003, Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002).  Hsu examines the concept of self-reflexivity in relation to internet and social movement.  He claims the self-reflexivity provided by the internet transcends the boundaries of the social movement and blurs the lines between the public and private spheres (Hsu, 2003).

Salter (2003) notes that one function of New Social Movements is to perceive problems and highlight them in the public arena, generating and publishing information independently from the needs of government and industry.  The fast changing and interactive capacity and nature of the internet provides a more suitable medium for NSMs than traditional media which is more static and not interactive.  The internet not-only has a similar culture to social movements in that both are dynamic and relatively decentralised, it also provides an effective medium for facilitating online political activity which crosses over to offline activity.  The internet may also share other characteristics with NSMs including open protocols and communications, self-generated identities and information and non-hierachical qualities. “The internet enables social-movement groups and organisations to communicate, to generate information, and to distribute this information cheaply and effectively, allowing response and feedback.” (Salter, 2003, p.130)

Subversive uses of weblogs have been documented in academic publications, for example, Kahn and Kellner (2004) discuss the internet as a political vehicle “The internet may be deployed in a democratic and emancipatory manner by a growing planetary citizenry that is using the new media to become informed, to inform others, and to construct new social and political relations.” (p.3).  Many new social movements could be viewed as embodying praxis as they seek to change the world by re-interpreting information, generating new information and disseminating it.  New social movements often seek to transform existing hegemonic structures, liberating people and society from them. The decentralised nature attributed to new social movements is also in line with the ideal of power being shared as part of praxis.  In these ways, and likely many others, concepts of praxis can be seen as deeply entwined with new social movements.  This connection has been explored by social researchers.  Atton (2003) considers the use of the Internet by NSMs as a radical, socio-technical paradigm challenging the dominant, neoliberal model of information and communication technologies.  He examines Indymedia, an independent media organisation, as a radical manifestation of internet use and looks at examples of praxis by anarchist groups (Atton, 2003).   

It is not the intention of this thesis to focus extensively on social movement theory or nuances or debates around the terminology of social movements and new social movements, and therefore, the term ‘new social movement’ is used to illustrate the contemporary nature and importance of the new technologies, in particular, the internet, in the movement of focus which centres around the Weston A. Price Foundation. 

Courses of discourse: a Foucaultian Soup

Another theorist who will be drawn on in this thesis is Michel Foucault.  Foucault is well known for his theories of the medical gaze, medicalisation, and bio-power [Ref?]** He is also known for his work on discourses and knowledge.  These are some of the concepts that will be drawn upon in this thesis with regards to the food industry, public health authorities and nutritional information.  Foucault’s conceptualisation of power implied that it isn’t a simple centralised structure of a top-down capitalist system, rather it is more dynamic, coming from multiple avenues and normalised by the lower ranks (Johnston, 2008).  This concept of power can be helpful in understanding the complexities of the food industry and the agency of social movements that rally against it.  Governments also play a role in this web of power and Foucault’s concept Biopower attempts to explain governments’ efforts to regulate the health of populations.  (Power knowledge and regulation of bodies???). Public health nutritional information is one example of biopower which is influenced by the dominant scientific paradigm and also often sponsored by corporate interests (Warde, 1997).  It is not the intention of this thesis to explore these concepts in depth, however, they do make a useful framework for understanding the key points of the thesis.

Medicalisation of health – biomedical model [explain?] (Germov & Williams, 2004). Often health is considered only in terms of illness (or the lack thereof) - malnutrition, obesity etc ***

Discourse analysis

Discourses colour and shape our understandings of the world.  Discourse analysis is a useful tool in exploring the subjective worlds of meaning, truth, society and culture.  Unravelling these can help to explain contradictions and disagreements and also to understand the nature of perspectives (Long, 2008). Many theorists, including Foucault, are known for their use of ‘discourse analysis’.  Foucault claimed that discourses are entwined with social practice and may mutually co-exist or intersect “Indeed, the multiplicity and fragmentation of discourses, especially in conversation and dialogical exchanges, is more common than the clash of well-defined opposing viewpoints, beliefs, or rationalities.  This also holds for the rhetorical content of official government statements drawn up by politicians and their “spin doctors”” (Long, 2008, p.75)    In this thesis I will examine various food discourses in order to illustrate some of the various constructions of food and health and the way these can be incorporated or excluded.  The incorporation of discourses can also be related to the Hegelian concept of synthesis and can form a part of a praxis.  This will be demonstrated in the case of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Food Discourses:

The following discourses are relevant to this thesis and will be drawn upon throughout.

Hard Science, Reductionism and Nutritionism:
Food is seen as comprised of small particles of nutrients or anti-nutrients.  There are macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, lipids (fats) and protein, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.  These substances are considered to be 'good' or 'healthy' in the right quantities.  Substances considered to be 'bad' may include toxins, dangerous or risky micro-organisms, or may be otherwise linked to the body (or what little is known about it) and how it requires and responds to these substances.  The good and bad moral judgement placed on substances takes on a religious tone and may be a historical remnant of the Christian society that Western science sprung from.  This critical perspective of science has been drawn upon by many social theorists and possibly dates back to the work of Nietzsche ***[ref?]. Scrinis is particularly critical of this perspective, which is the dominant perspective, in line with modern science and the bio-medical view of the body.  The scientific perspective of food and nutrition focuses just on the physical level, for example, looking at the biochemistry of nutrients or anti-nutrients. (Scrinis, 2008).   Scrinis coined the term nutritionism to describe the way the nutrition industry; scientists, nutritionists and public health authorities, have conceptually reduced food into its nutrient composition, connecting particular nutrients to health. This perspective has become so widespread that it has been adopted by the public. (Scrinis, 2008).  This is one of the key perspectives I will use to examine topics around food.  Nutritionism is a critique of the discourse surrounding nutritional science and the advice it produces.  One powerful claim made by Scrinis is that this discourse has been co-opted by food industry as a way to market their products.  Packets are labelled with nutritionist slogans about vitamin content and other known nutrients enticing shoppers to purchase these products for the sake of their health.  (Scrinis, 2008)

Nutritionism has become a contemporary certainty, one that is taken for granted and mostly unchallenged, even among food and nutrition experts and institutions. While there is much contestation over the way nutrient-level knowledge is used and abused, few have questioned the reductive focus on nutrients per se. (Scrinis, 2008, p.39)

Because of the complexity of human biochemistry uncertainties and contradictions surrounding nutrient knowledge are evident: “nutritionism is nevertheless characterized by a sustained and confident discourse of precision and control.  This discourse implies both a precise understanding of foods, diets, and the body and an ability to precisely control and manipulate them.” (Scrinis, 2008, p.42).  This results in greatly exaggerated representation of scientists’ understanding of food and health.  Scrinis (2008) also claims that disagreements within the scientific community are either concealed from the lay public, or misrepresented.

The strong focus on the quantities of specific nutrients means that other, more qualitative ways of categorising different foods are given less importance, for example: processed and un-processed.  The lay perspective viewing highly processed ‘junk food’ as unhealthy is undermined by the strong focus nutritionism has on the numbers of nutrients, which can be added into processed foods to make them more appealing: “when nutri-quantification becomes the primary or exclusive basis for evaluating foods, then some highly processed foods may exhibit similar—even superior— nutrient profiles to unprocessed wholefoods. An important example has been the promotion of margarine over butter on the basis of their respective fatty acid profiles[1].” (Scrinis, 2008, p.43).

The nutritionist discourse is also regarded as impervious to time, space and cultural situations, although it is predominantly a recent, Western, scientific discourse. In this way food is fragmented, rather than seen in a holistic sense.  This perspective can obscure the value placed on local, seasonal foods, culturally important foods and environmental concerns about food production: “Foods that are central to traditional cuisines may be discouraged on the basis of their nutrient profiles. An example of such quasi-precise evaluations of wholefoods is the recommendation to switch from jasmine rice to basmati rice on the basis of the latter’s lower GI[2] score as if such a substitution would make any meaningful difference to one’s blood sugar levels or overall bodily health.” (Scrinis, 2008, p. 44).  The lay adoption of the nutritionist discourse may mean a combination of two paradoxical experiences of food knowledge: “Nutritionism creates ambiguous tendencies toward a disempowered, confused, and dependent individual on the one hand, and an active, empowered, and critically informed individual on the other.” (Scrinis, 2008, p.46)

The following is an example of nutritionist discourse in relation to the foods traditional Maori were likely to have eaten:

The incidence of non-infectious diseases appears to have been low in these people, perhaps in part due to the presence of protective chemical constituents within their food plant supply… The seeds of C. australis, of some Astelia spp., and of hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) are good sources of various essential fatty acids, generally regarded as protective against cardiovascular disease. Shoots and leaves from a wide range of native species were traditionally eaten as greens, especially “sow thistle” or puha (Sonchus spp.), reportedly high in Vitamin C and various phenolics. (Cambie & Fergusson, 2001).

In this example specific active agents found in foods are emphasized and linked to health benefits.  This kind of narrow focus can have many useful functions, allowing specific knowledge to be obtained; it also has the limitations of not being holistic.  Despite the limitations of looking at nutrition under the microscope in terms of particular small components claimed to be connected to health or illness, it is still an important perspective in understanding the whole topic of food and health and it is for this reason that this perspective will be used in this thesis along with other perspectives. 

Indigenous, holistic and lay understandings
As Mason Durie (2004) points out, indigenous societies have more holistic perspectives, incorporating values and principles about food and health with other philosophies.  An indigenous or traditional perspective to food might incorporate concepts of energies, for example, in traditional Chinese food and medicine hot and cold or wet and dry energies are associated with foods (Koo, 1984).  These traditional principles do not exclude other avenues of meaning, whereas, in a scientific, bio-medical perspective one explanation or solution is sought to the exclusion of other meanings and experiences (Nettleton, 2006).  It is not the intention of this thesis to attempt to encapsulate the holistic perspectives of traditional societies relating to food, however, it is important to be aware of the different perspectives and how they may relate to or exclude each other. 

Lay understandings are also often holistic in that they can incorporate more than one perspective to try to make sense of the world.  For example, scientific information might be incorporated along with life experience, folklore and other kinds of knowledge.  Contemporary lay understandings are influenced by contemporary culture, reproduced and reflected by media.  These may include ideas about what ‘healthy food’ is and may be closely linked to ideal body image.  One predominant contemporary discourse centres around fat as a negative phenomenon – both in terms of body fat and in dietary intake of fat (Cowley2006).  Lay understandings will be examined later in this thesis, looking at the case study of the consumption of raw milk.

Food and Health and Indulgence

According to Warde (1997) health was rarely a concern in recipes in 1967-8, only four percent of recipes recommended food because it was healthy.  This was before concerns over nutrition escalated; in the 1991-2 sample sixteen percent of recipes made reference to the healthy nature of foods.  There was a common assumption that healthy food equated to light food which would (hopefully) equate to a lighter physical form.  Nutritional information was increasingly supplied, alongside recipes, about factors such as fat, fibre and calories following the trend of increasing obsession with health and healthy eating, particularly prevalent in the middle class and often more of a concern for women.  Warde (1997) asserts that this reflects government propaganda campaigns encouraging healthy eating.  This is an example of the Foucaultian concept of bio power and has been challenged with new right accusations of ‘food fascism’ (Warde, 1997).

Warde (1997) discusses a gastronomic compromise: ‘Comfort food’ is a common term used to describe the consumption of (usually unhealthy) food for emotional pleasure rather than bio-physical health.  This may be a way that lay discourse patches the divide between the puritanical good and sinful foods – allowing for some emotional pampering on the part of the unhealthy food, but just occasionally.  Warde calls this:
One of the most important mixed messages regarding contemporary food. We should eat healthily; but not if it makes us sad.  Implicitly hedonistic consumption is justified in terms of what the mind and the body need.  This juxtaposition of indulgence and bodily self-discipline identifies a profound contradiction.  Its only resolution is by eating something different tomorrow.  Bangers and mash is for a special occasion, when feeling blue; and that is a most important condition in the world of self.  You deserve to be happy, and to be comforted when not.  The indulgence may be craved for a transgression of the rules.  Ultimately, this is a tale about good and evil, and what is being encouraged is evil.  But you can be forgiven because you feel miserable; if you aren’t happy, try sin! (1997, p.79)

Food advertising has played on this discourse, using religious and hedonistic terms such as ‘naughty but nice’, tempting, wicked, irresistible, indulge and so on.  Often these terms are used to promote processed puddings, pies and cakes (Warde, 1997).  Perversely, this kind of discourse has increased along with the promotion of the super slim body shape as an ideal of feminine beauty which adds to the stress of many women’s lives while they are being tempted to comfort themselves with the pleasures of the consumption of supposedly sinful food (Warde, 1997).  This could be a discursive throwback to the Biblical Garden of Eden where Eve was tempted by forbidden fruit.

Reconstructed Nourishing Traditions
‘Nourishing’ and ‘traditional food brings to mind a warm, satisfying home-cooked meal.  The Weston A. Price foundation claims to advocate traditional, nourishing foods.  It is important to point out that this is a modern reconstruction of ‘traditional’ which may bear some resemblance to foods of the past.  ‘Nourishing’ is another term to which this can apply.  It is possible that the connotations associated with these terms were largely positive for many people and their successful utilization enhanced the popularity of the foundation. ***

Inherent Health
With the exception of breast milk for a new born baby, there is no particular food that is necessarily healthy.  Health is not a static property that can be definitively attributed to particular foods. Health is an abstract property, and whether or not food can promote or maintain health is relative to the context of the body in which it is digested (Germov & Williams, 2004).  Despite this, much talk of ‘healthy food’ and of particular foods being healthy is evident in contemporary lay discourse resulting in much confusion around health and food.  One may read in a newspaper article one week that coffee is healthy, that it reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease only to watch on television the next week that it is carcinogenic.  These kinds of contradictions are becoming increasingly common, stemming from the nutritionist focus on isolated substances along with the narrow scope of bio-chemical research, which often relies on testing lab rats as human beings are too complex in their activities and other factors to produce reliable outcomes.  It is this kind of limited research that informs public health strategies, pressuring the public to conform to fragmented and often contradictory dietary advice (Germov & Williams, 2004).

Social science discourses (food as identity)

This perspective looks at food in a social context.  Food may be part of rituals within cultures or families.  It may hold meaning that relates to various aspects of social life.  Food may be portrayed as 'healthy' or 'junk food'.   The construction of food from various perspectives may be examined under this approach, for example, a nutritionist perspective can be seen to be a modern Western perspective to food.  There are many perspectives within the social sciences.  A social geographer would place emphasis on place and space in relation to food, an anthropologist would be likely interested in food culture, a psychologist might be interested in individual food identity.

Despite the artificial categorisation offered by this example and the potential for social science perspectives on food and nutrition to be quantitative and positivist, there is much more scope in the field of social sciences for broader and more qualitative approaches.  This thesis will be coming from a particular ‘sociological’ social science perspective.

The social construction of food

As Germov and Williams point out, food habits are socially constructed.  What is considered taboo to eat in one culture may be common cuisine in another.
While hunger is a biological drive and food is essential to survival, there is more to food and eating than the satisfaction of physiological needs.  There are also ‘social drives’, based on cultural, religious, economic, and political factors.  The existence of national cuisines, such as Thai, Italian, Indian, and Mexican (to name only a few), indicates that individual food preferences are not formed in a social vacuum. (Germov & Williams, 2004, p.4)

Modern food is often constructed as commodity and can also be linked to culture, sub-culture, socio-economic status and identity.  Processed food is marketed to target consumers by promoting image, taste or health benefits.  

[1] For more information about the health value of fats see the case study of fat in chapter thee
[2] Glycemic index

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Experiments with Sourdough

Sourdough is so amazingly versatile.  Since I've actually started cooking again my sourdough starter has been on the bench 24/7.  I'm pouring it out every day to combine with other flour and topping the jar up with rye and water.  I mix the bubbling starter with two cups of wheat flour and water to a kind of soupy texture and leave it for another day or so (depending on the temperature) till it gets very bubbly.  I usually just add in more flour and a pinch of salt and make loaves of bread in different shapes.  I like the kind of crust I get from rubbing olive oil on the dough before I put it in the pan to rise.  I have also been experimenting with the starter.

A few days ago I mixed two eggs, a mashed banana, some olive oil and some date sugar with the starter (at the second stage), I possibly added some baking powder and salt as well.  I poured the mixture which was about cake batter consistency into mini muffin trays and a small, shallow, round cake tin and left them to rise for a bit, then I baked them at a low temperature until they were cooked.  The result was a very moist (although a bit flat) banana cake and muffins.  I squeezed some orange juice and sprinkled a tiny bit more date sugar over the cake and then took it to a friends house.  It tasted a bit like a large banana pancake.  The friend took the left overs to a morning tea at his work the next day and they were gobbled up with delight by his work-mates who wondered what it was.

I have also experimented with a sourdough fruit loaf which yeilded very yummy results.  I added about 1/4 cup of date sugar, 200 grams of dates and about 1/2 a cup of raisins to second stage starter (Which I made with a cup of cold Lady Grey tea this time).  I also added in some felt-over porridge and about 3/4 cup of oats and left it for 24 hours, covered, on the bench.  I added about 50 grams of melted butter and then poured the mixture into two loaf tins and baked them at 140 degrees on fan bake until they had set - probably around 40 minutes, I'm not sure.  The resulting loaves are moist, dense, sweet and slightly chewy - fantastic toasted with butter!

After watching Pippi Longstockings, my two and a half year old daughter wanted pancakes (for dinner)- and the sourdough (second stage) was just sitting there on the bench... so we mixed half a cup of it with two eggs, a pinch of salt and about a tablespoon of flour, fried the pancakes in butter and served them with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.  They were crispy, with a very mild sourdough and rye flavour which was overwhelmed by the lemon.  They actually came out so thin they were more like crepes.  Delicious!

I made some focaccia styled bread today with lots of olive oil and garlic, rock salt and rosemary on top.  It will be ready to bake tomorrow.  My next experiment is going to be savoury muffins with herbs, cheese and whatever vegetables I can find to throw in.  Now that it is warming up I'm getting back into my cultures.  I have some amazingly healthy water kefir on the bench which are growing fast and producing lots of yummy natural fizzy drinks.  I quite like combining it with apple juice for the second ferment which makes a kind of cheat apple cider, lemon juice and honey is also nice.  I just dredged my caspian sea yoghurt culture out from the freezer - I couldn't find any information about whether it can survive being frozen but we'll soon find out.  The great thing about this culture is that, unlike regular yoghurt, you don't need to heat it, just mix it with milk and leave it on the bench overnight.  I also have a few surviving granules of milk kefir in a jar on the bench. I have been adding milk to it then using the whey (and curds) in cooking.  I could probably do with more milk kefir granules and then I can attempt the kefir cheese in Change of Heart - it sounds tasty.  I made some sauerkraut the other day and am considering making a lacto-fermented chutney with sultanas and ginger.  I haven't had much experience with lacto-fermented chutneys, but I'll give it a go.  Sorry there are no pictures, I seem to have misplaced my camera.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why am I here?

What would possess me to focus on this topic for my thesis?  I have been interested in health for a long time - it seems to be a difficult balancing act for me to maintain functioning levels of health -  and because of this I naturally became interested in nutrition.  I first came across Nourishing Traditions, the Weston A. Price Foundation cook book/nutritional bible while I was studying nutrition as part of a herbal medicine diploma, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when my baby daughter had difficulty breastfeeding, that I acquired the book and became aware of the Weston A. Price Foundation. 

I was disgusted by commercial infant formula – it somehow managed to have both the qualities of being sterile and putrid simultaneously, neither of which appealed to me.  I googled something along the lines of “baby formula recipe”, wondering if such a thing existed and immediately found the raw milk formula recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  It looked quite complicated, calling for ingredients such as; homemade liquid whey, lactose, bifidobacterium infantis, high vitamin cod liver oil, unrefined sunflower oil and so on, which was a bit off-putting.  

I contacted a friend who had similar food interests and was forwarded to a woman in Wellington who referred me to a local woman, Rebecca who was regularly purchasing raw organic milk from a farm.  Meanwhile I had bought Nourishing Traditions and pondered over the formula recipe.  I contacted the farmer and drove out to pick up my first taste of organic raw milk.  The farmer was particularly well informed.  He told me that the milk was safe and mentioned experiments where pathogens had been put into raw milk and the enzymes naturally in the milk had fought off the foreign bacteria.  The raw formula I made smelled much better than conventional powdered formula, despite the fish oil.  My daughter drank it down and was a particularly healthy baby.  I must admit I did simplify the formula, particularly after she started eating solids.  Through Rebecca, I joined a milk group, taking turns to drive the forty minutes to the farm to collect everyone’s milk. I quite enjoyed the milk and began culturing it, making yogurt, kefir and experimenting with cheese. 

During this time I became quite well acquainted with Nourishing Traditions, particularly the controversial advocation of natural saturated fats and raw animal products.   It occurred to me that the conventional nutritional information I had seen was confusing and often appeared to be skewed in favour of the food/diet food industries which I found to be particularly unsettling. These factors, combined with my passion for food, motivated me to focus on this topic for my Master’s thesis.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A matter of fat

This is an essay I wrote about fat (well, the lipid hypothesis, etc.) for an honours directed study.  I'm changing it slightly, but using a lot of the same material in my thesis.

The Lipid Hypothesis: Science, Politics and Profit.
It is common knowledge that eating saturated fat causes heart disease and that high cholesterol levels are unhealthy.  These things are considered to be scientifically proven, yet there are many historical and cultural exceptions that continue to defy this knowledge.  The Masai tribe in Kenya who consume only blood, milk and meat have a diet high in saturated fat and yet have no evidence of coronary heart diesase, as do the French on their notoriously fatty diet.  Despite these exceptions mainstream medical and scientific opinion has been convinced that saturated fat is unhealthy.  This essay will explore the history and science behind the lipid hypothesis as well as the social issues influenced by it.  Firstly, by explaining the lipid hypothesis, the diet-heart idea, and cholesterol.  Secondly, by looking at the history of the scientific and political 'cholesterol wars'.  Thirdly, by exploring the social evolution of this widely held theory and the industries and agendas that surround it and, finally, this essay will critically examine the scientific approach that has been taken in order to establish this theory.

The Lipid Hypothesis:
The lipid hypothesis is the idea that high levels of cholesterol in the blood leads to coronary heart disease.  The diet-heart hypothesis, considered a partner to the lipid hypothesis, claims that saturated fat in the diet causes raised blood cholesterol and therefore, leads to coronary heart disease (Ravnskov, 2000).  Many scientific studies have been designed and run in order to prove this hypothesis, and despite its current popularity there still exists a group of outspoken critics who claim the evidence fails short of proving anything[1]. As Gurr (1991 B) states “Critical examinations of the literature reveals that the 'Lipid Hypothesis' is not as simple or as well-founded as it apears” (p.1)

What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol  is a fatty substance found in every human cell.  It is used by the body to repair damaged cells and involved in many necessary bodily functions (Gurr, 1991).  According to the Merck Manual of Medical Information[2]
            Cholesterol and triglycirides are very important fats (lipids) in the blood.    Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membranes, brain and nerve          cells, and bile which helps the body absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins.  The body uses cholesterol to make vitamin D and various hormones such as       estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. (Beers, 2003, p. 836)

Despite its many essential, health promoting properties, cholesterol has a bad reputation.  Because of the lipid hypothesis and its publicity, cholesterol has negative connotations associated with heart disease.  The very low levels of cholesterol recommended by the dominant medical system and the cholesterol lowering drugs that achieve these low levels may be depriving the body of the valuable substance necessary for self-repair.  This may be the reason why elderly people are much more likely to die from all causes if they have low levels of cholesterol (Ravnskov, 2000).  Conversely, high colesterol levels measured in the body might be a sign that the body is trying to repair damage, rather than the forwarding of altherosclerosis.

Good and bad cholesterol
Recently the idea has been circulated that some cholesterol, LDL, is bad while HDL cholesterol is good (Ravnskov, 2000).  Neither LDL or HDL are actually cholesterol, both are proteins (lipoproteins) that transport fats around the blood stream (Ravnskov, 2000).  LDL cholesterol transports fat into the blood stream, it is called low density lipoprotein because it has less protein density and more fat.  HDL transports fat back from the blood stream and as some of the fat has been stored in cells it has a higher ratio of protein to fat (Merck, 2003).  Because LDL transports protein into the blood stream it is considered to be bad, the returning HDL is considered to be good (Ravnskov, 2000).  This might seem an unscientific distiction[3] but it is helpful in marketting a drug which is known to lower the 'bad' cholesterol.  The industries involved will be explored later in this essay.

The Cholesterol Wars:
Before the lipid hypothesis eventuated, a young scientist mamed Ignatowski  began working towards proving the hypothesis by Metschnikow that an excess of dietary protein was toxic and accelerated the aging process (Steinberg, 2004). Ignatowski fed rabbits a protein-rich diet  (large amounts of meat, eggs, and milk)  which had the affect of causing arterial lesions like those of human atherosclerosis. Later, Anitschkow and Chalotow found that a diet high in fat without the protein also caused these lesions.  Steinberg (2004) refers to this as “Another instance of an unpleasant fact destroying a beautiful hypothesis” (p.11). However, from these experiments the lipid hypothesis emerged.  Critics of Anitschkow argued that the digestive systems of rabbits were not designed for a diet high in animal fat and demonstrated the limits of this research by running similar trials on dogs and rats which resulted in no arterial lesions.  Dogs and rats produce bile which breaks down fats during digestion, as do humans (Masterjohn, 2008).  This was seen as sufficient evidence, at the time, to disprove the theory, however, devotees remained (Steinberg, 2004).

Ancel Keys is known as the founder of the lipid hypothesis.  He used data collected from six countries to show an obvious correlation between the consumption of fat and the rates of death from coronary heart disease (Ravnskov,2000).  Keys has been criticized for excluding data[4] from countries that did not support his theory (Ravnskov,2000).  A graph constructed with all the available data would show no obvious correlation.

(Ravnskov, 2000, p.18-19)

Over the next few decades after Keys published his Seven Countries Study a serious debade ensued between the converts[5] of the lipid hypothesis and those who remained unconvinced (Steinberg, 2004).  Many new studies were funded, aiming to demonstrate the validity of the diet-heart idea and the lipid hypothesis, but each study was met with criticism.  One such experiment, the Oslo Study, showed reoccurrence of heart attacks were lower on a diet high in polyunsaturated fats (soybean oil), however, the overall mortality was the same for both the control and the diet group (Steinberg, 2004). This could indicate that within the diet group participants died from other causes before a heart attack could kill them.  This demonstrates that the narrow focus on heart disease excludes the possibilities that other conditions may be occurring from following diets low in saturated fat or high in polyunsaturated fats.

Steinberg (2004) has written articles and a book covering this epic debate in which he covers many influential studies, lamenting their flaws, but still convinced of the validity of their cause.  The Oslo Study, which replaced saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat,[6] lasted five years and produced no difference in all-cause mortality but decreased the incidence of second heart attacks. This could be accounted for by the inconsistencies in the control group[7] (Masterjohn, 2008). As Masterjohn states: “There are far too many confounding variables to suggest this study actually indicts saturated fat” (para. 53).

The Wadsworth Veterans Administration Hospital Study fed one group meals made with saturated animal fats and another group meals made with polyunsaturated vegetable oils for eight years (Steinberg, 2004, Masterjohn, 2008). The result was a reduction in cardiovascular events, but an increase in cancer of the same magnitude (Masterjohn, 2008).  Autopsies showed similar atherosclerosis in both groups and more aortal plaque in the group that ate the vegetable oil (Masterjohn, 2008). The difference in the rate of cardiovascular events could be due to the higher rate of heavy smoking[8] in the control group (Masterjohn, 2008).  Members of the treatment group may have had a lower rate of cardiovascular events because they smoked less, “but had more atherosclerosis and cancer despite smoking less -- probably because of the vegetable oil they were eating!” (Masterjohn, 2008, para. 55).

Many other similar studies could be considered part of the lipid anthology.  Steinberg sites seven and leaves out two which would damadge his argument. Rose, et al. (1965, cited in Masterjohn, 2008) replaced animal fat with corn oil over two years lowering serum cholesterol by 23 mg/dL but, unfortunately the cardiac and total mortality quadrupled. The Sydney Diet-Heart Study (1978, cited in Masterjohn, 2008) replaced animal fat with vegetable fat over five years, lowering cholesterol by five percent but increasing total mortality by 50 percent. 

In examining any long-running controversy, it is important to determine whether the skeptics are just having trouble adapting to a new paradigm or whether their doubts are well founded (Taubes, 2004).  Because this issue has two seperate hypotheses, both must be taken into account seperately.  Firstly, the idea that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.  This idea has been supported by the evidence that cholesterol lowering drugs such as statins prevent heart attacks (Taubes, 2004).  Although it is conceivable that statins have some other function that prevents heart attacks.  

Masterjohn (2008) explores this possibility by looking at  another function statins are likely to have; reducing the activation of the Rho enzyme which inhibits nitric oxide “a gas that protects against heart disease at every level -- it increases blood flow and vessel dilation, decreases the adhesion of white blood cells to the vessel wall, inhibits the migration of smooth muscle cells to the site of an atherosclerotic lesion, and decreases the formation of blood clots.” (Masterjohn, 2008, para. 40).  This theory has so far been untested.  It still links high levels of LDL cholesterol with atherosclerosis, because the more LDL is in the blood, the smaller the ratio of antioxidants to protect it from oxidisation.   Oxidised LDL is known to cause damadge to the arteries (Masterjohn, 2008).  Oxidised LDL also inhibits nitric oxide prodiction, further reducing the protection from atherosclerosis.  If this is the reason statins reduce cardiac incidents it may be wise to take into account the other main affect statins have; lowering the levels of cholestrol, a very important substance that repairs cells and precurses hormones.  Rather than taking statins, a better approach may be to increase the antioxidants in the blood which will also protect against LDL oxidisation (Masterjohn, 2008).

The second idea; that eating saturated fat causes heart attacks, is much harder to prove and further experiments have only complicated the issue further (Taubes, 2004).  If indeed saturated fats directly lead to atherosclerosis this affect should be obviously demonstrated in controlled trials.  This is not the case.  There does not appear to be any trials that can clearly demonstrate this theory (Masterjohn, 2008).  Despite a lack of scientific proof, the idea that eating less saturated fat would reduce heart disease became part of a widely publicised public health campaign[9] (Taubes, 2004).  This was followed by a 'Consensus Conference[10]', lead by Steinberg, designed to end the debate.  Most of the experts invited were converts of the lipid hypothesis, although a minority of skeptics argued that equating the effects of drugs with diet was unscientific.  The conference report did not mention any disagreement (Taubes, 2004). “There was "no doubt," it concluded, that low-fat diets "will afford significant protection against coronary heart disease" to every American over 2 years old.” (Taubes, 2004, para. 30).

The Scientific Paradigm:
According to the highly regarded supporter of the lipid hypothesis, Steinberg, “The lack of a well-delineated hypothesis is not necessarily a barrier to the acceptance of new directions in medical practice” (2007, p.89).  In the scientific paradigm quantities are important.  Things that can be measured are given more significance than things that cannot.  This may help to explain the popularity of the idea that something measurable like cholesterol could be considered the main or sole factor in heart disease, as opposed to something unquantifiable like stress, which may also be a factor (Ravnskov, 2000).  It is under this paradigm that reductionism is utilised in order to simplify information.  This has been applied to food science in a way that is described by Scrinis (2008) as nutritionism; where the benefits (or problems) of a food can be reduced to a single identifyable substance, and a synthesised substance of the same name can be added to processed food to suposedly increase it's nutritional value.  In this way food is fragmented, rather than seen in a holistic sense. 

Often in the scientific process a problem is first identified as worthy of investigation.  In this case the problem of heart disease has been identified, since the 1950s, as being of major concern (Ravnskov, 2000).  Theories then emerge which may be based on research showing correlations, for example, the rise of avaliable dietary fat (which is one of many dietary changes), or the correlation between the cholesterol found in arteries and atherosclerosis.  Neither of these things are proof that dietary fat or blood cholesterol cause atherosclerosis, but it is evident that simple solutions are being sought.  A molecule, such as cholesterol or saturated fat is charged with the crime of murder, and a theory of how this happens is constructed.  Then the implicated parties are put on trial.  Correlations found in trials are considered (by some) to be proof (or as good as), and once the theory becomes well recognised it is considered factual.  Once these things have been established researchers look for solutions to the problem, such as cutting down on dietary saturated fat or taking drugs which lower blood cholesterol. 

Although this sounds simple and sensible there are a number of problems with this method.  Firstly, when it comes to human biology and nutrition, the chemistry involved is seldom simple.  There are always factors that are yet to be understood.  To act as if all the avaliable information is complete is naïve.  Cholesterol lowering drugs work against even some of the avaliable information about the importance of cholesterol in health, ignoring the complexity of this molecule and its many functions in the body.  As Taubes points out,
            The catch has been that few involved in this business were prepared to deal             with a complicated story. Researchers initially preferred to believe it was          simple — that a single unwholesome nutrient, in effect, could be isolated from   the diverse richness of human diets... But as contrarian data continued to     accumulate, the complications became increasingly more difficult to ignore or           exclude, and the press began waffling or adding caveats. The scientists then      got the blame for not sticking to the original simple story, which had,           regrettably, never existed. (2004, para. 37)
Another problem with this particular scientific process is due to a well known logical fallacy, called Questionable Cause which is when a correlation is taken to imply causation.  It is possible that a third factor, such as stress, causes both the rise in blood cholesterol and atherosclerosis, or that the rise of blood cholesterol is actually a symptom of atherosclerosis, repairing damadge to the arteries (Ravnskov, 2000).

Social issues and Industries:
As Taubes (2004) notes, since the 1970's healthy eating in the US has become synonymous with avoiding saturated fat in the diet.  And as a result “The creation and marketting of reduced-fat food products has become big business; over 15,000 have appeared on supermarket shelves” (Taubes, 2004, para. 4). This growth industry has not been confined to food, an entire area of food research has developed to back up the 'healthy' claims of food manufacturers (Taubes, 2004).  This is supported by governmental policy recommending saturated fat be eaten sparingly.  “The low-fat gospel spreads farther by a kind of societal osmosis, continuously reinforced by physicians, nutritionists, journalists, health organisations, and consumer advocacy groups” (Taubes, 2004, para. 4).

Taubes discusses the social and political context of the rise of this phenomena:
            Like the flourishing American affinity for alternative medicine, an antifat      movement evolved independently of science in the 1960s. It was fed by distrust of the establishment — in this case, both the medical establishment   and the food industry — and by counterculture attacks on excessive         consumption, whether manifested in gas-guzzling cars or the classic American   cuisine of bacon and eggs and marbled steaks. And while the data on fat and             health remained ambiguous and the scientific community polarized, the       deadlock was broken not by any new science, but by politicians. (Taubes, 2004, para. 13)
Politics has played a large role in the dissemination of the diet-heart idea.  Taubes explains how the staff working for the US Senator, McGovern, were responsible for the first anti-fat legislation that spread throughout the US and then the rest of the Western world.  “Turning the dietary fat hypothesis into dogma” (Taubes, 2004, para. 14)

Other social and cultural contexts are also important to mention.  Japan has often been claimed as proof of the diet-heart hypothesis because Japanese people eat little saturated fat, have long life-spans and have low rates of coronary heart disease.  What is not noticed by these statistics is that the long life spans in Japan are a fairly recent development, coinciding with higher consumption of animal meat and saturated fat.  Another notable point is that it is considered dishonorable to be declared dead of heart attack in Japan, and for this reason doctors are more likely to write the cause of death as a stroke on death certificates (Ravnskov, 2000).

Upon researching this topic I stumbled upon something that I considered to be a good, succinct example of the industries involved in the promotion of the lipid hypothesis.  This occurred as a sidebar of a google search for 'coronary heart disease' (Google search, 14th April, 2009).

Coronary Heart Disease
A resource for physicians and
patients about thrombosis!

Heart Disease Facts
The Source Of Professional & Up To
Date Info On Cardiovascular Health

Coronary Heart Disease
Maintain a healthy heart with
Flora pro-active healthy recipes!

The first of these symbolises the medical industry involved in the promotion of this idea.  Doctors, as experts, have a lot invested (in terms of their reputations) in the information they have been giving out to their patients.  Drug companies make millions of dollars from selling cholesterol lowering drugs (Taubes, 2004).  Heart foundations receive a lot of funding for research based on the lipid hypothesis, much of it from pharmaceutical companies, governments and the diet food industry, represented here by Flora, which also flourishes under this dominant theory.  Each of these industries, both profit and non-profit, have a vested interest in the promotion of this problem and in the theories that support it, regardless of whether they are accurate.  George V. Mann, a physician and nutrition expert at Vanderbilt University suggested that "the dietary dogma was a money-maker for segments of the food industry, a fund-raiser for the Heart Association, and busy work for thousands of fat chemists" (cited in: Steinberg, 2007, p.58).

Truth and science
Despite the many scientists who continue to question the validity of the diet-heart idea and the lipid hypothesis, the supporters of the now dominant theories receive the most credit.  As George V. Mann stated: "to be a dissenter was to be unfunded because the peer-review system rewards conformity and excludes criticism." (Mann, G. V. 1977. cited in Steinberg, 2004, para. 63).  In this self-promoting system disenters are marginalised, regardless of the strength of their criticism and the general public are unlikely to have access to this contrary information. 

Aside from the lucritive industry around this theory, scientists may also choose to cling to it because they have already invested their time and other people's money in it, as Taubes (2004) notes.  This may be why the inability to prove the hypothesis was disregarded and a leap of faith was made, using the positive results of cholesterol lowering drugs reducing heart attacks as if it were proof of the lipid hypothesis (and the diet-heart idea), a process that Steinberg (2004) is supportive of.  After all the money and time put into trials the experts were expected to give advice, regardless of whether it was scientifically proven (Taubes, 2004). A good summary is provided by Masterjohn:
            It is also interesting to contemplate the sheer movement of cash (representing          real economic resources) into these studies and to consider how fruitless the     use of these resources has actually been. The technology developed by private   industry has saved more lives by making heart disease less fatal. Meanwhile,           cattle-herding tribes like the Masai have protected themselves against heart           disease far more effectively than we have, having neither hundreds of millions    of dollars for even a single placebo-controlled trial nor any of the fancy             technology that industrial capitalism produces. (Masterjohn, 2008, para. 79).

The lipid hypothesis has had a long history of failed experiments influenced by financial agandas.  The idea that eating saturated fat causes a build up of fat in the arteries seems logical at first glance, but with further information about the digestive system and dozens of studies with no clear results proving this idea, not to mention the cultural anomalies, even the most dedicated scientists must admit this issue is more complicated that it was first proposed to be.  Using the drug evidence of statins to 'prove' the lipid hypothesis is as unscientific as using a miracle to prove the existence of god.  The idea suggested by Masterjohn that statins appear to work due to another affect (inhibiting the Rho enzyme) is one which seems worthy of further exploration, although with so much riding on the lipid hypothesis, it may be hard to find funding.  This exposes one of the main flaws in modern science.  The funding for research often comes from groups, organisation and corporations with financial agendas.  Research that these parties find unfavourable is not readily released and experiments are designed to deliberately show a desired result.  Scientists who do not support the dominant theory are marginalised, and as a result, their work is considered less credible.  A thoroughly unscientific process.


Beers, M. (Ed). (2003). Merck Manual of Medical Information (2nd ed). New York:            Simon & Schuster.

Gurr, M. (1991A). Cholesterol in the food and Blood. Diet Health Dialogue.         Wellington: Dairy Advisory Bureau.

Gurr, M. (1991B). The lipid hypothesis: A review of the experimental and Epidemiological evidence. Diet Health Dialogue. Wellington: Dairy Advisory           Bureau.

Masterjohn, C. (2008). A review of the cholesterol wars: The skeptics vs. the          preponderance of the evidence.Cholesterol and Health. Retrieved April 18,           2009, from Cholesterol-Wars.html

Ravnskov, U. (2000). The cholesterol myths. Washington: New Trends Publishing.

Scrinis, G. (2008). On the ideology of Nutritionism. Gastronomica: The journal of             food and culture. University of California press. Vol. 8 (1) pp. 38-48

Steinberg, D. (2004) Thematic review series: The Pathogenesis of Atherosclerosis. An       interpretive history of the cholesterol controversy: part I-V. Journal of Lipid     Research, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Vol. 45, pp. 1583-1593,

Steinberg, D. (2007). The Cholesterol Wars. New York NY: Academic       Press/Elsevier, Inc
Taubes, G. (2004). The soft science of dietary fat. Science 30 March 2001:
            Vol. 291. no. 5513, pp. 2536 – 2545

[1]             Many of these critics are well qualified.  Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, author of The Cholesterol Myths (2000) is a medical doctor with a PhD, Mike Gurr (1991A, 1992B), the author of several articles arguing against the role of dietary fats and cholesterol in the blood has a PhD.  Chris Masterjohn (2008) is also a medical doctor with a PhD, but despite their qualifications these critics are marginalised in favor of mainstream science.
[2]    Self proclaimed the world's most widely used medical reference for the twenty-first century.
[3]    Or even a moral or religious one.
[4]    Reliable data from more than twenty countries was avaliable at the time of Keys' research (Ravnskov, 2000)
[5]             Religious terminology is used by Steinberg, supporter of the lipid hypothesis: “The "nonbelievers" were largely confining themselves to the intervention trial data per se. The "believers," if they had had a catechism, might have recited it…” (2004, p.1)
[6]             Including a pint of soybean oil per week
[7]             The control group started out with a higher number of older and overweight participants and by the end of the study it had twice as many heavy smokers. Members of the treatment group were counseled to cut down their intake of margarine and increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, and fish, they were provided with free sardines canned in cod liver oil (Masterjohn, 2008)
[8]             Smoking increases the risk of spasms that can lead to heart attacks
[9]             Even the idea that low fat diets are beneficial to weight loss is not well founded, although it is often held to be a religious truth.  Despite the calorie density of fat being significantly higher than carbohydrate and protein, participants in low fat diet trials were found to lose weight initially and then return to their initial weight (Taubes, 2004).
[10]  At a Consensus Conference a (supposedly unbiased) panel review the evidence given by experts (Taubes)