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Saturday, February 20, 2010

YOU are killing your kids!

You know, I was thinking of going to be early tonight.  Instead, I took the 20+ minutes to watch the Jamie Oliver TED Prize wish speech.  Now, I know I won't be able to sleep until I get all the thoughts swirling around in my head written down.

No, I'm not going to link to it here.  Go do a search on it on youtube, if you really want to see it.  Assuming you want to waste 20 minutes of your life watching that condescending little git.  Man, I used to like this guy!  Sheesh!

First off, I want to talk about the good stuff.  There is some there, and it's a shame it was ruined by the crap.

Oliver talks about food education, which I think is a grand idea.  Knowing how to pull together healthy, tasty meals is a good thing.  Knowing how to do it using fresh, quality ingredients is also a good thing.  Being able to feed a family healthy meals economically is a good thing.  I've encountered far too many people who not only don't know how to use basic ingredients, but are thoroughly intimidated by them.  They're under the impression that cooking is complex or difficult, and don't feel confident that they can learn.  I think this is part of the larger problem of our education system teaching us to defer to experts in areas that used to be the realm of family and community, like how to parent, feed, raise and educate our kids.  Spend 12 or more years being told you're incompetent, and there's a tendency to believe it.

Oliver also discusses the excessive additives in many modern foods, and he has a very good point there.  He somewhat looses the theme by focusing primarily on sugar, rather that some of the other strange things added to our food.  Just try, for example, to find foods that can be eaten by people who can't do gluten, milk proteins or soy.  Any one of them is hard enough, but all three is amazingly difficult.  They show up in places you'd never expect, like milk proteins in sherbet or deli meats.  Soy and wheat are almost ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, that's about it for the good parts.

Oliver actually starts his talk with one of the biggest pieces of BS, claiming that in the next 18 minutes of his speech, 4 Americans will die because of what they eat.

Really?  And how was that determined?  Did they all eat poison?  Or would that be based on the already falsified, junk science claim that obesity kills 300,000 + people in the US every year?  He infers that obesity - which I don't think he ever defined in the talk, so I'll assume he is referring to the BMI definition - is killing these people, and says so directly many times throughout his talk.  This, of course, runs counter to the repeated studies that show people in the overweight category have the best outcomes and longest lives, while those in the normal and obese categories have equal numbers except in the most extreme examples of obesity, at which point the numbers match what's really the most dangerous category to be in, underweight.

At least he admits he's not a doctor, not that that really improves anything.

He then chastises Americans for being the most unhealthy people in the world, and repeats the recent BS claim that our kids will live shorter lifespans than their parents.  He emphasizes this by pointing to someone in the audience and saying "YOUR child will live a life 10 years younger than you, because of the landscape of food that we've build around them."

Aside from the guilt inducing accusation, this is, of course, an extrapolation, similar to those that claim X% of adults will be obese in the near future - a model that, if it were to believed, means that obesity rates will eventually be 100%.  Like so many other predictions, these are mathematical constructs that have little to do with reality.  Life spans and overall health have more to do with things like poverty, sanitation, and reliable, accessible health care, and while obesity may indeed be connected with various health problems, increased adiposity, in and of itself, has never killed anyone.

His next fallacy is shown in a graph of causes of death.  Of these, he blames heart disease, all cancers, stroke and diabetes on diet and obesity.  Which is absolute BS.  The primary predictors for heart disease and diabetes - especially T2 diabetes - is heredity.  Among the list of risk factors for heart disease, obesity is the last one listed.  (As a side note, a recent study found that the majority of first time heart attack victims had normal cholesteral levels.  Of course, the pharmaceutical company, and manufacturer of statins, that paid for this study declared that this meant that we should change what is considered normal cholesterol levels, and doctors should put more people on statins.)  All cancers?  There are so many different types of cancers, to blame them all on eating habits and body fat is ludicrous.  As for stroke, a quick look at a medical reference site, and there's nary a mention of diet or obesity.  As for diabetes, it's caused by the pancreas's inability to produce insulin, ranging from an absolute lack of insulin, to defective insulin (which is rare).  Risk factors are a different issue altogether, and again, genetics plays a strong role.  This is particularly notable when looking at diabetes rates in different ethnic groups. Blaming diet and obesity is far too simplistic - but does a great job of blaming the victim.

What Oliver also neglects to mention is that research has found obese people who have never dieted do not exhibit increased risk factors for heart disease, diabetes or stroke (I can't say for cancer, again because there are so many different types).  It is only obese people with a history of weight loss dieting that exhibit increased risk factors.  Dieting to loose weight is more dangerous to our health that being fat in the first place.

Ultimately, the single greatest increase in risk factor for all of these isn't diet or body fat, but age.  The older we get, the more likely we are to die of any of these.  Well, at least until the age of 50, at which point there's no difference anymore.  In other words, the higher death rates in these categories are the consequence of our increased life spans.

Oliver then moves on to some of his more disgusting behavior.  He introduces us to "my friend Brittany,"  a 16 yr old, complete with unflattering photo.  Brittany, he declares, will be dead in 6 years.  Because she's eating herself to death.

If this is how he humiliates his friends, it's a wonder he has any at all.

Just how does Oliver know she'll be dead in 6 years?  He's already admitted earlier that he's no doctor.  He doesn't tell us, other than some vague reference to her eating her liver to death.

I'm not sure how he came to that conclusion, but it reminds me of a French study that was ongoing when I read about it, and I really wish I could find out more about it.  Inspired by the movie, Supersize Me, a French university professor with some extra money in his budget decided to do a clinical study to replicate what Spurlock did to himself in the movie and see if he got the same result.  In this study, volunteers - all healthy, young, male medical students - agreed to eat a minimum of 6000 calories of fast food a day and get as little exercise as possible, for the entire school year.  The only exceptions to fast food were breakfast, which they could eat at home, so long as it was lots of bacon and eggs and the like, or, if they failed to reach 6000 calories by the end of the day, a high calorie shake they would mix up enough of to put them over 6000 calories was to be drunk before bed.  The participants were closely monitored, with particular attention to liver function, because Spurlock had apparently developed liver problems.

The results of the first group to take part in this study were; an initial weight gain in the first month to month and a half, which was lost shortly after; some minor changes to liver function in the same time period, then back to normal.  By the end of the study, none of the volunteers displayed any health problems, though they all complained about the difficulty of eating 6000 calories a day, and were chafing at the lack of activity.

On to Oliver's talk.

He then shows a "normal family," and gives various other examples of all these fat people.  None of which is normal, of course, but extreme examples.  Then there's the diatribe against fast food, corporations, and the usual myths about diet.  Again, he ignores the actual research, which has shown time and again that there is no statistical difference in diet and exercise between fat kids and thin ones.  Whatever is causing these kids (and adults) to be unusually large, it isn't as simple as what they eat.  He then makes all sorts of assumptions: that fat = unhealthy, fat people are fat because they pig out all the time, don't know how to cook, don't eat fresh food, etc. This implies, of course, that thin people are all healthy, never overeat, always cook their own healthy, wholesome meals, and eat fresh foods.  Which is bullshit.  Again, complex issues reduced to simplicity.

Then he goes on to humiliate that "normal" family again.  A week's worth of food, which we are supposed to believe is what this family eats every week, is piled onto the table in a big, disgusting mess, as well as on the counters and shelves around them.  The camera spends a lot of time showing the crappy pizzas, corn dogs, hot dogs, and who knows what else is buried in there.   He then tells the mom that she's killing her children, YOU are killing your kids, he tells her, then asks, "how does that make you feel?"  I don't  know about that woman, but it would make me feel like ordering the biggest, greasiest burger I can find, just to spite his smarmy ass.  He reduces her to tears and into admitting she's killing her kids (which makes me wonder just what else he said and did leading up to this clip), then says, "but we can stop that."

Yeah.  Right.  Tell me, Jamie.  Did you find out what this family's medical stats where?  Do they have high blood pressure?  Abnormal cholesterol levels?  Heart problems?  Do you know?  We sure aren't being told.  We're just supposed to assume that, because this family is fat, they're going to DIEDIEDIE!  Well, not the mom.  Just the kids, because she's just such a disgusting, pathetic excuse of a human being that's KILLING HER KIDS!!!!! Of course, he did mention that this is a "third generation" family.  I think he meant to say that they were third generation fat.

What was that thing about heredity and genetics?  Or, right... body size is anywhere from 80-98% (depending on your source) genetically determined.

He ends that particular section by repeating the word, "normal."


Then he moves on to the schools.  He spends some time slagging school lunches and blaming it mostly on accounting, which again, is simplistic.  He doesn't mention what a failure his school lunch program has been, nor the reasons.

Then there's a really bizarre clip of a "normal" elementary school.  Looking at the kids, I'd say kindergarten to grade one.  He proceeds to hold out various fruits and vegetables, none of which the kids can name, or name properly.  Cue ominous music.  He hold up tomatoes, and is told they are potatoes.

Now, I find I have to comment on this one.  I realy don't think that the kid was too stupid to know the difference between a potato and a tomato.  I think it's just as likely he got the words backwards.  I've known adults who constantly get tomato/potato mixed up.  Heck, I've done it myself.

Oliver, however, doesn't correct the child.  Later on, however, he holds a potato out to another child.  When asked what it is, the child has no answer.  Hmmm... let's see... he can't say it's a potato, because some other kid called another completely different food a potato and wasn't corrected.  So if that's a potato, than this other thing being held up couldn't possibly also be a potato, could it?  Looking back at my own thinking at that age, I would have been suspicious of any food held up at that point.  After all, if I know what a food is, but suddenly it isn't, I would have been second guessing myself, no matter how sure I might have been only minutes before.  And besides, if a tomato is suddenly a potato, than surely a cauliflower can be a broccoli, or a beet can be a celery?

I can also say, in all honesty, that I would not have recognized an eggplant (or should I say, aubergine) or a leek at that age.  These are foods that, like many other foods, I simply wasn't exposed to until much later in life. There were also foods that I knew what they were, but didn't know what they were called.  At least in English.  I might have seen cauliflower in the grocery store, but we never bought them (with a garden as large as ours, we pretty much never bought vegetables, which greatly limited my exposure to different types) and I had no idea what they were called for a long time.  I've met kids who didn't know the word broccoli.  To them, they were "trees."

While it's possible that Oliver somehow managed to find an entire classroom of kids who'd never been exposed to these vegetables before, not even in coloring or story books, I find it highly unlikely.  Especially with all those "healthy eating" programs that are in so many schools right now.  I find the entire segment very suspicious.  Especially when he keeps insisting that this is "normal."  We're at a point when, thanks to "educational" programs and cultural indoctrination, we have 6 yr olds being hospitalized for anorexia, 4 yr olds putting themselves on diets and refusing to eat, and toddlers who can barely talk saying they think they're fat!

Normal?  He keeps using that word.  I don't not think it means what he thinks it means...

Next he talks about milk and sugar, and uses a wheelbarrow to demonstrate all the sugar kids are drinking in their milk.  I happen to agree that adding that much sugar to milk is pretty disgusting, but he goes overboard in claiming child abuse.  As has become usual in this talk, Oliver is making false assumptions, this time on sugar.  In reality, there is no connection between sugar and obesity in children.

So what are his solutions?  Food ambassadors in supermarkets to show us how to shop. (Because we're all so stupid.)  Get the government to wean us off salt, fat and sugar (all of which are dietary requirements) in fast food. (Because we really want the government telling us what we should eat, and how much.)  Food cooked fresh on site at schools. (Because it's the schools' job to feed our kids, efficiency, health and safety standards be damned - another one of his failed projects.)  Having every child graduate knowing how to cook "10 recipes that will save their life."  (No explanation as to what those would be.)
He makes a few really odd statements.

"If you can cook, recession money doesn't matter.  If you can cook, time doesn't matter."  What does that even mean??

Then he refers to a woman earlier who's fat dad died in her arms (he was fat, so he just up and dropped dead on her, apparently), and declares she'd be happy  "... if corporate America could start feeding their staff properly." Since when was it our employers job to feed us? Our body shapes and sizes are no business of theirs, any more than they are Oliver's.

I think he's absolutely right that it's good for people to learn how to cook, though his "pay it forward" concept was a complete failure.  The plug he throws out to Mrs. Obama is, I find, rather disgusting, considering how she used and humiliated her own daughters.

There are so many things about him that bothers me.  Arrogance.  Ignorance.  Condescension.  I'm going to have to stop, though, as this is already quite long.

At the end, he puts out his wish. 

"I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can someone turn such a potentially good idea into something so filled with ignorance and idiocy?


  1. This was unbelivable! I know I at times feel quilty about having diabeties. The whole time I read this I was wondering if it was news by you what Mrs. Obama said and then I read your comment "The plug he throws out to Mrs. Obama is, I find, rather disgusting, considering how she used and humiliated her own daughters." and I couldn't agree more!

  2. Another reason why I can't stand his campaign and others like it - no one should feel guilty for having diabetes! (or heart disease, or cancer, and so on) That whole "blame the victim" mentality is pathetic.


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