Industry: Living off the Low-Fat of the Land

If you eat this you will get fat/atherosclerosis/high cholesterol/diabetes/lockjaw and/or you will die. True or false, and why, and according to whom? (Photo by VirtualEm/Flickr)

A brief excursion into dietary “science” shows us why and how industrial science is destroying our world, with our happy acquiesence. By industrial science I mean “science” conducted by people in the employ of industrialists such as Cargill and the Koch brothers, the handful of giant companies that engineer and market the food-like substances that have turned America into a country whose population is at once overweight and undernourished.

(I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that these industrial scientists are overtly, or even knowingly, corrupt; that they predetermine their outcomes or blindly follow corporate directives. However, two things remain true: the questions you ask determine the answers you get; and it is impossible to convince a man of something when getting his paycheck requires that he not believe it. While we are in parentheses, let me explain that I put “science” in quotation marks to make the point that although we are always telling each other what “science” says or does, that makes no more sense than to claim to know what “politics” says, or what “religion” does.)

One of the greatest scams perpetrated on modern humanity is the creation in the public mind of the fervent, unquestioned belief that “science” not only knows what it is doing in its every specific foray into medicine, agriculture, food engineering and weapons creation (just to name a few fields) but also in general. Technocrats have thoroughly sold the tenets of the cult of science: that the universe is a machine, operated as if by gears and levers, where cause and effect are linear and easily comprehended by the human mind. The notion that there is mystery in the processes of nature, that some of them are in fact unknowable, has been banished from the public mind.

Nowhere has this hubris led to more errors, with worse consequences, than in the field of human nutrition. In this cult the high priests wear lab coats and are in the employ of the industrial-agricultural-food engineering complex. They churn out “scientific studies” that purport to show that sugar-coated corn flakes are good for children, or that corn-coated chicken is a good source of fiber, or other such nonsense. They have convinced a vast number of us that food is medicine, that they know all the effects, good and bad, of various foods, and that to be healthy and wise we must memorize, and do, what they say.

The cult has a record of one disastrous error after another, of successive revelations that what it was selling us not only was not good for us, but was actively harmful. Yet they who retain the ability to saturate the TV airwaves with bogus doctors showing animated versions of how the body works, retain with many of us untarnished reputations for infallibility.

Although it will probably do little good to point it out, the latest food-cult fad to crash and burn in reality — although is still flourishes in public consciousness — is the low-fat fad. For half a century the high priests have repeated one incantation above all others: fat is bad for you, if you eat fat you will be fat, if you eat fat you will get cholesterol in your blood vessels, you will get diabetes, you simply must not eat fat. These incessant warnings, based on virtually no science at all, worked very well for the cult, which promptly emblazoned all its food packages with the magic words, “low fat,” and prospered.

If you chart the rise of popular acceptance of the low-fat mantra, and alongside it chart the rising obesity and diabetes rates of the same public, you will find the charts are identical.

All along, scientists who did not work for Big Food were skeptical, some of them loudly so: Dr. Robert Atkins began debunking the scam in 1972, but his reward was to be branded a fraud while he lived, and to be ridiculed for disproving all his nutritional theories by dying.

However, despite everything Big Food and its wholly-owned scientists, politicians and flacks can do, the paradigm continues to shift away from “low-fat.” Consider these recent statements and publications:

  • “Fat is not the problem,” Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the Los Angele Times in December. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”
  • “Dietary fat used to be public enemy No. 1,” says Dr. Edward Saltzman, associate professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University. “Now a growing and convincing body of science is pointing the finger at carbs, especially those containing refined flour and sugar.”
  • Michael Pollan, in his recent bestseller In Defense of Food, wrote that “the amount of saturated fat in the diet may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease, and the evidence that increasing polyunsaturated fats in the diet will reduce risk is slim to nil.”
  • “The country’s big low-fat message backfired,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”
  • Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who codirects the program in cardiovascular epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and is an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told a meeting covered by Grist Magazine, “No randomized trial looking at weight change has shown that people did better on a low-fat diet. For many people, low-fat diets are even worse than moderate or high-fat diets because they’re often high in carbohydrates from rapidly digested foods such as white flour, white rice, potatoes, refined snacks, and sugary drinks.”
  • Gary Taubes, who wrote a seminal review of the low-fat scam for the New York Times Magazine in 2002, found that “Foods considered more or less deadly under the low-fat dogma turn out to be comparatively benign if you actually look at their fat content. More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak, for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile (at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it); it’s true that the remainder will raise your L.D.L., the bad stuff, but it will also boost your H.D.L. The same is true for lard. If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”

Who is at fault when mindless propaganda sways an entire population, to its own detriment? Those who produce reality TV, or we who mistake it for reality?

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