Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Food Nazis: A Rant

This isn't an atheist topic at all, but as a skeptic & pet-owner, I have to vent about a category of credulous fools that drive me crazy on the interwebs and in person.  They are what I call food nazis.  They are one subtype of the "Issues" flame warrior.

They are against all things "unnatural" or not "organic."  They lobby against genetically modified foods... that is, those that are modified through laboratory manipulation of DNA, versus the "organic" food they eat that represents hundreds of years of genetic tinkering through breeding and cultivation.  They want only pure foods in their bodies, which is fine.  They usually have mysterious maladies that apprently come from eating the same foods the rest of us ate growing up.  They don't want to eat anything they can't pronounce, though they are able to learn to pronounce "edamame" and "acai." They think they will live forever due to their superior nutrition despite scant evidence that food additives other than nitrates will or can cause cancer.  I've actually been told by a woman with fibromyalgia that she will long outlive me.  AHA!  Take THAT!!!  My question: she's in such pain from worrying about whether she's in pain, why would she want to live that long?  (Or will it just seem like she's living longer because she's in pain and she never has any fun?)

The food nazi will lecture you about what you should be eating based on their flimsy diagnosis of you.  A food nazi I had the displeasure of working with several years ago lectured me about eating eggs for breakfast.  She knew the nutritional content of everything I ate and insidiously asked me "ohhh that smells good what is it?"  And then when I tell her... WHAM!  "That's got cholesterol and calories and fat and..."

To which I answered "What the hell do you know?  My cholesterol is 93 so shut up about what I eat and mind your own business!  You're not my doctor!"  (Yes, I said it, and loudly, too)

There is another kind that I really can't abide.  Pet food Nazis.  These people are convinced that feeding raw food to their pet is superior to any feeding method any pet owner could choose, anywhere.  They are, in a word, zealots.

The diet is aptly called "BARF" for "Bones and Raw Food" or "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food."  The followers of this movement insist that their feeding method is better because it's more natural.  Pointing out to them they they are falling for the naturalistic fallacy (or appeal to nature) falls on deaf ears.  Informing them that cats and dogs have been eating the cooked leftovers of their owners for thousands of years falls on deaf ears.  Reminding them that evolution requires only that individuals of the species "survived" just long enough to reproduce and in sufficient numbers is the reason for wolf evolution, not anything in their diet, falls on deaf ears. 

They do respond to a call for proof.  Pointing out that there have been no scientific studies proving their point raises the spectre of Big Food Companies "owning" the vets who do the studies and sell the kibble (despite the fact that most kibble is purchased in stores).  I challenged the manufacturer of one of these raw food diets to conduct a study and they insisted it would cost too much money.  Really?  They have oodles of rabid followers who would gladly pay for bloodwork & stool samples to give them more ammo when they try to shame fellow pet owners into jumping onto their bandwagon.  And how hard would it be to pay a veterinary school to survey pet owners bringing in pets with cancer to see what the pets are eating?  Wouldn't most vet schools jump at the chance to grab some easy grant money? I thought they were easily bought and paid for.

They are as bad as scientologists and their demonization of psychiatric meds. 

The thing is, just as with human diets, there is some truth to the claim that diet and health are connected.  Human food nazis such as the twit I used to share an office with are only too happy to tell you what is in your food and what it can do to or for you.  They read "Prevention" magazine and shop at Whole Foods and listen to NPR, which never has ads for McDonalds or Skittles.  They are superior to the rest of us and they will live to be 100 years old and delight in the fantasy of going tsk tsk to us at our funerals.   We normal people will die young from horrible diseases and on our deathbeds we'll say "You were right.  I should have eaten edamame!"  This fantasy keeps them going as they nibble on their tasteless grub.

There is also a raw food fantasy about human foods, that ignores the fact that we've been cooking for eons.  It's the "cave man" or paleolithic diet.  There is zero evidence that this is good for modern humans.  I was in Paris for a few weeks and almost every cafe serves raw hamburger.  Blech.  The French may have the enzymes or antibodies or whatever for digesting that stuff, but I wasn't going to risk it.  Fortunately, they also have McDonalds in Paris.  (Yes, I did it!  I went to McDonalds in Paris!  Subway, too!)
Yes, that's a raw egg!
Animals, such as ourselves, certainly can live to old age, and diet can play a part, but evolution didn't dictate that.  Evolution doesn't really care if we live to old age, except perhaps that men can continue to inseminate women well past the age when women undergo "the change."  But it's not necessary for survival.  Humans only need to live to about 12 to 20 to pass along their DNA, unless grandparenting turns out to be essential to training the young-uns, in which case 40 will do.  In cats, dogs, and other canids, the individual only needs to live to be about 7-8 months old.  Any old diet can keep all of these species "alive" in an evolutionary sense.

The other thing they don't get is that cats and dogs are different species.  YES!  They are!  Cats are much closer to their wild ancestors than dogs are.  They can't survive on table scraps as dogs can.  Dog fanatics will cite books or articles written about cat nutrition and draw a false equivalence. These nutters will also draw an equivalence to people that's totally wrong.  For example, xylitol will cause hypoglycemia in a dog but not at all in a human.  Diabetic humans can eat xylitol and it doesn't affect their glucose level, but a dog could die from hypoglycemic shock from chewing on a stick of sugar-free gum.

So... they may be right.  They may be wrong.  There may be no difference at all between cooked and raw diets, assuming the kinds of foods eaten are the same.  Their own personal experiences are all they need.  Have there been any people or pets killed by salmonella?  Would any of the food nazis who forced their food fetishes on those victims be posting online?  NO!  Would people who died from food-borne pathogens be flame warriors on interwebs forums?  NO!  Dead people can't type!  Would food nazis who got cancer admit that their food fetishes did them no good?  NO!  So we have a biased sampling of opinions based on naturalistic fantasies, erm fallacies.

Eating vegetables & fruits, keeping weight under control, not smoking, not drinking (or not drinking much) are commonsense "rules" for people to follow.  I avoid nitrites because they've been shown to contribute to leukemia.  I avoid fish because I don't believe in strip-mining the ocean for a sandwich, and anyway they swim in their own pee and who knows what pollutants are in them?  (hey, I try to be rational but fish are just plain icky)  My bird gets all-natural food because the company that makes it is careful to balance nutrients he'd get in nature.  (He's a zebra finch - about the size of a mouse).  I wouldn't claim superiority without proof, though.  I just go with my gut and my own best thinking.  If scientific research proved me wrong I'd go with other recommendations in a heartbeat.
Then there's Hitch's example. Despite being genetically disposed to pancreatic cancer, he did everything "wrong" and yet didn't seem to be whining about his decisions after he got sick.  The food nazi I had to endure at work tried to convince me I'd live to be 100 if I ate like her.  I told her I probably wouldn't, but it would feel like 100 years.

Is it wrong to call them "Food nazis?"  Well consider that the Nazis were also health fetishists.   They were anti-tobacco before anyone in the U.S. was.  They made a few good points.  "Racial hygiene" was a repulsive outgrowth of this focus on health and purity.

Not that food fetishists in the U.S. are going down that path, but ya know... they should just shut up about their

So to all the food nazis out there, when you wag your finger at me, I just might show one of mine to you.


L.Long said...

Well said Lady!
When it comes to long living there is nothing better then picking the right genetic parents.
My G'ma lived to be 102!!!! and active to the day she died. Favorite diet for at least 50yrs.... weak tea with lots of milk and white bread toast. With the occasional roast pig/cow with potatoes and gravy made from the meat drippings! An awful diet that probably killed her before her time.
The thing about organic is that it aint any more organic than any other food. They just fiddle the rules to be able to call it that.
The food made by 'natural' breading and mixing is COMPLETELY untested before the test animals (US!!!!) eat it. The food that is 'naturally' changed to be resistant to some bug is done so by boosting its natural toxins to the bug and the natural toxins are NOT TESTED for safety, so what are their long term effects on us!!!!
Food Nazis are no different then the other woowoo merchants.

Anonymous said...

Tell us what you really think. :)

I have a lot of health problems,and when I mention them on my blog, the people you mention in this post come out of the woodwork.

They ASSUME I am ignorant and uneducated. Never mind I have had fibromyalgia for 16 years and have read most every book on the subject. Even my doctor admits I am more up to date on the subject than he is.

Should we watch what we eat? Sure. But, I refuse to turn eating into a religion. Eating is one of the few things I can still do..and they will have to pry the fork out of my cold, dead hand.... :)

Juggler_Dave said...

Come on, Lady, don't hold back - tell us what you really think! I enjoyed the rant and recognized myself in it (just a bit) from a few decades ago. I mellowed out, though, and leave others to eat as they see fit while relaxing about my own food.

Still can't abide beets, though.

LadyAtheist said...

In my salad days I was suckered into the naturalistic fantasy, and woo, and new age everything, which is why it pisses me off so much now!

After many years of dealing with holier-than-thou Food Nazis, I finally came up with a reason to eat food with preservatives: if it preserves the food on the shelf, think how long it will preserve my body!

Anonymous said...

"Humans only need to live to about 12 to 20 to pass along their DNA, unless grandparenting turns out to be essential to training the young-uns, in which case 40 will do."

Menopause is uncommon among animals. In any case, a species with menopause is clearly more complicated than a hypothetical otherwise identical species without menopause (in the same sense a species that alternates from a brown spring coat to a white winter coat is more complicated than a species that has a brown coat all the time).

This means that menopause is an evolutionary adaptation.

This means that despite the low average life expectancy of the past, significant numbers of women were surviving long enough for grandmothering to be important, and more important than the alternative possible contribution of a few new children surviving a woman's pregnancy at e.g. 60.

LadyAtheist said...

Good point. I grew up with my grandmother, who was very important to me! My natural father's mother died in childbirth. I can see how grandmothers would be important to have around in case of childbirth mishaps.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was just about to post one just like this about Food Nazi's but I wasn't exactly sure if that was what I had on my hands. You really described it well and made me laugh too :)

I just think it is plain rude what "food nazis" do. I think eating is a personal choice and an important one. To me, it's so important that I don't really want to talk about it.

I consider myself a vegetarian in my private life if I wanted to give myself a quick label but when I have to eat with other people (like at work or on business) they ask if I am vegetarian and I deny it. I don't want to have a conversation about what it means to them or what it means to me. Not eating the same thing as some people is apparently a BIG DEAL to them. I don't give a f***, just trying not to be picky, trying not to die, trying not to make a scene. I just say "oh I'm skipping the meat today" or "oh just trying to eat light because I had heartburn last night." I'm vegetarian for my own reasons and I have found it much more pleasant to hide that fact.

I'm totally with ya that people should mind their own business. If these people really were "superior" they would have actual proof.. um, like trophies and awards or something. Bottom line is, eating is just not a recreational act for everybody, for every meal. I don't want anyone else's "restrictions" on me. I eat alone and love it! I don't even eat with my husband and he loves it!

LadyAtheist said...

Trophies are a great idea! They can pat each other on the back and then maybe they'd leave the rest of us alone!

tiff Christie said...

LoL Very nice .. Thank you for calling out these obnoxious, and irritating people. I live in California, god help me, and I'm constantly bombarded with comments about what i eat, and what i should be eating.. What makes me sick is that people can go on about how picky they are with the food they eat, yet there are soo many in the world who'd be grateful as hell to be eating anything at all.

LadyAtheist said...

Food nazis also seem so sickly, too!