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Posts tagged ‘Tim Noakes’

Human Beans

A few weeks ago, my friend Nafisa sent me a photograph of a banner outside a cafe in Linden in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. In a particularly good demonstration of why punctuation helps to avoid horrific confusion, it advertises that it ‘now serves TIM NOAKES’—with ‘breakfasts and lunches’ in smaller script below.

In Linden, Johannesburg. Courtesy of Nafisa Essop Sheik.

In Linden, Johannesburg. Courtesy of Nafisa Essop Sheik.

Personally, I would prefer neither to eat Tim Noakes nor his high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. This sign is interesting, though, because it still refers to a Noakes, rather than Banting, diet. In the past couple of months, restaurants all over South Africa have added Banting friendly meals to their menus, and I think it’s worth taking a closer look at Banting, his diet, and context. William Banting (1796-1878) was a prominent undertaker and funeral director whose family had long been responsible for organising the Royal Family’s funerals. He and what became known as ‘Bantingism’ rose to prominence in 1863 with the publication of A Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. In it, he described how he shrunk from obesity to a ‘normal’ weight as a result of a miraculous diet. The aptly named Michelle Mouton explains:

After many vain attempts to find a doctor with a cure for corpulence, and after futile experiments with Turkish baths and the like, it is ironically diminished sight and hearing that incidentally lead Banting to his miracle. His ear surgeon suspects a constriction of the ear canals, Banting reports, and advises him to abstain from what Banting terms ‘human beans’—‘bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes’—so called because they are as harmful to older persons as are beans to horses.

The diet was so efficacious that Banting lost forty-six pounds in a year, and reported feeling healthier than ever before. So what did he eat?

For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar), a little biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast. For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, once ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira—champagne, port and beer forbidden. For tea, two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar. For supper, three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret. For nightcap, if required, a tumbler of grog—(gin, whisky, or brandy, without sugar)—or a glass or two of claret or sherry.

Noakes-ites will note that Banting included some carbohydrates in his diet, and seemed to shun pork (if not bacon) and salmon, possibly on the grounds that they were too fatty. His injunction against sugar is mildly ridiculous considering the amount of fortified alcohol he drank. No wonder he enjoyed the diet so much—it gave him licence to remain in a permanent state of gentle tipsiness.

Much of Bantingism’s popularity was linked to the fact that it emerged during a period when diets, perceptions of physical and moral beauty, and ideas about health were undergoing rapid change. The wild success of his pamphlet in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere caused intense debate within a medical profession which was increasingly linking weight—Banting’s corpulence—to health. Urban living and industrialised food production reduced the price of food and altered eating patterns. For the middle classes, for instance, meals were now eaten three times a day, with dinner moving to the evening. At the same time, thinness was increasingly associated both with physical beauty and moral behaviour. This diet seemed to offer an easy way to achieve both ideals. Self-denial would result in a more moral, thinner person. Mouton writes:

Toward the end of 1864, George Eliot wrote to a friend, ‘I have seen people much changed by the Banting system. Mr A. [Anthony] Trollope is thinner by means of it, and is otherwise the better for the self-denial,’ she adds.

The diet also offered the new middle classes a way of navigating new food choices, in much the same way that their embrace of evangelical Christianity assisted them in finding a place for themselves within Britain’s class system. As Joyce L. Huff observes, Banting chose to write his pamphlet as a tract. Similar to other confessions of earnest Christians who had come to the light of God’s grace, Banting’s Letter traces the journey of a humble man—a sinner in a fat body—to the light and clarity of a high protein diet. He had achieved full mastery of both his body and his soul.

William Banting (from here), presumably after his diet.

William Banting (from here), presumably after his diet.

Enthusiasm for the diet petered out fairly quickly, but Banting’s writing has been resuscitated more recently by pro-protein evangelicals like Robert Atkins, Gary Taubes, and Noakes. Thinking about Banting’s diet in historical context draws attention to a few exceptionally important points:

Firstly, anxieties about diet occur in the midst of major social change. I don’t think that it’s any accident that Noakes has found an audience among South Africa’s middle classes: whose numbers are growing, but who are also feeling the impact of global recession. Diets—particularly strict diets—offer a sense of being in control and of group belonging in times of radical uncertainty.

Secondly, as a closer look at Banting’s day-to-day eating demonstrates, his diet and that advocated by Noakes are fairly different. In fact, I wonder if Banting lost weight simply because he was eating less food more generally, than as a result of his switch to greater quantities of protein. Noakes cites Banting and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century high protein dieters to lend his writing greater validity. This is knowledge, he implies, that has been around for some time. All he’s done is to bring it to wider public knowledge. Yet it’s clear that what we define as high protein has changed over time. Noakes’s diet is a diet of the early twenty-first century.

Thirdly, as the short lived initial enthusiasm for Bantingism suggests, this diet is no more successful than other diets at causing weight loss. Put another way, while eating a high protein diet will cause initial, dramatic weight loss—partly through dehydration—those who follow diets which encourage greater exercise and generally lower calorie intake lose the same amount of weight over a longer period of time. This has been demonstrated by study after study. More worryingly, we have no idea what the longterm health implications of high protein diets may be.

Connected to this, Noakes argues that it is largely industry—Big Food—which has been behind efforts to discredit high fat diets. Although Banting was ridiculed by some doctors during the 1860s, this was at a time when medical professionals jostled with quacks for recognition, and did not occupy the same position of authority that they have since the mid-twentieth century. Doctors could not band together to suppress this kind of information. Moreover, food companies were in their infancy. Clearly, people chose to relinquish the diet for a range of other reasons.

Finally, this—as Banting’s contemporaries pointed out—is a diet for the wealthy, and for a planet with unlimited resources. It is out of reach for the vast majority of people who are obese, most of whom are poor. We know that intensive livestock farming has a devastating impact on the environment. Addressing poverty and rethinking agriculture offer the best means of improving the health of the world’s population and of mitigating climate change. Not eating more animal protein.

Further Reading

Sander L. Gilman, Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity (Cambridge: Polity, 2008).

Joyce L. Huff, ‘A “Horror of Corpulence”: Interrogating Bantingism and Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fat Phobia,’ in Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression, eds. Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBresco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 39-59.

Michelle Mouton, ‘“Doing Banting”: High-Protein Diets in the Victorian Period and Now,’ Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 24, no. 1 (Oct. 2001), pp. 17-32.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Ideal Conditions

Earlier this month it was announced that the sport scientist turned diet guru Tim Noakes is in talks with Derek Carstens, former First Rand executive and now Karoo farmer, about improving the diets of farm workers. The Cape Times reported:

Once the project begins, the families on the farm will be monitored for five to 10 years. With a diet high in offal – which is readily available in the farmlands of the Karoo – the families will stop consuming carbohydrates, which Noakes says are of no benefit to the human body.

‘This is an ideal set-up,’ said Noakes. ‘And it would be much harder to do research of this nature in a place like Cape Town.’

Since the emergence of nutrition as a field of scientific enquiry in the early twentieth century, the poor, the hungry, and the socially and politically disenfranchised have often been the subjects of research into diet and malnutrition. Last year, University of Guelph-based food historian Ian Mosby published evidence that during the 1940s and 1950s, scientists working for the Canadian government conducted a series of experiments on malnourished residents of rural Aboriginal communities and residential schools.

Rural impoverishment in the 1930s – brought about by the decline in the fur trade and cuts to government provision of poor relief – meant that First Nations people struggled to find enough to eat. They could not, in other words, afford to eat, and this knowledge informed the advice they provided to researchers for eradicating malnutrition. Mosby writes:

Representatives of the various First Nations visited by the research team proposed a number of practical suggestions for ending the hunger and malnutrition in their communities. In addition to more generous relief during times of extreme hardship, these included increased rations for the old and destitute, timber reserves to be set aside for the building and repairing of houses, and additional fur conservation efforts by the federal government, as well as a request that they be given fishing reserves ‘so that they could get fish both for themselves and for dog feed, free from competition with the large commercial fisheries.’

However, researchers decided to set up an experiment in which First Nations peoples were provided with vitamin supplements to gauge their relative effectiveness in combating the side effects of hunger. Crucially, researchers were well aware that ‘vitamin deficiencies constituted just one among many nutritional problems.’ In fact, they calculated that the average diet in these communities provided only 1,470 calories per person during much of the year.’ First Nations people needed food supplies, not vitamin supplements. Mosby concludes:

The experiment therefore seems to have been driven, at least in part, by the nutrition experts’ desire to test their theories on a ready-made ‘laboratory’ populated with already malnourished human ‘experimental subjects.’

In other areas, researchers regulated what kinds of food Aboriginals could purchase with their welfare grants (the Family Allowance):

These included canned tomatoes (or grapefruit juice), rolled oats, Pablum [baby food], pork luncheon meat (such as Spork, Klick, or Prem), dried prunes or apricots, and cheese or canned butter.

This experiment was also an attempt to persuade First Nations people to choose ‘country’ over ‘store’ foods. They were to hunt and to gather instead of relying on shops. To these ends, some officials tried to prevent some families from buying flour:

In Great Whale River, the consequence of this policy during late 1949 and early 1950 was that many Inuit families were forced to go on their annual winter hunt with insufficient flour to last for the entire season. Within a few months, some went hungry and were forced to resort to eating their sled dogs and boiled seal skin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little or no evidence to suggest that the subjects of these research projects consented to being part of them.

In South Africa, anxiety about the productivity of mine workers in the 1930s drove the publication of a series of reports into the health of the African population. Diana Wylie explains:

The Chamber of Mines in particular was alarmed at the 19 per cent rejection rate for Transkei mine recruits. Some of the researchers urged the government to concern itself with nutritional diseases ‘as an economic problem of first importance in which not merely the health but the financial interests of the dominant races are concerned.’ Another warned, ‘unless a proper food supply is assured, our biggest asset in the Union, next to the gold itself, our labour supply, will fail us in the years to come.’

In response to these findings, mining companies introduced supplements to miners’ diets to combat scurvy and generally boost immune systems. They did not, obviously, address the causes of miners’ ill health and poor diets – which were partly the impoverishment of rural areas and the system of migrant labour.

Mine workers in Kimberley.

Mine workers in Kimberley. (From here.)

The Canadian experiments and South African research projects were produced by a similar set of concerns: by an interest in civilising indigenous people, but also because, in the case of Canada, ‘it [was their] belief that the Indian [sic] can become an economic asset to the nation.’ Africans also needed to be well fed and kept healthy for the benefit of the South African state.

Noakes is correct when he says that conducting the research he proposes to do on rural farm workers would be almost impossible in a city. Although he insists that he will seek ethics approval, I wonder how he and other researchers will go about winning the informed consent of a group of people who are dependent on their employer – Noakes’s collaborator – for their livelihoods, and who have, historically, very low levels of education.

Also, Noakes seems to believe that only carbohydrates are at the root of farm labourers’ poor diets. As the First Nations people referred to above argued, malnutrition is caused by an inability to access good, nutritious food – and usually because of low wages. Instead of feeding Carstens’s employees offal, it might be worth considering how much they are paid, and how easy it is for them to afford transport to shops selling healthy food.

Noakes argues that ‘We can’t build this nation in the absence of sufficient protein and fat.’ To what extent is this project purely for the benefit of Karoo farm workers? And to what extent to prove a controversial theory proposed by a prominent researcher?

Sources

Ian Mosby, ‘Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952,’ Histoire Sociale/Social History, vol. 46, no. 91 (May 2013), pp. 145-172.

Diana Wylie, ‘The Changing Face of Hunger in Southern African History, 1880-1980,’ Past and Present, no. 122 (Feb. 1989), pp. 159-199.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Peas in a Pod

For various reasons I once attended a talk by Tim Noakes, the sport scientist-turned-diet guru. I use the world ‘guru’ deliberately. Although many of his arguments are thought-provoking and, to some extent, compelling – essentially, he suggests that we should switch to a low-carbohydrate, protein-based, high fat diet – much of what he said was undermined by the manner of his delivery.

He presents his findings in the manner of a big tent evangelist. In a room packed to capacity by the middle classes anxious to discover the elixir of thinness, Noakes spoke for almost two hours, painting himself as a champion of natural eating, maligned by Big Food companies hell bent on making us eat more sugar and carbohydrates. If the back row had leapt to its feet, shouting ‘hallelujah!’ I would not have been surprised.

As I sat there, my mind wandered to a contemplation of diets eaten and advocated by other evangelicals. The leadership of the nineteenth-century Dutch Reformed Church in the Cape Colony were all evangelicals, who, during the American Civil War, refused to eat sugar in solidarity with the struggles of that country’s slaves. In doing so, they were part of an international boycott, supported by Christian churches all over the world.

These Christian evangelicals believed that their faith should manifest itself in every aspect of their day-to-day lives. In other words, piety was not to be kept for Sundays. Not drinking and refusing to gamble, avoiding debt, and becoming involved in good works were all manifestations of leading good Christian lives. Partly because many of the new middle classes produced by industrialisation were members of these churches, up until around the middle of the century evangelicals managed to exert a profound influence over public life in Britain, and parts of Europe, North America, Australia, and South Africa.

Although as far as I can see, none of South Africa’s evangelicals were particularly interested in shaping their or their congregants’ diets, it was certainly not unusual for evangelicals and Christians who were members of smaller, splinter groups to embrace restricted diets as manifestations of their piety. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some Christian sects practiced forms of vegetarianism for a variety of reasons: because a diet containing fewer animal products was ‘purer’ than those that did; or because killing animals was sacrilegious. Roger Crab, a seventeenth-century vegetarian believed that meat eating was a consequence of the Fall, as Alan Rudrum explains:

By the age of twenty he was restricting himself to a diet of vegetables and water, ‘avoiding butter, cheese, eggs and milk’, that is, he was what we now call a vegan. As time passed he became more austere, dropping carrots and potatoes as luxuries, though in old age (he lived to be 59) he allowed himself parsnips. Crab’s vegetarianism seems partly to have been dictated by a self-administered vow of poverty; living on dock-leaves and grass, he claimed to live on three farthings a week. But he argued that ‘Eating of Flesh is an absolute Enemy to pure Nature’.

William Cowherd founded the vegetarian Bible Christians near Manchester in 1809. Ian Miller notes:

the Bible Christians … had hoped to create a new form of Christian church with its unique rituals and dietary regulations. For the adherents to this group, meat eating was conceived of as the most vivid symbol of man’s fall from grace, as well as being a source of social evil. William Cowherd (1763-1816) ran the Bible Christian chapel at King Street, Salford, attracting a large following of working-class people, who were encouraged not least by offers of hot vegetable soup, medical help, and a free burial ground.

Crab and Cowherd may appear to be fairly extreme examples, but their influence was felt far beyond their immediate communities. The Vegetarian Society was established in Ramsgate in 1847. Its founders were a motley collection of socialists and other progressives, many of them heavily influenced by the thought and pedagogy pioneered by Bronson Alcott (father of the more famous Louisa May), as well as by representatives of the Salford Bible Christians. One of these, James Simpson, was elected the Society’s first president.

As Ian Miller argues, in its early years, the Vegetarian Society used markedly religious language to promote and explain vegetarianism to an otherwise sceptical audience. One contributor to the Vegetarian Messenger wrote that

abstinence from meat appeared to supply man with important pre-conditions for the perception, understanding, application, and obeying of the teachings of Christ while removing some of the difficulties which lay in the way of the carnal man’s submission to his rule and governance. Vegetarianism alone, it seemed, could not bring about a more spiritual outlook by itself but could at least act as a starting point given that the individual was situated within the right conditions.

Miller adds:

the early writings of the vegetarian movement regularly emphasised a vegetarian world that had existed prior to the Fall that was to be restored following the end of the present age of spiritual and social progress…

This was a vegetarian propaganda which would have been palatable, so to speak, to non-vegetarian evangelicals who shared a similar world-view. However, other, more mainstream, Christian groups have long been sympathetic to vegetarianism, and particularly the Quakers and the Seventh Day Adventists. The latter’s commitment to lifelong, healthy eating has, in fact, influenced the ways in which many of us eat: the Adventist-owned Australian and New Zealand food company Sanitarium produces muesli, granola, and, most famously, Weet-Bix.

EP19270331.1.21

John Harvey Kellogg was an Adventist too. Other than breakfast cereals, the Kellogg company also popularised graham crackers – biscuits invented in the 1830s by the deeply pious Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham from Connecticut, who believed that the passions and emotions could best be mastered by eating plain, bland food.

Noakes’s preaching uses, probably unwittingly, the same techniques employed by evangelicals since the end of the eighteenth century. I think, though, that are other similarities between his enthusiasm for a high-fat diet and the Christians involved in the early Vegetarian Society. They all believe that changing eating habits will be better for the whole world – that the transformation of the individual will lead to the remaking of society more generally. After all, the subtitle of Noakes’s new book is ‘Changing the World One Meal at a Time.’

Sources

Ian Miller, ‘Evangelicalism and the Early Vegetarian Movement in Britain, c.1847-1860,’ Journal of Religious History, vol. 35, no. 2 (June 2011), pp. 199-210.

Alan Rudrum, ‘Ethical Vegetarianism in Seventeenth-Century Britain: Its Roots in Sixteenth-Century Theological Debate,’ The Seventeenth Century, vol. 18, no. 1 (2003), pp. 76-92.

Colin Spencer, The Heretic’s Feast: A History of Vegetarianism (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1995).

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Fairytales

I have an odd enthusiasm for Iceland. I think it stems partly from the fact that in Brave New World, troublesome and insubordinate academics are exiled there. Although when Aldous Huxley published the novel in 1932, the Iceland he imagined was one of the least technologically advanced nations in Europe – and not the socially and politically progressive place it is imagined to be today. In fact, much of the current interest in Iceland stems from its response to the 2008 crash: Icelanders did what so many in the West wanted to do. Laurie Penny writes:

What most of the world appears to believe is that, some time between 2008 and 2009, the country refused to bail out its banks when the global economy crashed and that instead it jailed all of its bankers, overthrew the government, wrote a new constitution on the internet and elected a lesbian prime minister who solved all the nation’s problems with a flick of her magic wand.

Iceland became, seemingly, a Guardian reader’s paradise. But the reality is more complex, and, possibly, less attractive:

Although it is true that the three largest banks – Glitnir, Kaupthing and Landsbanki – were allowed to go bust in 2008, this was hardly a political choice: Iceland could do nothing else, because their debts were ten times the size of its GDP.

Popular protest did force the writing of a new constitution, but this has never been implemented. Earlier this year – for all the promise of Iceland being lead by a Pirate Party – Icelanders re-elected the centre-right coalition which was in power before the recession. And Iceland is no feminist paradise either.

But it remains a compellingly fascinating place. I think Penny sums this up particularly well:

Iceland has always been a land self-authored in myth and legend. Its lava fields and glacial plains are supposedly populated by elves, trolls and huldufólk – hidden folk – in whom 80 per cent of the population believes. At least, that’s what the PR for Icelandair wants you to think… In fact, it turns out that only 30 per cent of the population believes that fairies exist, although that third is prepared to agitate for roads to be diverted around their supposed homes. This is remarkable enough that one wonders why the tourist board bothered to exaggerate.

A few months ago, while visiting another city on the same latitude as Scandinavia – Edinburgh – I bought a copy of Sarah Moss’s memoir Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland (2012). It’s an account of a British family’s year in Reykjavik, during which Moss taught English literature at the University of Iceland.

Interested in histories of eating and cooking, some of Moss’s most evocative passages are concerned with how she comes to terms with Iceland through food. The availability of a variety of – occasionally rotting, often seriously under-ripe – exceptionally expensive fresh produce imported from all over the world, suggested the enthusiasm with which Icelanders embraced consumerism during the boom. (Another potent example of this was the stigma attached to buying second-hand goods and clothes. Her efforts to buy a used washing machine were greeted with appalled horror by many of her colleagues and friends.) In fact, she and her family packed with them the foods of home – ‘the manifestations of English metropolitan middle-class identity’:

We have five litres of olive oil, a dozen tins of anchovies and a dozen jars of capers, miso paste, pomegranate syrup, cocoa nibs, seeds for growing coriander, basil and mint. Smoked chillies, sumac, allspice, dried dill, cumin. Preserved lemons, three kinds of paprika, dried lime leaves.

On a quick trip back to Kent, they bought and smuggled into Iceland

two whole salamis, a wheel of Kentish cheese … approximately three kilogrammes of chocolate, from Cadbury to Valrhona, two Christmas cakes and a stollen, half a dozen russet apples, a bag of unwaxed lemons and a couple of dozen tins of anchovies, capers and vine leaves.

Anxious about being caught by immigration officials, she hurries her husband and children through the airport. Max, her eldest son, ‘looks anxiously into [her] face. He’d make a lousy chorizo mule.’

namesforthesea

Moss is not unaware of the irony of importing what are, essentially, the ingredients of Mediterranean peasant food to Iceland, a nation apparently with a close relationship with the natural world. However, she sympathises with the taste that Icelanders’ developed for imported food, given the relative monotony of diets until, at least, the mid-twentieth century. These were heavy in smoked and dried fish, and meat often preserved in whey, blood pudding and liver sausage, potatoes, and plenty of dairy products. Grains and green vegetables were a luxury.

These high-fat diets seemed, though, to sustain farmers through long winters. Matthew, a colleague also from Britain, remembered his introduction to rural cuisine in the 1960s:

the worst imaginable kind of food I could ever think of was put on the table, steaming salted fish with a terrifying smell to it, and hot sheep fat, and potatoes. That’s all there was. And I knew I was going to be there for six weeks, and I would have to eat it or starve. I told myself, you wanted to come to Iceland, you wanted to find out what it’s like here, you bloody well eat their food, and I forced myself to eat it. And it was delicious, absolutely glorious. It’s one of my favourite dishes today.

Matthew’s answer to why they didn’t fall ill – in the absence of fruit and vegetables – was that they ate a lot of fish:

And Iceland moss, swede, and white cabbage. A lot of white cabbage. … And of course a lot of milk, and skyr [curd cheese].

Why didn’t they get scurvy?

People drank a lot of Iceland moss tea, and they were probably using many more grasses and herbs than is recorded. That knowledge has gone.

I think his point about forgetting what people used to eat is an important one. I was reminded of Moss’s book a little while ago when – for various reasons – I attended a lecture presented by Tim Noakes. Once best known for his deep knowledge of sports science, Noakes has recently developed a reputation for his almost evangelical faith in the carbohydrate-free, meat-heavy Paleo diet.

I was struck by Noakes’s use of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts which recommended excluding carbohydrates from diets, to bolster his arguments. And by his insistence that because people – like Icelanders – in the past were able to live healthily off diets consisting mainly of red meat and animal fat we should attempt to replicate them in the twenty-first century.

There are many problems with Noakes’s arguments – not least his dubious methodology in a recent paper – but I’d like to focus on his use of history to argue for a return to what our ancestors (allegedly) ate. As Moss’s friend Matthew makes the point, our knowledge of how eating habits changed over time is patchy, at best. Peasants did not painstakingly record every slurp of nettle tea. Also (and this is taken from a satirical piece, but it’s accurate):

You simply do not see specific, trans-regional trends in human subsistence in the archaeological record. People can live off everything from whale blubber to seeds and grasses. You want to know what the ideal human diet consists of? Everything. Humans can and will eat everything, and we are remarkably successful not in spite of this fact, but because of it. Our adaptability is the hallmark of the human species. We’re not called omnivores for nothing.

Noakes’s reliance on an idealised vision of the past is a significant weakness in his argument. It ignores the fact that we have a tendency to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible: when vegetables and fruit became more easily available, Icelanders happily included them in their diets.

The current obesity ‘crisis’ cannot, in other words, be fixed by returning to the mythical diets of the past. It is caused by such a myriad range of factors – ranging from poverty to urban planning – that to blame a taste for carbohydrates is to demonstrate a very narrow understanding of the problem.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 24.10.2012

How healthy is raw milk?

Pesticides, bees, and governments’ unwillingness to introduce regulations.

A debate on the origins of opposition to GM crops.

Global warming has changed the fishing industry in southern Greenland.

Are lower pesticide residues a reason to buy organic?

Arguments in favour of national grain reserves.

Reclaiming our seed culture.

The world faces a steep decline in fish stocks.

Colin Tudge on small farms.

Using mushrooms to build cities.

How diseases are spread via the food chain.

Pigs are in crisis.

American fast food chains that don’t support the Republicans.

How long do you need to work before you can afford to buy a beer?

Crispin Odey, banker, plans on building a neo-Classical chicken coop.

Why fish need exercise.

The US election and the snack onslaught.

Crisis in the Greek food and olive oil industries.

Nathaniel Bacon’s ‘Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit‘.

What is okonomiyaki? (Thanks, Mum!)

On misophonia. (I have this. It’s hell.)

The world’s fastest one-litre engine vehicle runs on cheese.

Ladies who drink.

The extraordinary invention of tabs on cans.

Vagina cupcakes.

Food typography.

Pumpkin pancakes.

Three burning questions about salt.

A new blog on pickling and preserving.

Cheese smuggling in Canada.

Christina McDermott on favourite food blogs.

A brief history of drinking and reading.

Delicious dishes with revolting names.

Berger & Wyse’s food-themed cartoons.

What’s the best shot for photographing food?

On dashi.

Bologna’s new ice cream museum. (Thanks, Catherine!)

Sam Woollaston cooks along to Nigellissima.

Cows respond to the Tim Noakes diet.

A recipe for pudding in verse, from Jane Austen’s family.

How to keep spices fresh.

Fashionable cafes in Paris.

How to eat breakfast cereal.

A recipe for challah.

Vogue plans to open a cafe in Dubai.

A reading of the ingredients in Kraft Dinner. (Thanks, Kelsey!)

Food Links, 17.10.2012

The UNEP report for World Food Day.

Bankers must be stopped from betting on food.

The number of people on food aid doubles in the UK.

Are we headed towards a food crisis?

Starbucks sells bad coffee, dodges taxes.

There’s been an increase in the amount of arsenic in American rice.

To match the Walton heirs’ fortunes, you’d need to work at Walmart for seven million years.

Farmers begin a mass slaughter as the cost of animal feed rises.

Drought in Spain is pushing up the price of olive oil.

A study of the meals chosen by prisoners on death row.

How to attract bees into cities.

Reflecting on the recent Tim Noakes scandal.

Mushrooming and the man who saved Prospect Park.

Sandor Ellix Katz: fermentation enthusiast.

A restaurant staffed by prisoners has just opened in Wales.

Reflections on being a vegetarian.

Snake venom wine.

The effects of nuclear explosions on beer.

Foreign bodies in food.

The Los Angeles Times‘s new food quiz.

Breakfast in Argentina and Chile.

The £250,000 kitchen.

Accounting for America’s new enthusiasm for avocado.

Amazingly wonderful surreal advertisements for pork, leeks, cress, asparagus, and celery. (Thanks, Mum!)

What makes chocolate so addictive?

Coping with lactose intolerance.

Lawrence Norfolk‘s top ten seventeenth-century recipe books.

The science of peeling hard-boiled eggs.

The Downton Abbey cookbook.

Eating in Burma.

Still lifes of food in art. (Thanks, Jane-Anne!)

Pubs and bars from the past.

Convincing fake meat?

Tim Hortons opens in Dubai.

Bring me the head of Ronald McDonald.

A recipe for carrot cake.

Favourite reader recipes in the New York Times.

Pairing novels with cocktails.

The science of baking with butter.

The middle-class hierarchy of sparkling water.

Matthew Fort reviews Nigellissima.

Why does everything taste like chicken?

How to make your own Nutella.

A blog dedicated to the drinks in Hemingway‘s writing.

Photographing famous food scenes in literature.

A toaster that toasts bread AND forecasts the weather.

How to peel ginger with a spoon.

The state of the jelly salad in America.