bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Jamie Oliver and the hypocritical sugar tax

Jamie Oliver's Apple Berry Crisp contains over 5 tsp of sugar in a teensy tiny 100 g serving (i.e. 1/10th of this box)

Jamie Oliver’s Apple Berry Crisp contains over 5 tsp of sugar in a teensy tiny 100 g serving (i.e. 1/10th of this box)

This opinion piece about the proposed sugar tax in the UK left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I agree, Jamie Oliver is an hypocritical patronizing bully (remember that time he said “poor people” could well afford to cook better meals if they all have tellies?). On the other hand, the alternative solutions to the sugar tax offered in the article are quite likely to be even less effective. And I’m not being instilled with confidence by the author’s bio: “Alex Deane is an Executive Board Member of the People Against Sugar Tax campaign. He has a spare tyre, because he’s freely chosen to eat too much.” 

According to their website the PAST don’t receive any funding from food and beverage companies, only from private individuals. Of course, there’s no telling precisely who those individuals are and whether or not they have any ties to the food industry. PAST states that by not seeking money from food or drinks companies, “It means that people can be confident that our campaign has no conflicts of interests, and that we are the voice of the people”. Assuming it’s true, that all their money comes from people who just really don’t want to pay extra for pop, I’m still not sure that makes them the voice of the people. People who have money to burn on campaigns against campaigns against sugar certainly aren’t likely to be your average citizens. Interesting, considering that their central argument against the sugar tax is that it will be most damaging to people living in poverty. Since when do a bunch of conservatives and libertarians care about people who are struggling to make ends meet? I guess when it’s convenient to use them to make their argument sound noble.

I too have said that a sugar tax will unfairly hurt people living on limited incomes. I too don’t believe that a tax on sugar is the answer. However, I don’t think that the so-called solutions proposed by the PAST are any better, in fact, I think they detract from the real problems. Suggesting that improved nutrition labelling and “encouraging children to do more exercise” are far more patronising “solutions to obesity” in my mind than a sugar tax would be. Come on. These solutions once again place the onus on the individual and as a result imply that we all just need to make better choices. If only we could understand nutrition labels and get off our fat lazy asses a little more we would all be slim and fit and healthy. No matter that neither of these solutions addresses their central argument. You think that people living in poverty are going to benefit from improved nutrition labels and being told to exercise more as long as they don’t have to pay extra tax on pop and candy? This makes no sense at all.

The onus needs to stop being placed on the individuals. Sugary treats should be more expensive. Not because a higher tax is placed on them though, but because the food industry is no longer subsidized and offered tax breaks to create these products. Grocery stores could also stop selling these items as “loss leaders”, stop accepting money from the companies making these products to place them in prominent displays, stop giving them the prime eye-level shelves, and selling them at checkouts. Other stores that by all rights should not be selling food (I’m looking at you office supply stores, house-ware shops…) could stop selling candy and other food. Until we start realising that profit is not the be all and end all, and that the abundance of food, particularly “sometimes” foods that should not be consumed on a daily basis, is actually costing us more as a society in healthcare significant change in obesity rates and lifestyle related diseases is unlikely. We need to change our environment and shift our priorities. The presence or absence of a sugar tax is not the answer and arguing about it is taking us farther away from the real problems at hand.


Look at this almond milk drinking hipster


I feel like the anti-almond milk article Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters that was published in Mother Jones and making the rounds on social media last week was intentionally crafted to get a rise out of people. If the author, Tom Philpott, really wanted to educate people about the downside to almond milk I don’t think he would have led with a title like that (or maybe he had nothing to do with the title and Mother Jones is just trying to rustle some hipster jimmies). Regardless, I’m sure some jimmies were rustled. I’ll take the bait.

I’m far from a hipster myself, but I still feel like I have to defend the consumption of almond milk, to a degree. I think that Philpott raises some very valid and important points. Almond milk is not as nutritious as cow’s milk, or even soy milk. It’s very low in protein. Our sudden love for almonds is also an environmental concern. I’ve heard that bees are trucked from all over the States for the almond pollination in Cali every year. Consuming almonds as milk is also certainly not the most nutritious way in which to consume them. But…

Philpott neglects to address those who cannot consume cow’s milk. He touches on lactose intolerance. However, not everyone who consumes almond milk is a lactose-intolerant hipster. There are a number of reasons that people do not consume cow’s milk: milk allergy, veganism, poverty (milk is expensive!), religion, personal preference. These people deserve an alternative to cow’s milk. Almond, soy, rice, hemp, coconut, flax, and quinoa milks all provide reasonable alternatives for cooking, cereal, and drinking. It’s not like cow’s don’t have a huge environmental footprint themselves. I think the key here, as with everything, is to consume a variety of foods.


Colour me surprised: Organic foods may contain pesticides!


Last week consumers of organic produce got their knickers all in a knot over news reports of pesticide residue being found on “organic” produce. Now, I thought that we all knew by now that purchasing organic produce didn’t guarantee avoidance of pesticides. Apparently not.

Just a reminder… Organic food is not grown in isolation. There are pesticides in the soil, the rain, the air. Organic foods are not shipped and sold in isolation. There are many stages at which they may become contaminated with pesticides. Indeed, organic foods may also have pesticides deliberately applied during the growing process. Pesticides are allowable in organic farming, provided that they are not synthetic. For a list of permitted substances in organic farming see this from the Government of Canada.

Before we all give-up on organic produce, it’s worth considering a couple of things. One, it appears that the number of samples was quite small (the image at the bottom of the CBC article shows a sample size of 30 for the grapes). This could mean that the numbers are not an accurate reflection of the state of pesticide residue in produce in Canada. Two, only 1.8% of organic samples exceeded allowable limits for pesticides; 4.7% of non-organic samples did. In fact, less than half of the samples of organic produce tested positive for pesticides at all. While 78.4% of non-organic produce tested positive. Considering the numerous opportunities for organic produce to becomes contaminated with pesticides the number showing residue is actually quite small.

Yes, you’re taking a risk that your food is going to be contaminated with pesticides. That risk is present whether you choose organic or not. However, that risk is considerably greater if you choose non-organic produce. It’s also worth taking into consideration that by choosing organic produce you’re choosing to have fewer synthetic pesticides put into the environment. Over time, this may mean that your organic food will be less and less likely to be contaminated with synthetic pesticides.


Follow Friday: @rustikmagazine


Check-out Rustik Magazine. An online publication designed to help you master sustainable living. Based in rural Nova Scotia they focus on issues that are affecting both urban and rural NS, and the Maritimes. However, much of their content could apply to anyone anywhere. If you are in NS you may find them to be a useful resource for local events related to food and the environment.

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Man vs food industry


A recent “article” – actually a “commentary” which apparently does not need to be grounded in reality – by Patrick Luciani refuted the view that the food industry is at the root of the obesity epidemic.

He begins by pointing out that BMI is flawed (which is true) but this does not mean that we don’t have an excess of overweight and obesity in Canada as Mr. Luciani would have us believe. Just because the measurement tool isn’t accurate doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem.

Luciani continues by suggesting that some people choose to be fat and are content with their weight. Yes, there certainly are people who are overweight and are perfectly content and healthy. However, there are also many others who are unhappy with their weight and who are suffering negative consequences both social and health.

His third argument is that humans have always been gluttons and that the onus is on us as individuals to control our eating; not on the food industry. These three arguments don’t seem all that cohesive to me.

I certainly agree that the food industry is not entirely to blame for the state of obesity in our country. It’s got many different causes and the food industry is but one of them, albeit a large one.

For once I was really impressed with the comments on this article. Rather than rephrase them I’m going to share a few below:

1. The writer is promoting a harmful line of thought when he says:

“And modern medicine has made it easier to carry around that extra weight. Cholesterol-controlling statins, diabetes and blood-pressure medications and bariatric surgeries have lowered the medical costs of those few extra pounds.”

What we take from this is that an unhealthy life-style is no problem – just take some pills.

The treatments he casually mentions have their own limitations and side effects. Aside from this, many older people are suffering from weight exacerbated joint problems that severely impair their mobility and/or require costly surgery.


2. Some of us like the way we are just fine. Some of us don’t.

I didn’t…


3. Such paper thin arguments piled up to justify the author’s agenda. The BMI is flawed (which it is) so there is no obesity epidemic? There were some overweight people 300 years ago so we can ignore the things that are leading to so many of us being overweight now. There was a poorly designed tax in another country that didn’t work so we should just give up on broader solutions. People are overweight because they simply choose to eat more and that’s uninfluenced by our evolutionary drives, our upbringing, or our environment that encourages overeating (research would beg to differ).

The insinuation that public health advocates are inflating the crisis for their own benefit is a typical projection by those who do view the world from a “what can I gain” perspective, not the “how can we best help people help themselves” approach advocated by those who want to do something.

It’s no wonder the author’s book was nominated for a Donner Prize as it furthers the Donner Foundation’ agenda to denigrate what communities and governments can do and put the blame on the individual.


4. This author’s opinion is truly a stretch. What percent of the population do professional athletes make up? Definitely not enough to impact the overall obesity statistics. There are many, many reasons for people gaining weight, but all age groups are getting heavier and this needs to be addressed. In our current lifestyles making the healthier choices is the more difficult choice and any way we can change this is worthwhile. Trying to deny or explain away the obesity statistics is not helpful.