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Food, Money And Politics + gratuitous k.d. lang bonus extravaganza

I grew up in a traditional family. Dad worked; mom cooked and cleaned. Sisters helped mom. I studied. When I went off to college I lived with a girlfriend who was an incredible cook. I had basically never done anything in a kitchen in my life until my mid-twenties when I found myself washed up in Amsterdam without any money, eating every meal in a $1 a plate health food restaurant. They noticed me-- maybe how I ate every grain of rice and always cleaned my plate, just short of licking it-- and hired me as a dishwasher. Over the years I became a waiter, a cook, a chef and eventually the manager. During the pandemic I've made dinner for myself and my partner 6 days a week-- and take pride in cooking only healthy, nutritious, organic meals-- vegan for the most part, fish once a month. Yesterday we had Domoda, the national dish (a vegan stew of based on sweet potatoes, white beans, kale, peanut sauce with lots of spices and herbs). Right now I'm baking a blueberry pie. We both love exploring new foods.

In all my food adventures though, I never once looked at the dietary guidelines recommended by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. I guess there are people who do. Maybe young newly weds? First-time moms? Congress mandates it be published and the report claims that it's "designed for policymakers and nutrition and health professionals to help all individuals and their families consume a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet. The information in the Dietary Guidelines is used to develop, implement, and evaluate Federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs. It also is the basis for Federal nutrition education materials designed for the public and for the nutrition education components of USDA and HHS nutrition programs. State and local governments, schools, the food industry, other businesses, community groups, and media also use Dietary Guidelines information to develop programs, policies, and communication for the general public. The aim of the Dietary Guidelines is to promote health and prevent disease." OK, if that were remotely true, the first page would say, in big bold letters: DO NOT CONSUME SUGAR BECAUSE IT WILL KILL YOU. It doesn't.

I looked at it today for the first time. It doesn't say that but there sure are a lotta pictures of smiley multicultural faces. They even have a video! 6,722 people have watched on YouTube, which 26 people liked. Here, take a look:

I never tasted a beer in my life, tried win no more than a dozen times and other alcoholic beverages two or three times. Not my thing. I stopped eating meat because my college girlfriend was a vegan and she prepared all our food. It suited me, so-- with the exception of fish now and then-- I've remained a vegan for 5 decades or so. More recently-- after a cancer diagnosis-- I stopped eating sugar. The idea of getting dietary advice overseen by two corrupt Trumpist hacks-- Sonny Perdue and Alex Azar-- is unfathomable. "This edition of the Dietary Guidelines is grounded in robust scientific reviews of the current body of evidence on key nutrition and health topics for each life stage," they wrote in their introduction. But not everyone agrees.

In an OpEd in The Hill this morning, Thomas Gremillion, director of Food Policy at the Consumer Federation of America, noted that despite Perdue's and Azar's claim, "the new guidelines ignore an expert panel’s recommendation to lower suggested alcohol intake limits for men (to no more than one drink per day on days when alcohol is consumed)... Given that the new guidelines recognize that even a small amount of alcohol is bad for you, and that drinking less is better for health, why do they persist with the recommendation to limit men’s consumption to two drinks per day, rather than following the expert panel’s recommendation to lower it to one? The answer is simple: politics."

Following publication of the expert panel’s recommendations — the “Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee”-- alcohol industry lobbyists persuaded 28 members of Congress to sign a letter to Secretaries Perdue and Azar, arguing that the panel’s recommendation on alcohol failed to consider the “preponderance of scientific evidence.” As consumer and public health groups pointed out, the expert panel based its recommendation on a review of 60 studies, not just one or two cherry-picked papers, as opponents claimed. The panel cited research on cancer to support its conclusion as well.

The letter is bipartisan, although what the members of Congress all have in common is that they are financially beholden to Big Ag, corrupted Republicans like Frank Lucas (OK), Andy Harris (MD), Devin Nunes (CA), Scott DesJarlais (TN) and Doug LaMalfa (CA), and corrupted Blue Dogs like Jim Costa (CA), Lou Correa (CA), Anthony Brindisi (NY) and Mike Thompson (CA).

Nevertheless, the federal agencies rejected the recommendation on changing “quantitative limits” because “[t]he emerging evidence noted in the Committee’s report does not reflect the preponderance of evidence at this time.” Notably, the research informing this edition of the dietary guidelines was narrowly constrained by USDA and HHS in an unprecedented manner, resulting in many studies on alcohol and cancer, for example, falling outside of the committee’s purview.
Regardless of the evidence cited in the expert committee’s report, however, the agencies’ conclusions are hard to reconcile. If “drinking less is better for health than drinking more,” why say that drinking two drinks in a day, rather than just one, will “minimize risks associated with drinking”? Clearly it does not, but thanks to the power of the alcohol industry, consumers will have to figure that out for themselves.

Easing away from meat and sugar? Oh sure. In fact, I was the general manager of Sire Records when one of our most promising your artists, country singer k.d. lang, took on the meat industry. The backlash nearly ended her career. "A number of radio stations in America's cattle country," reported the Washington Post, "have dropped Grammy-winning singer k.d. lang's records after her participation in a 'Meat Stinks' campaign for the Washington-based advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

Her career didn't end... except as a country artist. Those country western fans sure take their meat seriously! Or at least can be easily influenced by an industry that will not tolerate anyone asking people to reconsider deadly eating habits. I couldn't decide which k.d. song to close with. Why should I? Here are two:

And this one is live-- 23,077,000 more views on YouTube that Perdue's and Azar's video:

You know, I forgot how much I love k.d.'s voice. You can listen to her singing "Crying" with Roy Orbison live on Jay Leno's show here (and you should; it's awesome), but this solo version of his song was always the one that thrilled me most. What a talent! I wonder if she's still banned on all those radio stations; I think so.

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