The two biggest weapons people use against eating real foods are mainstream science and tradition.
And shoot, those are pretty big weapons! You ever try convincing someone that what they and their parents believe is wrong?
Or that the FDA, doctors, and independent researchers don’t always have our best interests at heart?
It’s hard. They’ll say you’ve fallen in with those freaks who believe those weird food industry conspiracies.
90% of Americans believe that eating cholesterol is essentially poisonous. Might as well be drinking hydrocholoric acid, they say. The FDA’s advised us to avoid red meat and eggs because it’ll take years off our lives.
It’s protocol to prescribe statins (cholesterol-lowering pills) when patients’ cholesterol numbers are a bit high.
There isn’t a single study out there that proves statins lower mortality rate from heart attacks or cholesterol. In fact, having low cholesterol is more fatal than high cholesterol. Even the guy who invented statins stopped taking them despite his own cholesterol issues.
“Hey guys, I invented this stuff that helps with EXACTLY the condition I suffer from… but, um, I’m not going to take them. But you guys go right ahead!”
If you’re a statin junkie, this just got awkward.
But, try explaining to someone that cholesterol levels don’t matter? It’s like you’ve flipped their world upside-down. Told them the world was round. That the Earth revolves around the sun. Let slip that Snape was actually a good guy before book 7 (like Erin did!).
It’s tradition that cholesterol is the enemy, just like milk needs to be pasteurized and allergies are caused by genetics.
If we’re all just trying to be healthy, why are there so many diet contradictions?
The Wild West of Food Production
First, our bodies are insanely complicated. There are tons of things we don’t know, even today – so imagine how little we knew 100 years ago!
Back then, it was the Wild West of Food. We were learning how to mass produce – an incredible invention in certain industries, but the worst possible thing that could happen to our food supply.
Food companies learned how to make poor imitations of foods and sell them as cheaper, “healthier” alternatives. Because we knew so little, we believed them, and faulty traditions got started.
Candle maker William Procter (before he joined forces with Gamble) teamed up with a chemist and invented a way to hydrogenate cottonseed oil. This turned it into a thick fat which resembled lard. Back then, lard was commonly used for candles, so why not sell this cheaper stuff that works just as well?
Since it looked like lard, why not sell it as a cheaper, healthier alternative to lard and butter? They branded it Crisco, and made a concerted marketing effort to demonize butter and lard.
Fortunately, after 100 years of tomfoolery, the FDA’s beginning to stamp out the traditional belief that Crisco and margarine are better than butter.
In that case, science finally told us the truth, and we’re beginning to accept it.
We’ve seen similar stories with canola oil, breakfast cereal, cholesterol, and saturated fats.
Unfortunately, there are tons of examples of current science betraying us – and it’s really, really hard to convince people otherwise.
But I’ll try.
“Today we’ve got the FDA, better trained doctors, well-funded researchers, and University professors studying nutrition – surely we’re not falling for the same Crisco and margarine tricks from 100+ years ago, right?”
Our science is way better than it used to be – duh – but what isn’t better are politics, power, and influence.
I don’t know where I heard this, but it’s a go-to quote for me now:
“Wherever there is power or influence, people will try to direct it.”
Plus, the pharmaceutical industry represents $300 billion, and the food industry’s in the trillions. In a day and age where you can hire a hitman for 15,000 pounds, it’s safe to assume people will do immoral things to grab their share of those billions.
Say What, Doc?
I recently read one of my favorite books ever, called the Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien. She’s a business analyst by trade who became concerned with the food industry when investigating why her children were developing food sensitivities and allergies.
The big thing I learned from her is this:
You have to figure out the motivation behind someone’s claims or research before you believe them.
A woman might say her husband always tells the truth, but what happens when she asks him if he thinks she looks fat?
His motivation to tell the truth just got murkier, right?
- Tell the truth, probably upsetting her and getting himself in trouble
- Tell a white lie to build her confidence, make her feel good, and keep her happy
You see how motivations color even the simplest interaction? And what happens when the stakes are much higher with billions of dollars on the line? Before we can take something as fact, we have to understand what that person’s motives are.
Let’s use vaccines because they’re a convenient example – although it’s not my intention with this post to swing you one way or another.
So why do pediatricians say we need vaccines? Let’s analyze their motives:
- They truly believe vaccines are good for us and want their patients to be as healthy as possible.
- They run a business, and they would lose a chunk of their income if they stopped promoting vaccines. A huge number of patient visits are “healthy” checkups where shots are given.
- They don’t want to lose their jobs. More and more influential outlets are calling for doctors to lose their licenses for anti-vaccine positions.
- Doctors want to stay on the good side of pharmaceutical companies. If a new drug is coming out, Big Pharma needs a doctor to promote it in a commercial – for pay, of course. How about a new medical device? Pharma wants doctors to try it out. All in all, in 2013, doctors received about $3.5 billion in kickbacks from them. If doctors stop promoting their vaccines or prescriptions, they risk alienating the industry, losing lucrative opportunities.
So, what incentive do doctors have to promote vaccinations?
There’s an altruistic reason (but we’ve seen that most businesses don’t act altruistically), and 3 very legitimate financial reasons. If a doctor believes anti-vaccine is the way to go, he’ll lose a ton of his regular check-ups, potentially lose his license, and alienate pharmaceutical companies… not to mention he’ll be criticized and ostracized.
In my opinion, we don’t incentivize doctors to treat vaccinations objectively – there’s too much money involved.
Here are two favorite examples (of the dozens) from Robyn’s book that outlines shady incentives and motivations:
- 100% of studies funded by companies with ties to aspartame announced the artificial sweetener is healthy, while 92% of studies funded by sources with no ties to aspartame found it to be unsafe.
- After investigating ties between food dyes and allergies, she found the FAAN (the nation’s foremost allergy organization) to be uncooperative to her efforts. She later found their website to be funded by Kraft. After being pressured, they now accept funding from a different source – a pharmaceutical company. In their header, they even have a “Fare Walk for Food Allergy” sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, Mylan.
The Truth Will Come Out (If You Have The Money)
So the question that I like to ask people is this:
Who fights for all natural, organic foods? Who fights against GMOs and pasteurized milk? Who’s going to promote that dirt-cheap herbs often do a better job healing than expensive prescriptions?
On one side, you have 100 billion dollars of influence and power (and popular convention), and on the other you have some alternative medicine doctors, small farmers, and a handful of bloggers and authors. Which side is going to have their story told?
Let’s say a $55,000/year FDA employee is heading up a team to analyze Monsanto’s claims that GMO’s are safe. A high-ranking Monsanto employee shows up and tells this FDA guy that if he releases a report saying that GMOs are safe, next year they’ll hire him on at $300,000 a year. That’s a pretty fantastic incentive to find nothing wrong with GMOs.
And this happens all the time – like Michael R. Taylor who worked as the deputy commissioner for Policy in the FDA, then worked as Vice president of Public Policy for Monsanto, and is now back with the FDA.
That’s like working as a judge, then as a drug dealer, and then back as a judge again.
So what are his motivations behind his decisions? Is he really going to come down hard on his pals that he used to work with and paid him bucks?
Recognizing the Weapons Being Used
So, how can you tell if a study or smart person is trying to manipulate you? Here are some of the obvious ways you can tell:
Flawed Statistics – Humor me with a basketball example: in the 2014-2015 season, the New Orleans Pelicans scored the sixteenth most points per game. Most people would think they were a below average offensive team (out of 30 teams). However offensive efficiency (a complicated yet more accurate stat) shows that they were the ninth best offense.
Someone who wants to tell one story (they’re below average!) picks the first stat, while someone else can tell another story (they’re borderline elite!) with the second stat.
A famous one came way back in the day with Ancel Keys trying to prove that fats caused heart attacks. He studied 21 countries, but only 6 showed him the data he wanted – so he cherry-picked the data that made sense.
His study is often labelled as the inciting factor to our society’s fear of fats.
(NOTE: There is serious debate on both sides as to whether Keys actually cherry-picked data. Whether he did or didn’t, it’s been 50 years and we’re still not sure what he was telling us. Numbers can be ambiguous.)
You’re Not Smart Enough – When somebody speaks out against a doctor or scientific study, we hear things like “Who are you? You’re not a doctor, what do you know?”
I actually read a thread in a forum about raw milk, and every time someone spoke up to back it, someone else would say “Oh yeah? What medical school did you go to??”
Similarly, watch this vaccine video that Jimmy Kimmel made (sorry, some bad language):
His entire argument lies on the fact that doctors know more and should be explicitly trusted.
As I mentioned with the vaccine example, doctors often have conflicting incentives. Plus, the average medical school teaches 24 hours of nutrition. I took a 16 week (48 hours) nutrition course in college – does that mean I’m twice as qualified than a doctor about raw milk?
I dunno, but it’s interesting to consider the problems of trusting someone who probably knows less than a dedicated blogger.
Weird Shaming – Sometimes on Facebook someone will post a pic of a fat person because they think it’s funny. That’s called “body shaming.”
I came up with something I call “weird shaming.” It’s when someone tries to make you feel dumb or that your argument’s wrong because it’s weird.
For example, the Utah State Legislature recently re-allowed cow-shares – basically allowing private cow owners to share/sell their milk to friends and neighbors.
My favorite part was reading the comments, because you get awesome examples of “weird shaming,” such as this one:
“Who in their right mind would want to drink raw milk at this point? Talk about a bunch of yippy-yuppy hippies. Might as well go back to the stone age. Are people really that stupid? The last thing I ever want to do is milk a cow or drink raw milk again. On the other hand, I say let ’em drink it. Maybe we can kill off some of these idiots with their own stupidity.”
“I also wanted to add that it is just plain wrong for anyone who wants to drink raw milk not to have to milk the cow themselves. If people want to live and eat like hillbillies, they should move to Alaska, or someplace a million miles from everyone else they try to infect with their weird ideas.”
He calls us weird, very clearly defines and segregates us, and insults us. Too me, that’s the argument of someone who’s speaking from frustration, ignorance, or defeat.
Insulting Your Argument – Here’s an interesting point about debates in general – when someone runs out of actual facts or logic points, they’ll resort to insulting your argument. That’s how you know you’ve got ‘em beat.
It’s one thing if they have counterpoints to your arguments. It’s another when they say “well that’s just DUMB.”
Solving the Riddles Yourself
The thing about smart people making arguments is that BOTH sides actually sound smart. Even something you vehemently disagree with can sound appealing by someone armed with logic and data.
I’m not a fan of feminism. I find most of them combative, take offense easily, and take “I can do whatever I want” to comical levels. However, because I’ve read several articles about feminism (and have had in-person conversations with feminists), I can understand (some of) their arguments.
I’m informed about both sides, and I’ve made a decision about where I stand.
We’re prone to believing the FIRST good argument we read – so keep an open mind until you’ve researched all sides.
Try to identify the debate weapons I mentioned above –
- Are they just trying to weird shame you for considering other side?
- Are their statistics a little iffy?
- Are they telling you to blindly trust people (maybe) smarter than you?
Also, in our transparent age where Google knows all, we can more easily find out who’s funding who. For example, I Googled “Monsanto FDA corruption” and I found an embarrassing amount of info. I’m always wary of the FDA, and searches like that fuel my skepticism.
Try these searches as well:
- Who funds XYZ
- XYZ (name of study, researcher, etc.) + “funded by”
- XYZ + “paid for by”
- XYZ + “funding source”
Also, I’ve found interesting funding sources by deep-diving websites. Sometimes it’s as easy as scrolling to the bottom or reading their “About Us” page to see where they get financial backing.
Who Do You Trust?
In our world where numbers lie to us and the smartest people on Earth have very different opinions, my best advice is this:
Find sources you trust, get most of your information there, and then use your intuition.
Also, my naturopath is someone I trust explicitly. He’s shown me over and over again that he cares more about helping people than making money. I’ve seen him turn down money in order to provide a better service. He’s been helping patients for 3 decades and has been curing “incurable” illnesses the whole time. He’s helped me with things that I thought were outside medical help.
There are a few bloggers out there that I trust. There are also bloggers out there I don’t trust 🙂
The point is, I use these resources as my trump card – after researching both sides of an issue to a standstill, these 3 sources (WAPF, my doctor, and trusted bloggers) form the three sides of my personal Triforce.
Do I Believe Scientific Studies?
I recently read a little bit about the new study that proves that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism. I didn’t read the entire study, so I’m not qualified (or interested) in commenting on the findings. However, I found the comments hilarious because the anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine crowds get all riled up.
Tons of the pro-vaccine peeps basically said “Science! I rest my case.”
That scares me a bit.
We’ve become too dependent on scientific studies, and those studies are too dependent on who’s influencing/motivating/paying those people.
In other words, the information we get is often influenced by who has the most bucks or power.
So, do I put stock in scientific studies and medical findings? Some. Smart people are running studies with resources I don’t have.
But it only forms one part of my decision-making process.
You can’t possibly rely on a single study, or what a single friend says. A single well-worded argument you read on a Facebook thread or a forum shouldn’t sway you, but can be the first brick you lay.
I’ve shown you that numbers can be deceiving, studies release conflicting information, and that researchers and doctors don’t always have our best interests at heart. I know that leads down a conspiratorial path, but my point is to get you to think and research. Don’t rely on a single source and trust your logic/intuition. If you read a study that says synthetic vitamins are just as good as regular vitamins, you’re BS detector might go off (like mine did). It didn’t sound right, and I needed more research.