The Agricultural Mind

Let me make an argument about individualism, rigid egoic boundaries, and hence Jaynesian consciousness. But I’ll come at it from a less typical angle. I’ve been reading much about diet, nutrition, and health. There are significant links between what we eat and so much else: gut health, hormonal regulation, immune system, and neurocognitive functioning. There are multiple pathways, one of which is direct, connecting the gut and the brain. The gut is sometimes called the second brain, but in evolutionary terms it is the first brain. To demonstrate one example of a connection, many are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes, and dietary interventions have reversed symptoms in clinical studies. Also, microbes and parasites have been shown to influence our neurocognition and psychology, even altering personality traits and behavior (e.g., toxoplasma gondii).

One possibility to consider is the role of exorphins that are addictive and can be blocked in the same way as opioids. Exorphin, in fact, means external morphine-like substance, in the way that endorphin means indwelling morphine-like substance. Exorphins are found in milk and wheat. Milk, in particular, stands out. Even though exorphins are found in other foods, it’s been argued that they are insignificant because they theoretically can’t pass through the gut barrier, much less the blood-brain barrier. Yet exorphins have been measured elsewhere in the human body. One explanation is gut permeability that can be caused by many factors such as stress but also by milk. The purpose of milk is to get nutrients into the calf and this is done by widening the space in gut surface to allow more nutrients through the protective barrier. Exorphins get in as well and create a pleasurable experience to motivate the calf to drink more. Along with exorphins, grains and dairy also contain dopaminergic peptides, and dopamine is the other major addictive substance. It feels good to consume dairy as with wheat, whether you’re a calf or a human, and so one wants more.

Addiction, of food or drugs or anything else, is a powerful force. And it is complex in what it affects, not only physiologically and psychologically but also on a social level. Johann Hari offers a great analysis in Chasing the Scream. He makes the case that addiction is largely about isolation and that the addict is the ultimate individual. It stands out to me that addiction and addictive substances have increased over civilization. Growing of poppies, sugar, etc came later on in civilization, as did the production of beer and wine (by the way, alcohol releases endorphins, sugar causes a serotonin high, and both activate the hedonic pathway). Also, grain and dairy were slow to catch on, as a large part of the diet. Until recent centuries, most populations remained dependent on animal foods, including wild game. Americans, for example, ate large amounts of meat, butter, and lard from the colonial era through the 19th century (see Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise; passage quoted in full at Malnourished Americans). In 1900, Americans on average were only getting 10% of carbs as part of their diet and sugar was minimal.

Something else to consider is that low-carb diets can alter how the body and brain functions. That is even more true if combined with intermittent fasting and restricted eating times that would have been more common in the past. Taken together, earlier humans would have spent more time in ketosis (fat-burning mode, as opposed to glucose-burning) which dramatically affects human biology. The further one goes back in history the greater amount of time people probably spent in ketosis. One difference with ketosis is cravings and food addictions disappear. It’s a non-addictive or maybe even anti-addictive state of mind. Many hunter-gatherer tribes can go days without eating and it doesn’t appear to bother them, and that is typical of ketosis. This was also observed of Mongol warriors who could ride and fight for days on end without tiring or needing to stop for food. What is also different about hunter-gatherers and similar traditional societies is how communal they are or were and how more expansive their identities in belonging to a group. Anthropological research shows how hunter-gatherers often have a sense of personal space that extends into the environment around them. What if that isn’t merely cultural but something to do with how their bodies and brains operate? Maybe diet even plays a role. Hold that thought for a moment.

Now go back to the two staples of the modern diet, grains and dairy. Besides exorphins and dopaminergic substances, they also have high levels of glutamate, as part of gluten and casein respectively. Dr. Katherine Reid is a biochemist whose daughter was diagnosed with autism and it was severe. She went into research mode and experimented with supplementation and then diet. Many things seemed to help, but the greatest result came from restriction of glutamate, a difficult challenge as it is a common food additive (see her TED talk here and another talk here or, for a short and informal video, look here). This requires going on a largely whole foods diet, that is to say eliminating processed foods. But when dealing with a serious issue, it is worth the effort. Dr. Reid’s daughter showed immense improvement to such a degree that she was kicked out of the special needs school. After being on this diet for a while, she socialized and communicated normally like any other child, something she was previously incapable of. Keep in mind that glutamate is necessary as a foundational neurotransmitter in modulating communication between the gut and brain. But typically we only get small amounts of it, as opposed to the large doses found in the modern diet. In response to the TED Talk given by Reid, Georgia Ede commented that it’s, “Unclear if glutamate is main culprit, b/c a) little glutamate crosses blood-brain barrier; b) anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production.” Either way, glutamate plays a powerful role in brain functioning. And no matter the exact line of causation, industrially processed foods in the modern diet would be involved.

Glutamate is also implicated in schizophrenia: “The most intriguing evidence came when the researchers gave germ-free mice fecal transplants from the schizophrenic patients. They found that “the mice behaved in a way that is reminiscent of the behavior of people with schizophrenia,” said Julio Licinio, who co-led the new work with Wong, his research partner and spouse. Mice given fecal transplants from healthy controls behaved normally. “The brains of the animals given microbes from patients with schizophrenia also showed changes in glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is thought to be dysregulated in schizophrenia,” he added. The discovery shows how altering the gut can influence an animals behavior” (Roni Dengler, Researchers Find Further Evidence That Schizophrenia is Connected to Our Guts; reporting on Peng Zheng et al, The gut microbiome from patients with schizophrenia modulates the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle and schizophrenia-relevant behaviors in mice, Science Advances journal). And glutamate is involved in other conditions as well, such as in relation to GABA: “But how do microbes in the gut affect [epileptic] seizures that occur in the brain? Researchers found that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet decreased levels of enzymes required to produce the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. In turn, this increased the relative abundance of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Taken together, these results show that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet have a direct effect on neural activity, further strengthening support for the emerging concept of the ‘gut-brain’ axis.” (Jason Bush, Important Ketogenic Diet Benefit is Dependent on the Gut Microbiome). Glutamate is one neurotransmitter among many that can be affected in a similar manner; e.g., serotonin is also produced in the gut.

That reminds me of propionate, a short chain fatty acid. It is another substance normally taken in at a low level. Certain foods, including grains and dairy, contain it. The problem is that, as a useful preservative, it has been generously added to the food supply. Research on rodents shows injecting them with propionate causes autistic-like behaviors. And other rodent studies show how this stunts learning ability and causes repetitive behavior (both related to the autistic demand for the familiar), as too much propionate entrenches mental patterns through the mechanism that gut microbes use to communicate to the brain how to return to a needed food source. A recent study shows that propionate not only alters brain functioning but brain development (L.S. Abdelli et al, Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN/AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder). As reported by Suhtling Wong-Vienneau at University of Central Florida, “when fetal-derived neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), an additive commonly found in processed foods, it decreases neuron development” (Processed Foods May Hold Key to Rise in Autism). This study “is the first to discover the molecular link between elevated levels of PPA, proliferation of glial cells, disturbed neural circuitry and autism.” The impact is profound and permanent — Pedersen offers the details:

“In the lab, the scientists discovered that exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways: First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. And although glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children. In addition, excessive amounts of the acid shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. This combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways hinder the brain’s ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.”

So, the autistic brain develops according to higher levels of propionate and maybe becomes accustomed to it. A state of dysfunction becomes what feels normal. Propionate causes inflammation and, as Dr. Ede points out, “anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production”. High levels of propionate and glutamate become part of the state of mind the autistic becomes identified with. It all links together. Autistics, along with cravings for for foods containing propionate (and glutamate), tend to have larger populations of a particular gut microbe that produces propionate. In killing microbes, this might be why antibiotics can help with autism. But in the case of depression, gut issues are associated instead with the lack of certain microbes that produce butyrate, another important substance that also is found in certain foods (Mireia Valles-Colomer et al, The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression). Depending on the specific gut dysbiosis, diverse neurocognitive conditions can result. And in affecting the microbiome, changes in autism can be achieved through a ketogenic diet, reducing the microbiome (similar to an antibiotic) — this presumably takes care of the problematic microbes and readjusts the gut from dysbiosis to a healthier balance. Also, ketosis would reduce the inflammation that is associated with glutamate production.

As with propionate, exorphins injected into rats will likewise elicit autistic-like behaviors. By two different pathways, the body produces exorphins and propionate from the consumption of grains and dairy, the former from the breakdown of proteins and the latter produced by gut bacteria in the breakdown of some grains and refined carbohydrates (combined with the propionate used as a food additive; added to other foods as well and also, at least in rodents, artificial sweeteners increase propionate levels). This is part of the explanation for why many autistics have responded well to low-carb ketosis, specifically paleo diets that restrict both wheat and dairy, but ketones themselves play a role in using the same transporters as propionate and so block their buildup in cells and, of course, ketones offer a different energy source for cells as a replacement for glucose which alters how cells function, specifically neurocognitive functioning and its attendant psychological effects.

There are some other factors to consider as well. With agriculture came a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar. This inevitably leads to increased metabolic syndrome, including diabetes. And diabetes in pregnant women is associated with autism and attention deficit disorder in children. “Maternal diabetes, if not well treated, which means hyperglycemia in utero, that increases uterine inflammation, oxidative stress and hypoxia and may alter gene expression,” explained Anny H. Xiang. “This can disrupt fetal brain development, increasing the risk for neural behavior disorders, such as autism” (Maternal HbA1c influences autism risk in offspring). The increase of diabetes, not mere increase of diagnosis, could explain the greater prevalence of autism over time. Grain surpluses only became available in the 1800s, around the time when refined flour and sugar began to become common. It wasn’t until the following century that carbohydrates finally overtook animal foods as the mainstay of the diet, specifically in terms of what is most regularly eaten throughout the day in both meals and snacks — a constant influx of glucose into the system.

A further contributing factor in modern agriculture is that of pesticides, also associated with autism. Consider DDE, a product of DDT, which has been banned for decades but apparently it is still lingering in the environment. “The odds of autism among children were increased, by 32 percent, in mothers whose DDE levels were high (high was, comparatively, 75th percentile or greater),” one study found (Aditi Vyas & Richa Kalra, Long lingering pesticides may increase risk for autism: Study). “Researchers also found,” the article reports, “that the odds of having children on the autism spectrum who also had an intellectual disability were increased more than two-fold when the mother’s DDE levels were high.” A different study showed a broader effect in terms of 11 pesticides still in use:

“They found a 10 percent or more increase in rates of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, in children whose mothers lived during pregnancy within about a mile and a quarter of a highly sprayed area. The rates varied depending on the specific pesticide sprayed, and glyphosate was associated with a 16 percent increase. Rates of autism spectrum disorders combined with intellectual disability increased by even more, about 30 percent. Exposure after birth, in the first year of life, showed the most dramatic impact, with rates of ASD with intellectual disability increasing by 50 percent on average for children who lived within the mile-and-a-quarter range. Those who lived near glyphosate spraying showed the most increased risk, at 60 percent” (Nicole Ferox, It’s Personal: Pesticide Exposures Come at a Cost).

It is an onslaught taxing our bodies and minds. And the consequences are worsening with each generation. What stands out to me about autism, in particular, is how isolating it is. The repetitive behavior and focus on objects resonates with extreme addiction. As with other conditions influenced by diet (shizophrenia, ADHD, etc), both autism and addiction block normal human relating in creating an obsessive mindset that, in the most most extreme forms, blocks out all else. I wonder if all of us moderns are simply expressing milder varieties of this biological and neurological phenomenon. And this might be the underpinning of our hyper-individualistic society, with the earliest precursors showing up in the Axial Age following what Julian Jaynes hypothesized as the breakdown of the much more other-oriented bicameral mind. What if our egoic consciousness with its rigid psychological boundaries is the result of our food system, as part of the civilizational project of mass agriculture?

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Mongolian Diet and Fasting:

For anyone who is curious to learn more, the original point of interest for me was a quote by Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World: “The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods; according to one, the entire army could camp without a single puff of smoke since they needed no fires to cook. Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other diary products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food.” By the way, that biography was written by an anthropologist who lived among and studied the Mongols for years. It is about the historical Mongols, but filtered through the direct experience of still existing Mongol people who have maintained a traditional diet and lifestyle longer than most other populations. It isn’t only that their diet was ketogenic because of being low-carb but also because it involved fasting.

From Mongolia Volume 1 The Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northernin (1876), Nikolaĭ Mikhaĭlovich Przhevalʹskiĭ writes in the second note on p. 65 under the section Calendar and Year-Cycle: “On the New Year’s Day, or White Feast of the Mongols, see ‘Marco Polo’, 2nd ed. i. p. 376-378, and ii. p. 543. The monthly fetival days, properly for the Lamas days of fasting and worship, seem to differ locally. See note in same work, i. p. 224, and on the Year-cycle, i. p. 435.” This is alluded to in another text, in describing that such things as fasting were the norm of that time: “It is well known that both medieval European and traditional Mongolian cultures emphasized the importance of eating and drinking. In premodern societies these activities played a much more significant role in social intercourse as well as in religious rituals (e.g., in sacrificing and fasting) than nowadays” (Antti Ruotsala, Europeans and Mongols in the middle of the thirteenth century, 2001). A science journalist trained in biology, Dyna Rochmyaningsih, also mentions this: “As a spiritual practice, fasting has been employed by many religious groups since ancient times. Historically, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Mongolians believed that fasting was a healthy ritual that could detoxify the body and purify the mind” (Fasting and the Human Mind).

Mongol shamans and priests fasted, no different than in so many other religions, but so did other Mongols — more from Przhevalʹskiĭ’s 1876 account showing the standard feast and fast cycle of many traditional ketogenic diets: “The gluttony of this people exceeds all description. A Mongol will eat more than ten pounds of meat at one sitting, but some have been known to devour an average-sized sheep in twenty-four hours! On a journey, when provisions are economized, a leg of mutton is the ordinary daily ration for one man, and although he can live for days without food, yet, when once he gets it, he will eat enough for seven” (see more quoted material in Diet of Mongolia). Fasting was also noted of earlier Mongols, such as Genghis Khan: “In the spring of 2011, Jenghis Khan summoned his fighting forces […] For three days he fasted, neither eating nor drinking, but holding converse with the gods. On the fourth day the Khakan emerged from his tent and announced to the exultant multitude that Heaven had bestowed on him the boon of victory” (Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 1967). Even before he became Khan, this was his practice as was common among the Mongols, such that it became a communal ritual for the warriors:

“When he was still known as Temujin, without tribe and seeking to retake his kidnapped wife, Genghis Khan went to Burkhan Khaldun to pray. He stripped off his weapons, belt, and hat – the symbols of a man’s power and stature – and bowed to the sun, sky, and mountain, first offering thanks for their constancy and for the people and circumstances that sustained his life. Then, he prayed and fasted, contemplating his situation and formulating a strategy. It was only after days in prayer that he descended from the mountain with a clear purpose and plan that would result in his first victory in battle. When he was elected Khan of Khans, he again retreated into the mountains to seek blessing and guidance. Before every campaign against neighboring tribes and kingdoms, he would spend days in Burhkhan Khandun, fasting and praying. By then, the people of his tribe had joined in on his ritual at the foot of the mountain, waiting his return” (Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, Genghis Khan and His Personal Standard of Leadership).

As an interesting side note, the Mongol population have been studied to some extent in one area of relevance. In Down’s Anomaly (1976), Smith et al writes that, “The initial decrease in the fasting blood sugar was greater than that usually considered normal and the return to fasting blood sugar level was slow. The results suggested increased sensitivity to insulin. Benda reported the initial drop in fating blood sugar to be normal but the absolute blood sugar level after 2 hours was lower for mongols than for controls.” That is probably the result of a traditional low-carb diet that had been maintained continuously since before history. For some further context, I noticed some discusion about the Mongolian keto diet (Reddit, r/keto, TIL that Ghenghis Khan and his Mongol Army ate a mostly keto based diet, consisting of lots of milk and cheese. The Mongols were specially adapted genetically to digest the lactase in milk and this made them easier to feed.) that was inspired by the scientific documentary “The Evolution of Us” (presently available on Netflix and elsewhere).

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3/30/19 – An additional comment: I briefly mentioned sugar, that it causes a serotonin high and activates the hedonic pathway. I also noted that it was late in civilization when sources of sugar were cultivated and, I could add, even later when sugar became cheap enough to be common. Even into the 1800s, sugar was minimal and still often considered more as medicine than food.

To extend this thought, it isn’t only sugar in general but specific forms of it. Fructose, in particular, has become widespread because of United States government subsidizing corn agriculture which has created a greater corn yield that humans can consume. So, what doesn’t get fed to animals or turned into ethanol, mostly is made into high fructose corn syrup and then added into almost every processed food and beverage imaginable.

Fructose is not like other sugars. This was important for early hominid survival and so shaped human evolution. It might have played a role in fasting and feasting. In 100 Million Years of Food, Stephen Le writes that, “Many hypotheses regarding the function of uric acid have been proposed. One suggestion is that uric acid helped our primate ancestors store fat, particularly after eating fruit. It’s true that consumption of fructose induces production of uric acid, and uric acid accentuates the fat-accumulating effects of fructose. Our ancestors, when they stumbled on fruiting trees, could gorge until their fat stores were pleasantly plump and then survive for a few weeks until the next bounty of fruit was available” (p. 42).

That makes sense to me, but he goes on to argue against this possible explanation. “The problem with this theory is that it does not explain why only primates have this peculiar trait of triggering fat storage via uric acid. After all, bears, squirrels, and other mammals store fat without using uric acid as a trigger.” This is where Le’s knowledge is lacking for he never discusses ketosis that has been centrally important for humans unlike other animals. If uric acid increases fat production, that would be helpful for fattening up for the next starvation period when the body returned to ketosis. So, it would be a regular switching back and forth between formation of uric acid that stores fat and formation of ketones that burns fat.

That is fine and dandy under natural conditions. Excess fructose, however, is a whole other matter. It has been strongly associated with metabolic syndrome. One pathway of causation is that increased production of uric acid. This can lead to gout but other things as well. It’s a mixed bag. “While it’s true that higher levels of uric acid have been found to protect against brain damage from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, high uric acid unfortunately increases the risk of brain stroke and poor brain function” (p. 43).

The potential side effects of uric acid overdose are related to other problems I’ve discussed in relation to the agricultural mind. “A recent study also observed that high uric acid levels are associated with greater excitement-seeking and impulsivity, which the researchers noted may be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” (p. 43). The problems of sugar go far beyond mere physical disease. It’s one more factor in the drastic transformation of the human mind.

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4/2/19 – More info: There are certain animal fats, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, that are essential to human health. These were abundant in the hunter-gatherer diet. But over the history of agriculture, they have become less common.

This is associated with psychiatric disorders and general neurocognitive problems, including those already mentioned above in the post. Agriculture and industrialization have replaced these healthy oils with overly processed oils that are high in linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acids. LA interferes with the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids.

The loss of healthy animal fats in the diet might be directly related to numerous conditions. “Children who lack DHA are more likely to have increased rates of neurological disorders, in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism” (Maria Cross, Why babies need animal fat).

“Biggest dietary change in the last 60 years has been avoidance of animal fat. Coincides with a huge uptick in autism incidence. The human brain is 60 percent fat by weight. Much more investigation needed on correspondence between autism and prenatal/child ingestion of dietary fat.”
~ Brad Lemley

The Brain Needs Animal Fat
by Georgia Ede

Maternal Dietary Fat Intake in Association With Autism Spectrum Disorders
by Kristen Lyall et al

“Maternal intake of fish, a key source of fatty acids, has been investigated in association with child neurodevelopmental outcomes in several studies. […]

“Though speculative at this time, the inverse association seen for those in the highest quartiles of intake of ω-6 fatty acids could be due to biological effects of these fatty acids on brain development. PUFAs have been shown to be important in retinal and brain development in utero (37) and to play roles in signal transduction and gene expression and as components of cell membranes (38, 39). Maternal stores of fatty acids in adipose tissue are utilized by the fetus toward the end of pregnancy and are necessary for the first 2 months of life in a crucial period of development (37). The complex effects of fatty acids on inflammatory markers and immune responses could also mediate an association between PUFA and ASD. Activation of the maternal immune system and maternal immune aberrations have been previously associated with autism (5, 40, 41), and findings suggest that increased interleukin-6 could influence fetal brain development and increase risk of autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions (42–44). Although results for effects of ω-6 intake on interleukin-6 levels are inconsistent (45, 46), maternal immune factors potentially could be affected by PUFA intake (47). […]

“Our results provide preliminary evidence that increased maternal intake of ω-6 fatty acids could reduce risk of offspring ASD and that very low intakes of ω-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid could increase risk.”

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6/13/19 – About the bicameral mind, I saw some other evidence for it in relationship to fasting. In the following quote, it is described that after ten days of fasting ancient humans would experience spirits. One thing for certain is that one can be fully in ketosis in three days. This would be true even if it wasn’t total fasting, as the caloric restriction would achieve the same end.

The author, Michael Carr, doesn’t think fasting was the cause of the spirit visions, but he doesn’t explain the reason(s) for his doubt. There is a long history of fasting used to achieve this intended outcome. If fasting was ineffective for this purpose, why has nearly every known traditional society for millennia used such methods? These people knew what they were doing.

By the way, imbibing alcohol after the fast would really knock someone into an altered state. The body becomes even more sensitive to alcohol when in ketogenic state during fasting. Combine this altered state with ritual, setting, cultural expectation, and archaic authorization. I don’t have any doubt that spirit visions could easily be induced.

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Kindle Location 5699-5718

Chapter 13
The Shi ‘Corpse/ Personator’ Ceremony in Early China
by Michael Carr

“”Ritual Fasts and Spirit Visions in the Liji” 37 examined how the “Record of Rites” describes zhai 齋 ‘ritual fasting’ that supposedly resulted in seeing and hearing the dead. This text describes preparations for an ancestral sacrifice that included divination for a suitable day, ablution, contemplation, and a fasting ritual with seven days of sanzhai 散 齋 ‘relaxed fasting; vegetarian diet; abstinence (esp. from sex, meat, or wine)’ followed by three days of zhizhai 致 齋 ‘strict fasting; diet of grains (esp. gruel) and water’.

“Devoted fasting is inside; relaxed fasting is outside. During fast-days, one thinks about their [the ancestor’s] lifestyle, their jokes, their aspirations, their pleasures, and their affections. [After] fasting three days, then one sees those [spirits] for whom one fasted. On the day of the sacrifice, when one enters the temple, apparently one must see them at the spirit-tablet. When one returns to go out the door [after making sacrifices], solemnly one must hear sounds of their appearance. When one goes out the door and listens, emotionally one must hear sounds of their sighing breath. 38

“This context unequivocally uses biyou 必 有 ‘must be/ have; necessarily/ certainly have’ to describe events within the ancestral temple; the faster 必 有 見 “must have sight of, must see” and 必 有 聞 “must have hearing of, must hear” the deceased parent. Did 10 days of ritual fasting and mournful meditation necessarily cause visions or hallucinations? Perhaps the explanation is extreme or total fasting, except that several Liji passages specifically warn against any excessive fasts that could harm the faster’s health or sense perceptions. 39 Perhaps the explanation is inebriation from drinking sacrificial jiu 酒 ‘( millet) wine; alcohol’ after a 10-day fast. Based on measurements of bronze vessels and another Liji passage describing a shi personator drinking nine cups of wine, 40 York University professor of religious studies Jordan Paper   calculates an alcohol equivalence of “between 5 and 8 bar shots of eighty-proof liquor.” 41 On the other hand, perhaps the best explanation is the bicameral hypothesis, which provides a far wider-reaching rationale for Chinese ritual hallucinations and personation of the dead.”

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7/16/19 – One common explanation for autism is the extreme male brain theory. A recent study may have come up with supporting evidence (Christian Jarrett, Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory). Autistics, including females, tend to have hypermasculinised. This might be caused by greater exposure to testosterone in the womb.

This made my mind immediately wonder how this relates. Changes in diets alter hormonal functioning. Endocrinology, the study of hormones, has been a major part of the diet debate going back to European researchers from earlier last century (as discussed by Gary Taubes). Diet affects hormones and hormones in turn affect diet. But I had something more specific in mind.

What about propionate and glutamate? What might their relationship be to testosterone? In a brief search, I couldn’t find anything about propionate. But I did find some studies related to glutamate. There is an impact on the endocrine system, although these studies weren’t looking at the results in terms of autism specifically or neurocognitive development in general. It points to some possibilities, though.

One could extrapolate from one of these studies that increased glutamate in the pregnant mother’s diet could alter what testosterone does to the developing fetus, in that testosterone increases the toxicity of glutamate which might not be a problem under normal conditions of lower glutamate levels. This would be further exacerbated during breastfeeding and later on when the child began eating the same glutamate-rich diet as the mother.

Testosterone increases neurotoxicity of glutamate in vitro and ischemia-reperfusion injury in an animal model
by Shao-Hua Yang et al

Effect of Monosodium Glutamate on Some Endocrine Functions
by Yonetani Shinobu and Matsuzawa Yoshimasa

Monsanto is Safe and Good, Says Monsanto

Monsanto says its pesticides are safe. Now, a court wants to see the proof
by Carey Gillam

Heated debates over the safety – or lack thereof – of this popular pesticide have spanned the globe and sparked propaganda warfare with each side claiming the other has misrepresented the scientific record. Cancer victims allege Monsanto has “ghost” written research reviews, unduly influenced regulators and created front groups to falsely claim glyphosate safety. Monsanto, meanwhile, asserts multiple studies by international scientists are flawed and politically motivated, and says industry studies demonstrate the product is safe when used as intended.

EU Infiltrated by Pesticide Industry Plagiarizes Safety Study
by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Controversy over glyphosate has reached an all-time high in the European Union (EU), after researchers accused the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) of plagiarizing a report supporting its safety. The plagiarized sections were largely lifted from a paper written by the pesticide industry, raising serious concerns about the legitimacy of the findings.

The scandal asserts that the German risk assessment of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, contains sections “copy pasted” from industry contributions, which likely influenced the EU’s favorable vote to renew the chemical’s license.

Scrutinise the small print of Eat-Lancet
by Joanna Blythman

But how has Eat-Lancet managed to finance all its slick promotional launches in no fewer than 40 countries? While the report was solely funded by the Wellcome Trust, the costly propaganda offensive appears to be bankrolled by the Eat Foundation, spearheaded by a Norwegian supermodel turned medic who is married to a billionaire. Eat has a partnership with Fresh, a body made up of 40 of the world’s most powerful corporations, a roll call of the big names in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, GM, and ultra-processed food. They include Bayer, which now owns Monsanto and its infamous Round-Up (glyphosate) pesticide, Big Sugar (PepsiCo), Big Grain (Cargill), palm oil companies, and leading manufacturers of food additives and processing aids.

Environmental champion Vandana Shiva, who has challenged the “plant-based is best” mantra, refers to them as, “the Poison Cartel”, companies “who have together contributed up to 50 per cent greenhouse gases, leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.”

Shiva rightly accuses Eat-Lancet of “evading the glaring chronic disease epidemic related to pesticides and toxics in food, imposed by chemically intensive industrial agriculture and food systems.”

So before you swallow Eat-Lancet, as with any other commercially-driven food product, you might want scrutinise the label more closely. Caveat emptor: it might put you off.

Eat Lancet, a template for sustaining irony
by Stefhan Gordon

Bayer, which bought Monsanto, sells GMO seeds (esp. soy and corn with bioengineered stacked traits) as well as paired agrochemicals as do BASF and Syngenta . BASF is a big producer of mutagenic rice and wheat varieties and their paired pesticides. So no wonder rice, wheat, corn and soy as well as seed and soy oils are such a large part of this diet.

So no shortage of ironic bedfellows for a diet purporting to be “sustainable.”

FReSH – EAT
from The EAT-Lancet Commission

FReSH (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health) is an effort to drive the transformation of the food system and to create a set of business solutions for industry change.

Launched in January 2017, FReSH is a project of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which brought together 25 WBCSD member companies to transform the food system. More than 30 companies are now part of this project…

FReSH works in partnership with EAT, the global multi-stakeholder platform for food system transformation, to ensure that business solutions are science-based.

Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera
by Edward Muir
Introduction
pp. 5-7

One of the most disturbing sources of late-Renaissance anxiety was the collapse of the traditional hierarchic notion of the human self. Ancient and medieval thought depicted reason as governing the lower faculties of the will, the passions, and the body. Renaissance thought did not so much promote “individualism” as it cut away the intellectual props that presented humanity as the embodiment of a single divine idea, thereby forcing a desperate search for identity in many. John Martin has argued that during the Renaissance, individuals formed their sense of selfhood through a difficult negotiation between inner promptings and outer social roles. Individuals during the Renaissance looked both inward for emotional sustenance and outward for social assurance, and the friction between the inner and outer selves could sharpen anxieties 2 The fragmentation of the self seems to have been especially acute in Venice, where the collapse of aristocratic marriage structures led to the formation of what Virginia Cox has called the single self, most clearly manifest in the works of several women writers who argued for the moral and intellectual equality of women with men.’ As a consequence of the fragmented understanding of the self, such thinkers as Montaigne became obsessed with what was then the new concept of human psychology, a term in fact coined in this period.4 A crucial problem in the new psychology was to define the relation between the body and the soul, in particular to determine whether the soul died with the body or was immortal. With its tradition of Averroist readings of Aristotle, some members of the philosophy faculty at the University of Padua recurrently questioned the Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul as unsound philosophically. Other hierarchies of the human self came into question. Once reason was dethroned, the passions were given a higher value, so that the heart could be understood as a greater force than the mind in determining human conduct. duct. When the body itself slipped out of its long-despised position, the sexual drives of the lower body were liberated and thinkers were allowed to consider sex, independent of its role in reproduction, a worthy manifestation of nature. The Paduan philosopher Cesare Cremonini’s personal motto, “Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est,” does not quite translate to “If it feels good, do it;” but it comes very close. The collapse of the hierarchies of human psychology even altered the understanding of the human senses. The sense of sight lost its primacy as the superior faculty, the source of “enlightenment”; the Venetian theorists of opera gave that place in the hierarchy to the sense of hearing, the faculty that most directly channeled sensory impressions to the heart and passions.

Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage
edited by Nicholas Price, M. Kirby Talley, and Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro
Reading 5: “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline”
by Erwin Panofsky
pp. 83-85

Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling with weakness and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down again until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair and, after having regained some of his strength, said, ‘Das Gefühl für Humanität hat mich noch nicht verlassen’—’The sense of humanity has not yet left me’. The two men were moved almost to tears. For, though the word Humanität had come, in the eighteenth century, to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment served to emphasize: man’s proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that implied in the word ‘mortality.’

Historically the word humanitas has had two clearly distinguishable meanings, the first arising from a contrast between man and what is less than man; the second between man and what is more. In the first case humanitas means a value, in the second a limitation.

The concept of humanitas as a value was formulated in the circle around the younger Scipio, with Cicero as its belated, yet most explicit spokesman. It meant the quality which distinguishes man, not only from animals, but also, and even more so, from him who belongs to the species homo without deserving the name of homo humanus; from the barbarian or vulgarian who lacks pietas and παιδεια- that is, respect for moral values and that gracious blend of learning and urbanity which we can only circumscribe by the discredited word “culture.”

In the Middle Ages this concept was displaced by the consideration of humanity as being opposed to divinity rather than to animality or barbarism. The qualities commonly associated with it were therefore those of frailty and transience: humanitas fragilis, humanitas caduca.

Thus the Renaissance conception of humanitas had a two-fold aspect from the outset. The new interest in the human being was based both on a revival of the classical antithesis between humanitas and barbartias, or feritas, and on a survival of the mediaeval antithesis between humanitas and divinitas. When Marsilio Ficino defines man as a “rational soul participating in the intellect of God, but operating in a body,” he defines him as the one being that is both autonomous and finite. And Pico’s famous ‘speech’ ‘On the Dignity of Man’ is anything but a document of paganism. Pico says that God placed man in the center of the universe so that he might be conscious of where he stands, and therefore free to decide ‘where to turn.’ He does not say that man is the center of the universe, not even in the sense commonly attributed to the classical phrase, “man the measure of all things.”

It is from this ambivalent conception of humanitas that humanism was born. It is not so much a movement as an attitude which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man, based on both the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty); from this two postulates result responsibility and tolerance.

Small wonder that this attitude has been attacked from two opposite camps whose common aversion to the ideas of responsibility and tolerance has recently aligned them in a united front. Entrenched in one of these camps are those who deny human values: the determinists, whether they believe in divine, physical or social predestination, the authoritarians, and those “insectolatrists” who profess the all-importance of the hive, whether the hive be called group, class, nation or race. In the other camp are those who deny human limitations in favor of some sort of intellectual or political libertinism, such as aestheticists, vitalists, intuitionists and hero-worshipers. From the point of view of determinism, the humanist is either a lost soul or an ideologist. From the point of view of authoritarianism, he is either a heretic or a revolutionary (or a counterrevolutionary). From the point of view of “insectolatry,” he is a useless individualist. And from the point of view of libertinism he is a timid bourgeois.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, the humanist par excellence, is a typical case in point. The church suspected and ultimately rejected the writings of this man who had said: “Perhaps the spirit of Christ is more largely diffused than we think, and there are many in the community of saints who are not in our calendar.” The adventurer Uhich von Hutten despised his ironical skepticism and his unheroic love of tranquillity. And Luther, who insisted that “no man has power to think anything good or evil, but everything occurs in him by absolute necessity,” was incensed by a belief which manifested itself in the famous phrase; “What is the use of man as a totality [that is, of man endowed with both a body and a soul], if God would work in him as a sculptor works in clay, and might just as well work in stone?”

Food and Faith in Christian Culture
edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden
Chapter 3: “The Food Police”
Sumptuary Prohibitions On Food In The Reformation
by Johanna B. Moyer
pp. 80-83

Protestants too employed a disease model to explain the dangers of luxury consumption. Luxury damaged the body politic leading to “most incurable sickness of the universal body” (33). Protestant authors also employed Galenic humor theory, arguing that “continuous superfluous expense” unbalanced the humors leading to fever and illness (191). However, Protestants used this model less often than Catholic authors who attacked luxury. Moreover, those Protestants who did employ the Galenic model used it in a different manner than their Catholic counterparts.

Protestants also drew parallels between the damage caused by luxury to the human body and the damage excess inflicted on the French nation. Rather than a disease metaphor, however, many Protestant authors saw luxury more as a “wound” to the body politic. For Protestants the danger of luxury was not only the buildup of humors within the body politic of France but the constant “bleeding out” of humor from the body politic in the form of cash to pay for imported luxuries. The flow of cash mimicked the flow of blood from a wound in the body. Most Protestants did not see luxury foodstuffs as the problem, indeed most saw food in moderation as healthy for the body. Even luxury apparel could be healthy for the body politic in moderation, if it was domestically produced and consumed. Such luxuries circulated the “blood” of the body politic creating employment and feeding the lower orders. 72 De La Noue made this distinction clear. He dismissed the need to individually discuss the damage done by each kind of luxury that was rampant in France in his time as being as pointless “as those who have invented auricular confession have divided mortal and venal sins into infinity of roots and branches.” Rather, he argued, the damage done by luxury was in its “entire bulk” to the patrimonies of those who purchased luxuries and to the kingdom of France (116). For the Protestants, luxury did not pose an internal threat to the body and salvation of the individual. Rather, the use of luxury posed an external threat to the group, to the body politic of France.

The Reformation And Sumptuary Legislation

Catholics, as we have seen, called for antiluxury regulations on food and banqueting, hoping to curb overeating and the damage done by gluttony to the body politic. Although some Protestants also wanted to restrict food and banqueting, more often French Protestants called for restrictions on clothing and foreign luxuries. These differing views of luxury during and after the French Wars of Religion not only give insight into the theological differences between these two branches of Christianity but also provides insight into the larger pattern of the sumptuary regulation of food in Europe in this period. Sumptuary restrictions were one means by which Catholics and Protestants enforced their theology in the post-Reformation era.

Although Catholicism is often correctly cast as the branch of Reformation Christianity that gave the individual the least control over their salvation, it was also true that the individual Catholic’s path to salvation depended heavily on ascetic practices. The responsibility for following these practices fell on the individual believer. Sumptuary laws on food in Catholic areas reinforced this responsibility by emphasizing what foods should and should not be eaten and mirrored the central theological practice of fasting for the atonement of sin. Perhaps the historiographical cliché that it was only Protestantism which gave the individual believer control of his or her salvation needs to be qualified. The arithmetical piety of Catholicism ultimately placed the onus on the individual to atone for each sin. Moreover, sumptuary legislation tried to steer the Catholic believer away from the more serious sins that were associated with overeating, including gluttony, lust, anger, and pride.

Catholic theology meshed nicely with the revival of Galenism that swept through Europe in this period. Galenists preached that meat eating, overeating, and the imbalance in humors which accompanied these practices, led to behavioral changes, including an increased sex drive and increased aggression. These physical problems mirrored the spiritual problems that luxury caused, including fornication and violence. This is why so many authors blamed the French nobility for the luxury problem in France. Nobles were seen not only as more likely to bear the expense of overeating but also as more prone to violence. 73

Galenism also meshed nicely with Catholicism because it was a very physical religion in which the control of the physical body figured prominently in the believer’s path to salvation. Not surprisingly, by the seventeenth century, Protestants gravitated away from Galenism toward the chemical view of the body offered by Paracelsus. 74 Catholic sumptuary law embodied a Galenic view of the body where sin and disease were equated and therefore pushed regulations that advocated each person’s control of his or her own body.

Protestant legislators, conversely, were not interested in the individual diner. Sumptuary legislation in Protestant areas ran the gamut from control of communal displays of eating, in places like Switzerland and Germany, to little or no concern with restrictions on luxury foods, as in England. For Protestants, it was the communal role of food and luxury use that was important. Hence the laws in Protestant areas targeted food in the context of weddings, baptisms, and even funerals. The English did not even bother to enact sumptuary restrictions on food after their break with Catholicism. The French Protestants who wrote on luxury glossed over the deleterious effects of meat eating, even proclaiming it to be healthful for the body while producing diatribes against the evils of imported luxury apparel. The use of Galenism in the French Reformed treatises suggests that Protestants too were concerned with a “body,” but it was not the individual body of the believer that worried Protestant legislators. Sumptuary restrictions were designed to safeguard the mystical body of believers, or the “Elect” in the language of Calvinism. French Protestants used the Galenic model of the body to discuss the damage that luxury did to the body of believers in France, but ultimately to safeguard the economic welfare of all French subjects. The Calvinists of Switzerland used sumptuary legislation on food to protect those predestined for salvation from the dangerous eating practices of members of the community whose overeating suggested they might not be saved.

Ultimately, sumptuary regulations in the Reformation spoke to the Christian practice of fasting. Fasting served very different functions in Protestants and Catholic theology. Raymond Mentzer has suggested that Protestants “modified” the Catholic practice of fasting during the Reformation. The major reformers, including Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, all rejected fasting as a path to salvation. 75 For Protestants, fasting was a “liturgical rite,” part of the cycle of worship and a practice that served to “bind the community.” Fasting was often a response to adversity, as during the French Wars of Religion. For Catholics, fasting was an individual act, just as sumptuary legislation in Catholic areas targeted individual diners. However, for Protestants, fasting was a communal act, “calling attention to the body of believers.” 76 The symbolic nature of fasting, Mentzer argues, reflected Protestant rejection of transubstantiation. Catholics continued to believe that God was physically present in the host, but Protestants believed His was only a spiritual presence. When Catholics took Communion, they fasted to cleanse their own bodies so as to receive the real, physical body of Christ. Protestants, on the other hand, fasted as spiritual preparation because it was their spirits that connected with the spirit of Christ in the Eucharist. 77

Reactionary Mind Is Not Normal

“To live a modern life anywhere in the world today, subject to perpetual social and technological transformations, is to experience the psychological equivalent of permanent revolution. Anxiety in the face of this process is now a universal experience, which is why reactionary ideas attract adherents around the world who share little except their sense of historical betrayal.

“Every major social transformation leaves behind a fresh Eden that can serve as the object of somebody’s nostalgia. And the reactionaries of our time have discovered that nostalgia can be a powerful political motivator, perhaps even more powerful than hope. Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.”
~ Mark Lilla, Our Reactionary Age

What if we are all more reactionary than we’d like to admit? Related to that, what if we are all more splintered and dissociated as well?

We have this sense of knowing who we are, as though we are singular stable identities. And we defend those identities with ideology or rather with ideological rhetoric, a wall of language with metaphors as the sentries. It is easy to rationalize and narratize, to make coherent the divided self that plagues the modern mind. It makes me wonder that maybe none of us is as we seem. We look at people with serious personality issues and we might call them dissociated or something similar. But what if we are all disconnected on some basic level. If that is our default state, then it isn’t really dissociation for there is no other supposedly normal state to be dissociated from, no unified whole that only later becomes fractured.

I’ve observed those who can say something to another person, walk into the next room, and say the complete opposite to someone else. It’s an amazing thing to see for how naturally it comes. There is no sign of intentional deception or self-awareness. Of course, this is not so easy to observe in oneself. If one were doing the exact same thing, how would one know? Yet we are constantly splitting ourselves off in this manner, just to get by in this complex society. Who we are with family is different than when with friends. And who we are at church is different than when at work. Egoic consciousness (from a Buddhist, Humean, and Jaynesian view) is always a limited construct, not as grand and encompassing as it presents itself.

We are all raised in a society full of lies, half-truths, and just-so stories. When we are young and innocent, we might occasionally challenge authority figures in their dishonesty and deceptions, their self-serving explanations and commands. But the response of authority challenged is almost always negative, if not punishment then gaslighting. This creates each new generation of schizoid adults. Not every kid gets this kind of mind game to the same degree, but I suspect this is what happens to all of us in various ways. It’s the way our society is built.

The trickster quality of the reactionary demonstrates this. And it makes us feel better to accuse those others of being reactionaries. But maybe the reactionary frames everything, existing at the periphery of our vision at the dark, blurred edges of liberal idealism. We live in a society of instability and uncertainty, of stress, anxiety, and fear — the fertile black loam of the reactionary mind. That would explain why it seems so much easier for liberals and left-wingers to become reactionaries than the other way around.

In my gut-level hatred of this reactionary madness, I feel most judgmental of those who turn reactionary, especially those who should know better such as a well-read left-winger mindlessly repeating racist beliefs or a well-educated liberal obliviously being converted while following their curiosity into the “Dark Enlightenment”. It’s sad and frustrating. I can sympathize for the lost souls on the right who were simply born into a world of reaction. They don’t know better. But when those most aware of the dangers of the reactionary mind are lured into its temptations, it further chips away at what little hope I have remaining for humanity. It makes me worry for my own mind as well, as I sense how overpowering reaction can be when one is immersed in it.

Our intellectual defenses are weak. That is what makes the reactionary mind flourish under these unnatural conditions of capitalist modernity. It must be what it was like in the late Bronze Age when the first authoritarian leaders arose in the growing empires. There wasn’t yet the rhetorical capacity among the population to protect against it, as would later develop in the Axial Age. Millennia later, in this ever increasingly reactionary age, authoritarianism grows worse as its rhetorical skill manages to stay one step ahead. We are inoculated only to the reactionary mind as it expressed in the past, ever expecting it to repeat the same way with the Nazi brownshirts goosestepping in the streets.

Corrupt power is what it is. Filled not only with authoritarians but social dominators, psychopaths, narcissists, and Machiavellians. Those people, for all the problems they cause, are a miniscule proportion of the population. They could not rule, could not cause damage if there weren’t those who could be manipulated, riled up, and led to commit horrors upon others… and then the intellectuals and media hacks who come along to rationalize and normalize it all. This is why I fear the reactionary mind, the sway it holds even over those not explicitly reactionary. This is why we desperately need to come to greater self-understanding. Even simpleminded fools like Donald Trump are able to seize power and play us like fools, only because the reactionary mind has seized the entire political establishment and body politic with the grip of a heart attack. The kindly pseudo-liberal reactionaries of the Democratic Party are no better — if anything, far more dangerous for their masked face.

Still, maybe there is a hint of hope. When looking at some other societies, one doesn’t see this kind of full reactionary dominance. I’m particularly thinking of more isolated tribes maintaining their traditional cultures and lifestyles. The example I often turn to is that of the Piraha. Daniel Everett noted how they lacked any evidence of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of death. And along with this, there was no expression of authoritarianism and social dominance. I’ve pointed out elsewhere that traditional communitarian societies, if they were to survive, could not tolerate psychopathy as we do in such careless fashion. We modern Westerners are far too tolerant of this threat, as if we believe we are above it all. That is a dangerously naive attitude.

Related to this, in understanding human nature, the diversity of identity indicates there is much more we don’t understand. Many hunter-gatherers don’t have rigid ego boundaries, don’t have permanent unitary selves, don’t have a sense of individualistic isolation from others and from the world around them. They aren’t divided, splintered, fractured, or dissociated. An open and loose embrace of a complex psyche is their natural way of being and maybe it is the default position for all humanity. Our carefully constructed egoic structures are rather flimsy, not a great foundation upon which to build a civilization. No wonder we are in a constant state of fear and anxiety, ever worried about the whole thing collapsing down around us. We are without the calm confidence found among many indigenous people who know their place in the world, know they belong without needing the authoritarian control of a clenched fist nor the rhetorical sleight-of-hand of a demagogue to keep everyone in line.

The reactionary mind may be the norm for our society. But it is not normal.

* * *

Let me leave some brief commentary on Mark Lilla and Corey Robin, the two main scholars on the reactionary mind. They are correct to place nostalgia as the taproot of this phenomenon. Lilla is also right to link it back to early thinkers like Plato who reacted, as I see it, to both Athenian democracy and the ancient poetic tradition. But he is wrong to separate the reactionary and the conservative, a mistake Robin avoids.

But I’d argue that Lilla and Robin are further missing out on how the reactionary is linked to the liberal, two sides of the same paradigm. All of these co-arise. The reactionary isn’t only a counter-revolutionary that is only found after the revolution for the leaders who co-opt revolutions typically are reactionaries, from the likes of George Washington to Maximilien Robespierre.

Some conservatives seek to distinguish themselves by identifying as ‘classical liberals’, in the hope of separating their identity from both progressives and reactionaries, but they fail in this endeavor. For one, many of the classical liberals were revolutionaries, as some were reactionaries, since liberalism as a paradigm has been a mix right from the beginning, even in terms of looking to its precursors in the Axial Age.

To demonstrate this confusion of ideological rhetoric, Mark Lilla himself in reacting to the failings of the liberalism he hopes to defend ends up turning to reactionary nostalgia. So, when even a scholar seeking to defuse the reactionary bomb falls prey to it, you know that it is potent stuff not to be handled lightly, even for those who think they know what they’re doing.

* * *

In conclusion, here is my alternative view as an independent. There is something I’ve never seen anyone acknowledge. This is my own insight.

Some see it all beginning with the French Revolution and Edmund Burke’s response. But it’s a bit complex, since Burke himself was a progressive reformer for his era and belonged to the ‘liberal’ party. His reactionary stance came late in life and yet this never led him to abandon his former left-leaning positions. He was a liberal and a conservative and a reactionary, but he was no revolutionary though he initially supported the American Revolution, only because he hoped for progressive reform. The standard story is that reaction was the counter-revolution following revolution. That doesn’t quite make sense of the facts, though. To clarify this, look to the French Revolution. The Jacobins, I’d argue, were reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries.

They were reacting to the old authoritarian regime of French monarchy but not to eliminate rigid hierarchy for they used the same tactics of oppressive violence to defend their preferred hierarchy, precisely as Corey Robin describes the reactionary agenda. It was a power grab and unsurprisingly it led to an even greater anti-democratic authoritarianism. And they were counterrevolutionaries fighting against what the American Revolution had unleashed. The radical and revolutionary social democrat Thomas Paine, we must remember, sat on the right side of the French National Assembly opposite of the Jacobins. The French Revolution didn’t begin with the Jacobins for they only managed to co-opt it long after it had started. They were counter-revolutionaries within the revolution.

I’ve come to a more complex view. I tend toward the theory of Robin. But I don’t entirely agree with him either. My present assessment is that conservatism is the reactionary and the reactionary is simply the other side of liberalism. It’s all of one cloth. They co-arose together (and continue to do so), going back to the precursors in the Axial Age. This puts the liberal in a less comfortably righteous position. There is no liberalism without the anxiety and hence nostalgia that leads to reaction, and conservatism has nowhere else to stand except right in the middle of the chaos.

This comes to a breaking point now that ‘liberalism’ has become the all-encompassing paradigm that rules as unquestionable ideological realism. Reactionary conservatism can offer no alternative but destruction. And liberalism can offer no response but defense of the status quo. So, liberalism becomes increasingly reactionary as well, until there is nothing left other than reaction in all directions, reactionaries reacting to reactionaries.

That is the final apocalypse of the ideological worldview we take for granted. But apocalypse, in its original meaning, referred to a revealing. Just as revolution once meant a cyclical turning that brings us back. Reaction, as such, is the return of the repressed. This is far from nostalgia, even as we have no choice than to carry the past forward as society is transformed. The reactionary age we find ourselves in is more radical than the revolutions that began it. And what, in our projections, is reflected back to us flatters neither the right nor the left.

It’s an ideological stalemate for it never was about competing political visions. All rhetoric has become empty or rather, to some extent, maybe it always was. It never meant what we thought it did. We find ourselves without any bearings or anchor. So we thrash about on a dark sea with a storm brewing. No sight beyond the next wave looming over us, casting its cold shadow, and ready to come crashing down.

* * *

The Reactionary Mind in a Reactionary Age

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

The Ex-Cons
by Corey Robin

Lilla v. Robin
by Henry

Wrong Reaction
by Alex Gourevitch

Why reactionary nostalgia is stronger than liberal hope
by Carlos Lozada

The Shipwrecked Book: Mark Lilla’ Nostalgic Prison
by Robert L. Kehoe III

The Revolutionary Nostalgia That Gave Rise to Trump – and ISIS
by Shlomo Avineri

Is a Conservative Crack-Up on the Horizon?
by Samuel Goldman

Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet

“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200 000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.”

Those words, found on the main page for EAT-Lancet, are from comments by Tarmara Lucas and Richard Horton, editors for The Lancet. EAT-Lancet is a campaign to force a high-carb, plant-based diet on all or most of the world’s population. The report itself, Food in the Anthropocene, is basically an opinion piece with the names of 37 scientists attached to it; but it doesn’t represent consensus opinion in the field nor are the references in the report reliable. The groups behind it have global aspirations. I don’t automatically have a problem with this, despite my dislike of technocratic paternalism, for I understand there are global problems that require global solutions (pollution, for example, knows no national boundary with 40% of worldwide deaths attributed to air pollution alone). But there is a long history of bad dietary advice being imposed on large populations. I’m not fond of dominator culture, no matter how good the intentions. We might be wise to take caution before going down that road again.

Besides, there seems to be an inherent contradiction behind this advocacy. The report and the editorial both are praising basically what is the same old high-carb diet that governments around the world have been pushing since the late 1970s, a diet that is correlated with an epidemic of chronic diseases. The journal’s own editors seemingly admit that they see it as a forced choice between “a healthy diet” and “balancing planetary resources” — one or the other but not both. Or rather, since many of them don’t follow their own advice (more on that further down), it’s good health for the rich shoved onto the malnourished shoulders of the poor. This interpretation is indicated by how the report simultaneously acknowledges certain foods are healthy even as those very foods are supposed to be restricted. Then the authors suggest that vitamin supplementation or fortification might be necessary to make up for what is lacking. This is further supported by the words of Walter Willet, one of EAT-Lancet’s main advocates — he argues that, “If we were just minimising greenhouse gases we’d say everyone be vegan”, a highly questionable claim as the data is off, but Willett has also been reported as acknowledging that, “a vegan diet wasn’t necessarily the healthiest option”. The EAT-Lancet report itself actually discusses the health benefits of animal foods. Such a deficient diet can’t honestly be called healthy when it requires nutritional supplementation because the food eaten doesn’t fully nourish the body. Sure, if you want to be a vegan for moral reasons to save the planet or whatever, more power to you and be sure to take vitamins and hope you don’t become to malnourished and sickly. But let’s be clear that this has nothing to do with good health.

Other than the ethics of meat-eating, why is this dietary regimen near-vegan in its restriction of animal foods? It’s not always clear, in the report, when a dietary suggestion is intended to promote human health or intended to promote planetary health (or maybe something else entirely). Are they really trying to save the world or simply hoping to prop up a collapsing global order? And what does this mean in practice? “Here is another question,” tweeted Troy Stapleton“If one were to provide a patient with advice to eat a “plant based diet” should the patient also be given information that this advice is based on environmental concerns and not their health?” This is a serious set of questions when it comes to sustainability. This EAT-Lancet diet of high-carbs and processed foods is guaranteed to worsen the chronic diseases that are plaguing us, as Walter Willet has argued himself (see below), and the rapidly rising costs of healthcare because of this could bankrupt our society. That is the opposite of sustainable, even if one ignores the moral quandary of giving people bad health advice in the hope that it might save the planet, despite the lack of evidence supporting this hope.

The claims about a healthy diet are suspect for other reasons as well. “The Achilles heel of the proposal?,” asks Tim Noakes and then continues, “Most must surely realise that this cannot be healthy in the long term.” For a key area of health, “Our brains NEED animal foods. They’re 2/3 fat and can’t function without DHA. It also needs Vitamins B12, K2, A & Iron. They’re ONLY in animal foods & without them we have major brain issues. The spread of veganism is pouring fuel on the mental health crisis fire” (Carnivore Aurelius). The EAT-Lancet diet is similar to the macrobiotic diet and that is worrying. Why do mainstream authorities have endless praise for plant-based diets? There is no consistent evidence of greater health among vegetarians and vegans. In some comparisons, they fare better while, in others, they do worse. And on average, they are middling in health outcomes, and middling isn’t overly impressive in our disease-ridden society. The data shows that vegans and vegetarians take twice as many sick days as meat-eaters, have lower sperm counts, etc. This might explain why there are more, three times to five times more in fact, ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians than still practicing vegans and vegetarians — 84% going back to meat and most of those after only a year on the diet, and the largest percentage cited concerns about declining health as the motivating reason. American ‘vegetarians’, on average, eat one serving of meat a day and this involves most who identify as vegetarian, particularly common while drunk which includes a third (37%) of them, but I’ve been surprised by how many vegans and vegetarians I’ve come across who somehow don’t consider fish to be animals and so eat them freely. In responding to accusations of fad diets, David Gillepsie summarizes the nutritional failure of plant-based diets as potentially some of the worst fad diets:

Research indicates that “the health of Western vegetarians is good and similar to that of comparable non-vegetarians”. However, studies also tell us that while vegetarian diets provide higher amounts of carbohydrates, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium (compared to omnivores) they have lower amounts of protein, saturated fat, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, D and B12 and Zinc. Vegans are usually particularly low in B12 and also Calcium, a deficiency they are likely to share with hard-core paleo enthusiasts because both avoid dairy. We use vitamin B12 to create our DNA, red blood cells and the myelin insulation around our nerves. Not having enough of it can result in fatigue, weakness, psychiatric problems and anaemia. B12 deficiency in children and the elderly is even more worrying. Studies have consistently shown that children and older people lacking B12 suffer significant cognitive defects such as memory and reasoning. The lack of long chain omega-3 fats, the abundance of omega-6 fats and deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins A and D are also serious cause for concern particularly in pregnancy.”

I have no doubt the EAT-Lancet proponents know this kind of data. But since among the authors of the report “more than 80% of them (31 out of 37) espoused vegetarian views” and “have, through their work, been promoting vegetarian, anti-meat views since before joining the EAT-Lancet Commission” (Nina Teicholz) and since “Oxford’s Dr Marco Springmann, the scientist behind much of the environmental portion of EAT Lancet[,…] is an activist vegan not considered biased but a cattle rancher is” (Frank Mitloehner), they wouldn’t be biased toward spreading this contrary evidence that undermines their belief system and ideological agenda. As these same scientists know or should know, this is not a new situation since malnourishment caused by dietary guidelines has been going on for generations at this point (consumption of nutrient-dense foods and animal-based foods has followed the same downward trend, opposite to the upward trend of simple carbs, seed oils, and processed foods). This point is also made by Teicholz: “Americans have eaten more plants, fewer animal foods, and 34% less red meat since 1970. While, rates of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. How does it make sense that continuing on this path will improve health if it hasn’t so far?” Compare that to American in “1955 when more than half of our calories came from meat, eggs, milk, cream, fats and oils […] and adult diabetes was virtually unheard of (Adele Hite, Keeping it Simply Stupid) and that was a lower level of animal foods than seen before that, such that: “In 1900 our diet was 10% carbs, in 2010 it is 63%” (Carroll Hoagland). This isn’t limited to Americans since the 1977 US Department Diet Guidelines were adopted widely throughout the world, based on extremely weak evidence and bad science.

Not long before the Eat-Lancet report was published, The Lancet journal also published a paper on the large and well-controlled PURE study that showed a diet low in carbs and high in animal foods, both meat and fat increased health — including the sources of saturated fat that most often gets blamed: “Those eating the highest levels of dairy and red meat saw their chances of early death fall by 25 per cent and a fatal heart attack cut by 22 per cent” (Nick McDermot). Based on The Lancet’s own published data, the EAT-Lancet recommendations make no sense. And as EAT-Lancet was based on weak science, it is sadly amusing that The Lancet just published another paper stating that, “In the absence of randomisation, analyses of most observational data from the real world, regardless of their sophistication, can only be viewed as hypothesis generating.” I’m pretty sure the EAT-Lancet report wasn’t intended to merely generate hypotheses. So, what is the justification for these unscientific dietary recommendations? Stating it simply, Teicholz concludes“There is no rational basis for that.” An as usual, Dr. Jason Fung shares his take on the situation: “they know they’re going to succeed with the same advice. Insanity, literally.” In another tweet, Tim Noakes concludes with a rhetorical question: “Don’t humans ever learn?”

Official dietary recommendations have been a grand failure, one could easily argue, and we have no reason to expect different results, other than a continued worsening as ill health accumulates from one generation to the next. Then again, maybe it hasn’t failed in that maybe it’s purpose was never to promote public health in the first place. When something seems to fail and continues to get repeated, consider the possibility that it is serving some other purpose all too well. If so, the real agenda simply isn’t the one being publicly stated. Not to be conspiratorial, but human nature is what it is and that means people are good at rationalizing to themselves and others. It is largely irrelevant whether or not they sincerely believe they have good intentions.

Perhaps the covert motive is old school social control and social engineering, and quite possibly motivated by genuine concern of paternalism. Promoting a single diet for all the world would mean more big government run by technocrats who work for plutocrats, all to make the world a better place and it just so happens to directly benefit certain people more than others. The ruling elite and the comfortable classes are starting to worry about the consequences of capitalism that has slowly destroyed the world and, in a technocratic fantasy, they are hoping to manage the situation. That means getting the masses in line. There are too many useless eaters. And if the excess population (i.e., the takers) can’t be eliminated entirely without a lot of mess and complication (World War III, plague, eugenics, etc), their consumption habits could be manipulated and redirected so that they don’t use up the resources needed by the rich (i.e., the makers). Since the teeming masses are useless anyhow, it matters not that they’ll be further malnourished than they already are. Sure, an increasing number will die at a younger age and all the better, as it will keep the population down. (Yes, I’m being cynical, maybe more than is called for. But I don’t feel forgiving at the moment toward those who claim to have all the answers to complex problems. Let them experiment on themselves first and then get back to us later with the results.)

The commissioners of the report recommend that governments use “choice editing” in order to “guide choice” (nudge theory) through incentives, disincentives, and default policy or, failing that, “restrict choice” and “eliminate choice” to enforce compliance. That is to say, “the scale of change to the food system is unlikely to be successful if left to the individual or whim of consumer choice. This change requires reframing at the population and systemic level. By contrast, hard policy interventions include laws fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration, and other economic and structural measures.” And they are ambitious: “For significant transformation to happen, all levels of society must be engaged, from individual consumers to policymakers and everybody along the food supply chain.” This interventionism, including “banning and pariah status of key products” along with “rationing on a population scale”, would be more authoritarian in its proposed strategy than prior guidelines. I wish that were a joke, but they are deadly serious. With a straight face, the same corporate-funded interests (big food, big ag & big oil) behind EAT-Lancet are telling us that, “We support the implementation of a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food” (Kat Lay, Tackling obesity ‘needs treaty like climate change’). “If hypocrisy was a food group we could feed thousands and thousands of people” (Linda Snell). It’s misleading to call these  ‘guidelines’ at all when the object is to eliminate choice because the masses are seen as being too stupid and weak to make the right choice.

No doubt, an austerity diet would never be willingly accepted by entire populations. In the blockade following World War II, the residents of Berlin were forced by circumstances into severe restriction of a subsistence diet based mostly on carbs while low in calories, protein and fat — not that far off from the present official dietary ideology. Writing in 1952, Dr. H. E. Magee, Senior Medical Officer of the UK Ministry of Health, concluded: “The Berlin diet was austere… and only the compelling force of hunger and the fear of political oppression would, I believe, make any civilized community continue to eat a similar diet for as long as the Berliners did” (Nutrition Lessons of the Berlin Blockade). Yet so many officials continue with the mentality that austerity diets are the way to go: calorie counting, portion control, etc. But Gary Taubes, In Why We Get Fat, shows that all this accomplishes is making people endlessly hungry with the perverse effect of gaining weight, even if initially losing it. Other than a blockade or government enforcement, hunger almost always wins out. That is why the only successful diets are satiating, which generally means nutrient-dense and high-fat. But to the modern mind built on Christian morality, the real problem is that we are gluttonous sinners. We must be punished with deprivation to cleanse our souls and expiate our sins.

As always, the elite want to tell the lower classes how to live and then to have them do as their told, by carrot or stick. “The EAT-Lancet Commission spent three years calculating the first scientific targets for a healthy, globally-sustainable diet,” wrote Nick McDermott. “But,” he noted, “the panel of experts admitted none of them were on it.” Most of them admit their hypocrisy and the others maybe are unwilling to state it publicly: “The commission said red meat should be seen as “a treat”, similar to lobster but the plan is so strict that two out of three commission members introducing the diet at a briefing in London on Wednesday said they were not currently sticking to it. Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet, said: “I’m close, but I have two eggs for breakfast every morning, so I’m already having too many eggs.” Author Dr Line Gordon, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, also admitted: “I am moving towards it, but I have young kids at home, which is driving me in the wrong direction” (Sarah Knapton, ‘Planetary health diet’: Britons urged to cut meat intake to equivalent of one beefburger a fortnight).

The billionaires behind the EAT Foundation brazenly post pictures of themselves eating meat, from massive hamburgers to squid (and at least one of them identifies as a ‘vegan’). So, do as they say, not as they do. Also pointing out the blatant hypocrisy were Nina Teicholz and Dr. Jason Fung, the former stating it bluntly about one of the rich advocates: “#EATlancet funders: Private plane jetting around the world, major carbon footprint lifestyle while telling others to save planet from global warming. Doesn’t sound right.” Connecting some dots, Jeroen Sluiter observed that this isn’t exactly new behavior for the paternalistic dietary elite: “This reminds me of how nutrition guidelines’ first villain, Ancel Keys, lectured all of us about the “dangers” of meat while frequently enjoying the most delicious roast beef with his wife Margaret.”

I was reminded of the exact same thing. In reference to Ancel Key’s “stringent vows of the dietary priesthood”, Sally Fallon Morell offers the following note (p. 157, Nourishing Diets): “Actually, Keys recommended the practice of renunciation for the general population but not for himself or those of his inner circle. The esteemed researcher Fred Kummerow, PhD, defender of eggs and butter in the human diet, once spied Keys and a colleague eating eggs and bacon at a conference for cardiologists. When Kummerow inquired whether Keys had changed his mind about dietary fats and cholesterol, Keys replied that such a restricted diet was “for others,” not for himself.” In The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz also talks about this hypocrisy: “Keys himself, according to the [Times Magazine (January 13, 1961)] article, seemed barely to follow his own advice; his “ritual” of dinner by candlelight and “soft Brahms” at home with Margaret included meat—steak, chops, and roasts—three times a week or less. (He and Stamler were also once spotted by a colleague at a conference tucking into scrambled eggs and “five or so rations” of bacon.) “Nobody wants to live on mush,” Keys explained” (p. 62). Keep in mind that Keys was the main figure that forced this dietary religion onto the American population and much of the rest of the world. With persuasive charisma, he righteously advocated that others should eat a high carb and fiber diet with restricted animal products: meat, fat, butter, eggs, etc. This became government policy and transformed the entire food sector. The eventual impact has been on possibly billions of people over multiple generations. Yet it wasn’t important enough for his own dietary habits.

There is not enough to go around, but don’t worry, our benevolent overlords will never go without. As yet another put it with some historical context, “The elites will never eat this diet they prescribe to the masses. Meat for me. And wheat for thee. The elites with their superior bodies brains intellects and money will need special nutrition to maintain their hegemony and rightful place as leaders of the planet. Ask yourself why the silicon valley brainiacs are all on keto/carnivore. It’s a reenactment of feudal life w fatty meats for the elites & thin gruel for the peasants” (David Smith). A high-carb diet combined with low-protein and low-fat has always been a poverty diet, rarely eaten by choice other than by ascetic monks: “A vegetarian or fish-based diet was most often associated with self-denial and penitence” (Sydney Watts, “Enlightened Fasting”; from Food and Faith in Christian Culture, p. 119). Worse still, it easily can lead to malnutrition and, except when calories are pushed so low as to be a starvation diet, it’s fattening.

This general strategy has been done before. It’s a way of shifting the blame and the consequences elsewhere. It’s the same as promoting feel good policies such as encouraging recycling for households, which helps distract from the fact that the immensity of waste comes from factories and other businesses. The rich use most of the resources and cause the most problems. Yet it’s the rest of us who are supposed to take responsibility, as consumer-citizens. What the rich pushing this agenda refuse to talk about is that the entire system is to blame, the very system they benefit the most from. The only way to solve the problem is to eliminate the socioeconomic order that creates people so rich and powerful that they dream of controlling the world. If sustainability is the genuine concern, we need to return to a smaller-scale decentralized way of living where solutions come from communities, not enforced by distant bureaucrats and technocrats. But that would mean reducing inequality of wealth and power by bringing the resources and decision-making back to local populations. As Peter Kalmus wisely put it, “You cannot have billionaires and a livable Earth. The two cannot go together.” That isn’t what the billionaires Petter and Gunhild Stordalen leading this campaign want, though (their organization is the EAT part of EAT-Lancet). They like the inequality just fine the way it is, if not for the problem of all those poor people.

As Herman Melvile put it, “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” The rich are worrying about what will happen when the living conditions, including diets, improve for the rest of the global population. And there is reason to worry for, after all, it is a finite planet. But the upper classes should worry about themselves, with the externalized costs of their lifestyle (on a finite planet, externalizations that go around come around). Once the obstructionist elite get out of the way, I have no doubt that the rest of us can come up with innovative responses to these dire times. Locally-sourced food eaten in season, organic and GMO-free agriculture, community gardens and family farms, crop rotation and cattle pasturage, farmers markets and food co-ops, etc — these are the kinds of things that will save the world, assuming we aren’t already too late.

A local diet including animal foods will be a thousand times better for the planetary biosphere than turning all of earth’s available land into big ag industrial farming in order to support a plant-based diet. Even in the EAT-Lancet report, they agree that “animal production can also be essential for supporting livelihoods, grassland ecosystem services, poverty alleviation, and benefits of nutritional status.” They even go so far as to add that this is true “particularly in children and vulnerable populations.” Wondering about this dilemma, Barry Pearson states it bluntly: “Eliminating all people who EAT-Lancet isn’t suitable for, who is left? So far list of people it isn’t suitable for appears to include: Children. Old people. Pregnant or potentially pregnant women. People with diabetes. Has anyone identified a list of who it IS suitable for?” And Georgia Ede makes the same point, adding some to the list: “Yet the authors themselves admit diets low in animal foods are unhealthy for babies, growing children, teenage girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the poor, and that high-carbohydrate diets are risky for those w/ insulin resistance.” Yet the EAT-Lancet true believers largely dismiss all animal foods, which are the best sources of fat-soluble vitamins that Weston A. Price found were central to the healthiest populations. Somehow too much animal products are bad for you and the entire planet, not just red meat but also chicken, fish, eggs and dairy (anyway, why pick on red meat considering over the past century beef consumption has not risen in countries like the United States or in the world as a whole). Instead, we’re supposed to sustain ourselves on loads of carbs, as part of the decades of government-subsidized, chemically-doused, genetically-modified, and nutrient-depleted “Green Revolution”. That should make happy the CEOs and shareholders of big ag, some of the main corporate backers of EAT-Lancet’s global agenda. “Ultra-processed food manufacturers must scarcely believe their luck. They’ve been handed a massive rebranding opportunity free of charge, courtesy of the vegan desire for plant-based junk posing as dairy, meat, fish, and eggs” (Joanna Blythman).

What they don’t explain is how the world’s poor are supposed to eat this way. That is no minor detail being overlooked. Most of the population in the world and in many developed countries, including the United States, are poor. This idealized diet is presented as emphasizing fruits and vegetables. But in many poor countries, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than some animal foods. That is when they are available at all which is often not the case in the food deserts that so many of the poor are trapped in. The authors of the report do admit that animal foods might be increased slightly for many demographics — as Dr. Georgia Ede put it: “Although their diet plan is intended for all “generally healthy individuals aged two years and older,” the authors admit it falls short of providing proper nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished—and that even those not within these special categories will need to take supplements to meet their basic requirements.” It’s not clear what this means, as this admission goes against their general recommendations. The proposal is vague on details with neither food lists nor meal plans. And, oddly, the details shown don’t actually indicate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, as the plant-based foods mostly consist of carbs (according to Optimising Nutrition’s Should you EAT Lancet?, the calorie breakdown should be: 70% plant-based including sweeteners; with 46% carbs; only 3% vegetables & 5% fruits; & a remarkable 5% for sweeteners, about equal to allowance of meat).

In the harsh criticism offered by Optimising Nutrition: “You would be forgiven if you thought from their promotional materials that they were promoting more vegetables. But it’s not actually the case! However, I admit they are promoting primarily a ‘plant based diet’ if you count corn, soy and wheat (grown using large scale agricultural practices, mono-cropping and large doses of fertilisers and chemical pesticides) and the oils that you can extract them as ‘plant based’.” I eat more actual vegetables on my low-carb, high-fat paleo diet than is being recommended in the EAT-Lancet report. Just because a diet is ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy, considering most processed foods consist of plant-based ingredients. Even commercial whole wheat breads with some fiber and vitamins added back in to the denatured flour are basically junk food with good marketing. Heck, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup are both plant-based. The EAT-Lancet diet is basically the Standard American Diet (SAD), as it has fallen in line with decades of a Food Pyramid with carbs as the base and an emphasis on unhealthy seed oils — more from Optimising Nutrition:

“The thing that struck me was the EAT Lancet dietary guidance seems to largely be an extension of the current status quo that is maximising profits for the food industry and driving us to eat more than we need to. Other than the doubling down on the recommendation to reduce red meat and eggs, it largely seems like business-as-usual for the food industry. With Walter Willett at the helm, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this looks and feels like an extension of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the whole world, complete with talk of United Nations level sanctions to prevent excess meat consumption. […] it’s the added fats and oils (mostly from unsaturated fats) as well as flours and cereals (from rice, wheat and corn) that have exploded in our food system and tracked closely with the rise in obesity. The EAT Lancet guidelines will ensure that this runaway trend continues!”

The report, though, isn’t entirely worthless for it does correctly point out some of the problems we face, specifically as part of a global crisis. But it most definitely is confusing and internally conflicted. Even if it genuinely were a diet high in healthy produce, it’s not clear why the dismissal of all animal foods, including eggs and dairy that are enjoyed by most vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. If feeding the world is the issue, it’s hard to beat an egg for cost effectiveness and it accomplishes this without need for the kind of subsidization we see with high-yield crops. When I was poor, I survived on eggs with the expensive ingredient being the few frozen vegetables I threw in for balance and variety. Eggs are filling, both satisfying and satiating. Also, they make for a quick and easy meal, an advantage for the working poor with limited time and energy.

We are being told, though, that eggs are part of what is destroying the world and so must be severely limited, if not entirely eliminated, for the good of humanity. “While eggs are no longer thought to increase risk of heart disease, Willett said the report recommends limiting them because studies indicate a breakfast of whole grains, nuts and fruit would be healthier” (Candice Choi). So, there is nothing unhealthy about eggs, but since they are made of protein and fat, we should eat more carbs and sugar instead — “According to EAT Lancet, you can eat 8 tsp of sugar but only 1/4 egg per day” (Nina Teicholz). After all, everyone knows that American health has improved over the decades as more carbs and sugar were eaten… no, wait, it’s the complete opposite with worsening health. That is plain fucked up! Explain to me again why eggs, one of the cheapest and healthiest food sources, are being targeted as a danger to human existence in somehow contributing or linked to overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change. What exactly is the connection? Am I missing something?

Whatever the explanation, eating less of such things as eggs, we are supposed to eat more of such things as vegetables, at least in taking at face value how this diet is being sold. Let’s pretend for a moment that the Eat-Lancet diet is accurately described as largely oriented toward fruits and vegetables and that, as a sweeping recommendation, this is fully justified. Consider that, as Diana Rodgers explains, “Fresh produce is not grown year round in all locations, not available to everyone, and by calorie, weight, and micronutrients, more expensive than meat. Oh, and lettuce has three times the GHG emissions of bacon and fruit has the largest water and energy footprint per calorie. I didn’t see this mentioned in the EAT Lancet report.” We forget that our cheap vegetables in the West are actually rather uncommon for much of the world, excluding root vegetables which are more widely available. I’d guess we only have such a broad variety of cheap vegetables here in the West because its part of the government-subsidization of high-yield farming, which by the way has simultaneously depleted our soil and, as a consequence, produced nutrient-deficient food (also, there is the American Empire’s neoliberally-rationalized and militarily-protected “free trade” agreements that have ensured cheap produce from around the world, but this simultaneously makes these foods out of reach for the foreign populations that actually grow the produce). I’m all in favor of subsidizing vegetables and much else, but I’d rather see the subsidization of sustainable farming in general that promotes nutrient-dense foods, not limited to plants. Anyway, how is telling poor people to eat more expensive and, in some cases, problematic foods going to help the world’s population that is struggling with poverty and inequality?

“And what are the things individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint?,” as also brought up by Rodgers. “According to a recent meta-analysis, having one less child (in industrialized nations), which was shown by far to have the biggest impact, followed by living “car-free”, avoiding one round-trip trans-Atlantic flight, and buying “green” energy have much more of an effect on our carbon footprint than our dietary choices.” Most people in the West are already having fewer children. And most people in the rest of the world already live without cars. We know that the birthrate goes down when life conditions are improved and this is already being observed, but this dietary regime would worsen life conditions through austerity politics and so would make people feel more desperate than they already are. As for transportation, many things could lessen the externalized costs of that, from funding public transportation to the relevant option of increasing local farming: “New research from the University of California also recently concluded that grasslands are an even better and more resilient carbon storage option than trees.” (Danielle Smith, If you care about the planet, eat more beef); “These multiple research efforts verify that practical organic agriculture, if practiced on the planet’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, could sequester nearly 40 percent of current CO2 emissions” (Tim J. LaSalle & Paul Hepperly, Regenerative Organic Farming); see also this Ted Talk by Allan Savory and this paper.

Cattle aren’t the problem, considering that the earth for hundreds of millions of years has supported large numbers of ruminants without pollution, erosion, or any other problems. The United States maintains fewer cows than there were buffalo in the past and furthermore: “Ruminant herds have been a feature of our ecosystem since before the fall of the dinosaurs. Yes, they produce methane (so do we), but the atmosphere is accustomed to that level of methane. I can’t find data on total global animal biomass trends, but as the population of humans and domesticated animals has increased, so populations of wild animals (and particularly megafauna) has decreased. What is concerning is releases of methane that has been sequestered from the atmosphere over thousands or millions of years – melting permafrost, drained peatbogs and swamp forests. Methane is a significant greenhouse gas. But to get back to where we started, methane is a natural component of the atmosphere; the carbon from farts comes from the food that is eaten and is recycled as new food that grows; there is no evidence that I’m aware of that the total volume of farting is increasing.” (Simon Brooke). An accurate and amusing assessment. More mass industrial farming to support this top-down dietary scheme from EAT-Lancet would require more mass transportation and inevitably would create more pollution. One has to be insane to believe this is the solution or well-paid by self-serving interests to claim to believe it.

One might note that EAT-Lancet is specifically partnered with big biz, including big ag companies such as Monsanto that has poisoned the world’s population with Roundup (i.e., glyphosate), and understand that big ag is among the most powerful interests in the US considering our country’s wealth was built on agriculture (a great example being the wealth of the plutocratic and corporatist Koch brothers whose wealth in part came from manufacturing fertilizer). Other companies involved are those developing meat alternatives produced from the industrially-farmed crops of big ag. And big ag is dependent on big oil for production of farm chemicals. EAT Foundation president and founder, Gunhild Stordalen, has been noted as a significant figure in the oil industry (Lars Taraldsen, ONS 2014 conference program to feature oil industry heavy hitters). But don’t worry about how this carb-laden diet of processed foods will harm your health with the majority of the American population already some combination of insulin sensitive, pre-diabetic, and diabetic — they’ve got this covered: “The drug company Novo Nordisk supports Eat-Lancet. Smart. Insulin is 85% of their revenue” (P. D. Mangan). I’m beginning to see a pattern here in the vested interests behind this proposal: “Eat lancet sponsors. Chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies (mostly making diabetes meds), the world’s biggest pasta manufacturer, the world biggest seed oil supplier, the world’s biggest breakfast cereal supplier” (David Wyant); “Pesticides, fertilisers, #gm (Bayer/Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta);sugar+fake flavourings/colourings (PepsiCo, Nestle, Givaudin, Symrise);ultraprocessed grains/starches (Cargill, Kellogg’s);#palmoil (Olam); additives and enzymes (DSM)- companies backing #EatLancet diet. I wonder why?” (Joanna Blythman).

Just to throw out a crazy idea, maybe transnational corporations are the problem, not the answer. “Just think about it. EAT Lancet is the processed food industry telling us that eating more processed food is good for our health & planet. That’s like oil industry stating burn more fossil fuel will save planet. Vested interests think we are that gullible?”, in the words of Gary Fettke, an outspoken surgeon who (like John Yudkin and Tim Noakes) was bullied and harassed when challenging the powers that be, for the crime of advising an evidence-based low-carb/sugar diet. “This Poison Cartel of companies,” writes Vandana Shiva in reference to the corporate alliance behind EAT-Lancet, “have together contributed up to 50% Green house gases leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.” The Lancet Journal itself, from a new report, is now warning of us the exact same thing, in that many corporate sectors (including those backing EAT-Lancet) receive $5 trillion in government subsidies: “Big Food’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimize industry participation in public policy development” (Swinburn et al, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change).

The whole health and sustainability claim is a red herring. The EAT-Lancet commissioners and others of their ilk don’t feel they have to justify their position, not really. They throw out some halfhearted rationalizations, but they fall apart under casual scrutiny. Furthermore, there is far from being a consensus among the experts. The Associated Press offered some dissenting voices, such as “John Ioannidis, chair of disease prevention at Stanford University, said he welcomed the growing attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health.” Ioannidis, a non-partisan researcher in dietary debates, was quoted as saying, “The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be.” That is to put it mildly. We are in the middle of a replication crisis in numerous fields of science and, as Ioannidis has shown, food-related research is among the worse. When he says the evidence is not strong enough, people should pay attention. ““There are few exceptions, but the status of epidemiological literature is not at a level to allow us to make these types of very detailed, specific recommendations,” Ioannidis tells me. For that reason, the health claims in the EAT-Lancet diet are “science fiction. I can’t call it anything else”” (Sam Bloch, World Health Organization drops its high-profile endorsement of the EAT-Lancet diet).

For emphasis, consider what kind of scientists are involved in this project. The lead researcher and author behind the EAT-Lancet report is Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department. He was recently rebuked in science journal Nature (editorial and feature article) for his unscientific behavior. Willett has many potential conflicts of interest with, according to Nina Teicholz, “many 100Ks in funding by a host of companies selling/promoting plant-based diet.” This is the guy, by the way, who inherited the mantle from Ancel Keys, an ‘honor’ that some would consider very low praise, as Keys too has regularly been accused of a sloppy and bullying approach to diet and nutrition. Willett is particularly misinformed about what is a healthy fat in his blaming saturated fat on the same flimsy evidence going back to Ancel Keys, but back in a 2004 Frontline interview from PBS he did make the surprising admission that it was carbs and not fat driving the disease epidemic:

“Well, the food guide pyramid that was developed in 1991 really is based on the idea that all fat is bad. Therefore [if] fat is bad, and you have to eat something, carbohydrate must be wonderful. So the base of the pyramid is really emphasizing large amounts of starch in the diet. We’re told we can eat up to 11 servings a day, and if that wasn’t enough starch, the pyramid puts potatoes along with the vegetables, so you can have up to 13 servings a day. That’s a huge amount of starch. […] Fat’s up at the top of the pyramid, and where it says explicitly “fats and oils, use sparingly.” It doesn’t make any distinction about the type of fat, and it tells us to eat basically as little as possible. […] Well, this pyramid is really not compatible with good scientific evidence, and it was really out of date from the day it was printed in 1991, because we knew, and we’ve known for 30 or 40 years that the type of fat is very important. That was totally neglected. […] In some ways, we do have to credit the food industry with being responsive to what nutritionists were saying. They did believe or accepted the evidence that vegetable fats, vegetable oils, would be better than animal fats, and that really led to the development and promotion of the margarine industry and Crisco, baking fats that were made from vegetable oils. But they were made by a process called partial hydrogenation, which converts a liquid oil, say like soybean oil or corn oil, to something like margarine or vegetable shortening. As it turns out that was a very disastrous mistake, because in the process of partial hydrogenation, a totally new type of fat is formed called trans fat. The evidence has now become very clear that trans fat is far worse than saturated fat. […] Unfortunately, as a physician back in the 1980s, I was telling people that they should replace butter with margarine because it was cholesterol free, and professional organizations like the American Heart Association were telling us as physicians that we should be promoting this. In reality, there was never any evidence that these margarines, that were high in trans fat, were any better than butter, and as it turned out, they were actually far worse than butter.”

In 2010, Walter Willett is again quoted in The Los Angeles Times declaring this same message in no uncertain terms: “Fat is not the problem […] If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases” (Marni Jameson, A reversal on carbs). He has been defending this consistent message for a while now. Why this sudden turnabout in defense of carbs by blaming fats once again? Is he just following the money as a scientific mercenary for hire to the highest bidder?

Considering animal fats are among the most nutrient-dense foods available, let me return to nutrient-density in my concluding thoughts. Feeding the whole world is the easy part. But if we want humanity, all of humanity, to thrive and not merely survive, this is what it comes down to — as I previously wrote (A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!): “We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.”

From that piece, I suggested that nutrient-density, especially if combined with low-carb, might decrease food consumption worldwide. In comparing locally-raised meat versus mass-transported produce, Frédéric Leroy made a related argument: “When protein quality is factored in, the data show a completely different picture. Assessments usually overlook nutrient density. Expressing environmental impact per unit of mass (g) has little sense, we should care about *nutrition* not quantity.” And for damn sure, it would improve health for those already eating so little. As I wrote,“What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!” This is very much an issue of inequality, as at least some of the EAT-Lancet commissioners acknowledge — Dr. Lawrence Haddad says, “Most conflict is driven by inequality, or at least a sense of inequality. Work by UNICEF and others shows that inequality in terms of malnutrition is actually rising faster within countries than it is between countries. So inequality within countries in terms of things like stunting and anaemia is either not improving or is actually worsening – and we know that inequality is a big driver of violence conflict.” The EAT-Lancet report itself mentions this in passing, mostly limited to a single paragraph:

“Wars and disasters cause food insecurity and highlight the issues faced when nutrition is inadequate and food becomes scarce. Wars and natural disasters also provide opportunities from which the food system can be transformed. However, only at the end of World War 2 was a global effort and commitment introduced to redirect the food system.258 New institutions were created or revised at the global level such as WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Bank, which allied with new and renewed national Ministries of agriculture and health to stop pre-war food problems caused by market distortions, environmentally-damaging farming, and social inequalities.259 However, the negative consequences of the post-war food revolution are now becoming increasingly clear (ie, negative environmental and health consequences, as outlined in this Commission).”

I’ll give them credit for bringing it up at all, however inadequately. They do admit that our food system has failed. That makes it all the more unfortunate that, in many ways, they are demanding more of the same. As others have noted, the diet they have fashioned for the world is severely lacking in nutrition. And they offer no convincing suggestions in how to reverse this problem. It won’t help to eat more plant-based foods, if they are grown through chemical-dependent high-yield farming that is depleting the soil of minerals and killing earthworms, microbes, etc: “Veganism is a huge misinterpretation of what a responsible diet might look like. It fully supports and exacerbates industrial farming of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables through high inputs, maximising yields at all costs and depleting soils.” (Cassie Robinson). The idea of nutrient-dense foods as part of traditional farming and healthy soil is simply not on the radar of mainstream thought, especially not within our corporatist system. That is because a large portion of nutrient-dense foods don’t come from plants (especially not high-profit monoculture crops) and, furthermore, aren’t compliant with industrial agriculture and food production.

That isn’t to say we should necessarily be eating massive amounts of meat, but animal foods have been the key element to every healthy population. In fact, compared to the United States, the top two longest-living countries in the world (Hong Kong and Japan) eat more animal foods by some acconting, including lots of red meat. According to Dr. Paul Saladino, the average lifespan of the Hong Kong resident is 85 and their average meat consumption is a pound and a half; and he puts that into the context that research on Asian populations show that people eating more meat are healthier (see video and transcript). That said, Americans are probably ahead of those two countries on dairy foods, which taken together is an argument for the paleo diet. Even among vegetarians, the healthiest are those with access to high quality dairy and eggs, along with those eating food from traditional farming that includes many insects and soil microbes mixed in with what is grown (the latter was shown in a study that vegetarians in a region of India were healthier than in another, and the difference was the unintentional insects in the diet from traditional farming). In the above linked video, Saladino was talking to Dr. Steven Gundry who mentioned that primates in the wild intentionally seek out fruit that is bug-infested and will otherwise throw it away, as they are looking for protein.

None of that, as far as I can tell, is discussed in the EAT-Lancet report. The authors offer no helpful advice, no long-term vision that can move us in a positive direction. Their ideology is getting ahead of the science. A sense of urgency is important. But impatience, especially the EAT Foundation’s self-described “impatient disruption”, won’t serve us well. It was careless hubris that got us here. It’s time we learn to respect the precautionary principle, to think carefully before collectively acting or rather before the ruling elite goes forward with yet another harebrained scheme. If as a society we want to direct our sense of urgency toward where it counts, that wouldn’t be hard to do: “World: Stop wasting a third of the food produced. Stop wrapping it in needless packaging. Stop transporting food half way round the world. Stop selling food at below-cost prices. Stop undercutting our produce with low standard alternatives. Then I’ll discuss how much meat I eat” (David Hill). It would mean drastically transforming our political and economic system. Capitalism and corporatism, as we know it, must end for the sake of humanity and the planet.

As a member of the liberal class, Gunhild Stordalen (founder and president of EAT Foundation) knows how to say the right things. Listen to how she sets up this brilliant piece of rhetoric: “What we eat and how we produce it drives some of our greatest health and environmental challenges. On the other hand, getting it right on food is our greatest opportunity to improve the health of people and planet. This will require concerted action across disciplines and sectors – and business will be a key part of the solution.” Much of it sounds nice, too nice. But the only part of that statement that was honest was the last bit. All one should hear is “Blah, blah, blah… and business will be a key part of the solution.” And she isn’t referring to small family farms, mom-and-pop grocery stores, and local co-ops. This is a corporatist vision of concentrated wealth and power. These people are serious about remaking the world in their own image. As Anand Giridharadas put it in another context: “Elites, he wrote, have found myriad ways to “change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all”. The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change – often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.” No thanks!

We don’t need a corporate-owned nanny state telling us what to do. If scientific and political institutions weren’t being manipulated, if the corporate media wasn’t used to propagandize and manage public perception, and if powerful interests weren’t spreading disinfo and division, it would be a lot easier for we the people to become an informed citizenry able to figure out how to democratically solve our own problems. We could even figure out how feed ourselves for health and sustainability. Despite it all, that is what we’re working toward.

* * *

What Experts Are Saying
from NAMI

It’s shocking that after years of promoting a groundbreaking report, EAT-Lancet’s own analysis shows the Commission’s recommended diet has almost no environmental benefit over business-as-usual scenarios. While EAT-Lancet claims its reference diet would decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the Commission’s fundamentally flawed data fail to account for methane reduction that occurs naturally, as methane remains in the atmosphere for only 10 years. The carbon emissions from all the flights required for the Commission’s global launch tour will have a much longer impact than that of methane from livestock animals

Frank Mitloehner, PhD, UC Davis

Meat and dairy are easily the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans. [The recommendations… are not only unrealistic but potentially dangerous for healthy diets…

Jason Rowntree, Associate Professor, Animal Science Department, Michigan State University

Human beings, especially as we age, cannot do without protein. The EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommendation to cut beef consumption to just a quarter ounce per day (7g) is a drastic departure from evidence showing meat and dairy improve diets.

Stuart Phillips, Professor; Director, Physical Activity Centre of Excellence. McMaster University, Canada.

The report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health. The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be.

John Ioannidis, MD, Stanford University

The cornerstone of a healthy diet is still meat and dairy. Take those out and you’ll have under-nutrition and frailty. It’s unavoidable.

Andrew Mente, PhD, Associate Professor & Nutrition Epidemiologist, Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University

The #EatLancet Commission work does not reflect consensus among scientists. We need to invest in research to inform dialogue on what is healthy and sustainable. We should not base recommendations based on assumptions and 40+ year old confounded cohorts. Scientists must stop making premature recommendations based on opinion and weak data like in the past (e.g., eggs and fat). Unintended consequences happen folks. Let’s not make the same mistake twice!

Taylor Wallace, Ph.D., George Mason University

What start as academic and scientific debates become political arguments that are dangerously simplistic and may have several detrimental consequences for both health and the environment. Of course, climate change is real and does require our attention. And, yes, livestock should be optimized but also be used as part of the solution to make our environments and food systems more sustainable and our populations healthier. But instead of undermining the foundations of our diets and the livelihoods of many, we should be tackling rather than ignoring the root causes, in particular hyperconsumerism. What we should avoid is losing ourselves in slogans, nutritional scientism, and distorted worldviews

Fredric Leroy, PhD; Martin Cohen, PhD

To confine all our attention in eliminating animal-source food (#meat#eggs#milk) in our diet as solution to climate change is to limit human ability to solve challenges. Options’re available to abate impacts of livestock through investment

Aimable Uwizeye, Global Livestock expert, Veterinarian Doctor & PhD Fellow

As a cardiologist, I’ve made healthy lifestyle recommendations to thousands of patients, and it is clear that the best lifestyle is one people can actually maintain over the long term. It turns out that animal protein and fat are uniquely satiating — thus keeping hunger at bay — and therefore a friend to any dieter. It is lamentable that the EAT-Lancet authors should want to impose their ideas about healthy diets on all populations worldwide.

Bret Scher, MD

This is what the new EAT Lancet report remind me of. After years of abject failure with ‘plant based’, low fat, low calorie diets for metabolic health, they know they’re going to succeed with the same advice. Insanity, literally

Jason Fung, MD

Note that eating 0 grams of meat/seafood/poultry/eggs/dairy is supported, meaning vegan diets are officially sanctioned. Epidemiology choosing ideology over biology once again. No real science here

Georgia Ede, MD

The environmental science is as murky, unevenly applied & ideologically driven as the nutrition science. There isn’t a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution to “healthy diet” or “sustainable food system” because we are dealing with situated, idiosyncratic contexts in each case

Adele Hite, PhD

You’ll be short of calcium, iron, potassium, D3, K2, retinol, B12, sodium if you adopt EAT Lancet diet. It’s nutritionally deficient. Irresponsible!

Zoe Harcombe, Ph.D.

Those who feel that meat eaters are as bad as smokers and should eat their meals outside of the restaurant are obviously not coming from a place of reason and should be removed from decisions involving dietary policy.

Diana Rogers, RD

What concerns me is that people will give this report the same weight as Dietary Guidelines that go through years of discussion, must be based on scientific evidence, analysis and vetting by a team of experts that have to disclose COI – unlike this report.

Leah McGrath, RD

I work as a renal RD, & so I experience daily the actual impact pseudoscience like the #EATLancet study can have on society. It’s nonsense like this that has caused so many of my patients to fear meat—which improves clinical outcomes—more than highly processed foods.

Mike Shelby, RD

There are no Controlled Trials proving the EAT-Lancet [recommendations] are safe for humans to eat long-term! #yes2meat

Ken Berry, MD

Unfortunately, quantity of evidence does not equate to quality – especially in the diet/health arena.

Sean Mark, PhD

The #EATLancet diet: Nearly eliminates foods with important nutrients (dairy and all other products from animal origin). Will lead to an increase consumption of calories. Will have similar impact on climate change.

Maria Sanchez Mainar, PhD

* * *

The Big Fat Surprise
by Nina Teicholz
pp. 131-133

“We Cannot Afford to Wait”

In the late 1970s in America, the idea that a plant-based diet might be the best for health as well as the most historically authentic was just entering the popular consciousness. Active efforts to demonize saturated fat had been underway for more than fifteen years by that time, and we’ve seen how the McGovern committee’s staff were in short order persuaded by these ideas. Even so, the draft report that Mottern wrote for the McGovern committee sparked an uproar—predictably—from the meat, dairy, and egg producers. They sent representatives to McGovern’s office and insisted that he hold additional hearings. Under pressure from these lobbies, McGovern’s staff carved out an exception for lean meats, which Americans could be advised to eat. Thus, Dietary Goals recommended that Americans increase poultry and fish while cutting back on red meat, butterfat, eggs, and whole milk. In the language of macronutrients, this meant advising Americans to reduce total fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sugar, and salt while increasing carbohydrate consumption to between 55 percent and 60 percent of daily calories.

While Mottern would have liked the final report to advise against meat altogether, some of the senators on the committee were not so unequivocally confident about their ability to weigh in on matters of nutritional science. The ranking minority member, Charles H. Percy from Illinois, wrote in the final Dietary Goals report that he and two other senators had “serious reservations” about the “divergence of scientific opinion on whether dietary change can help the heart.” They described the “polarity” of views among well-known scientists such as Jerry Stamler and Pete Ahrens and noted that leaders in government, including no less than the head of the NHLBI as well as the undersecretary of health, Theodore Cooper, had urged restraint before making recommendations to the general public.

Yet this hesitation turned out to be too little too late to stop the momentum that Mottern’s report had set in motion. Dietary Goals revived the same argument that Keys and Stamler had used before: that now was the time to take action on an urgent public health problem. “We cannot afford to await the ultimate proof before correcting trends we believe to be detrimental,” said the Senate report.

So it was that Dietary Goals , compiled by one interested layperson, Mottern, without any formal review, became arguably the most influential document in the history of diet and disease. Following publication of Dietary Goals by the highest elective body in the land, an entire government and then a nation swiveled into gear behind its dietary advice. “It has stood the test of time, and I feel very proud of it, as does McGovern,” Marshall Matz, general counsel of the McGovern committee, told me thirty years later.

Proof of the report’s substantiality, according to Matz, is that its basic recommendations—to reduce saturated fat and overall fat while increasing carbohydrates—have endured down to today. But such logic is circular. What if the US Congress had said exactly the opposite: to eat meat and eggs and nothing else? Perhaps that advice, supported by the power of the federal government, would have lived on equally well. In the decades since the publication of Dietary Goals , Americans have seen the obesity and diabetes epidemics explode—a hint, perhaps, that something is wrong with our diet. Based on these facts, the government might have deemed it appropriate to reconsider these goals, but it has nevertheless stayed the course because governments are governments, the least nimble of institutions, and unable easily to change direction.

* * *

Dr. Andrew Samis:

One hundred and eleven years ago a scientist in St. Petersberg Russia fed rabbits meat, eggs, and dairy. Not unexpectedly for a herbivorous animal, it built up in the blood vessels. It also built up in the ligaments, the tendons, the muscles, and everywhere else in the rabbits body without any evolved mechanism for excretion. This yellow goop in the rabbit’s aortas looked just like human atherosclerosis, which had only been described four years earlier. This started science down a misguided pathway of focusing on fat as the cause of hardening of the arteries. A pathway that future historians will likely call the greatest tragedy in terms of years of life lost in the history of humanity.

Initially it was eating cholesterol that was blamed for causing of hardening of the arteries. Then in the 1950s an American physiologist, who had such an affinity for hard compacted refined carbohydrates that he designed soldiers rations featuring it, expanded the blame from cholesterol to all fat, especially animal fat. Carbohydrates should be increased and fat excluded, that was the battle cry! In the 1970s this unproven theory drew the attention of the US senate, and within a few short years blaming fat for atherosclerosis became a worldwide revolution. This time period, interesting, also marks the beginning of the obesity epidemic that has gripped the world’s developed countries. Tragically, what everyone seemed to have missed was the fact that there was no conclusive scientific evidence for this theory, and over time much of that thinking has actually been proven wrong. I have little doubt that issuing these guidelines without conclusive scientific evidence will eventually be viewed as the most significant blunder in the history of science.

I am an ICU doctor. I see the carnage that this cavalier and misguided attitude towards food guidelines has caused every single day, up close and personal. The tears of families suffering loss. The premature death of those who should have had long lives. Parents burying their adult sons and daughters. Atherosclerosis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, when grouped together represent the top conditions for admission to adult ICUs everywhere on earth where our unhealthy Western Diet is consumed. And approximately one in five don’t survive their ICU stay. But what makes me the most angry is the fact that those people who draft these misguided non-scientific food guidelines, with their biased agendas and misrepresented studies, sit in government offices and ivory towers completely remote from the devastating impact of their work. Is it any wonder that the doctors of the world represent a large portion of those leading the charge against our current misguided food guidelines. Doctors are not remote to the problem or blind to the devastation. It is here every single day at work.

This has to stop. Food guidelines need to be based on rigorous science. How many more thousands of people have to die.

Enough is enough.

* * *

eat like your grandmother

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* * *

Monsanto is Safe and Good, Says Monsanto

Lancet Partners With Poison Makers to Give Food Advice Written
by Joseph Mercola

The EAT/Lancet Backers: Definitely in it for the Good of the Planet.
by Tim Rees

Food Industry Giants Invest $4 Million In Vegan Research
by Jemima Webber

Billionaire Vegan Tells Us all How to Eat
by Tim Rees

Globe-trotting billionaire behind campaign to save planet accused of blatant hypocrisy
by Martin Bagot

Billionaire tycoon who urged Brits to eat less meat tucks into 20,000-calorie burger
from Mirror

Letter to Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen
by Angela A. Stanton

Majority of EAT-Lancet Authors (>80%) Favored Vegan/Vegetarian Diets
by Nina Teicholz

How vegan evangelists are propping up the ultra-processed food industry
by Joanna Blythman

Thou Shalt not discuss Nutrition ‘Science’ without understanding its driving force
by Belinda Fettke

2019 The Year Vegan Pseudo-Science Goes Mainstream?
by Afifah Hamilton

Meat-free report slammed, wool revival, agri-tech
from BBC

Eat Lancet, a template for sustaining irony
by Stefhan Gordon

Does Lancet want to hand control of our diets to the state?
by Kate Andrews

Tax, ban, regulate: the radical ‘planetary health diet’ explained
by Christopher Snowden

Lies Lying Liars Tell
by Tom Naughton

Eat Me, Lancet … These People Are A Perfect Example Of The Anointed
by Tom Naughton

EAT-Lancet Report is One-sided, Not Backed by Rigorous Science
by The Nutrition Coalition

Scientific Evidence on Red Meat and Health
by The Nutrition Coalition

Farmers have a beef with plant- or lab-grown ‘meat.’ Should you care?
by Laurent Belsie

If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith

Why Eating Meat Is Good for You
by Chris Kresser

EAT-Lancet recommends slashing red meat consumption by 90%
by Amanda Radke

Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Can vegetarians save the planet? Why campaigns to ban meat send the wrong message on climate change
by Erin Biba

Is the vegan health halo fading?
by Shan Goodwin

Two-pager Scientific Evidence on Red Meat and Health
from The Nutrition Coalition

A view on the meat debate
by Richard Young

War Against Red Meat
by Angela A. Stanton

I think you’ll find it’s a little bit more complicated than that…
by Malcolm Tucker

Why we should resist the vegan putsch
by Joanna Blythman

Scrutinise the small print of Eat-Lancet
by Joanna Blythman

Sally Fallon Morell Addresses the EAT-Lancet Diet Dietary Recommendations
from Weston A. Price Foundation

The EAT Lancet report recommends a diet that is ostensibly better for the planet & our health. In one simple IG post,…
from Weston A. Price Foundation

The EAT Lancet diet is nutritionally deficient
by Zoë Harcombe

Vegan diet ‘could have severe consequences’, professor warns
by Ali Gordon

EAT-Lancet Diet – inadequate protein for older adults
by Joy Kiddie

Any ‘planetary diet’ must also work for the poorest and most vulnerable
by Andrew Salter

EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust

Report urging less meat in global diet ‘lacks agricultural understanding’
from FarmingUK

War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke

Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner

20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat
by Diana Rodgers

What’s right and what’s wrong about the EAT Lancet Diet
by Defending Beef

With huge variations in meat consumption, we’re ‘all in this existential crisis together’—Vox
by Susan MacMillan

IFPRI’s Shenggen Fan on the ‘differentiated approach’ needed to navigate today’s food systems
by Susan MacMillan

FAO sets the record straight on flawed livestock emission comparisons–and the livestock livelihoods on the line
by Susan MacMillan

FAO sets the record straight–86% of livestock feed is inedible by humans
by Susan MacMillan

Climate change policy must distinguish (long-lived) carbon dioxide from (short-lived) methane–Oxford study
by Susan MacMillan

Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin

Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s controversial campaign
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen

Why we shouldn’t all be vegan
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen

EAT-Lancet: what lies behind the Veggie-Business according to Frédéric Leory and Martin Cohen
from CARNI Sostenibili

Considerations on the EAT-Lancet Commission Report
from CARNI Sostenibili

The Eat-Lancet Commission: The World’s Biggest Lie
by Angela A. Stanton

We test diet of the future that will save the planet – that calls on Irish people to slash red meat consumption by 89 per cent
by Adam Higgins

Irish Mirrorman takes on five day health challenge to diet and help save the planet
by Kevan Furbank

Is the EAT-Lancet (Vegan) Rule-Book Hijacking Our Health?
by Belinda Fettke

EAT-Lancet’s Plant-based Planet: 10 Things You Need to Know
by Georgia Ede

Should you EAT Lancet?
from Optimising Nutrition

EAT-Lancet Report Offers a “Fad Diet” Solution to Complex Global Issues
from NAMI

Media Myth Crusher
from NAMI

Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

FAQ
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

What the experts are saying…
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

Press release on the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (Geneva, 28 March 2019)
from Italian government, official statement given to the United Nations

Birth of Snark

The next time you’re irritated by an internet troll, remember that one of the greatest inventions of civilization was snark. For millennia of recorded history, there was no evidence of it. Then suddenly, in the measure of historical time, there it was in all its glory.

Before there was social media and online comments sections, there were letters written in cuneiform. There is something about text-based communication that brings snark out in some people, no matter the medium. But first there had to be a transformation in consciousness.

* * *

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
by Julian Jaynes
p. 249-250

Going from Hammurabi’s letters to the state letters of Assyria of the seventh century B.C. is like leaving a thoughtless tedium of undisobeyable directives and entering a rich sensitive frightened grasping recalcitrant aware world not all that different from our own. The letters are addressed to people, not tablets, and probably were not heard, but had to be read aloud. The subjects discussed have changed in a thousand years to a far more extensive list of human activities. But they are also imbedded in a texture of deceit and divination, speaking of police investigations, complaints of lapsing ritual, paranoid fears, bribery, and pathetic appeals of imprisoned officers, all things unknown, unmentioned, and impossible in the world of Hammurabi. Even sarcasm, as in a letter from an Assyrian king to his restive acculturated deputies in conquered Babylon about 670 B.C.:

Word of the king to the pseudo-Babylonians. I am well . .  . So you, so help you heaven, have turned yourselves into Babylonians! And you keep bringing up against my servants charges— false charges,— which you and your master have concocted . .  . The document (nothing but windy words and importunities!) which you have sent me, I am returning to you, after replacing it into its seals. Of course you will say, “What is he sending back to us?” From the Babylonians, my servants and my friends are writing me: When I open and read, behold, the goodness of the shrines, birds of sin . .  . 28

And then the tablet is broken off.

A further interesting difference is their depiction of an Assyrian king. The Babylonian kings of the early second millennium were confident and fearless, and probably did not have to be too militaristic. The cruel Assyrian kings, whose palaces are virile with muscular depictions of lion hunts and grappling with clawing beasts, are in their letters indecisive frightened creatures appealing to their astrologers and diviners to contact the gods and tell them what to do and when to do it. These kings are told by their diviners that they are beggars or that their sins are making a god angry; they are told what to wear, or what to eat, or not to eat until further notice: 29 “Something is happening in the skies; have you noticed? As far as I am concerned, my eyes are fixed. I say, ‘What phenomenon have I failed to see, or failed to report to the king? Have I failed to observe something that does not pertain to his lot?’.  .  . As to that eclipse of the sun of which the king spoke, the eclipse did not take place. On the 27th I shall look again and send in a report. From whom does the lord my king fear misfortune? I have no information whatsoever.” 30

Does a comparison of these letters, a thousand years apart, demonstrate the alteration of mentality with which we are here concerned? Of course, a great deal of discussion could follow such a question. And research: content analyses, comparisons of syntax, uses of pronouns, questions, and future tenses, as well as specific words which appear to indicate subjectivity in the Assyrian letters and which are absent in the Old Babylonian. But such is our knowledge of cuneiform at present that a thorough analysis is not possible at this time. Even the translations I have used are hedged in favor of smooth English and familiar syntax and so are not to be completely trusted. Only an impressionist comparison is possible, and the result, I think, is clear: that the letters of the seventh century B.C. are far more similar to our own consciousness than those of Hammurabi a thousand years earlier.

Damning Dietary Data

Below are some tweets from Nina Teicholz, the journalist who authored The Big Fat Surprise. Her book has pushed further the debate that Gary Taubes earlier helped bring out into public view.

Both of their writings are an eye-opening critique of how we got to this place of mass health catastrophe that, if it continues, will bankrupt and cripple our society. Healthcare costs are going up not only because of big biz exploitation but also because the American population has become more sickly. Most healthcare money now goes to chronic conditions that were rare in the past, and those costs are skyrocketing. This is trending toward disaster.

The graphed data she shares does one thing well. It clearly shows that, as she and others have written about, most Americans have been following the dietary guidelines given by mainstream authority figures, scientific institutions, and government agencies. Americans are eating more whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. This is true in terms of both percentage of calories and number of calories. We’ve been doing what we were told to do. How has that worked out? Not so well.

Furthermore, saturated fat consumption also decreased over this period (not included in graphs). In fact, it had been decreasing since the early 20th century, prior to the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and heart disease. This is corroborated by the fact no study has ever found a causal link between saturated fat and heart disease, despite probably trillions of dollars spent on researching diet and nutrition this past century. It’s not for a lack of trying to find such a causal link.

It turns out that the main proven causal link, that of sugar, was apparent in the earliest data. But interestingly, even sugar can’t be solely blamed for the sharp rise of chronic diseases over the past few generations. Teicholz points out that, “Sugar consumption has actually declined since 1999…so have refined grains.”

Then again, that was a small decline following a massive increase over the prior century. Keep in mind that Teicholz is only talking about added sugar. That leaves out the increase of foods that are naturally full of sugar such as fruit, especially considering that fruit has been developed to be higher in sugar than what was available in the past. Plus, that leaves out the entirety of how simple carbs in our modern diet have shot through the roof, and as far as the body is concerned they’re treated the same as sugar since they convert so easily.

Taken altogether, we are nowhere near the lower level of sugar and carb intake as seen in the early 1900s. And the consumption in the 1800s was so low that the pro-carb experts today warning about the dangers of low-carb diets should be surprised that the American population somehow survived and thrived, with a citizenry that by the end of the century was on average the tallest among countries where such data was kept. That in the 21st century our added sugar addiction has finally hit a plateau should offer no comfort.

About the graphs, this is one of the cases where the data does speak for itself. Not that it proves anything specifically. It simply shows what has changed in relation to what else has changed. Quite telling, though, in its potential implications. Obviously, the standard dietary ideology can’t explain this data. The ruling experts don’t even bother to try to explain it. Heck, they do their best to avoid even acknowledging it. This is inconvenient data, to say the least. But in their corporate corruption and hypocrisy, it doesn’t stop the powers that be to continue pushing the same diet with claims that eventually it will have the opposite effect. What they won’t allow in public debate is what are the real causes behind all of this. That is dangerous territory because then we’d have to tread upon the high-profit territory of processed foods.

* * *

* * *

On a related note, this might be the reason Anthony Warner is an “Angry Chef” in attacking “fad diets” and “bullshit”. That is to say anything other than the dominant paradigm.

I had noticed an earlier book by him, but his most recent book caused me to research him further. I was willing to take him seriously, up to the point when I saw in his book where he referred to Professor Tim Noakes as a “diet author”. Noakes is a top-rated researcher on diet and nutrition, the leading expert on the ketogenic diet in South Africa where he successfully defended himself in a government trial funded by millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the sin of having suggested a traditional foods diet to a pregnant woman. What are Warner’s credentials as an authority on diet and nutrition, well other than being a blogger and corporate shill? None.

A former anonymous blogger, Warner has admitted to being a corporate consultant and development cook for food manufacturers. With corporate money overflowing from his pockets, he unsurprisingly “goes to great lengths to absolve the food industry and its relentless marketing of processed food from playing any role in modern diet problems,” as it was put by Bee Wilson. Warner goes so far as to defend the besmirched name of sugar. From a Guardian article by Tim Lewis, he is quoted as saying,

The rhetoric that sugar is poison, it’s killing us, has become completely accepted… We’re told it’s just empty calories. Well, we kind of need calories to live. But a lot of people will read that and say, ‘He would say that. He works for a big cake manufacturer.’… Sugar has an enormous amount of energy and is one of the most important building blocks for life. But they say, “It has no nutritional value.” That makes absolutely no sense.

That is amusing. I never thought I’d see a defense of sugar. Even the most mainstream scientific institutions and governmental agencies no longer try to defend sugar, although they did so in the past and have been slow to change. It’s scientific consensus at this point, both within and outside the establishment, that sugar is bad for health and is empty of nutrition. Consistency, of course, is irrelevant in his line of work — as explained by Chris C. at The Low Carb Diabetic forum:

I’m just thinking how unintentionally ironic his fevered defence of sugar is. Since he and his dietician pals all believe in calories in calories out, surely a food “full of energy” is the last thing to recommend that fat people eat even in their world?

Warner must be getting paid very well. His corporate advocacy is one of the greatest examples of sophistry I’ve ever seen. There appears to be no big money food interest or food product he won’t defend — besides sugar: white bread, potato chips, processed meat, fast food, etc; pretty much anything and everything that comes out of a factory. As to be expected, he and his books get promoted on corporate media.

The Angry Chef can do as much damage control as he wants on behalf of corporations. Any informed person doesn’t care what a corporate shill has to say. And at this point, neither should anyone pay attention to dietary guidelines from governments that are no more reliable than corporate hackery. Besides, it’s become overwhelmingly clear that governments and corporations regularly collude, specifically when the profits of the food system are involved (See Marion Nestle, among others). We are left to inform ourselves as best we can.

* * *

The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee Gets The Spanking It Deserves
Tom Naughton

As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:

The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.

In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”

Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”

In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.

Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”

Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.

And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.

Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:

It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.

For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.

* * *

Unsavory Truth
by Marion Nestle
pp. 108-113

[US senator William] Proxmire was right about the [National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition] board’s ties to industry. Those were revealed in 1980 during a dispute over the first edition of the US dietary guidelines, which advised reductions in intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (meaning, in effect, meat, dairy, and eggs) to reduce the risk of heart disease. The board opposed the guideline so vehemently that it issued a counter-report, Toward Healthful Diets, arguing that fat restrictions were unnecessary for healthy people. This infuriated health advocates, who charged that at least six board members had financial ties to industries most affected by the guidelines. Sheldon Margen, a professor of public health at the University of California, for example, objected that “the board’s range of expertise is too narrow, its ties with industry too close to avoid the suspicions of bias, its mandate is too ill-defined, and its mode of operation too secret.” Others criticized the board’s support by an industry liaison committee whose members represented eighty food companies. The furor over the report so embarrassed the academy that it eliminated the industry panel, removed board members with strong ties to food companies, and appointed new members with fewer industry ties.

That was not the only instance of early concerns about conflicted committees. I asked Ken Fisher, who in the 1970s had directed the nongovernmental Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO), about his experience appointing committees to review the safety of food additives. In 1958, Congress had defined two categories of food additives: new chemicals that needed to be proven safe before they could go into the food supply and substances with a history of common use—sugar, salt, flavorings, and the like—that could be considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS). In the early 1970s, questions about the safety of GRAS additives led President Richard Nixon to direct the FDA to evaluate them, and the FDA commissioned the LSRO to conduct the reviews. The LSRO appointed committees to do this work and was immediately confronted with the problem of what to do about candidates with ties to companies making or using the additive under consideration.

The review committees eventually issued 151 evaluations of more than four hundred GRAS additives. In a report on this work, Fisher said that the LSRO required candidates to report grants, contracts, and consultancies, as well as investments and holdings.  It did not permit members with such ties to participate in discussions or vote on final decisions. Fisher told me that all members “were made aware of these conditions and all agreed—after some back and forth.” He recalled “one conflicted member, who of his own volition, absented himself from the vote on the decision.” He also recalled that committees “rejected several of the monographs on substances because they were incomplete and clearly biased in coverage of published positive or negative studies on certain substances.”

Fisher’s comments suggested that conflicts of interest only rarely caused problems with GRAS reviews. But in The Case Against Sugar (2016) the journalist Gary Taubes presented the GRAS review of sugar (sucrose) as highly conflicted. His book notes that the chair of the overall GRAS review process was George W. Irving Jr., a former head of the scientific advisory board of the International Sugar Research Foundation, and that the GRAS committee relied heavily on materials provided by the Sugar Association. The 1976 GRAS review concluded that “other than the contribution made to dental caries, there is no clear evidence in the available information on sucrose that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced.” According to Taubes, the Sugar Association took that to mean that “there is no substantiated scientific evidence indicating that sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, or any other malady.” He has harsh words for critics of the idea that sugars are harmful. “If you get a chance,” He advises, “ask about the GRAS Review Report. Odds are you won’t get an answer. Nothing stings in a nutritional liar like scientific facts.”

The FDA’s GRAS reviews still elicit concerns about conflicted interests. A 2013 analysis of the GRAS review process concludes that the industry ties of committee members not only threaten the integrity of GRAS reviews but also the integrity of the FDA’s entire scientific enterprise. In a commentary on that analysis, I pointed out that without independent review of GRAS additives, it is difficult to be confident that the ones in use are sage.

My question to Fisher about GRAS review committees had induced him to search through notes packed away for decades. Among them, he found memos indicating that Mike Jacobson had asked to have consumer representatives appointed to GRAS review committees, but, he said, “We opted not to do so as it would imply the other members of the [committees] were not consumers.” Fisher was referring to Michale Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whose concerns about conflicted advisory committee members also date back to the 1970s. Jacobson was arguing that if federal agencies insisted on permitting members with industry ties to serve on advisory committees, they should balance viewpoints with an equivalent number of consumer representatives.

Jacobson holds a doctorate in microbiology. He began his career working for Ralph Nader, cofounded CSPI in 1971, and retired as its director in 2017. CSPI’s purpose is to improve the American diet, and it continues to be the largest nonprofit organization engaged in advocacy for a broad range of nutrition issues, among them conflicts of interest caused by food industry sponsorship. I served on the CSPI board for about five years in the early 1990s, remain a member, and subscribe to its monthly Nutrition Action Health letter.

In 1976, Jacobson asked a member of Congress with a strong record of consumer advocacy, New York Democrat Benjamin Rosenthal, to help him survey the heads of university nutrition departments about their faculty’s ties to food corporations. Jacobson told me why he had done this: “It was so obvious to me that professors were touting their academic affiliations while shilling for food manufacturers and trade associations. I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to collect information about the matter.” Rosenthal introduced their report of the survey results, titled “Feeding at the Company Trough,” into the Congressional Record, with this blunt statement:

Nutritional and food science professors at Harvard, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Iowa and Massachusetts, and at many other prominent universities work closely and often secretly with food and chemical companies. Professors sit on the boards of directors, act as consultants, testify on behalf of industry at congressional hearings, and receive industry research grants. Many professors with corporate links also serve as “university” representatives on Federal advisory committees. . . . One can only come to the conclusion that industry grants, consulting fees and directorships are muzzling, if not prostituting nutrition and food science professors.

The report named names: it characterized Fred Stare, the head of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, as a “food-industry apologist,” but it also listed the industry ties to sixteen other eminent scientists, nearly all members of prestigious national committees issuing advice about nutrition and health. It proposed three strategies for countering conflicted interests: balance, disclosure, and new funding mechanisms. All merit comment from today’s perspective.

To achieve balance, they wanted consumer representatives to be appointed to nutrition advisory committees. This seems entirely rational, but in my experience federal agencies view experts who avoid industry ties on principle as too biased to appoint, especially if they state those principles publicly. I was a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory of Committee in 1995, but only because I had previously worked with the assistant secretary of health, Philip R. Lee, who insisted on my appointment. I served a s a consumer representative on two FDA advisory committees in the 1990s, Food Advisory and Science Advisory, but have not been asked to join another federal committee since the publication of Food Politics in 2002. The FDA’s current practice is to appoint one consumer representative to its committees, hardly enough to have much influence on decisions.

With respect to disclosure, the report comments on the failure of the named professors to state the full extent of their industry ties: “As long as collaboration with industry continues to be viewed by the academic community as ethical and respectable, it is important that the public know about potential sources of bias. . . . In such matters, respect for individual privacy must yield to society’s right to know.”

To help accomplish the third strategy, funding, the report raised the idea of a nonprofit, public interest group to “launder” industry contributions before they reach universities. But I doubt that such a group could maintain its objectivity if it depended on ongoing donations. I also doubt that companies would be willing provide ongoing support for research that might risk producing unfavorable results.

pp. 193-

[Founder of Harvard Department of Nutrition Fred] Stare ran into precisely the same difficulty faced by the Nutrition Foundation: the need to please donors to get ongoing support. For this reason, or perhaps because his personal beliefs coincided with those of his donors, eh was widely recognized as a nutrition scientist working on behalf of the food industry. His public statements consistently defended the American diet against suggestions that it might increase the risk of heart or other chronic disease. He, like officials of the Nutrition Foundation, could be counted on to state the industry position on matters of diet and health and to assure reporters and Congress that no scientific justification existed for advice to avoid food additives or eat less sugar.

We now know much more about the depth of Stare’s food-industry ties from documents that came to light in 2016 when Cristin Kearns and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco published an analysis of internal documents of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), the forerunner of today’s Sugar Association. The documents included letters between the SRF and Mark Hegsted, a faculty member in Stare’s Harvard department, about the SRF’s sponsorship of a research review on the effects of dietary carbohydrartes and fats on cardiovascular disease. The review, written by Stare, Hegsted, and antoher colleague, appeared in two parts in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The letters show that the SRF not only commissioned and paid for the review but also pressured the Harvard authors to exonerate sugar as a factor in heart disease, then and now the leading cause of death among Americans. Other documents from the mid-1960s demonstrate that the SRF withheld funding from studies suggesting that sugar might be harmful.

I wrote the editorial that accompanied

Obesity Mindset

There is a piece from The Atlantic about weight loss, The Weight I Carry. It’s written from a personal perspective. The author, Tommy Tomlinson, has been overweight his entire life. He describes what this has been like, specifically the struggle and failure in finding anything that worked. One has to give him credit for trying a wide range of diets.

It was sad to read for a number of reasons. But a point of interest was a comment he made about carbs: “I remember the first time carbohydrates were bad for you, back in the 1970s. The lunch counter at Woolworth’s in my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, sold a diet plate of a hamburger patty on a lettuce leaf with a side of cottage cheese. My mom and I stared at the picture on the menu like it was a platypus at the zoo. We pretended to care about carbs for a while. Mama even bought a little carbohydrate guide she kept in her pocketbook. It said biscuits and cornbread were bad for us. It didn’t stay in her pocketbook long.”

That is what I’ve read about. Into the 1970s, it was still well known that carbs were the main problem for many health problems, specifically weight gain. This was part of mainstream medical knowledge going back to the 1800s. It was an insight that once was considered common sense, back when most people lived on and around farms. Everyone used to know that how cattle were fattened for the slaughter was with a high-carb diet and so the way to lose weight was to decrease carbs. There was nothing controversial about this old piece of wisdom, that is until the government decreed the opposite to be true in their 1980s dietary recommendations.

The sad part is how, even as this guy knew of this wisdom, the context of understanding its significance was lost. He lacks an explanatory framework that can sift through all the bullshit. He writes that, “I’ve done low-fat and low-carb and low-calorie, high-protein and high-fruit and high-fiber. I’ve tried the Mediterranean and taken my talents to South Beach. I’ve shunned processed foods and guzzled enough SlimFast to drown a rhino. I’ve eaten SnackWell’s cookies (low-fat, tons of sugar) and chugged Tab (no sugar, tons of chemicals, faint whiff of kerosene). I’ve been told, at different times, that eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, and milk are all bad for you. I’ve also been told that each one of those things is an essential part of a healthy diet. My brain is fogged enough at breakfast. Don’t fuck with me like this.”

His frustration is palpable and reasonable. But I notice all that gets left out from his complaints. A low-carb diet by itself very well might feel impossible. If you aren’t replacing carbs with healthy fats and nutrient-dense whole foods, you will be trying to swim upstream. Carbs is used by the body as a fuel. Take it away and you better give the body a different fuel. And after a lifetime of nutrient deficiency as is common in modern industrialization, you’d be wise to rebuilding your nutritional foundations.

That is the failure of the deprivation model of diets. They eliminate without offering any good advice about what to add back in. The advantage of traditional foods and paleo is that they are less diets in this sense. They are simply seeking scientific knowledge based on how humans live in traditional communities in the world today and how humans have lived going back to the ancient world and beyond. The point is finding what naturally works for the human body, not forcing restrictions based on ideological demands. If a diet feels like a constant struggle, then you are doing something wrong. For most of human existence, the vast majority of individuals maintained a healthy body weight with no effort whatsoever. The epidemic of obesity is extremely and bizarrely abnormal. Obesity indicates something is seriously out of balance, specifically with insulin sensitivity and the related hormonal hunger signals. Deprivation simply antagonizes this state of disease.

We already know that the ketogenic diet is the most effective diet for weight loss. Not only in the losing part but also in maintaining one’s optimal weight. No other diet decreases hunger and eliminates cravings to the same extent. More generally, a recent study showed that a low-carb diet beat a low-fat diet in burning fat, even when protein and calories were exactly the same in both groups. This possibly indicates that, as some have speculated, a diet low enough in carbs may increase metabolism in burning more calories than one is consuming. Then when you reach your preferred weight, you can add back in some calories to attain an equilibrium. This is apparently the one thing the author didn’t try. He did try the South Beach diet, but it is only moderately low-carb and unfortunately is also low-fat, a bad combination — this diet, for example, recommends low-fat milk which is not only eliminating the needed fats but also the fat-soluble vitamins, especially in the form of dairy from cows that are pastured/grass-fed.

The author is trapped in the dominant paradigm. He doesn’t need to “Eat less and exercise.” And he recognizes this is bad advice, even as he can’t see an alternative. But he should look a bit further outside the mainstream. On a ketogenic diet, many people can lose weight while eating high levels of calories and not exercising. It’s more of a matter of what you eat than how much, although in some cases where there are serious health problems as is typical with lifelong obesity more emphasis might need to be given to exercise and such. But the point is to find foods that are satisfying without overeating, which generally means healthy fats. Your body gets hungry for a reason and, if you don’t feed it what it needs, it will remain hungry. Calorie counting and portion control won’t likely help anyone with long term weight issues. It will just make them frustrated and hangry, and for good reason. But when the old patterns repeatedly fail, it is best to try something new. Sadly, the author’s conclusion is to more fully commit to the old way of thinking. His chances of success are next to zero, as long as he continues on this path.

It’s an obesity mindset. The individual blames himself, rather than blaming the bad advice. He just needs more self-control and less gluttony. This time, he tells himself, it will work. I doubt it. I hope he doesn’t spend the rest of his life on this endless treadmill of self-defeat and self-blame. Life doesn’t need to be so difficult. Rather than losing weight, he should focus on what it takes to be and feel healthy. But it is hard to convince someone of that when their entire identity has become entangled with obesity itself, with their appearance as judged by the same society that gave the bad advice.

* * *

The Weight I Carry
What it’s like to be too big in America

by Tommy Tomlinson

I remember the first time carbohydrates were bad for you, back in the 1970s. The lunch counter at Woolworth’s in my hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, sold a diet plate of a hamburger patty on a lettuce leaf with a side of cottage cheese. My mom and I stared at the picture on the menu like it was a platypus at the zoo. We pretended to care about carbs for a while. Mama even bought a little carbohydrate guide she kept in her pocketbook. It said biscuits and cornbread were bad for us. It didn’t stay in her pocketbook long.

I’ve done low-fat and low-carb and low-calorie, high-protein and high-fruit and high-fiber. I’ve tried the Mediterranean and taken my talents to South Beach. I’ve shunned processed foods and guzzled enough SlimFast to drown a rhino. I’ve eaten SnackWell’s cookies (low-fat, tons of sugar) and chugged Tab (no sugar, tons of chemicals, faint whiff of kerosene). I’ve been told, at different times, that eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, and milk are all bad for you. I’ve also been told that each one of those things is an essential part of a healthy diet. My brain is fogged enough at breakfast. Don’t fuck with me like this.

Here are the two things I have come to believe about diets:

1. Almost any diet works in the short term.
2. Almost no diets work in the long term.

The most depressing five-word Google search I can think of—and I can think of a lot of depressing five-word Google searches—is gained all the weight back. Losing weight is not the hard part. The hard part is living with your diet for years, maybe the rest of your life.

When we go on a diet—especially a crash diet—our own bodies turn against us. Nutritional studies have shown that hunger-suppressing hormones in our bodies dwindle when we lose weight. Other hormones—the ones that warn us we need to eat—tend to rise. Our bodies beg us to gorge at the first sign of deprivation. This makes sense when you think about the history of humankind. There were no Neanderthal foodies. They ate to survive. They went hungry for long stretches. Their bodies sent up alarms telling them they’d better find something to eat. Our DNA still harbors a fear that we’ll starve. But now most of us have access to food that is more abundant, cheaper, and more addictive than at any other time in human history. Our bodies haven’t caught up to the modern world. Our cells think we’re storing up fat for a hard winter when actually it’s just happy hour at Chili’s.

Even worse, when people succeed at losing a lot of weight, their bodies slam on the brakes of their metabolism. […] Other studies had already shown that the body’s metabolism slows down as people lose weight, which means they have to eat fewer and fewer calories to keep losing. But this study showed that, for the contestants who lost weight quickly, their metabolism kept slowing even when they started gaining weight again. Basically, however fat they had been, that’s what their bodies wanted them to be. […]

“Eat less and exercise.”

That’s what some of you are saying right now. That’s what some of you have said the whole time you’ve been reading. That’s what some of you say—maybe not out loud, but you say it—every time you see a fat person downing fried eggs in a diner, or overstuffing a bathing suit on the beach, or staring out from one of those good-lord-what-happened-to-her? stories in the gossip magazines.

“Eat less and exercise.”

What I want you to understand, more than anything else, is that telling a fat person “Eat less and exercise” is like telling a boxer “Don’t get hit.”

You act as if there’s not an opponent.

Losing weight is a fucking rock fight. The enemies come from all sides: The deluge of marketing telling us to eat worse and eat more. The culture that has turned food into one of the last acceptable vices. Our families and friends, who want us to share in their pleasure. Our own body chemistry, dragging us back to the table out of fear that we’ll starve.

On top of all that, some of us fight holes in our souls that a boxcar of donuts couldn’t fill.

My compulsion to eat comes from all those places. I’m almost never hungry in the physical sense. But I’m always craving an emotional high, the kind that comes from making love, or being in the crowd for great live music, or watching the sun come up over the ocean. And I’m always wanting something to counter the low, when I’m anxious about work or arguing with family or depressed for reasons I can’t understand.

There are radical options for people like me. There are boot camps where I could spend thousands of dollars to have trainers whip me into shape. There are crash diets and medications with dangerous side effects. And, of course, there is weight-loss surgery. Several people I know have done it. Some say it saved them. Others had life-threatening complications. A few are just as miserable as they were before. I don’t judge any people who try to find their own way. I speak only for myself here: For me, surgery feels like giving up. I know that the first step of 12-step programs is admitting that you’re powerless over your addiction. But I don’t feel powerless yet.

My plan is to lose weight in a simple, steady, sustainable way. I’ll count how many calories I eat and how many I burn. If I end up on the right side of the line at the end of the day, that’s a win. I’ll be like an air mattress with a slow leak, fooling my body into thinking I’m not on a diet at all. And one day, a few years down the road, I’ll wake up and look in the mirror and think: I got there.

Iowa Senator Zach Wahls

“I’m a registered Democrat, but am not opposed to voting for intellectually honest Republicans. My biggest frustration with politicians is not about specific policies, usually, but about whether or not the politicians are being honest about what those policies will do, why they are presenting those policies, etc. Way too much of our policy making is about emotionally-charged and intellectually dishonest claims instead of real world problem solving. Any politician with the courage to put forward solutions–that actually solve problems, even if they’re unpopular–is worth consideration in my book.”
~Zach Wahls (from an interview by Michael Hulshof-Schmidt)

My fellow Iowa Citian Zach Wahls was elected to the Iowa Senate. I don’t know him personally, but I know of his family. The church he grew up in and remains a member of, the local Unitarian Universalist, I attended for a period of time back in the early Aughts. He was was a young kid at the time, having been born in 1991. I’m sure I saw him and his family around the place and around the community, as it is a fairly small town. He still is young for a politician, at 27 years old.

This particular upbringing surely shaped his worldview. He was raised by two mothers, that likely being a major reason his family went to the UU church, as it is well known as a bastion of liberalism. Unitarian Universalism, along with closely related deism, has its roots in Enlightenment thought and was originally popularized in the United States by a number of revolutionaries and founders. In 1822, Thomas Jefferson predicted that “there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian.” He was a bit off in his prediction. But as Zach Wahls election demonstrates, this religious tradition remains a force within American society.

Senator Wahls first became politically involved by writing for his high school newspaper and continued his journalistic interests later on through a local newspaper. On a large stage, he first came to political and public attention in 2011 through a speech he gave on the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. It was in defense of same sex marriage, and interestingly was an expression of a uniquely Iowan attitude that emphasizes community and citizenship, hard work and family values but not in the sense of the fundamentalist culture wars. That speech went viral and was widely reported in the mainstream media. He was interviewed on some popular shows. That opened doors for him. He gave another speech at the 2012 Democrat National Convention and he was a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So, his being in the limelight began not that many years ago. His mother, Dr. Terry Wahls, initially was more well known than him. She wrote some books over the past decade about how she reversed the symptoms of multiple sclerosis in herself, in her patients and in the subjects of clinical studies; with her initial book having been published in 2010, a short while before her son’s first major speech. Although a mainstream medical doctor, she is popular in the field of alternative diet and health. She is among a growing number of doctors, researchers, and experts who have challenged the problems and failures of our present healthcare system. It is unsurprising that her son while campaigning for the Iowa Senate seat promised, among other things, to reform healthcare.

It remains to be seen what kind of politician he will be. As with Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez, he is fresh blood from a generation just now entering the political arena. But he grew up ensconced in a liberal class bubble and appears to fall prey to some of its biases. It doesn’t go without notice that he was such a major supporter of Hillary Clinton, rather than Bernie Sanders, not that I know he ever attacked or spoke badly of Sanders. Still, he comes across as a fairly mainstream Democrat with some mild progressive leanings. He might be ahead of the game, though.

Clinton and Obama didn’t support same sex marriage until recent years, long after they had built their political careers, and long after the majority of Americans were already in favor of same sex marriage. Those old Democrats are used to playing it safe by making sure to remain to the right of public opinion and inching left only when public demand forces them to. Zach Wahls, on the other hand, grew up with same sex marriage as the norm of his entire reality. He began defending it in articles published in his high school newspaper. The old school Blue Dog Democrats have roots in Southern conservatism, established by the Southern Evangelical Jimmy Carter and more fully entrenched by Bill Clinton who also was a born-and-bred Southerner. Senator Wahls, however, formed his worldview in the heart of liberal progressivism, situated in a Northern town alien to Southern culture and politics. He takes the political left for granted as the starting point and so, even as part of mainstream politics, he is pushing the Overton window further back to the left again.

Young and idealistic, Senator Wahls enters the political fray right at the moment when the American public is being radicalized and reform is in the air. This might elicit the better angels of his nature. It might be easier for reform to take hold now when the majority of Americans are behind it. More importantly, he is bringing with him genuine knowledge of the issues, knowledge built on personal experience and so with personal stakes. The civil rights angle is important, whether in terms of same sex marriage or other things. But to my mind, more important is healthcare reform, as it touches on the nerve of populism. His mother, if she hadn’t turned to alternative health to treat her multiple sclerosis, would now at best be wheelchair-bound and at worst already dead. She did this after conventional medicine was unable to help her. So, Senator Wahls understands the failure of the system in an intimate way and he understands the kinds of concrete changes that need to happen.

As an Iowan, I’ll be watching him closely. The more infamous Iowa politician, Steve King, appears to be on the decline in his position within the Washington establishment. The older generation is losing its grip on power and the younger generation is clamoring to replace them. Senator Wahls, in particular, seems like a new breed of Democrat. I wish him well.

The Embodied Spider

There is more to embodied cognition than that neurocogntion happens within and inseparably from the body. We are bodies. And our bodies are of the world, one might say they are the world, the only world we can comprehend (com- ‘together’ + prehendere ‘grasp’). That is simple enough. But what kind of embodied beings are we with what kind of embodied experience?

How we exist within our bodies… how we hold our physical form… how we position ourselves in relation to the world… how we inhabit our extended selves… All of this and more determines our way of being, what we perceive, think, and do, what we can imagine. It is through our bodies that we manage our lived reality. And it is through our bodies that we are managed by the forces and patterns of society and environment, the affordances of structured existence forming our habitus and worldview. Maybe epigenetically carried across generations and centuries.

We are spiders in webs of our own making but webs we don’t so much see as through which we perceive, as if strands connecting us to the world to such an extent that it is unclear who is the puppet and who the puppetmaster. Social constructivism points toward a greater truth of webbed realism, of what we sense and know in our entanglement. As we are embodied, so we are embedded. Our identities extend into the world, which means the other extends back into us. One part shifts and the rest follows.

* * *

The World Shifts When a Black Widow Squats
by Ed Yong

“The widow’s abilities are part of a concept called “embodied cognition,” which argues that a creature’s ability to sense and think involves its entire body, not just its brain and sense organs. Octopus arms, for example, can grab and manipulate food without ever calling on the central brain. Female crickets can start turning toward the sound of a male using only the ears and neurons in their legs, well before their central nervous system even has a chance to process the noise. In the case of the black widow, the information provided by the sense organs in the legs depends on the position of the entire animal.

“Earlier, I described this as a postural squint. That’s close, but the analogy isn’t quite right, since squinting helps us focus on particular parts of space. Here, the spider is focusing on different parts of information space. It’s as if a human could focus on red colors by squatting, or single out high-pitched sounds by going into downward dog (or downward spider).

“The ability to sense vibrations that move through solid surfaces, as distinct from sounds that travel through air, is “an often overlooked aspect of animal communication,” says Beth Mortimer from the University of Oxford, who studies it in creatures from elephants to spiders. It’s likely, then, that the widow’s ability to control perception through posture “almost certainly [exists in] other spiders and web types, too, and other arthropods, including insects, that detect vibrations along surfaces through their legs.” Scientists just need to tune in.”