A short-lived call for unity shelved for political barbs
By JONATHAN LEMIRE and KEN THOMAS
Friday, October 26
WASHINGTON (AP) — It didn’t last.
With the country on edge over a widening pipe-bomb scare, talk of national unity quickly gave way to finger-pointing. President Donald Trump cast blame on the media for fomenting anger in society, while candidates across the country traded partisan broadsides.
Less than two weeks before midterm elections, the discovery of pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats — an episode that might have prompted national reflection in another era — hardly made a ripple on the campaign trail. Attack ads remained on the air. Attack lines stayed in stump speeches. The president did not deliver a speech from the Oval Office or reach out to his predecessor, one of the targets of the threat. He did return to his favorite punching bag.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Trump continued the rhetoric overnight, tweeting just after 3 a.m. Friday that CNN and others were blaming him, saying they were “ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘it’s just not Presidential!’”
CNN was among the targets of the mail bomb plot. While stopping short of blaming Trump’s rhetoric for inspiring the attacks, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, contended there was a “total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.”
Trump’s reaction was more evidence of the politics of the moment, in which unity is overrated, a news cycle moves on fast and there seems to be little incentive for either major political party to seize the high road. Instead, what might have been a moment for a deeply divided country to come together becomes the latest fodder for Democrats and Republicans to blame each other for America’s shortcomings.
Aides at the national Democratic and Republican Senate campaign arms said they were seeing nothing to suggest candidates were adjusting their messages or schedules because of the explosives scare. But many candidates were beginning to move into their closing election messages, which are typically more positive.
Indiana Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun was airing a new ad equating Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly to one of the inflatable dancing devices used to attract attention at car dealerships, describing him as a “say-anything, do-nothing senator.”
Other candidates, such as Wisconsin’s Republican Senate candidate Leah Vukmir and the Democratic senator she’s trying to unseat, Tammy Baldwin, were plowing ahead as well. Vukmir linked Baldwin to Hillary Clinton on Wednesday amid chants of “Lock her up!” at an evening rally with Trump. Baldwin was planning to go ahead with an event Friday with former President Barack Obama in Milwaukee.
Some Trump critics have blamed him for setting a harsh tone and not taking responsibility for contributing to the poisonous political atmosphere.
“Nobody else is being as divisive and inciteful as Donald Trump and so to suggest otherwise is completely wrong,” said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is considering a 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. “We wouldn’t even be having this conversation with any other president, Republican or Democrat, because they would be big enough to avoid this kind of hateful and inciteful rhetoric.”
Trump on Thursday had yet to call Obama or Clinton about the packages sent their way, but he had spoken to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, the state where many of the packages were delivered.
Trump has insisted that those on the right have been victims of harassment as well, pointing to high-profile incidents in which conservatives have been accosted in restaurants and public spaces by political critics. A number of his allies, including his eldest son, Donald Jr., and conservative commentator Lou Dobbs, have used social media to promote the idea that the bombs may be a Democrat-run hoax.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted in Trump’s defense: “I didn’t blame Bernie Sanders when a Bernie supporter shot Congressman Steve Scalise. And I’m not going to blame President realDonaldTrump for this nut job.”
That was a reference to the 2017 shooting that badly injured Scalise and others. The gunman, James Hodgkinson, had posted social media messages suggesting he targeted Republicans.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called it “disgraceful” to suggest the president bears any responsibility for the packages sent to his opponents. She told reporters Thursday that there’s a big difference between “comments made and actions taken.” She, too, cited the Scalise shooting.
Asked whether the president intended to tone down his rhetoric and personal attacks, she said the president would “continue to lay out the case in the differences between Democrats and Republicans” ahead of the midterm elections next month.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Juana Summers in Washington, Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire and Thomas at http://twitter.com/KThomasDC
Opinion: The Pipe Bomb Panic — Partisan Violence or Partisan Press?
By Michael Graham
To understand why American conservatives are uncomfortable with the conversation over rhetoric and political violence inspired by the recent pipe-bomb panic, consider the cases of John Hinkley and Jared Lee Loughner.
If you think Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan in the name of partisan politics, you’re probably a nut. But if you think Loughner gunned down Democrat Rep. Gabby Giffords and 12 others on behalf of right-wing Republicanism, there’s a good chance you work in a newsroom.
Loughner was a paranoid schizophrenic with no known partisan affiliations who believed, among other bizarre notions, that grammar rules were a government attempt at mind control.
And yet his shooting has been repeatedly invoked by news outlets and liberal pundits as an example of right-wing violence.
The debate over partisan rhetoric and its dangers has turned into a media version of “heads I win, tails you lose.” When the violence is committed by people on the Right — the current working assumption about the disturbing devices being sent to prominent liberal figures — the media demand, “What is the Right going to do about its dangerous rhetoric?” And when the violence comes from the Left, at a campus riot over a conservative speaker or an assassination attempt targeting the GOP congressional baseball practice?
Despite having no information about the person sending the pipe bombs or his/her motives, the press have labeled the perpetrator the “MAGA Bomber.” The day after the bomb-like devices began appearing in mailboxes, National Public Radio asked, “Should We Blame Trump For The Pipe Bomb Wave?”
The day after a deranged Bernie Sanders supporter shot up the GOP baseball practice, NPR’s “On Point” featured a discussion on “Civil Society Under Fire,” a discussion dominated by complaints about angry commentary on “right-wing talk radio.”
After the Gabby Giffords shooting, conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, author of book “Liberal Fascism,” wrote:
“Many proud liberals, not to mention dedicated journalists, see no problem with fueling a mass panic over our ‘political discourse.’ The fact that liberal rhetoric and images are often just as “extreme” is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is any violence that might be linked to such rhetoric. These critics’ aim is simply to exploit this horror as an opportunity to yell ‘shut up’ at their political opponents.”
That has certainly been the case with President Donald Trump, who has been repeatedly blamed by the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, etc. for the bomb-like devices that inspired this week’s panic — despite the fact that nobody knows who sent them or why.
Conservatives are quick to point out that the New York Times runs headlines like “Pipe Bombs Sent to Figures Vilified by Political Right,” but never runs similar headlines when violence or riots target people vilified by the Left. In the wake of the pipe bomb scare, CNN went so far as to post the on-screen message “Trump Has No Plans To Claim Any Personal Responsibility For Inciting Serial Bomber.”
And when it comes to political violence in the United StaTES, it’s not the “politics” that is new. It’s the partisanship.
“This is an important distinction,” David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers tells InsideSources. “The violence we saw in the 1960s, the revolutionary violence we saw with Weathermen and other groups in the ’60s tended to be directed at the system, at the government, not a particular political party.”
“JFK was assassinated, not by a right-wing fanatic, but a pro-Castro Communist,” Greenberg notes. “Yes, there was a lot of heated rhetoric in Dallas in 1963, but it had nothing to do with Lee Harvey Oswald.” And opponents of the Vietnam War were just as angry at President Johnson — one of America’s most liberal presidents — as they were at President Nixon. “Demonstrators not only chanted ‘Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?,’ they also accosted officials of his administration when they set out in public,” Greenberg said.
Similarly, the violence of segregationists in the Deep South, which could be considered of the Right, was waged entirely by Democrats and didn’t differentiate based on partisan politics. Martin Luther King Jr. was not assassinated in the name of a political party. In fact, none of the high-profile assassinations of the 1960s — JFK, MLK or RFK — fit the partisan template of today.
So is America living through another moment of political violence as dangerous as the 1960s?
“No,” Greenberg said. “It’s not as dire as the 1960s. You don’t see hundreds of bombings in a single year like we did in the 1970s.” Still, he’s worried about where our politics is headed.
“A lot of the books about the ’60s have titles like ‘The Unraveling of America,’ and ‘America Coming Apart,’ so worrying about rhetoric is nothing new. What’s different is Donald Trump. Even Nixon, who was a criminal, was committed to a certain order, to upholding our civil norms in a way the Donald Trump is not.”
Trump opponents argue that the president’s behavior is ripping apart society and setting people from both sides of the political aisle against each other. Trump supporters respond that the battle was already on, being waged from the Left, and that Trump is simply fighting back.
The media want to be seen as a neutral arbiter of the national debate. But when the New York Times runs a piece of fiction fantasizing about assassinating President Trump on the same day they’re covering the pipe-bomb panic, it’s hard for conservatives to take this claim seriously.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Graham is political editor of NH Journal. He’s also a CBS News contributor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate
October 25, 2018
Frank M. Mitloehner
Professor of Animal Science and Air Quality Extension Specialist, University of California, Davis
Frank M. Mitloehner receives funding from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it.
A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.
My research focuses on ways in which animal agriculture affects air quality and climate change. In my view, there are many reasons for either choosing animal protein or opting for a vegetarian selection. However, foregoing meat and meat products is not the environmental panacea many would have us believe. And if taken to an extreme, it also could have harmful nutritional consequences.
Setting the record straight on meat and greenhouse gases
A healthy portion of meat’s bad rap centers on the assertion that livestock is the largest source of greenhouse gases worldwide. For example, a 2009 analysis published by the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute asserted that 51 percent of global GHG emissions come from rearing and processing livestock.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest sources of U.S. GHG emissions in 2016 were electricity production (28 percent of total emissions), transportation (28 percent) and industry (22 percent). All of agriculture accounted for a total of 9 percent. All of animal agriculture contributes less than half of this amount, representing 3.9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s very different from claiming livestock represents as much or more than transportation.
Why the misconception? In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a study titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which received widespread international attention. It stated that livestock produced a staggering 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The agency drew a startling conclusion: Livestock was doing more to harm the climate than all modes of transportation combined.
This latter claim was wrong, and has since been corrected by Henning Steinfeld, the report’s senior author. The problem was that FAO analysts used a comprehensive life-cycle assessment to study the climate impact of livestock, but a different method when they analyzed transportation.
For livestock, they considered every factor associated with producing meat. This included emissions from fertilizer production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death.
However, when they looked at transportation’s carbon footprint, they ignored impacts on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports. Instead, they only considered the exhaust emitted by finished cars, trucks, trains and planes. As a result, the FAO’s comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock to those from transportation was greatly distorted.
I pointed out this flaw during a speech to fellow scientists in San Francisco on March 22, 2010, which led to a flood of media coverage. To its credit, the FAO immediately owned up to its error. Unfortunately, the agency’s initial claim that livestock was responsible for the lion’s share of world greenhouse gas emissions had already received wide coverage. To this day, we struggle to “unring” the bell.
In its most recent assessment report, the FAO estimated that livestock produces 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. There is no comparable full life-cycle assessment for transportation. However, as Steinfeld has pointed out, direct emissions from transportation versus livestock can be compared and amount to 14 versus 5 percent, respectively.
Giving up meat won’t save the climate
Many people continue to think avoiding meat as infrequently as once a week will make a significant difference to the climate. But according to one recent study, even if Americans eliminated all animal protein from their diets, they would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by only 2.6 percent. According to our research at the University of California, Davis, if the practice of Meatless Monday were to be adopted by all Americans, we’d see a reduction of only 0.5 percent.
Moreover, technological, genetic and management changes that have taken place in U.S. agriculture over the past 70 years have made livestock production more efficient and less greenhouse gas-intensive. According to the FAO’s statistical database, total direct greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. livestock have declined 11.3 percent since 1961, while production of livestock meat has more than doubled.
Demand for meat is rising in developing and emerging economies, with the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia leading the way. But per capita meat consumption in these regions still lags that of developed countries. In 2015, average annual per capita meat consumption in developed countries was 92 kilograms, compared to 24 kilograms in the Middle East and North Africa and 18 kilograms in Southeast Asia.
Still, given projected population growth in the developing world, there will certainly be an opportunity for countries such as the United States to bring their sustainable livestock rearing practices to the table.
The value of animal agriculture
Removing animals from U.S. agriculture would lower national greenhouse gas emissions to a small degree, but it would also make it harder to meet nutritional requirements. Many critics of animal agriculture are quick to point out that if farmers raised only plants, they could produce more pounds of food and more calories per person. But humans also need many essential micro- and macronutrients for good health.
It’s hard to make a compelling argument that the United States has a calorie deficit, given its high national rates of adult and child obesity. Moreover, not all plant parts are edible or desirable. Raising livestock is a way to add nutritional and economic value to plant agriculture.
As one example, the energy in plants that livestock consume is most often contained in cellulose, which is indigestible for humans and many other mammals. But cows, sheep and other ruminant animals can break cellulose down and release the solar energy contained in this vast resource. According to the FAO, as much as 70 percent of all agricultural land globally is range land that can only be utilized as grazing land for ruminant livestock.
The world population is currently projected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050. Feeding this many people will raise immense challenges. Meat is more nutrient-dense per serving than vegetarian options, and ruminant animals largely thrive on feed that is not suitable for humans. Raising livestock also offers much-needed income for small-scale farmers in developing nations. Worldwide, livestock provides a livelihood for 1 billion people.
Climate change demands urgent attention, and the livestock industry has a large overall environmental footprint that affects air, water and land. These, combined with a rapidly rising world population, give us plenty of compelling reasons to continue to work for greater efficiencies in animal agriculture. I believe the place to start is with science-based facts.
Vegetarian or Vegan Diet: Key To Personal and Environmental Health?
Vegetables May Just Be The Answer To Our Environmental Woes
By Kate Harveston October 12, 2018
Environmentalists work to improve the sustainability of the human impact on earth by advocating for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, protection of biodiversity and conservation of natural resources. Often, we think only of the environmental impacts of enterprises like industry, energy production, construction. These are all areas of great concern. But what if another important piece of the puzzle was missing?
Perhaps we imagine farmers as stewards of the land and thus forget to factor in their importance to the health of our ecosystem. It’s true that many farmers take environmental responsibility seriously. But it’s also true that food production contributes to environmental issues like climate change and resource depletion more than we might like to think.
As environmentalists, we should consider not only what we do but also what we eat. Not all dietary choices are equal when it comes to the environment.
The Environmental Impact of Meat Production and Consumption
In some communities around the world, keeping animals provides household food security during difficult times. However, as demand for animal products has grown in industrialized countries, farming animals is often no longer a family affair. Instead, industrial farming complexes raise as many animals as possible as “efficiently” as possible for widespread sale and consumption.
When we say “efficient” though, we mean cost-efficient, not resource efficient. Quite contrary, meat production is extremely resource inefficient. Beef is particularly costly. Beef requires 160 times more land to produce than plant staples like wheat, rice and potatoes, according to one study. It’s the most resource-intensive of all varieties of livestock, in fact. Producing just one hamburger takes 2500 liters of water.
The cost becomes even greater when you recognize that producing animal feed for meat production takes valuable land and resources away from other agriculture for even less caloric payoff. People dedicate some 80 percent of worldwide agricultural land to growing animal feed. Not all those calories make it back to humans. Some people fear that over-reliance on meat may affect our ability to provide for a growing global population.
In addition to use of valuable resources, raising animals for consumption also contributes to climate change. When ruminants like cows digest food, they release copious amounts of the greenhouse gas methane. Though methane disperses quicker than carbon dioxide, it also has a higher warming potential in the atmosphere, so it’s an environmental concern on par with fossil fuel emissions. Raising livestock on its own isn’t a bad thing, but problems do arise with wasteful overproduction.
Globally, livestock accounts for between 14.5 and 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not a number that’s easy to swallow, especially if you’re already concerned about the effect climate change may be having on the planet and on human lives.
Vegetarianism and Veganism as a Solution?
Preventing the negative environmental impacts associated with raising excessive numbers of livestock starts with changing individual diets, especially since government subsidies in the U.S. currently keep livestock industries afloat.
In one study, both vegetarian and vegan diets had reduced carbon, water and ecological footprints when compared to diets including meat. So, for environmentalists looking to make a direct impact, these dietary choices could be the way to go.
Going vegan or vegetarian doesn’t have to be difficult. Contrary to popular belief, animal products aren’t essential to a healthy diet as long as other options are available. By following a few of these simple guidelines, beginners can make the switch to a more environmentally friendly diet:
1. Know Your Nutritional Needs — When switching to a new diet, you need to find replacement sources for the nutrients in the foods you’re cutting out. For example, you may replace meat protein with sources of plant protein like nuts, beans or seeds. Consult with a doctor to learn what nutrients you need and how you can get them.
2. Transition Slowly — Going vegan or vegetarian to help the environment isn’t about being perfect. Instead, it’s about reducing how much you rely on animal products in your overall diet. Eliminate foods you won’t miss and slowly work up to others. Any effort you make is better than no effort.
3. Search for Alternatives — Meat-eating pervades our culture. However, there are many environmentally friendly options available nowadays. Technology has allowed us to create plant-based foods that taste similar to meat and dairy products without the same negative environmental impact. Do your research and find food alternatives with lower carbon footprints to satisfy your cravings.
Veganism won’t solve all of the world’s problems. However, it could be a step in the right direction for many. By reducing demand for animal products, you can help limit greenhouse gas emissions and free up important resources for more productive forms of agriculture. If nothing else, try to buy your animal products from local, ethical farmers. They are less likely to participate in wasteful, cruel overproduction of animal products.
Should vegans avoid avocados and almonds?
October 12, 2018
Author: Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Ethics, University of Oxford
Disclosure statement: Dominic Wilkinson receives funding from the Wellcome Trust.
Partners: University of Oxford provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
A video recently doing the rounds on Facebook included a segment from the BBC comedy quiz show QI. The video asks which of avocados, almonds, melon, kiwi or butternut squash are suitable for vegans. The answer, at least according to QI, is none of them.
Commercial farming of those vegetables, at least in some parts of the world, often involves migratory beekeeping. In places such as California, there are not enough local bees or other pollinating insects to pollinate the massive almond orchards. Bee hives are transported on the back of large trucks between farms – they might go from almond orchards in one part of the US then on to avocado orchards in another, and later to sunflower fields in time for summer.
Vegans avoid animal products. For strict vegans this means avoiding honey because of the exploitation of bees. That seems to imply that vegans should also avoid vegetables like avocados that involve exploiting bees in their production.
Is that right? Should vegans forego their avocado on toast?
The revelation that avocados might not be “vegan-friendly” could seem to be a reductio ad absurdum of the ethical vegan argument. Some people might point to this and claim that those who are vegan but still consume avocados (or almonds and the like) are hypocrites. Alternatively, this sort of news might lead some people to throw up their hands at the impossibility of living a truly vegan diet, and so to give up. Pass me the foie gras someone …
However, one initial defence for vegans is that this is only a problem for certain vegetables that are produced commercially on a large scale and which are dependent on migratory beekeeping. In places such as the UK, this practice is still (as far as I can tell) uncommon. Locally sourced butternut squash would probably be fine (although you could never guarantee a bee kept in a hive hadn’t pollinated a crop), while avocados and almonds (including most almond milk) sourced from California might be a problem.
Another answer might depend on someone’s view about the moral status of insects. Commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees. Transporting bees to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. But some may question whether bees are capable of suffering in the same way as animals, while others may wonder whether bees are self-aware – whether they have a desire to continue to live. If they do not, some philosophers argue that they would not be harmed by being killed (others, such as Gary Francione, would beg to differ).
Depends on your ethical rationale
The more important general response is that whether or not migratory beekeeping is a problem depends on your ethical rationale for being vegan.
Some vegans have a non-consequentialist justification for being vegan – they wish to avoid acting immorally through their diet. This could be based on something like the Kantian rule of avoiding using another sentient being as a means to an end. Or they may have a rights-based view, according to which animals (including bees) are rights holders. Any amount of rights violation is wrong under this view – it is simply not ethically permissible to use bees as slaves.
Other vegans choose not to eat meat or other animal products for consequentialist reasons – they wish to minimise animal suffering and killing. This ethical argument might also have trouble with migratory beekeeping. While the amount of suffering experienced by an individual bee is probably small, this would be magnified by the very large number of insects potentially affected (31 billion honeybees in the Californian almond orchards alone). A vegan who chooses to eat almonds or avocados is not doing what would most reduce animal suffering.
However, a different, (perhaps more practical) ethical rationale that might underlie a decision to go vegan is the wish to reduce the animal suffering and killing and environmental impact involved in food production. Migratory beekeeping also has negative environmental effects, for example, through the spread of disease and effect on native honeybee populations
Taking this view, dietary choices that reduce animal exploitation are still valuable even if some animal exploitation would still occur. After all, there is a need to draw a line somewhere. When we make choices about our diet, we a need to balance the effort we expend against the impact on our daily life. The same applies when we make choices about how much we should donate to charity, or how much effort we should make to reduce water consumption, energy use, or CO₂ emissions.
One ethical theory for how resources should be distributed is sometimes called “sufficientarianism”. Briefly, it is the idea that resources should be shared out in a way that is not perfectly equal, and may not maximise happiness, but at least ensures that everyone has a basic minimum – has enough. In another area of ethics, there is sometimes discussion of the idea that the aim of parenting is not to be the perfect parent (we all fail at that), but to be a “good enough” parent.
Taking a similar “sufficientarian” approach to the ethics of avoiding animal products, the aim is not to be absolutely vegan, or maximally vegan, but to be sufficiently vegan – to make as much effort as feasible to reduce harm to animals for the sake of our diet – we could call this a “vegantarian” diet. For some people this may mean choosing to avoid Californian avocados, but others may find their personal ethical balance at a different point. What is more, accepting and embracing all these variations may provide room for more people to adopt or sustain a vegan lifestyle.
Pass me the avo on toast, someone.
Time and money – the biggest hurdles to healthy eating
October 8, 2018
Author: Tiff-Annie Kenny, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Ottawa
Disclosure statement: Tiff-Annie Kenny does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Philippe Couillard, the freshly defeated Quebec premier, made headlines during the election campaign when he suggested a family of three — comprised of one adult and two adolescents — could feed themselves for $75 a week.
That figure is less than half the minimum cost (between $168 to $207) of a nutritionally adequate diet for a family of this size, according to the Montreal Diet Dispensary.
While Couillard eventually conceded that it “would not be a varied menu,” would require strict bargain-hunting, supplementing with food banks and would be “almost a full-time job,” he stood by his statement.
Diet quality, health linked to social status
Research shows that in developed countries, more affluent and educated people tend to consume higher-quality diets — including more fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains.
Conversely, socioeconomically disadvantaged people report diets that are nutrient-poor and energy-dense, replete with foods like pasta, potatoes, table sugar, fried foods and processed meats. They are less likely to have food-purchasing habits that conform to public health recommendations.
These dietary disparities are often accompanied by higher rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease — conditions linked to diet — among lower-income people.
This inverse relationship between social class and diet quality and health is extensively documented. However, the research does not explain why this is the case — a question that has significant implications for designing effective policies and initiatives to improve diets and prevent chronic disease.
Public health & prejudice
Public-health initiatives to promote healthy diets often focus on providing nutrition education and recipes. These approaches, however, often presume less food literacy (i.e. food knowledge and skills) among low-income people. Are unhealthy diets really the result of poor choices, limited food skills and knowledge?
Research suggests that, in fact, adults in food-insecure households are just as likely as those in food-secure households to adjust recipes to make them more healthy. They are also just as proficient in food preparation and cooking skills. There is no indication that increasing food skills or budgeting skills will reduce food insecurity.
Instead, disadvantaged groups are constrained by their economic, material and social circumstances.
Higher-quality diets are costlier
It’s well-established that food prices are an important determinant of food choice, particularly among low-income consumers. Low-income households report that they find it difficult to adopt dietary guidelines because food prices are a barrier to improving their diets.
When researchers estimate the cost of diets people actually eat, higher-quality diets are typically more costly. Some research suggests healthier diets cost, on average, approximately $1.50 a day more than less healthy choices. For low-income consumers, the cost of substituting healthier foods can represent up to 35 to 40 per cent of their food budget.
While this may be so, it does not, in itself, prove that healthy diets are necessarily more expensive or cost-prohibitive. After all, not all socioeconomically disadvantaged people consume poor diets.
We can easily think of a number of foods and recipes that are both inexpensive and nutritious. The internet is full of recipes for “eating well on a budget.” Indeed, for many costly healthy food items like fresh salmon, a lower-cost alternative exists, like tinned salmon.
Some have even suggested that the higher relative cost of healthy foods is a myth and a problem that can be solved by healthy, low-cost meals.
Others maintain that poor diet is the result of poverty, not lack of education.
This begs the question: Do healthy foods really cost more?
‘Apples to oranges’ drives researchers bananas
Foods contain calories and a whole array of nutrients in different quantities that we require at different life stages in different amounts. At the same time, some ingredients must be limited, like sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
Researchers have developed indices like the Nutrient Rich Food Index to rank foods based on their composite nutrient profile, taking into account both the good and bad.
Food comparisons also require a standard unit of comparison and to this day, researchers are still debating — how do we effectively compare apples to oranges?
And when we add food price to the equation, how can we be sure we are getting the biggest nutritional bang for our buck?
When food prices are compared on the basis of average portion (like one apple versus one orange) or edible weight (like 100 grams), healthful foods can be cheaper for the consumer.
Calories cheap, nutrients expensive
However, when foods are compared based on their energy cost (amount of money per calorie), energy-dense foods like grains, fats and sweets represent the lowest-cost option. These cheap calories also tend to be the least nutritious.
While some researchers have argued that consumers don’t purchase foods based on the cost of energy, others have shown that this metric best matches the actual consumption patterns for low-income people.
The fact that low-cost, energy-dense foods of low nutritional content are heavily relied upon by low-income consumers means we can’t ignore this metric.
Not enough money, or time
Although nutritious, inexpensive food options do theoretically exist, whether they’re accessible and feasible, particularly among the most socially disadvantaged consumers, has long evaded both nutrition researchers and politicians.
As Couillard admitted, his food budget would have demanded significant time and planning commitments.
The “time cost” to prepare raw food items relative to prepared or convenience products may lead to differing conclusions about relative prices of food — despite the higher price tag of prepared foods.
In fact, research suggests that time is more constraining than money in following nutritious food plans.
Access to a healthful diet is not just about food prices, which have have been rising across the country for several years; it’s also about income and purchasing power. Low income is the strongest predictor of food insecurity in Canada, where one in eight households experience insufficient access to nutritious foods.
Modest improvements in income through policy instruments such as a basic income guarantee have been shown to be effective in reducing the probability of food insecurity among the poorest households. Such programs and policies, however, are left to the government of the day and a change in politics can signal the cancellation of such initiatives.
Meanwhile, emergency food relief programs, like food banks and soup kitchens, are left to charitable and private organizations, which some have argued permit the government to neglect social welfare obligations.
So, can the most socioeconomically disadvantaged people afford nutritious diets? Are healthy foods really more expensive?
Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions about the true cost of food. As the UN special rapporteur on the right to food said of his 2012 mission to Canada: “The question of hunger is not a technical question, it’s a political question.”
Organic food and cancer risk – gut microbe expert on latest research
October 25, 2018
Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London
Tim Spector receives grant funding from the MRC, NIHR, Wellcome Trust, EU. CDRF. He is a consultant to Zoe Global Ltd and author of “The Diet Myth: the science behind what we eat”. Orion 2016
King’s College London provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Organic food is an over-hyped and overpriced fad, according to many people. But a recently published study which followed nearly 69,000 French people over four and a half years seems to indicate there is a link between eating organic foods and a lower cancer risk.
The study found the regular eaters of 16 types of organic products were protected against several cancers by about a quarter. The foods included fruit, vegetables, bread, flour, eggs, meat and cereals.
More than 20% of EU land is now allocated for organic farming and the organic sector is booming. But until now there has been no clear consensus on whether eating organic food is worth the extra cost. So is it time to throw out all your fruit and veg and only shop organic in the future?
The study suggests people who regularly eat organic plant foods have a reduction in risk of common cancers. The data also shows a reduction for breast cancer after the menopause – but not before.
But while these results suggest a relationship, it is a long way from proof. This is because the study itself was too short and has the usual biases of observational designs – in that people who are healthier are more likely to eat healthier foods. And while the authors adjusted for body weight, social class and educational level, as well as other differences, and still found a consistent effect, the possibility of bias still remains on any single observational study.
People who eat more organic foods may be less likely to develop certain cancers, the French study suggests. Shutterstock
The results, however are most convincing for a reduction in cancer of the immune system called Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is because two previous studies (also longitudinal and observational) – the largest being a study of 680,000 women over nine years – also showed the same preventive effects. The fact that all three studies show a reduction of risk for this type of cancer (by chance or bias alone) is more indicative that there could be a link between organic eating and a lower cancer risk.
Herbicides and health
There is no hard evidence that the taste or nutrient differences (fibre, vitamins and minerals) of organic vegetables are very different to regular varieties – although analysis suggests they contain more polyphenols. These are compounds that often give plants their colour and provide antioxidant defences and are generally beneficial for human health.
In the US and Europe, fruits and vegetables are regularly sprayed with a range of pesticides and herbicides. Organic plants do still have detectable levels of herbicides and pesticides, but they are five times lower than non-organic products. Many common fruits and cereals such as oats often have high levels – which aren’t reduced much by washing or peeling.
So it could well be that ingesting chemically treated plants over years may actually increase some cancers. A US jury, for example, recently awarded millions of dollars in damages to a groundsman with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who regularly used the weed killer Glyphosate (Roundup). This weedkiller is widely used around the world and in more than five million acres of farmland in the UK alone.
The government and the EU maintains that these chemicals are safe for humans at doses found in food. But the safety thresholds are based on old-fashioned lab animal data – where rodents are given doses a thousand times higher and see if they develop extra cancers. The safety tests for foods and chemicals have not changed for decades and do not include the long-term effects, for example, on our gut microbiomes.
A gut issue
We have 100 trillion microbes in our lower intestines that make up a community that are crucial for the immune system and for the body’s response to cancer and cancer therapies – such as immunotherapy for melanoma. These microbes and their genes are much more sensitive to chemicals than we are, and this can lead to disruption in their metabolism and the chemicals they produce.
This new knowledge of the importance of a healthy gut microbiome casts doubt on official advice that all pesticides and herbicides are safe for us over long periods of time. And greater scrutiny of the safety of these widely used chemicals in our foods needs to be carried out in well-funded clinical trials – over years, not weeks.
There may of course be no direct effects on humans. But, as yet, no one has provided evidence to show that such chemicals are not harmful long-term for our immune system. So, while the risks for individuals are likely to be low, until we know for sure, for those who like eating lots of plants, spending a bit more for organic fruit and veg (and porridge oats) may be a price worth paying to keep your gut microbes healthy.