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9 mostly untrue “scariest food facts”

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Men’s Health and Yahoo! Health conspired to produce an hilariously misleading set of “9 Scariest Food Facts” that aren’t scary, and aren’t actually facts, either. The piece was written by a couple of assholes called “David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding,” apparently as a promotional tool for their pushy book with the yammering title Eat This, Not That! (has there ever been a book with an exclamation point in the title that wasn’t crap? I really don’t know; I’m not trying to be snide).  The piece is almost worth reading as an example of the effective use of unsourced half truths and lies to promote an agenda.

The first “fact”?

1. Nutritious food costs 10 times more than junk food.
University of Washington researchers calculated the cost discrepancy between healthy food and junk foods and found that 2,000 calories of junk food rings up at a measly $3.52 a day. Yet for 2,000 calories of nutritious grub, the researchers plunked down $36.

The asshole authors, David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, do not include a link to the study to which they are alluding. (They do, however, include a link to a promotional webpage for their fingerwaving screed Buy This, Not That! excuse me I mean Eat This, Not That!) So I had to google it for myself, because I don’t trust a couple of bluenosing jerks just because they say something alarming. And it turns out that the “study” in question does not say what the asshole authors, David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, claim it does. In fact, it says nothing of the sort. Moreover, it’s almost completely meaningless.

* The study only shows that people who already pay more for food get more nutrients and less sugar and fat.
* It then calculates improvements based on existing dietary habits. To get more nutrients, participants would just eat more of what they already eat, so they would pay more. For example, if you currently get your potassium from expensive nectarines instead of thrifty bananas, then the projected costs were based on buying even more nectarines.
* Costs don’t reflect what the participants actually paid for the food, but retail prices gathered by the researchers when the studies were done. So the participants may have bought those nectarines in season, on sale, in bulk, and at a farmers’ market … all factors that can drive prices down.
* The costs of eating more healthy food is shown, but not the savings from eating less unhealthy food. But if you eat an extra banana and half a cup of beans a day, you will eat fewer Pop-Tarts and Gummi Bears.
* The costs for each nutrient were calculated separately. So even though bananas provide potassium, fiber, and calcium, the cost was allocated to only one nutrient.

You’ll note that the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding wrote in their first “fact” that “for 2,000 calories of nutritious grub, the researchers plunked down $36.” But they didn’t. They asked people what foods they already buy, and then extrapolated how much of each product they already buy that they would have to purchase in order to “eat healthy.” The researchers didn’t “plunk down” anything.

What I find even more alarming is the fact that the costs of eating so-called “unhealthy” food can be even more expensive than eating “healthy.” For instance, I love to eat foie gras smothered in a heavy Béarnaise sauce, followed up by a slice of rich chocolate lava cake. That is high fat, high calorie, and high flavor. And it’s also pretty goddamned expensive — a lot more than $36 a day. Let me tell you something, I only wish I had the tolerance for less pricey “unhealthy” foods, such as Funyuns and Clark bars.

The rest of assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding’s first “fact” is as follows:

To add insult to fiscal injury, out of every dollar you spend on food, only 19 cents goes toward the stuff you eat. The other 81 cents goes toward marketing, manufacturing, and packaging.

Again, there’s no link to verify this “fact,” which meant I actually had to google it. And… I am not sure what they’re talking about. I found this from March of this year, which claims that, “For every dollar we spend on food, less than 16 cents go to farmers. The rest is spent on marketing.” But the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding are claiming that “19 cents goes toward the stuff you eat,” not “15.8 cents goes to farmers.” So I guess that means I’m supposed to keep doing the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding’s job and keep researching. So I found this, from July 2008:

Out of every dollar spent on food, the farmer receives only 19 cents, according to the American Farm Bureau.

Even though that matches the “19 cents” part, this again states that the 19 cents goes to “the farmer,” not “toward the stuff you eat.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat farmers, so clearly that can’t be what the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding are talking about, can it?

But you know what? I’m only on the first “fact,” and I’ve already grown tired of this exercise. Let the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding back up their own claims. That’s not my job.

Asshole authors David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding. Have to admit, they take a good picture.

The second “fact” presented by the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding states,

2. Grocers don’t have to tell you where your produce comes from.
With meat, supermarkets must tell you the country of origin, but produce laws aren’t as strict. Consider this: In a recent E. coli outbreak, German bean sprouts were implicated as the source of the bacteria, but that didn’t prevent thousands of people from being infected. Many of those people were Americans, and they were clueless as to where their sprouts came from.

Again, no links. I had to do the research myself, and I discovered that the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding were “not as strict” with the truth.

The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of covered commodities. Covered commodities include beef (including veal), lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The implementation of mandatory COOL [Country of Origin Labeling] for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish was effective September 30, 2008.

The 2008 Farm Bill contains a number of provisions that amended the COOL provisions in the Act. These changes include the addition of chicken, goat, macadamia nuts, pecans, and ginseng as covered commodities, the addition of provisions for labeling products of multiple origins, as well as a number of other changes.

The statute also states that any person engaged in supplying a covered commodity to a retailer must make the country of origin and the production method
available to the buyer.

Retail establishments that are licensed under the Perishable Agricultural Marketing Act (PACA) are required to provide COOL information to consumers.
Under the PACA, a retailer is any person engaged in the business of selling any perishable commodity at retail. Retailers are required to be licensed when the
invoiced cost of all purchases of perishable agricultural commodities exceeds $230,000 during a calendar year. The term perishable agricultural commodity
means fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

So grocers are required to tell you where your fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables come from. (In fact, the labeling requirements are quite onerous and strict.) Do bean sprouts fall under the “fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables” umbrella? I’m going to go ahead and take a page from the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding and say, Yes, they do, unequivocally. Why not? I have more credibility than they do at this point.

By the way, a lot of other things were “implicated” in that E. coli outbreak, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. This has only reinforced my belief that fruits and vegetables are dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. Most especially foreign fruits and vegetables, which are notoriously and allegedly filled with E. coli and are taking jobs away from good, solid American fruits and vegetables.

Are you bored yet? I know I am. The third so-called “fact”:

3. Fruits and vegetables are losing their nutrients.
According to the USDA, the fruits and vegetables we eat today may contain significantly fewer nutrients than those our grandparents ate. Researchers looked at 43 produce items and discovered drops in protein (6 percent), calcium (16 percent), iron (15 percent), riboflavin (38 percent), and vitamin C (20 percent). The only way to counter this trend: Eat more of them.

Please note that the assholes, David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, state unambiguously in their headline that “Fruits and vegetables are losing their nutrients.” They then state in the following sentence that today’s sorry selection of fruits and vegetables “may contain significantly fewer nutrients.” They can’t even get one sentence into their alarmist bullshit before they start backpedaling. I expect more from the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding, especially when nothing less than the health and well-being of every single man, woman, and child in the country is at stake.

But there’s no link, just an assertion you’re supposed to accept as fact. I googled the claim and guess what I found? I found something that’s not quite as alarming!

A couple of studies, one in England and one in the U.S., attempted to compare nutrient data collected in the and 50s and 60s with more recent nutrient analyses. Both studies found differences. For example, the British study found that the calcium content of modern vegetables was about one-fifth lower than what was measured in the 1960s and average copper content declined almost 80%. The U.S. study, which was more carefully controlled, found that amounts for a few nutrients like vitamin C, iron, and riboflavin declined somewhat, several were the same, and a few actually increased.

These studies are widely—but very selectively—cited in books, articles, and websites that sell nutritional supplements. You never see any mention of the fact that the level of some nutrients has apparently increased in the last 50 years, for example. Instead, the 80% decline in copper levels observed in the British study is frequently translated as, “Fruits and vegetables have lost 80% of their nutritional value,” which is obviously a gross mischaracterization of the findings.

The authors of both studies are very candid that most of the differences are probably explained by factors other than nutrient depletion of the soil—and it’s not at all clear that these changes pose a problem. For example, the dramatic decline in copper levels in vegetables from 1960 to 1990 is probably because copper-based pesticides, which were widely used then, are not as commonly used now.

When you actually read the studies, it becomes clear that a lot of the differences are most likely the result of changes in sampling methods and measurement techniques, geographical variation, and the random variation in nutrient values from one pepper or strawberry to the next—which is much more significant than most people realize.

There are more “facts” that you can read and research for yourself, but I feel like I’m just rewriting the same things over and over again. Instead allow me to turn my considerable research talents to the asshole authors, David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding. It turns out, one half of that team of assholes, the David Zinczenko half, is the editor of Men’s Health magazine!

The man who put his name on this lying list of unsourced feebogzh is actually an editor! And of an alleged “health” themed magazine! How is that for irony? And, no surprise, he’s even more lazy and dishonest than I thought:

Yesterday, Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko got caught cutting and pasting old cover lines onto the new issue of his magazine. Today, he explained that it was a deliberate “overall branding strategy.” Boy, was he right.

It goes far beyond the similarities between the December 2007 and December 2009 covers that was discovered yesterday. Have a look at the Men’s Health cover archive and you’ll find that Zinczenko has been recycling covers since 2004. The magazine only has about four cover archetypes, which usually share the same copy (“Get Back in Shape” is always paired with “30 Red-Hot Sex Secrets,” for instance), and the same stupid numerical eye candy. And Zinczenko seems to have keyed into the seasonal desires of his readers—the January/February covers, for instance, were virtually identical in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008.

And also:

Zinczenko — who’s known among his peers more for his frequent Today Show appearances than for his skill with a blue pencil — didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry, but he tells the New York Post that the repetitions were “not inadvertent” and “part of overall branding strategies.”

Certainly, it doesn’t sound as though this happens by accident. A source who used to work at Men’s Health recalls sitting with Zinczenko and his top editors in cover meetings. “They had a file of used cover lines and would just pick them somewhat randomly, with no regard for what was in the issue,” says the source. “Occasionally they’d have to call some poor editor and ask something like, ‘Hey, is there anything in the issue that involves 792 sexy women confessing what turns them on?'”

This man is clearly not trustworthy. So why should anyone trust him? Especially with something so important as your “health”?

Do you think David Zinczenko cares about your health? Or is he just trying to make himself rich?

It’s easy to take things out of context and present half-truths and numbers without sourcing as fact. It can be an effective tool when you’re trying to scold people, or make them afraid. It can also be a great way to sell a shitty book or a magazine that sucks ass. Watch out, because it’s not just the big bad “junk food corporations” that are marketing to you. There’s apparently a lot of money to be made in pushing “healthy choices,” and to hell with the facts.

By the way, did you know that in a bleak world full of danger and death, Ultra Veal might be the best food you can eat? And did you know that the only place you can learn about this miracle food is in the classic book about the famous enema murderer Arsole Fantüme, Gentleman Immoralist? Why not order your copy now? It’s a lot more nutrient-rich than anything the assholes David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding ever wrote, and it just might save your life.

Ricky Sprague occasionally writes and/or draws things. He sometimes animates things. He has a Twitter account and he has a blog. He scripted this graphic novel about Kolchak The Night Stalker. He is really, really good at putting links in bios.
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