Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Let’s Eat!

Thanksgiving is here*! So there are only two things anyone is allowed to talk about for the next 35 days: food and shopping for gifts. I don’t want to give away what I got you this year, so that leaves us with food… which is a topic worthy of the skeptiest of skeptics.

Earlier this month, California voted down a proposition to label all “GMO” foods as such. And that’s good news because… I think, genetically, all foods are modified somewhere somehow, right? Or we’d all be eating the same amoeba? And health claims abound. Fat is bad, carbs are bad, some fat is good, some carbs don’t count, white foods are evil, processing is the worst, raw is the only thing that won’t kill you, natural is better than everything else, unless it’s gluten, which is natural but terrible.

It’s so much… so so much to keep up with… and almost all of it is crap. Most of the time, I can tell where the bullshit probably is in my food… but sometimes I’m not sure. I can’t even begin to parse through the whole high fructose corn syrup information. But even if I could figure it out, food is such an emotional topic, it would be hard to convince anyone of anything anyway. And don’t even get me started on fitness information. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MY BODY DOES.

So let’s talk about food.

What food claims drive you crazy? What claims do you wish you understood? Do you ever get involved with food fads? Is your diet balanced? How do you even measure “moderation” on “bad foods”? Are you eating an all organic free-range vegan unprocessed casein-free turkey this weekend?

(*only valid in the US and some parts of England)

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Does going GF fore medical reasons count as getting on board with a food fad? I would like to try to eat fewer carbs because I have felt better and I know that I do lose weight when I do so… but it’s hard and I don’t actually do it that often.

    As for the moderation of bad foods, I read once for fast food consumption: infrequent = every few months, moderate = once a month, frequent = every two weeks and heavy is anything more often than that. I don’t remember the source but it seems like a good measurement for many “bad foods”.

    1. Well, EVERYONE goes GF for “health reasons” if your health reason is celiac, then no, that’s not a fad. If your reason is you believe it’s causing you to store yeast in your thighs, then yes, that’s a fad.

    2. As I understand it gluten is a protein, so going gluten free won’t help you unless you’re celiac or wheat intolerant. Maybe I’m parsing your sentence incorrectly?

      1. Parsing I think. Gluten is a protein but it’s most commonly found in carb heavy food items (wheat, barley, rye, etc). The two sentences are actually two separate thoughts.

        And yea it’s celiacs for going gluten free. Although I can’t help but feel guilty due to benefitting greatly from all the woo (more choices in gf foods, greater awareness of gluten related illnesses, etc).

  2. This is sure to get everyone’s hackles up, but I HATE the idea that “eating local” is the solution to environmental problems. Sure, eating local is good– but it’s mostly better for your local economy than for the environment.

    “Eating a vegan diet, according to the study, is seven times more effective at reducing emissions than eating a local meat-based diet. A global vegan diet (of conventional crops) would reduce dietary emissions by 87 percent, compared to a token 8 percent for ‘sustainable meat and dairy.'” Source:

    “In the end, the researchers found that cutting the meat and animal products or even just cutting back on the red meat one day per week is more significant than buying all your food from local sources.” Source:

    If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market and buy local products. If you want to make a difference, go vegan (or at the very, very least: reduce your meat consumption.

    So, anyway, I’m having a Gardein Holiday Roast ( for Thanksgiving, and it will be delicious.

    1. You know what’s also really good for cutting emissions? Not owning a car. Between that and buying local humanely raised meat I think my weekly 48-hour meat eating window is pretty reasonable.

      And I like to buy local because if I don’t, those hipster farmers might turn to crime.

      Take THAT vegan! (Faux Rage added for your satisfaction)

    2. I once had dinner in Boulder, CO with a family who only buys produce from local farms – but they had to drive about 50 miles round-trip a few times a week to pick it up. The veggies WERE delicious, mind you.

  3. On labeling GMO food: I’m fine with it if people want that. The medium term outcome will be that people will more widely realize that the GMO food is not killing them. Also, labeling food is important generally. It is probably better to over label than to under label. If I was in charge of the GMO universe, and the proposal to label food as GMO came along, I would immediately agree to it. Resisting it seems … suspicious … even if it isn’t . Besides, it is interesting. Can anyone commenting here honestly say that they are not curious about what foods they are buying are GMO vs. not? It’s a cool thing!

    I’m hoping that we can assemble a panel at the next CONvergence Skepchick track on issues such as locivory, food supply, veg*ism, etc. It would be great if this conversation took off between now and then!

    1. The main problem I have with labeling for GMO’s is that, from what I understand, everything we eat has been genetically modified at some point. Even before it was done in a lab, farmers were modifying their crops through cross breeding, selective breeding, etc. Do we say we only label foods that were modified in a controlled setting in a lab?

      Disclaimer – I have never worked in the agricultural business so what I am stating above (that all food has been modified) is from what I have read so could be incorrect.

      1. I would also like to add to your comment that even if they labeled foods with a “done in a lab” GMO label it still wouldn’t tell you what effects those genetic modifications had on the plant. Was the plant modified to secrete a pesticide, to produce extra vitamins, or maybe to just withstand colder climates, none of that was taken into consideration with that proposition.

        That actually leads me to believe that the people who drafted that bill didn’t bother to read up on how genetic modification works, which is a crazy irresponsible thing to do if plan on making a law about it.

        1. I agree with Gregladen, it is interesting. Pasquale68 is right that we have done genetic engineering of a sort since forever. The difference now though is that we can cross the barriers of species, phyla and even kingdoms.

          The potential for unintended consequences is acute without careful management. Therefore I think it irresponsible to release GMO’s onto the Third World, for instance.

          Damn, I am beginning to sound alarmist, which was not the intent at all.

          What I would like to see is a system of labelling with numbering of individual GMO’s, similar to the E numbers for food additives.

          Bearing in mind, not all GMO’s were designed to be food crops and should therefore be totally forbidden in any food whatsoever.

  4. I hate all kinds of food claims. Take for example the claims that McDonald’s hamburgers never rot, eating off of aluminium cookware wrecks your brain, or the GMO nonsense. People concentrate on all the wrong things. People eat too many calories, too much refined sugar and too many saturated and trans fats, but those concerns are tamped down by irrelevant or wrongheaded eating fads.

    1. I totally agree. It cracks me up when people are constantly trying to find the smoking gun that is making Americans fat. (It is the wheat! No, the GMO’s! All the “toxic chemicals”!)

      Americans eat huge portions of food and don’t move around enough, it is that simple.

      1. What was it my grand mother said? “You want to loose weight? Eat less calories than you use” I have no scientific studies to back this up but it makes sense to me.

        1. No, it’s not that fucking simple, fucking hell.

          If it were that simple, I’d be thin. And I’m not. But I guess I need to just stop eating altogether, because watching my intake and working out 4-5 times a week isn’t making me thin, but according to you “it’s that simple”.

          YAY! Body shaming! HOW FUN!

        2. I don’t have a scientific study to back “it’s all about the calories” up either, but there was the Twinkie diet stunt by Mark Haub a couple of years ago.
          He was basically trying to show that for weight loss it is indeed mostly about the number of calories and less about the nutritional value of what you eat. So for about 2 months he ate mostly Twinkies, Oreos, Doritos, etc. He limited himself to about 1800 calories per day though, instead of the 2600 that would be considered normal for his size. It’s just anecdotal, but he did loose 27 pounds in those 2 months.

  5. What I’m tired of is simplistic “solutions” to what is a very complex issue.

    Go vegan? Ok, I’ll buy the smaller environmental footprint argument (to a point), but it is very difficult for vegans to get all of the vitamins and amino acids that a body needs. Plus, most vegans I know eat a lot of soy products, which are very processed (and estrogen-mimicking). I am not convinced that’s better than eating small portions of non-hormone-injected, non-factory farmed meat/poultry.

    Eat organic? OK, fewer man-made pesticides. But organic growing takes up more land and water use than conventional agriculture. Plus most fruits and veggies have minimal levels of pesticides anyways. AND organics are often twice the price. I certainly couldn’t afford to eat purely organic. And I have a good income. What about families with less $$ to spend on food? I’d say non-organic veggies is better than buying fewer veggies because of prohibitive cost.

    Eat local? Supporting local farmers = great. It also means eating produce that is in season. Also great. Problem is that it means that a lot of items are not locally available in most areas. Grain is a big one (though there are some initiatives to grow grain in more urban areas). Also, things like fish.

    For me, I try to limit my purchasing of carbs, mainly because I seem to just eat it like there’s no tomorrow. Entire loaves of bread get inhaled in like a day. It’s a problem.

    I do try to buy non-factory-farmed meat and poultry if I can (for home cooking anyways).

    I’ve also discovered that buying higher quality “bad foods” (ice cream, chocolate, cheese, dessert-ish things) means that I usually eat less of them and enjoy them more.

    I do want to learn more about GM foods though, I hear a lot of stuff (on both sides of the argument), and I feel I don’t know enough to form a strong opinion. My sense is that they’re probably fine, and might be necessary for maintaining or increasing agricultural output (particularly as the climate continues to change).

    I’m working on eating less (well, listening to my body’s cues), eating more fruits and veggies, more legumes, and trying to buy non-factory-farmed, non-hormone-fed meat/poultry when possible. But I don’t stress about any of it.

    1. As a vegan, I’d really love to see your evidence for the claims you made about veganism. I find it’s not difficult at all to get my essential nutrients; I actually do much better than when I was an omnivore.

      Also, 98% of soy grown in the US is fed to livestock. If you’re that concerned about the effects of processed soy, then why eat livestock that eat it?

      1. Yeah, those sorts of claims about how it’s so hard for vegans to be properly nourished seem really overblown to me.

        And the anti-soy stuff? There is no much hype — on both sides. I don’t think the evidence supports that soy is magic OR that soy is evil. Here’s an article summarizing (and linking to) all the major review papers on soy’s putative “estrogenic” properties.

  6. “Chemicals” is my big food claim problem. Yes, well everything is a chemical. Natural does not always equal good and natural substances are also chemicals.

    But, I’ve recently become vegetarian. I still eat milk and cheese because it’s too hard not to living in Kansas and with a non-vegetarian. My reasons for being vegetarian aren’t to save the planet or anything but because I can’t look at a cow or a pig or a chicken and not think of my pets anymore. I feel grossed out by the though to meat.

    I don’t think anyone else should necessarily be vegetarian although I’d love it if we all stopped eating meat. But I don’t think it’s realistic in our generation.

    My husband hasn’t even noticed I stopped eating meat nearly 4 months ago. And I get my proteins from nuts, beans, eggs, and dairy. Before I stopped eating meat I had a craving for beans. I have no idea why except they’re yummy.

    Anyway, recently I sought out a new diet for my cat. No, I didn’t stop feeding her meat because she’s a carnivore and after some research I decided it’d be dangerous to try to hijack her nutritional needs when I didn’t know enough about it. But I did research humane forms of pet food. I even went to the local pet “health food” store and asked about humane cat food. Seems like there’s a market for “less chemicals”, but none for pasture fed and cage free meat. After some research online I found at least three pet food makers available in my market, so I’ve switched to them and so far Sonya loves her new food.

    Weird? Yeah, I probably am. Just don’t lecture me about chemicals in your food.

    1. I heard that a good recipe for home made dog food was 1kg pasta, 1kg mixed veg (potatoes, carrots) and 1 kg meat like gravy beef. Cook and stick into blender to chop. Lasts 1 week.

      Dunno if it works for cats. Or dogs for that matter. I fact I never tried it.

  7. I should probably come clean and admit that I drink a glass (or two) of wine every night for “my health” because I refuse to believe that it’s not healthy.

    1. I take the same naturally produced liquid chemical supplement every evening and I not only feel better after getting my daily dose I am better as well!

  8. The people who are all “gluten bad” and then have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention celiac to them. If you’re not allergic to gluten then why aren’t you eating it? Do you also not eat peanuts because someone else is allergic to them?

  9. I eat a balanced diet, including all of the of the four major food groups: salt, fat, sugar and alcohol.

    For a while we tried the “eat local produce” thing (that’s “slightly dismissive” thing in this case). It was done by a local company that did online ordering and home delivery.

    We quit after a couple months, I guess because it was an extra hassle, a bit “pot luck” what you got in terms of type or quality of vegetable, and to me it didn’t actually taste much better.

    I think these days if you are a serious cook, you want to see the quality of the produce before you buy, and you want to select named varieties of say potatoes according to the dish you are preparing.

    All of which you can do at our excellent local supermarket. However the trend to replace well known named brands with generic “Home Brand” (cough, Chinese?) does concern me.

    As somebody once said, there are more important issues here than having a 4c cheaper Muesli bar.

  10. Food that is labeled 0% Fat but has more than 50% sugar in it. Amazing how many people still fall for that oldie.

  11. I made sure the turkey I bought had led a mildly irritating if not uneventful life so that his demise and eventual consumption could be construed as a not so unreasonable option given he would not have existed absent the seasonal demand for what he had to offer. I feel like happy free range turkeys who’ve had the opportunity to run in the sun and copulate might have hope (turkey hope mind you) and I wouldn’t want to be responsible for snuffing out that spark regardless of how dim.

    And the one recent food fad I really appreciate is this whole notion that flavor is a good thing, and that most of the time if you want amazing food you need to learn some cooking skills and understand that some great flavors can be had with inexpensive ingredients if you’re willing to spend the time and care about the process.

  12. The whole raw food thing is what gets me. I mean come on, cooking food is supposed to be unhealthy now? Those people can keep their raw juice bars and bee’s wax brownies while I enjoy my COOKED Thanksgiving dinner this thorsday.

  13. My biggest issue is with how our wild, and sometimes largely unsubstantiated, claims effect people who don’t have the luxury of choice.

    Case in point – I had a friend who worked for a large charity organization that did a lot of work around getting GMO crops (such as crops that will grow in more arid climates) delivered to countries in need.

    They were having issues with the starving population of these countries refusing/burning the crops because they’d heard they were “poison”. Something that had no basis in fact (as most of the GMO claims tend to be).

    It’s all fine and good for those of us with means to decide what we will and will not eat. It’s awesome that we have the choice to eat gluten free, or GMO free, or all Organic, or low-fat or high-fat or nothing-but-fat. Whatever the latest fad is. However, we need to be more cognizant about how these decisions impact those who aren’t so fortunate. It isn’t “poison” just because you don’t understand or trust it. Don’t eat it yourself, fine, but don’t be throwing the “poison” buzz word around. Your actions have consequences much greater than you realize.

  14. All the organic claims. I am a bit bitter though because during my pregnancy, on mommy forums there were many mothers who when on and on about how dangerous conventional produce is and how I would give my children a myriad of disabilities and cancer if I did not eat all organic. They were extremely agressive and shaming to anyone who disagreed with them. The result was me developing an eating disorder during pregnancy. Then I later finally came to my senses and realized that it probably didn’t matter which I ate and now I worry that I have given my child problems from all the stress it cause me and the fact that I didn’t eat as well as I should have. And I’m embarassed that I took the opinion of random people on a forums rather than a doctor’s.

  15. Pretty much any food claimed to be a “superfood” sets off alarms in my head. I immediately wonder how much of what is said in such articles is bullshit.
    Would it be rather biased of me to apply this to any food claim made by Dr. Oz?

    “What claims do you wish you understood?”

    All of them!

  16. I find the adherents of food combining magic hilarious. And the people who fart after eating something and infer they are “allergic” to it.

  17. How about “just eat less, exersize more, and you’ll totally lose weight!”

    I hate that shit.

    It’s not quite that fucking simple, people.

    1. Or its evil cousin, i.e. the notion that if you’re overweight, you must never exercise or eat veggies, constantly eat nothing but McDonald’s and potato chips, and be on the brink of diabetes/heart disease/death.

      I might not be the fittest person on the planet, but neither are the majority of thin people.

    2. No one said it is easy.

      I know that if I ride my bike to work or stop drinking 4 beers a night I loose weight.

      Maybe a little more well said than my grandmother:

      “The fundamental physics of gaining and losing weight is the law of conservation of energy.”

      “In physics the law of conservation of energy says that energy can change form but can be neither created nor destroyed. As a consequence, a machine must have a source of energy to do work. Also extra energy cannot just disappear. It must be stored someplace.”

      “To lose weight permanently, use a lifelong combination of sensible eating and exercise that insures your energy output is greater than your energy intake. It’s fundamental physics.”

      -Paul A. Heckert Ph.D.

    3. HEY. If you eat 500 calories of mcDonalds every day you WILL lose weight!

      You won’t be healthy, but IF YOU ARE SKINNY YOU ARE HEALTHY!

  18. Ramen Nicole I. (Also getting acupuncture for fibromyalgia – I know not food but I hate people who have no idea what is wrong with me suggesting woo-ish solutions)

    I have a real issue with the gluten free diet. I keep hearing about the paleo diet?? So we should eat like we did when we didn’t refrigerate our food and only lived to be 30 if we were lucky??

    I also have an issue with GMO foods but my issue is that it is often misrepresented as good for the environment and will solve food ills not because I think they’re bad for me. Social scientists have better solutions to end famines. The reality is that it’s all about agribusiness. Herbicide resistant crops (the most common GMOs) are bad for the environment and risk biodiversity.

    I think everything on moderation, eat non processed when possible, and support subsidies on green leafy veggies!

  19. Food that supposedly “promotes” some kind of health or has herbs in it that are supposed to do something.

    People that are suspicious of doctors prescribing medication for diseases they have are apparently okay with medication for diseases they don’t have being put into our food. Sure, it’s all a scam, but still.

    Why does my tea have ginseng in it? There is a potentially fatal disease that ginseng can cause that makes you skin fall off in sheets. It’s not common enough justify drinking a different tea, but I’d imagine that if it were a lifesaving drug these same people would think you were crazy for chancing it.

  20. That veganism/vegetarianism is somehow “so unhealthy” or something for only the rich & priveleged.

    Especially when it comes from somebody else who is clearly unhealthy. Like my old doctor who was 100+lbs overweight and was on a myriad of heart and blood pressure medications.

  21. “Organic produce is more nutritious!”

    No. Locally sourced produce MAY be more nutritious if it is picked and delivered at a time closer to its peak ripeness, but whether or not it’s organic has not been proven as a variable. Organic ANIMAL PRODUCTS, on the other hand, probably do have differences in nutrients, but more than anything I think what matters with the animals is what they eat (there’s a bigger difference between grass and corn than organic corn vs non-organic corn), and how they live (caged or not caged, roaming/pastured or penned, etc).

    Thus, I choose to eat mostly animal products from animals sourced locally and raised ethically, because I think it makes sense in terms of environmental responsibility, animal welfare, and my health. I choose to support local farms as much as possible with produce purchases, and that often coincides with the produce being organic, which is fine by me.

    I don’t push my diet on anyone, or tell anyone what it is unless they ask. I think it’s irritating as fuck for people to lecture anyone uninvited about their diet.

    1. //I think it’s irritating as fuck for people to lecture anyone uninvited about their diet.//

      This is what vegans/vegetarians deal with ALL the time. Welcome to our world.

      1. Honestly, I’ve been lectured by plenty of veg*ns. I think it’s just a “sanctimonious individuals” thing, rather than something one group experiences more than the other. Given, there being more meat-eaters than not, I could see how it would be probable for veg*ns to experience more of this due to people’s lack of familiarity or understanding of their diet, but again, I wouldn’t be surprised if every omnivore has also experienced being lectured about how eating meat makes us taste gross, etc etc.

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