Category Archives: political

My Thoughts on The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Corporate Sponsorship

I’m an idealist, there’s no doubt about it. I dream big! With my beliefs though compromise is a necessity to get anything done. It’s a reality I accepted when I started studying nutrition as a teenager at Penn State University. And there really is no better analogy for compromise than my academic pursuit to become a Registered Dietitian.  Yes, Cattle and Dairy Boards have influenced nutrition as we currently know it, but I’m confident that thanks to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics I received the best education in nutrition available. I have no regrets about becoming an RD.

Note that I say ‘best education in nutrition available.’ There is room for improvement and not everything my professional organization does I agree with. My ideal organization is really unfathomable, so I choose my battles and do more to promote what I want to see than to fight what I am against.

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With that said, Michele Simon’s report, And Now A Word From Our Sponsors, hit a chord with me. It’s no secret that The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics works closely with major corporations and big food interests. I remember the first year I attended the Food and Nutrition Convention and Expo, the Academy’s annual conference, and was staying with a friend of mine. She noticed my conference bag and said, ‘Coca-cola sponsors your conference? Really? That’s insane that these are supposed to be nutrition experts and something so unhealthy sponsors your conference!’ And in one sentence she nailed the problem with having such sponsors. Not to mention the embarrassment!

The issue here is power.

With size and money big companies become powerful. They alter the environment we live in (‘environment’ in both senses of the word!) and normalize use of their products. It’s no coincidence that Coke billboards are everywhere, portion sizes have grown tremendously and nearly everyone on the planet knows what soda is.  Do you remember the Beef Industry freak-out over Meatless Monday being in an internal USDA memo? And the USDA issuing a public apology immediately? That’s power.

They have influence.

They influence government regulation from safety standards to advertising to young children. Big brands have billions of dollars to advertise their products, buy smaller companies and influence decision-makers and policy-creators like Registered Dietitians.

People say we need to hear both sides and we have to work with them to make change.

But the reality is their number one interest is in selling more of their product. It’s the nature of capitalism. The power dynamic is off: health professionals are not on equal footing, it is naive to think so. They have fought every single effort to reduce their effect on our health and the planet. If you work for them you are merely doing damage control.

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One of my first tweets ever was this photo from the 2010 FNCE in Boston of RD’s lined up to get free soda from Coca-Cola.

This is what makes small companies different.

It’s not about any sponsors. It’s about the right ones. They do not have the access to power and influence, so say the Mushroom Council or Broccoli Growers Association (one of those is real!) are not able to throw their weight around the way Coca Cola does. They don’t have the power to promote positive research and to bury negative outcomes. Or to buy off health professionals. Selling sugar-water is much much more profitable than selling vegetables straight out of the ground and these profits must be protected. When we work with them we are helping to protect their power, influence and profits. Is it worth the damage done to our field?

Yes, Registered Dietitians are smart enough to know if research has been influenced.

But that is not the issue. It is merely the association with our professional organization that is problematic. Like the story of my friend who pointed out the blatant hypocrisy. It’s embarrassing. We can do better. I understand defending your professional organization, but fellow RD’s please put your ego aside and think about what’s best to remain credible and move on as the nutrition experts we are.

A few links to read more about this.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics did respond to Michele Simon’s report, but it’s either purposefully ignorant or simply they don’t understand what the issue is. And she has since responded and pointed out what they are missing.

This has gotten some media in the United States, which Michele Simon covers here, but the most interesting, in my opinion, is this Al Jazeera 25-minute video on the topic.

The Union of Concerned Scientists briefly cover the influence of corporations on science in a recent article, which I recommend if this idea is new to you.

And every single person who works in the food and nutrition field should read Food Politics by the great Marion Nestle. And while you are at it, World Hunger: 12 Myths will give you a good idea of how corporate interests are protected at the expense of people’s health all over the world.

To my Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

I am proud to be a Registered Dietitian. I have compromised with you tremendously over the years. I know we don’t see eye to eye on everything. But this is a big deal and we need to make some changes. Please read the suggestions that Michele Simon makes, listen to your members (and ex-members! This is why so many have quit!) and let’s continue to be the experts on nutrition. We don’t need Coca Cola’s money to do that. And taking it just isn’t worth our reputation.

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Short Film on Jacob Bannon of Converge

A lot of my work and energy is, ultimately, against people’s actions that I think are detrimental to other people, to animals and to the earth. Always being ‘against’ isn’t easy and I’ve watched many a friends/accomplices take the easier path in life, ie giving up what is important to them.

Though if you’re a regular reader of my site you know I don’t take an angry approach.  But that anger is inside of me and has been for a very long time. I know I’m not alone in this, but sometimes it does feel that way. Then today I came across this (very) short film on Jacob Bannon, the frontman for one of my favorite bands, Converge. I was fortunate to meet Jacob last year when we both had tattoo appointments with our mutual good friend Thomas Hooper. Hearing these two artists I greatly respect discuss their trade was a privilege, to say the least. And this short film captures the energy and emotion that comes out of Jacob Bannon. It’s an insight into someone who has influenced me greatly yet it’s also self-reflective as he comes from the same sub-cultures that I do. Either way I’m sure you can relate to some aspect of this great film.  Enjoy.

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Thanks. And Turkey Day.

I love holidays. I really do. People are nicer, more polite, more willing to share; many work less often and the emphasis is on friends and family. It’s how I wish people acted every day! For many years I was too punk to really celebrate them, but now I look forward to sharing time and food with close friends and family.

 

Thanksgiving is extra special because it is my vegetarian anniversary- 2012 will be my 18th vegetarian Turkey Day (I went vegan not longer after)! That’s more than half of my life, which seems significant. This week I’ve been thinking back to the angst-y teenager I was who decided to stop being wishy washy about this not eating animals thing and took a stand. It’s unfathomable to me that the same number of years old I was then, have since passed. And that that decision has changed my life so much!

That first Thanksgiving I ate only sides- which isn’t hard to do at an Italian Thanksgiving. Plenty of pastas, salads, and vegetables for me to eat. Soon after that I learned more about the history of Thanksgiving, the celebration of ‘giving thanks’ and romanticizing those who, and I don’t use these words lightly, committed genocide against Native Americans. I then fasted in protest for Thanksgiving over the next bunch of years. How could we celebrate so much death- people and animals?

I calmed down about it eventually and found that discussing these issues and offering delicious vegan options as Thanksgiving dinners was the most productive thing to do. And that’s my MO- be a positive example of alternatives. Alternative ways of thinking, eating and interacting.  Compassion is a topic of Thanksgiving- my philosophy has always been to just widen that circle of compassion like that famous science guy said.

 

 

But this year, inexplicably, I’m more angry than ever about the millions of turkeys killed for this holiday. I pride myself on not being preachy- most of those who follow my site are more interested in my adventures and racing than my diet or politics. And maybe I’ll lose some of those folks. But tomorrow if you sit down at dinner and there’s a dead bird in the middle of that table you have to know that it was a living, breathing being with emotions and feelings that suffered and died unwillingly to be there.  And the solution is simple: the more people who give up eating animals the less that are killed. You can make a difference.

Photos from 15 reasons not to eat turkey.

Vegan Thanksgiving recipes

[end rant]

Happy holidays.

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Some updates and my favorite stuff from the web this week

I was at a bike race. Racers rode fast, I ate a veggie dog.

I spend a lot of time reading articles on the internet and some time in the future I’ll have an email list set up so that I can share my favorite articles and information. For now, here’s a post with what I’ve been reading this week.

Calculating Optimal Advocacy for All Animals on Vegan Outreach’s blog. I love Vegan Outreach; their philosophy has impacted my own work and activism.

How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by vegan RD extraordinaire Ginny Messina is a great accompaniment to the above. Also, like VO, her ideas have influenced my work.

Inside The Fridge is a fun project by fellow RD Robin Plotkin who was nice enough to feature my fridge and do an interview with me.

Shark Accidents, Car Attacks? looks at the terminology we use to describe incidences and how that affects our perception. Even though drowning kills more people than sharks do, when a shark bites someone there are always accompanying calls to end their protected status. Meanwhile automobile drivers run down pedestrians and cyclists with impunity and we call these ‘accidents.’

Whites Believe They Are Victims of Racism More Often Than Blacks is about research from Tufts and Harvard that most white people hold the preposterous idea that they suffer from racism more than blacks. It’s a sad reality that most are blinded by their unquestioned sense of privilege and they have absolutely no idea of the difference in realities between whites and people of color. It shows how far we have to go. Huge disparities in health is one place to look, like this chart from the New York Times on infant mortality rates.

And a quick plug for my twitter and facebook pages that both have regular updates with articles like these. And our Day in the Life page has a new episode and has undergone some reorganization. Thanks for reading!

 

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Is this the definition of irony?

The other day I was riding my cyclocross bike on some great canyon trails here in the city. Nothing is better than riding to the trails, riding dirt, then riding home. It’s great when cities have undeveloped areas to explore.
I was riding along enjoying some fast sections, with perfect conditions. Then the trail was blocked by a 4-lane road. I know building bridges and tunnels costs a lot of money and I don’t mind having to pop onto a road for a minute, but then I came across this fence between the lanes restricting non-crosswalk crossing.
And then to rub it in they put images of cyclists and runners on the fence blocking the access of those very people in favor of automobiles.
The fence forces you to ride against traffic to a stoplight, where you ‘safely’ cross and then ride against traffic on the other side.
All the while those images of cyclists and runners stare at you mockingly.

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Food Day and Occupy Wall Street

Today is Food Day and I would like to use this opportunity to link food issues and Occupy Wall Street. Many people are already doing this, as this poster and the following links from Marion Nestle’s site, Food Politics, shows.

Mother Jones: Foodies, Get Thee to Occupy Wall Street (<-If you only read one article read this one!!)

The Slow Food USA blog: Occupy Wall Street: What’s Food Got to do with it?

Civil Eats: Why the Food Movement Should Occupy Wall Street

These articles do a great job of discussing the global economy and how it affects our food choices, but you may already know this.  If you have ever worked all day and are too tired to make food or are out late and the only thing open is fast food- you probably know this intuitively. We work more and have more technology than ever yet less time to spend learning about nutrition and cooking food. Why? I think for the same reasons that Wall Street is being occupied. We work to create wealth, yet don’t benefit as much as we should. The wealth we create travels upward to those who already have more than us.  Want some proof? Business Insider compiled a fantastic set of graphs: What Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About.

In addition to Will Potter giving us 5 Reasons Why Environmentalists and Animal Activists Should Occupy Wall Street, the Declaration of the Occupation says:

# They [Corporations] have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

How cool is that? And at OccupyLA there is even an affinity group called Occupiers for Animals.

Why are we protesting and what does it mean? I think Chris Hedges (Pultizer Prize winning war correspondent!) says it best in this video. Someone of his caliber, who has seen wars and uprisings all over the world in the previous three decades, getting this emotional over Occupy really captures its importance. Brought tears to my eyes.

And from today’s Democracy Now! with Michael Moore and Cornell West:

OCCUPY LONDON PROTESTER: There is a political vacuum in the country at the moment. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, doesn’t matter what party gets in. The essential decisions are made, and what’s decided really is the same, no matter if it’s Labour or left, right, middle. You know, it’s all just middle now. So when there is no real choice there, because everything is the same, the people, I believe, feel like their voice has been taken away. And when you’re in a situation where your voice has been taken away, you have to make your voice.

Or is it now Class War as Frank Rich says in this 5-page New York Times article?

This is a lot to think about and sometimes it’s hard to grasp the importance of the current situation. But a movement is here, if we want it. All of us can help in some way. Education is a part of the equation (pass these resources on to your skeptical friend!), but action is most important. Like my first post about Occupy Wall Street said, let’s stop working toward temporary solutions and cut to the root of the matter.

“If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep”

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Why Occupy Wall Street is a Health Issue Worth Supporting

I do not hide the fact that my profession, public health nutrition, is the direct result of my social justice activism. I was brought up by working class parents who instilled in me the ethics of empathy and consideration of others at all times. Very simple ideas, yet often not followed or just simply ignored. As a teenager I (unknowingly) turned them into a political analysis that quickly led to veganism, environmentalism and radical politics.

In the early 2000′s I was entrenched in the anti-globalization movement and the early anti-war protests. We didn’t ask corporations and the government to be nicer or to kill fewer people. We challenged their right to do so. Often people misunderstand this as not having demands; we did and do, they just may stand outside of what you think is possible. And that’s the point. A radically different world is possible.  Those left of the traditional left are pushing you to dream. Not just in tactics beyond marches, but in how the world can really be.

In public health nearly every issue is one of inequality. There is enough food for everyone, but it is hoarded by corporations to maintain its high expense. There’s enough space for healthy food for everyone, but the farm bill continues to subsidize companies to produce cheap unhealthy foods.  Automobiles dominate our streets not because they are the best choice, but the most profitable.  Cheap and free clinics are only necessary because most healthcare is beyond the means of millions of people.  Public Health exists mostly to address issues of economic inequality! Instead of treating the symptoms, why not address the cause?

So I ask all of you who work in my field to stop for a minute and think about the big picture. I know there are people we want to help right now. I feel it too. But what if we worked to change the system that survives on keeping people poor?

You may feel uncomfortable with this idea. Or going to protests.  You may want more structure. I feel it too.  But we have to move beyond that.  I’ve said before that most of the things worth doing in the world are hard and cause you to sweat. I’d like to add they are also uncomfortable at first. Most people reading my site are okay with discomfort. In fact, we seek it out!

So instead of persuading you to push your comfort physically, today I’m asking you to push yourself politically and support the Occupy Wall St movement.

How do you feel when you watch the footage of cops beating protesters? Or sweatshop workers making our products? Or the story of a widow whose partner died because he couldn’t afford a surgery and didn’t have health insurance? If you have any feeling toward human beings you are mad. Embrace it. Don’t make excuses for the oppressors. Stay mad. Use that anger. Fight back. It’s not useless. You do make a difference. We have power as individuals. And jail isn’t that bad, I’ve been many times.  What are you going to say when ten years from now you are asked what you did to stop the inequality that plagues our society?

Here are some resources to learn more, get involved and stay involved:

Occupy Wall St  main site

Think Occupy Wall St is a Phase? You don’t get it on CNN

The Daily Show take on how the media is wrongly portraying the protests

Sparrow Media Project is raising money to print the demands

On twitter you can follow the hashtag for the main NYC protests at #OWS. Local ones have their own, like #OccupyLA and OccupySD

Remember, you can get involved in a variety of ways. Noam Chomsky wrote that when he was young he didn’t think his time was best spent at protests so he decided to write instead. 40 books later….Or my fellow Swarm! racer just made a vegan breakfast for hundreds of OccupyLA folks this morning. There’s no one to tell you how to get involved, it’s up to you…

If you have good links please post them in the comments!

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