Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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A Day in the Life of the Poison Squad

A little history:

Are you concerned about food additives? If you think food additives are an issue now, please read the following and “entertaining” article about how bad it was at the turn of the 20th century. The idea was the work of Harvey Washington Wiley, MD who later became known as the “father of the FDA. It all began as pure food and drugs laws evolved as the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906 (aka as the Wiley Act) and then was succeeded by the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938.

Wiley was a corporal in the Union Army Civil War but ultimately became a professor of chemistry at Purdue University and later Director of Chemistry at the USDA. During this time, he set up a feeding study of the safety of food additives, in particular borax. He recruited 12 healthy young men who were employees of the USDA and fed them meals with borax, salicylic acid, sulfuric acid, sodium benzoate and formaldehyde. The group became nationally known as the “Poison Squad.” It was ended when some volunteers became very ill with digestive symptoms so severe that they could no longer function.  However, no one died. (Amazing, in my opinion)

Much later, Wiley ironically became the director of the Bureau of Foods, Sanitation and Health at Good Housekeeping womens’ magazine, famous for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  Check out his attitude about women in the following article.

He died in 1930 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.



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Was Otzi the Ice Man a Carnivore?

Well, we finally may have solved one question – did our ancestors eat meat or not? Apparently so – at least Otzi the mummy did. We surmise he hunted and gathered right up until his death.  This gives some credence to the Paleo dieters’ claims.

Now the latest fad diet is referred to as the Carnivore Diet.  This diet has been given a green light at least according to the nutrition “gurus” on the internet with hardly any science to back its claims. Whatever happened to common sense? This diet does not fit the often cited  recommendation”eat a balanced diet.”

For the story of Otzi, click HERE.

For more about his diet, click HERE.


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Why is a Sundae called a Sundae ?

Try a new category at Food Facts and Fads called “The American Plate.” The posts are a collection of short facts and fads about food in the past and present and contributes to our current American culture. Enjoy!!!

Why are Sundaes Called Sundaes?

The term may have begun in Evanston, Illinois back in 1857  that  had a very pious reputation. Drugstores in many parts of the country were serving very popular ice cream sodas with soda water. However, the soda water was in many religious minds too frivolous or “too sassy” to serve on the Sabbath. So it was banned. Other people were outraged, so one drugstore owner came up with a substitute of putting ice cream in a dish with only chocolate syrup added. Later versions added whipped cream, nuts, and cherries, of course.

The new concoctions were advertised as a Sunday “special” but again, the religious community didn’t approve. So the spelling was changed to Sundi and eventually to Sundae with the approval of the city’s religious zealots. The name stuck and as we know still remains one of the most successful and popular desserts today.

The invention of the ice cream cone came later and is often credited to Ernest Hamwi, who sold zalabia (crisp waffle-like pastry) at the Worlds Fair in St. Louis in 1904.

According to the story, Hamwi’s booth was next to an ice cream vendor, who ran short of dishes. He rolled a waffle into a cone shape to contain the ice cream. The accuracy of this story is unknown, and many others have claimed the invention.  Source: Wikipedia



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New Diet Fad : Carnivore Dieting?

With all the talk about plant-based diets, it should be no surprise that this diet would soon follow. After all, we have had the Twinkie Diet, The Potato Diet and the The Big Mac Man who ate two Big Macs every day since 1972, a total to date of 30,000.

The debate about meat vs. vegan has been going on  for many decades. In 1928, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an Arctic explorer and anthropologist and Karsten Anderson, a Danish explorer became the subjects of a year long controlled diet of meat only to settle the long-held controversy.  Bottom Line: It was reported to be that “both men were in good physical condition at the end of the observation in 1930…. there was no subjective or objective evidence of any loss of physical or mental vigor. The researchers detected no evidence of kidney damage or diminished function, and vitamin deficiencies did not appear… nor did mineral deficiency, although the diet contained only a quarter of the calcium usually found in mixed diets.” Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. Gary Taubes ,2007, p.324.

My opinion: I am not promoting any of these diets, although I often lean more to the plant-based. I would think that simply any of these very restrictive diets obviously become monotonous and there are no clear-cut health or environmental advantages to any of them. In longer term studies, some vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies may become apparent depending on your diet choice.  For example, if meat centered, vitamin C or some beneficial phytochemicals may be lacking; for a plant-based diet, vitamin B12 or vitamin D could be in short supply.

More recent research although observational, indicates that nutrient-dense plant-based diets have been the mainstay of cultures that have a history of good health and longevity  (The Blue Zones, e.g.).  We are primarily omnivores which not only helped us survive our early origins, and gives us culinary choices ( best of both worlds – vegan and non-vegan).  Any extreme diet is doomed for failure and questionable in terms of health and simple sustainability (i.e. long-term adherence). The best diet for you is one you can live with.



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Meat Consumption: 2018

With all the talk of plant-based diets, the consumption of meat is estimated to have increased in the past few years after a short dip in consumption.


For a more historical perspective on why Americans eat so much beef, CLICK HERE.