The Skeptical Methodologist

Software, Rants and Management

This Lifehacker Diet Article is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

“Hey there, did you know everyone else is lying to you about diet? It’s all due to their corrupt corporate interests! I have no agenda, and will explain to you why everyone else is lying. Also, avoid processed food, as everyone knows that’s bad for you.”

Before we get started, there are a lot of great gems in the article. It does go into why diet is so confusing. But unfortunately, it breaks its own rule. It fails to cite evidence for its claims, and even misuses the word ‘natural’ in the middle of an article dismissing the word as meaningless.

Let’s dive into a few assumptions here. First, they are right in stating that there’s a lot of mixed messages out in diet. I’d come away saying that we actually know little beyond people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables seem to be healthier. But we don’t necessarily even know why since there’s so many confounding variables there.

But this ‘corporate interest’ bullshit that should be the first sign that it’s not one person selling you truth and another falsehood, its just two bullshit vendors providing different varieties. Corporations are not evil. Repeat that with me. Corporations are almost completely amoral, in fact. They, for the most part, exist to maximize profits assuming human management with bounded rationality is making the day to day decisions. What does that mean? Does it mean Corporations are trying to get you fat, to die early, to lie to you? No, it means that established corporations biggest motivator is to protect the status quo. The status quo makes them money.

Let’s think about that for a bit. Does that mean that General Mills might try to convince you Fruity Pebbles is completely healthy for you? Yes, it does. They currently sell Fruity Pebbles, its in their interest to try and convince you to keep buying it. But what if they sold Grandpa John’s brand dried vegetable slaw (now with more wholesome!)? Well then they’d try to convince you that vegetables are healthy for you too! They aren’t trying to sell you packaged shit, they just happen to already sell packaged shit, so they want you to keep buying.

This same logic works for so-called ‘natural’ foods, which appears to just be foods closer to their original state. Organic farmers can charge nice hefty margins because they’ve convinced you that organic is healthier, even though there’s little evidence for that. Basically, everyone who sells something is motivated to keep you buying. It’s really not that hard to figure out, and it doesn’t make them evil. If science finds the best diet, just wait twenty years and these same evil corporate interests will have built up supply chains, warehouses, and marketing campaigns to make sure you buy that best diet, whatever it is. But until then, expect them to come kicking and screaming. That’s just their nature.

The second assumption they cite without evidence is this ‘processed food is bad for you’ clap trap. First of all, what the hell is processed food? Apparently Chetoes. They really seem to hate Chetoes. But beer, cheese, bread, pickles, deli meats, milk and yogurt are all processed too. Fermentation, cooking, pickling, and the like. Those are all processes. Canned vegetables, frozen berries, these are processed too. Are all these things bad for you? Not at all. You can tell the author’s motivations when they compare so called ‘processing’ to cooking at home, which is just another process. Apparently, processing is okay if you do it yourself. Do you see the motivations and assumptions too?

I’ll spell it out: eat food rich people eat, and avoid food poor people eat. Cooking at home is a luxury someone who isn’t working two jobs can do, it must be healthier for you. This sort of unprocessed push is just more upper class privilege asking why the poor colored masses aren’t living as long. Clue: it’s because they are poor, not because they aren’t eating what you eat. Just like the obesity epidemic was more or less invented so we can continue to hate blacks and latinos, the rampage against processed food is another way we can all feel better about making fun of that lower class family picking up some more hamburgers from McDonalds and blame them for their own misfortune.

Does this mean Fruity Pebbles is healthy? I have no idea. Fortified cereals have been shown to lower a nationwide deficiency of folic acid, so they’ve got that going for them. But the more important thing to point out is that there are many processed foods that are bonafied healthy – tomato paste being my favorite example as having a more bioavailable form of lycopene than whole tomatoes. Using simple rules like “unprocessed” is a great way to eliminate more than half the population from your recommendation since they can’t afford to eat that way anyway and eliminate a whole lot of good pathways to nutrition.

I’d say this unprocessed fad is no better than all the others, and it really gets to me that someone would go through such trouble to point out why everyone else is lying to you while blatantly doing the same to you themselves. It’s the kind of moral superiority that upper class, out of touch, privilege gets them, I suppose.

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May 7, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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