Don’t deny me my right to diabetes

Just as cries of contempt are rising in New York over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban the serving of oversize sugary drinks, Japanese gourmands are getting ready to say goodbye to raw beef liver after restaurants are prohibited from serving it from July.

Opposers of both bans have protested that they constitute an infringement of personal liberty and that the government has no right to interfere with their choice of what to eat.

I have to say I won’t miss raw liver. I have eaten it just once, drizzled in sesame oil and sprinkled with salt at a restaurant in Naka-Meguro, while still riding the euphoric carnivorous adventurism that had me gobbling up tripe, cartilage and blood after the deprivation of a misguided meatless decade. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite stomach the slimy, ferrous texture. But I’d still prefer it to a Big Gulp.

After all, it’s a completely natural substance–and a nutritional powerhouse at that — although it can also harbour E-coli, which killed five people in Japan last year after a spate of food poisoning incidents involving raw meat.

New York’s Big Gulp ban, on the other hand, regards a wholly artificial liquid, spiked with corn-syrup and chemicals and served in elephantine tureens. Soft drinks have found to be responsible to some extent for the obesity epidemic, soaring cases of diabetes and a host of other lifestyle-related diseases that threaten the lives of far more than five people a year. One third of adults in the U.S. are obese; one in twelve has diabetes.

And yet Americans are so shot through with a belief in individual freedom and choice that they see government intervention in their diets as an affront to their civil liberties— in effect, they defend their right to eat themselves to death. But what if people have become fatter not because of their own personal choices, or even a collective failure of willpower, but rather as a result of specific government policies and politicians’ complicity with an ultra-powerful food lobby? Would they feel somewhat differently if they knew that the obesity epidemic is actually the government’s fault? 

As this article in the Guardian explains, the explosion in obesity rates coincided with the proliferation of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sanctioned and encouraged by the government as a convenient way to deal with corn surpluses after Nixon initiated production of the crop on an industrial scale.
HFCS was injected into everything—bread, meat, salad dressing—unbeknownst to consumers. It was cheap, palatable; it replaced the flavour of oil and lard in food when the misguided low-fat diet craze swept in.

But high doses of fructose are toxic, according to a growing number of scientists, who say it is also the culprit behind heart disease, hormonal disorders including diabetes, cancers and other degenerative diseases. It causes fatty liver, just like overconsumption of alcohol. It makes you insatiably hungry. And, worse of all, it is extraordinarily efficient at stimulating fat gain, particularly around the midsection, as well as sending hormones such as insulin and leptin haywire.

As we ate more fructose, our appetites expanded, and so did portion sizes. And so we got fatter. Again, many would prefer to see this as an aspect of free choice: if you want to eat less, just eat less! But even those with a will of steel consume more when faced with more. Studies have shown that people will pronounce themselves satiated to the same degree even when they eat vastly different amounts of food if they have been led to believe the amount is the same. As hungry animals biologically wired to consume as much fat, carbohydrate and salt as we can to help us through times of scarcity, we are pretty easily duped. The problem is we now suffer from excess, not scarcity.

It was the initiative of restaurants and food manufacturers, not customer clamouring, that brought larger meals and drinks into existence. Just as no-one imagined that they needed, say, a Rubik’s cube or a SodaStreamer in the 1970s, no one was crying out for a bucket of sugary liquid. But once it was served to them, they lapped it up—and wanted more. Marketing means products don’t just answer needs; they create desires.

Assertions about moral paternalism in the context of obesity and diabetes epidemics are absurd.

The accusations of moral paternalism leveled at Bloomberg reveal a contradiction in the American ideology. Libertarians loathe governmental control because it removes what they see as capitalism’s greatest virtue: the provision of choice. Big Business, on the other hand, supplies choice, which is why libertarians have such a curious blind spot when it comes to corporate control and manipulation of human desires.

How do they manipulate us? By tinkering with recipes until they find the exact cocktail of sugar, fat, salt and chemicals to tickle our primal hunger for their substances, and yet leave us unsatiated and wanting more. Sugar is addictive. This doesn’t mean we don’t have the free will to refuse it; it just means that it is harder to do so. We don’t need to get into the murky debate of whether addicts have free will or whether they are powerless in the face of their addiction; it is clear where the responsibility lies when you see the correlation between a growing abundance of high-sugar foods and larger portions, and a rocketing rate of obesity.

Moreover, you cannot have free choice if you are not in possession of all the facts—as we are not when sugar lurks in the most unlikely of foods, such as sausages, cheese, and pasta—or when you are kept in the dark about the health consequences of sugar because powerful food lobbyists have suppressed all negative news about it.

If anyone is guilty of impinging on our liberty, it’s the food business, which has changed the ingredients of our diet right under our noses to something that is downright toxic. As the author of the aforementioned Guardian article, Jacques Peretti, puts it:

        “If it could be proved that at some point the food industry became aware of the long-term detrimental effects their products were having on the public, and continued to develop and sell them, the scandal would rival that of what happened to the tobacco industry.”

What if, rather than trying to nanny New Yorkers, Bloomberg is merely trying to correct years of government policy that has not only failed to legislate against a toxin responsible for many more lethal diseases than cigarettes, but has encouraged its proliferation? It’s tragic that while Michelle Obama is planting vegetables in the White House’s garden and doing press-ups on television to combat childhood obesity—one in three American children is overweight—her husband and his government remain beholden to some immoral and extremely powerful lobbyists that allowed pizza to be declared a vegetable by Congress, which also scrapped a plan to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children due to pressure by influence groups.

In a previous post about Fukushima I noted that people are happy to drink themselves to death or smoke their lungs out, because in their own warped calculus the pleasure from a vice they chose is worth dying from. But if someone dies of something through no fault of their own, or worse, because of some bureaucratic incompetence, then they’re outraged. By the time people realise that the government has encouraged their ill health through the sanctioning of toxic ingredients, or the government finally tries to reverse the tidal wave of sickness its own policies caused, having realised the social and economic costs, it will probably be too late.

Nobuyoshi Ito in Iitate, Fukushima

The word “irradiated” has such visceral power. We imagine our guts made luminous by Ibaraki spinach, our cells scarred by Futaba beef, our hair and teeth breaking free of their moorings due to the fallout.

The invisibility of radiation polarizes reactions to it: people are either indifferent, or terrified. The former, noticing no changes in the environment around them, pay it no heed, apart from perhaps increased conscientiousness when grocery shopping. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Sailer (Louis Templado)

The Japanese government’s intention to dispose of contaminated debris and topsoil from Fukushima in storage facilities in other prefectures is misguided and will not reduce health risks, according to nuclear waste disposal expert Michael Sailer, 58, who spoke at the Global Conference for a Nuclear-Free World held on Jan. 14-15 in Yokohama.

“It doesn’t matter whether you give a small number of high doses to a small number of individuals or you give the same total amount in low doses to a lot of individuals because the amount of fatalities by cancer would be the same,” said Sailer, who is the CEO of the Öko-Institut for Applied Ecology, a research and consultancy agency based in Berlin.

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The foreign press have recently picked up on a new ‘craze’ in Japan: cosmetic dentistry for yaeba, or, as I like to call them, fangs.
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Chris Berthelsen

To those who see Michael Woodford as a hero for blowing the whistle on a $1.5 billion accounting cover-up at Olympus Corp., the firm’s insistence that he was fired for failing to understand the Japanese business culture is absurd.

Yet to Chris Berthelsen, a Tokyo-based consultant who has researched the experience of foreign executives in Japan, there may be some weight in Olympus’s claim.
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Meet Toyoko Suzuki. She lives right on the border of the 20km exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant:
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After a couple of months of almost mainlining the news on the Fukushima nuclear crisis, I turned off. I made a conscious choice to stop reading the updates in details and to not get paranoid or worried; there’s only so much energy you can expend before you become exhausted. At that point, you have to decide whether to commit to the issue or not- and I simply wasn’t worried enough about the impact of radiation on my own health to remain constantly abreast of the daily developments.
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Here we will have a break from normal transmission to broadcast some rather interesting Japanese blog posts I came across today. I took the time to translate them properly because machine translations, as were posted on Enenews, weren’t quite up to scratch. They allege that many more workers have died at the Fukushima No. 1 plant than TEPCO, the government or the media are letting on. The figure in the latter article – 4,300 people – seems ridiculously high and I doubt that many people could die and it not become news, even with large amounts of bribery money being paid.
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The Otohime. Destroyer of Worlds- and autonomous bladder control

Pavlov would be thrilled. In the 1890s he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell in St. Petersburg. Now, in the 21st century, Japan has trained its womenfolk not to urinate unless they hear the sound of a waterfall.

Hold on, you say. Does this mean the lot of them have to haul ass to the nearest nature spot to take a leak? Fortunately not: instead, Japanese technology has sorted out that particular conundrum for them by installing neat little boxes in toilets, the “Otohime,” which emit a tinny version of Niagara. Apparently many of them find it difficult to tinkle without the jingle.
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Lady Gaga might have worn steak to an awards ceremony, but I still never thought I’d see a happy marriage between two of my most disparate interests: electronic music and animal husbandry.

But if anyone was to do it, it’s Matthew Herbert, a man who has made entire albums out of recording coke cans, stomach rumblings and torn newspapers. According to his manifesto, he rejects drum machines and samples of music that already exists, building everything out of samples of his immediate surroundings, or else live instruments. For the album “Bodily Functions,” he recorded yawns, coughs, scratching, and all the other infinitesimal sounds that human bodies make, and then formed beats, loops and melodies out of them.
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