The Week's Food and Health News Roundup

It's been a busy, crazy week in the food and health world. While I'm sure you're celebrating National Tequila Day (July 24th), take a moment to reflect on developments both local and national:

Dark Horse Nation
The section of the History Channel's website dedicated to Dark Horse Nation, a new reality series about the craft brewing operation from Marshall, MI, tells me I "may also like" the series "Vikings," "Mountain Men," and "Swamp People." I'm not sure if Dark Horse should be offended or flattered. My recent visit to the Dark Horse brewery and beer garden did not suggest a longboat or swampside shack, although the similarities in personnel to the aforementioned cultures was notable. Regardless, a small town in Michigan is going to host its own nation reality show about craft brewing, and I'm excited. America is currently in love with small business entrepreneurs who could also be bouncers (Pawn Stars, American Pickers, all those tattoo and motorcycle shows), and I sincerely hope Dark Horse Nation lives up to its lofty name. The auto industry it ain't, but a third nationally-recognized microbrewery is a great feather in the cap of my favorite state.

Horrock's: Now Hiring Bouncers Who Can Recommend a Good Smoked Gouda
We all know you shouldn't grocery shop when you're hungry. What about tipsy? Horrock's, whom FFL considers a friendly neighbor too far away to be competition, is just the place to find out. Horrock's Farm Market in west Lansing is offering 30 taps of beer and glasses of wine at a new walk-up bar. Horrock's joins a prestigious list of casinos and gentlemen's clubs in encouraging their customers to imbibe throughout a visit.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronoavirus, who prefers to omit the "C" from its acronym to differentiate itself from the Minnesota Employee Recreation and Services Council, may be an airborne malady, according to a paper published this week on the website of the American Society for Microbiology. (The Minnesota Employee Recreation and Services Council had no comment when I contacted them about this potential PR nightmare.) There have been 288 deaths since MERS's appearance in 2012, with 836 confirmed cases of infection overall, according to the WHO. WHO? The World Health Organization. When something like this happens, the WHO's on it first.

The deal is this: dead MERS particles can be transmitted through the air, in scenarios including sneezing camels, but it is unclear whether live, infectious MERS can actually be contracted through the air. So, steer clear of camel noses, and you should be fine. You may also want to avoid Minnesota until this all blows over, just to be safe.

Listeria Hysteria
An outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes at the Wawona Packing Company has people tossing more fruit than a bad production of Romeo and Juliet. The very serious Listeria was found on some stone fruits (two nectarines and a peach) during internal quality control at Wawona. This has prompted a nationwide recall, affecting customers of Kroger, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's, Ralph's, and others. You know who has nothing to worry about? The shoppers of Foods For Living. (I'd love to say this has something to do with curating an entirely organic produce section, but it doesn't.)

Supersurprise Me
Perennial punching bag McDonald's is in the news again. Shanghai Husi, a meat supplier for the fast food giant, has drawn the ire of the Chinese government—never a grand idea—after footage was captured of employees using their bare hands to pick up meat from the floor and process it. Many other fast food companies have severed ties with Shanghai Husi, but Ronald is more forgiving, and has no such intention. KFC, among many others, will no longer be sourcing meat from Husi, so we can be sure our genetically engineered, beakless football chickens will continue to meet the same exacting standards.

Bread of State
Whether you think the First Lady is a crusader for fitness and a great role model for healthy living, or a draconian dictator telling us what we can and cannot eat, she is certainly passionate about good food, children, and health. This week, the White House hosted the second annual Kid's State Dinner, where contest winning junior chefs traveled from around the country to enter a charged diplomatic environment in an attempt to broker a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis dine with the First Lady. The contest, sponsored by website Epicurious and the Let's Move! initiative, brings together young chefs from all fifty states, with the aim of promoting healthy cooking and celebrating culinary virtuosity. Watch the dinner in its two hour entirety, if you're into that sort of thing.

Good luck out there, be safe, and remember, tequila is like food news itself: clear, and best consumed in small doses.

Sci-Fi Food: Where Is It Now?

Every time the Jetsons make a meal, I roll my eyes. In an otherwise unfailingly realistic depiction of the future, the imagination of 1962 got the future of food very wrong. We're two years past the end of the world, and I have yet to eat a sandwich prepared by a robot (unless you count the average Subway employee). Robots build our cars, which will soon drive themselves, but making an omelet is apparently too much to ask.

While science fiction predicted bullet trains, cloning, space travel, holograms, laser weapons, flying cars, the Internet and so much more, sci-fi's predictions about food usually end up way off the mark. I, for one, am feeling jilted. Let's check in on sci-nonfi's progress with building the meals of tomorrow, if only to mock their attempts at improving our lives.

Food Pills

"Make you own sandwich, mister."
We all know a woman's place is in the kitchen—supervising and offering commentary as her husband makes dinner. (Joke. This may not be exactly how gender dynamics work in your kitchen.) In fact, I can't make any assumptions about the distribution of labor in your kitchen, or even the makeup of your family unit, since a number of social reforms have shed us of these assumptions. This wasn't always the case, of course. There was a time (like 1893) when I could have comfortably assumed who would be preparing the meals around a given home. And doing the dishes.

Women like Mary Elizabeth Lease had other ideas, however. A gifted orator and suffragette, Lease's contribution to the World's Fair of 1893's Visions of the Future project was, in fact, a meal replacement pill. Well, at least the idea for one. Whereas we might utilize such a pill to facilitate an active lifestyle rife with commutes and long hours, Lease's goal was something much more humanitarian: she wanted to free women of her day from the shackles of the kitchen, for the purpose of pursuing horizons beyond domesticity. Unfortunately, Lease was big on ideas and short on practical food science.

But that was over a century ago. What's stopping us now? A simple problem of physics. As you may have noticed, stores already carry food pills. These are known as "supplements," or "vitamins." And while they may provide nutritional essentials and prevent deficiencies, they cannot replace food. We simply cannot pack enough calories into such a compact form factor. Even pure fat—which is loaded with calories—can't approach the amount of calories necessary to constitute a meal. If you want a satisfying meal-in-a-pill, the pill is going to be the size of a softball.

The real-world applications for superdense meal replacement solids have evolved from feminist ideal or fantasy of convenience into treatments for acute malnutrition. Products like Plumpy'nut, a peanut paste manufactured by a company named Nutriset, are intended for medical emergencies, with a focus on combating third world food scarcity. Plumpy'nut contains peanut paste, milk, vegetable fat, and sugars, with the express purpose of pulling patients from the clutches of famine. Plumpy'nut and other foods designed to combat malnutrition fall under the banner of Read-to-Use-Therapeutic Food (RUTF). From what I understand, this is different than Comfort Food, which is intended to be consumed alongside ice cream, and no less than four (4) episodes of a serial drama.

But if you want that sci-fi thrill of popping a full meal-tasting morsel, you may be in luck. Except you'll have to settle for gum. Scientists at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England have developed a technique of storing flavor bursts in "microcapsules." The skin of these microcapsules can be engineered to withstand different amounts of pressure. The result is a single piece of gum (or pastry) that reveals different flavors throughout your chewing experience. Yes, I also see a horrific future in which a vast and pretentious gum culture arises, ultimately ruining the bottom of every public table everywhere.


Most families of the future, as well as star ship crews, need only press a few buttons and wait before a machine synthesizes the food of their choice in seconds. This is another advance that has failed to materialize. We can use 3D printing technology to build guns, or even buildings, but the closest we have to full meal assembly is that contraption from the opening of Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

But tech moves in cybernetic baby steps, often taking countless iterations and subgenerations to comprise what we think of as a leap.

In other words, you can't print your food yet, but you can print a mush version of certain foods. German company biozoon is pioneering "food texturizers for the molecular gastronomy." Want some edible Martini foam? How about some senior-oriented...nutrition cubes...? The future is now!

Speaking of textural advances in food and space travel, NASA, the more fun of the two government agencies whose names contain the letters "N," "S," and "A," is funding an Austin-based company's research into 3D food printing, with spacefaring in mind. NASA says that the possible advantages of this technology would be significant, including longer shelf life, better storage options, and greater variety.

We may not be teleporting food just yet, but this era does contain some amazing advances: a hat that facilitates the drinking of two cans of beer, anyone? A sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt!? Skynet will be making you omelets before you know it. Literally.  

Talking to Your Kids About Food Songs

Would you trust this man alone with your citrus?
It's the moment every parent dreads: your child approaches you with Led Zeppelin II in his hand and asks why the heck someone would write a song about a lemon. Being prepared goes a long way in talking to your kids about food music. Simply read the included text verbatim to your children, and the discussion will be over before you know it. It's better than learning about foods songs from somebody on the school bus.  

Weird Al Yankovic's Michael Jackson Trilogy

If, like me, you considered Michael Jackson's entire career a staging area for three brilliant Weird Al Yankovic parodies, you've already noticed that 100% of said parodies are about food. Jackson's music was so much raw dough to be baked in the oven of Yankovic's genius. Behold.

Jackson's "Bad" evolved from a meditation on his own ineffable rebel charm into Yankovic's "Fat": a heartbreaking confessional about struggling with obesity. (Actually, Al's song is, if anything, more confrontational—but that's just the belligerence of a deep sadness.)

The butterfly to MJ's larva.
The King of Pop's "Beat It" was a tired meditation on the fight or flight response, which is right up there with "love" in terms of innovative pop music topics. Weird Al decides to go soul searching in his version. Adopting the persona of an overbearing parent, Al dredges up all the worst nags in dinner table admonishment for "Eat It." As the song progresses, we see how genuine concern for a child's nutritional well-being can so easily slip into pathological browbeating.

Not content to simply cash in on the controversy surrounding The King of Pop's 1991 smash "Black or White," Weird Al prudently mutates the song into a series of reflections about his unnatural attachment to between-meal eating and the resulting fallout. "Snack All Night" is essential Yankovic.

"Peaches," by The Presidents of the United States of America

The lyrics to this nineties novelty are not exactly fertile ground for literary criticism. In fact, they're not really ripe for any criticism, being a string of celebratory innuendos. To the Presidents' credit (?), singer Chris Ballew claims the song is an autobiographical lament about his experience squeezing the fruit under a tree after being stood up for a romantic rendezvous. Less to their credit, the song liberally borrows from Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love," a sentiment that is also, arguably, the song's real raison d'ĂȘtre.

"Cherry Pie," by Warrant
The Cadillac of singles.

Cherry Pie may be the only song about food that took less time to write than the titular food does to prepare. According to Warrant frontman Jani Lane, the song was penned in about fifteen minutes. The song's initial conception was scrawled down on...wait for it...a pizza box. (The box is on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Destin, FL. This is not a compelling enough reason to visit Destin, I assure you.)  If you like this song, but want something a little sweeter, just stick it in a blender, and you'll have...

"Pour Some Sugar On Me," by Def Leppard

At least the drummer didn't lose his sugar pourin' arm. A micrometer-thin veil separates this food song's spirit from its ostensible subject matter. The tune never even specifies the type of sugar involved in the entreaty. We can assume it's HFCS if the song's own unavoidability is any indication. Though a bit off-color, this is by no means the most polarizing song about sugar. That honor goes to...

"Brown Sugar," by The Rolling Stones

Though legendary rock critic Robert Christgau calls this classic shack shaker "beyond exegesis," it is more prudence than awe that keeps our visit brief. Suffice it to say that this is the entire rock cliche triad in one song, with some baffling references to great crimes of the past thrown in for good measure.

Sugar, Sugar," by the Archies

Act now and get this collectible coaster.
Ah, finally. An honest-to-goodness song simply celebrating the virtues of...kissing? Kissing!? The title is twice as misleading as necessary! Who comes up with this stuff, Little Caesar? Next!

"Savoy Truffle," by the Beatles

A bouncy little song, as sweet as the name implies. Supposedly a song about Eric Clapton's love of chocolate, it's wise to remember that nothing is as it seems in the word of sixties food songs. This trend would change when a spate of literalism found its way into the titling tendencies of rock's icons. (See "Cocaine," by Eric Clapton, which is about cocaine, or "Heroin," by the Velvet Underground, which is about heroin, despite the banana on the cover.)

"Cheeseburger In Paradise," by Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffet needs no introduction—either you know who he is, or you'll never need to. It should be no surprise that a man with an all-you-can-eat surname rose to fame on songs about epicurean delights. Though he is also fond of margaritas and Peanut Butter Conspiracies, it is "Cheeseburger In Paradise" that boasts an accompanying chain of restaurants. (Technically, Margaritavilles are only cafes...) Besides being awesome for taking a non sequitur cheap shot at the Holiday Inn hotel chain, Cheeseburger In Paradise is an oddly literate monologue of deranged craving borne by too much time at sea. It's pretty family friendly, as those go.

"A Cherry on Top," by The Knife

"A Cherry On Top" is from Shaking the Habitual, which one critic called, "A deranged beast running from a pair of fuzzy dice with machine guns." OK, that was less one critic and more just something I said. But it might not be where you'd expect to find a haiku-length song about dessert. The sweet treats invoked inside this song's fever dream borders may not be available on earth. If they are, though, I know where they're served: the diner in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. This song's scant lyrics mention strawberry, melon, and a cherry, before finishing with a reference to coffee, evening cream, and the home of the Swedish royal family—Haga Castle. It's almost nonsense graffiti, but not quite. The warbling soundscape evokes eating a sundae at the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day, with little ambition to resurface.

  1. Lyricists overwhelmingly prefer sweets over savory items, at least as fodder for singing mostly vowel-emphasizing pop hooks. 
  2. Food songs are never just about food, unless they're for children. This also goes for food blogs. It's good to know this going in.  
I hope this gives you a leg up when it's time to have The Talk. Good luck!

It's Only Natural...and That Means Nothing!

The next time someone tells you something is "only natural," I suggest you say something like, "Do I look like the time of unthinking sheep that jumps on the 'me too' marketing bandwagon!? 'Natural' is a descriptor of parallel worth to 'fine,' 'new,' and 'fresh!' Heap your hype on the pyre, along with miracle cures, limited-time offers, and 'Now with Better Taste!'"

The above response is best suited to discussing "health food," as it is less versatile than you may expect. In the third installment of my Food Industry Information Battle Series (FIIBS), I want to look at what Natural means, why it's ubiquitous, and where we should go from here.

For the readership who enjoys moving pictures and sound, here's a clip which sums up the "Natural" marketing movement nicely:

A proper gander at the propaganda: This video is obviously a propaganda video. It's produced by Who is that? It's a consortium of companies who produce organic products. The list includes Earthbound Farm, Rudi's Organic Bakery, Honest Tea, and many others. These are businesses who enjoy market share because they have gone through the proper channels to ensure their products are Certified Organic. It makes sense that they wouldn't want any old opportunistic company slapping a "Natural" label on its product and becoming a competitor. (Just like "real" doctors are so dismissive about the ones you find on Craigslist.) To their credit, many of these businesses are also run by the original owners and seem genuinely passionate about making food free of harmful additives, GMO, and pesticide. The above propaganda gets my seal of approval, sort of like smoke detector industry propaganda.

So, in the USA, "natural" has no enforceable, consistent definition:

The international Food and Agriculture Organization does not recognize the term "natural" as constituting anything specific in regard to food.

Nice try, SC. You're fooling no one.
The USDA and FDA have no enforceable guidelines for "natural" product labeling. In the USA, you can inject your chicken with lots of salt water, and this is not, by any meaningful definition, unnatural.

Since we know "natural" is a marketing ploy at best, it can't hold any weight over us as consumers, right? Of course not. American shoppers are smarter than that. It's not like pricing something at "$2.99" instead of "$3.00" is actually so effective that it is inescapable...  It's not like we "fall" for mail-in rebates, since we all mail them in, every time. We live in a postmodern, hyper-aware era of consumer agency, where we know every trick in the book. Now if I could just get hold of Kevin Trudeau to send that rebate he promised me...

Or maybe...there wouldn't need to be anti-"Natural" videos if "Natural" wasn't so effective.

We're not in a Kansas "all-natural" beef slaughterhouse anymore...

The resistance to over-processing and wanton additions to food has been going strong since the advent of the modern food industry, predating even the addition of synthetic pesticides to American agriculture in the 1940s. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides worried some folks in Europe, prompting the formation of such organizations as Demeter International of Germany in the 1920s. By the 1940s, there was a robust organization of farmers worldwide who were feeling Aggro about Big Agra's new practices.

20 years later, Silent Spring was published. The next decade saw the banning of DDT and the creation of Organic Certification in the US. Legitimate concerns were birthing an industry, as well as opening the door for marginally effective all-natural deodorant.

1979 gave us not only horror classic Alien, but also the first USDA-approved "natural" beef. One Mel Coleman of Coleman Natural Meat wanted to sell beef from cows raised without antibiotics, hormones, or a meat diet. The USDA said, "No problem, Mel." It is unknown whether Mel was provided with a certificate, or if the matter was resolved in a few minutes of chat over a rotary phone. Despite Coleman's good intentions, a precedent of meaningless was set.

A year later, the first Whole Foods opened with a staff of 19. It's hard to imagine WF as a team of anti-Big Agra guerrillas employing less people than the typical Whole Foods Deli. 

28 years later, Whole Foods is posting profits in the billions, with hundreds of stores nationwide, and a once niche industry is such a threat to mainstream grocery that they can't print the Natural labels fast enough.

A cliche about Newtonian physics goes here...

This Cheetah may soon be extinct.
That said, there is growing resistance to Naturalizing things willy-nilly. According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, many huge companies (such as PepsiCo) are jettisoning the Natural label. The resulting lawsuits and bad PR are simply too brand-damaging. Enough class action, action packed lawsuits alleging false advertising, and even the Matrix gets spooked.

"There's a boatload of litigation and that is going to continue until companies stop conning people,'' Stephen Gardner told the WSJ. Gardner is the litigation director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The same article tells us that the percentage of products launched using the "natural" label has fallen by 8% or 11% in the last 5 years for food and drink, respectively.

Looks like Natural Selection to me.

Natural Progression

So, as an average consumer, your preference for Certified Organic over Somewhat Natural is justified. Mother Natural is going to sort this whole thing out, Naturally. The Natural Bandwagon is a sinking ship, and the rats are accordingly jumping off. (Don't worry, they can still get a job as experiment "volunteers." Natch.) 

The War For Your Opinion on Sugar

Ah, the Internet: a forum for the free exchange of ideas. A place where you can learn that each year, Americans consume, per capita, the weight of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard in actual sugar. A place where a few keystrokes can bring you the straight dope on nearly anything. A place where many people have dedicated nine-to-five jobs writing technically and rhetorically erudite articles espousing mutually incompatible "truths." A place where some people will happily deceive you, because it is their job. A place where doctors, plumbers, and that guy from the cell phone kiosk at the mall all go after work to sift fact from fiction, for the pure pursuit of truth. A place where simply Googling "high fructose corn syrup" will expose you to kilos of "real truth" from one of three HFCS information camps: 1) The "HFCS is totally harmless" camp; 2) The "HFCS is the same as table sugar, which is not to say it's harmless" camp, or 3) The "HFCS is the main culprit in many health problems, and should be regulated, if not illegal" camp.

This should not be a metaphysical issue. We are not discussing what precisely would happen if Neo had put the red and blue pills into a smoothy and chugged it.

Meanwhile, Foods For Living does not carry any products which contain HFCS. I've never heard a customer question this decision, and I've heard many praise it. In the wake of reflecting on the Dr.Oz "scandal" and the role of a humble grocery store in a complex national dialogue, I thought it prudent to look a little closer at HFCS, and FFL's decision not to sell it. I mean, they sell alcohol, and that's literally poisonous, so what gives?

Jennifer K. Nelson is the Director of Clinical Nutrition/Dietetics at the Mayo Clinic. She has this to say on the Mayo Clinic website:

"Research has shown that high-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar. Controversy exists, however, about whether or not the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than table sugar. At this time, there's insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is any less healthy than other types of sweeteners. We do know, however, that too much added sugar — not just high-fructose corn syrup — can contribute unwanted calories that are linked to health problems, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high triglyceride levels. All of these boost your risk of heart disease." Classic Camp 2.

I'd like to point out two things about the above statement. 1) Nelson clearly states the health dangers of a dietary sugar surplus. 2) Nelson is a scientist in high academic standing. This predisposes her to both couching her language in qualifiers—"At this time," "insufficient evidence"—and avoiding prematurely absolute proclamations that could later damage her reputation. This is in no way a criticism of Nelson—it's simply an examination of the tentative, evidence-based statements of presumably impartial health professionals. Having insufficient evidence is certainly not the same as stating that HFCS is simply dandy and nothing to worry about.

What's interesting about Nelson's statement is that it IS incompatible with any statement of certitude regarding HFCS' innocuousness or uniquely harmful effects. The only thing it asserts is that sugar, in excess, is bad.

So what's excessive?

Well, 160 pounds per year, per American is excessive. Since technology evolves much, much faster than biology, we have created a world where we can afford to do something pleasing (eat sugar all the time) that is metabolically destructive. Our bodies still closely resemble those of our ancestors for whom 20 teaspoons a year would have been typical.

But HFCS is delicious. That's why manufacturers put it not just in soda and candy, but bread, "juice," cereal, yogurt, salad dressing, "nutrition" bars, frozen pizza, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese... wait, what? That's right, even pizza and "pasta" aren't safe from the subsidized, sugary tentacles of HFCS.  

"But Greg," you might say,"lacing all those products with sugar in a transparent ploy to sidestep good
sense with deliciousness must be expensive!"
"Wrong, you poor sap!" I'd say. As a corn-derived product, HFCS enjoys the benefit federal subsidies for corn growers. What do the corn growers' associations do with all the that extra money?

Well, lobbying is always nice... though traditional sugar has lobbyists too.

But spiffy "informative" websites don't hurt either: Here's

If you like your corn info with a side of propaganda, that should do nicely. Meanwhile, here's an article from Princeton, espousing many ideas in radical opposition to the ideas at SweetSurprise.

But, you know, here's an article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, stating the opposite conclusion of the Princeton article. The AJCN is not a Big Agriculture mouthpiece to my knowledge, so I think we can at very least take their conclusions as being genuine.

But here's another doctor claiming the opposite thesis, again. His presentational style makes me suspicious, but his points sound, to the layperson, valid. Which is the precisely the problem with scientific inquiry in the sphere of media. All reasonably well-stated cases sound equally plausible to the uneducated, myself included.

So what's a local health food store to do?

As dozens of sources from all corners of industry and medicine will tell you, Americans are obese and dying unnecessary deaths, and sugar is a key offender. (Do you really even need to click any of these links to know that?)

Let's imagine your objective was to get out of shape, destroy your body from the inside out, and die as quickly as possible. The only rule is that you must stick to common grocery items and common rates of consumption. Would you go for the wine right away, hoping to induce liver failure with a glass or two an evening? Or would you remember the fine people of Europe, and despair at their long, skinny, wine-sodden lives? Obviously, your best bet would be to do as your countrymen do now. Eat sugary foods, AKA "nearly any foods," constantly. Hope for diabetes. Even "reducing your sugar intake" to a level that is still many times higher than our biology is equipped to deal with will be catastrophic eventually, so don't worry.

Whether or not HFCS doesn't truly require digestion and therefore gets a metabolic wave-on-through from security, or is simply run of the mill sugar, it's not a good idea to consume it endlessly, in great quantities. Since cane sugar is much more expensive and precludes liberal inclusion in every last grocery item, sticking to cane sugar makes it easy to stop killing yourself sweetly. And since the jury is still conspicuously out, even in reputable scientific circles, it just makes sense for Foods For Living to draw a glycemic line in the sand. Whatever your conclusions on HFCS, I suggest looking before you leap (in a huge sugar pile).

I should say now that I come at this as an armchair epistemologist, and not as a member of a specific camp. As always, I express only my own views, and not those of FFL as a whole.

Biting the Hand that Feeds

Dr. Oz has always been a complicated topic for the folks at Foods For Living, and at health stores generally. Now he's getting some public comeuppance, and I'm glad. There, I said it, and I speak only for myself in saying so. See below.

"Why?" one may ask. "Doesn't he drive customers to Foods For Living by the dozens?"
That he does. To understand why I'm experiencing some Dr. Oz schadenfreude, I'm going to let you witness a different conversation, through the magic of the printed word.

East Lansing: Foods For Living, 5 pm.

"Does it work?" It was no average hope in his eyes—it was the spinning, burning core of the placebo effect.

"Probably not," I said.

The shelf had been stocked earlier that day, and already it was picked nearly clean. Below the remaining few bottles of green coffee bean extract stood a few rows of last week's darling, raspberry ketones.

"But Dr. Oz," said the customer and I in perfect synchronicity.

"What do you think of him?" asked the customer, as so many had before, and would again.

"Dr. Oz forces me to choose between two classic American values: 1)Being a straight shooter, and 2) Doing what's best for my company. And I don't appreciate that," I said. Okay, I (probably) never said that on the sales floor, but I wanted to.

If I were too forward with my own opinions about Dr. Oz's eagerness to sell questionably effective fat-burning pills, this hypothetical customer may think I'm unprofessional, or uncommitted to my role as a supplement seller. I don't want him to think that.

But what's the alternative? I could tell this customer, who trusts me, that Dr. Oz's dozen or so "miracle" weight-loss pills are the answer to their long battle with dieting. I'm not really enthused about that option, either.

Like any polarizing public figure, DOZ has legions of detractors and supporters. I wouldn't say I fall neatly into either camp. The Doc is a charismatic guy with a big megaphone, and I appreciate that he often dispenses sound advice. He is a cultural force, and he gets people thinking about healthy living, diet, and exercise, who otherwise may not. Much like his pal Oprah has done for many authors, Dr. Oz brings health and safety to the daytime television forefront. In a country struggling with obesity, heart disease, and other preventable health issues, the value of Oz's influence is inestimable.

And that's precisely why his decision to hawk "miracle fat burners" between his better segments is troubling.

The people of FFL understand that the human body is indescribably complex, and it's to everyone's benefit to keep an open mind when approaching healing and nutrition. Vitamins, antioxidants, even the simplest exercises--like running--have gone in and out of fashion as our understanding of the body evolves. People of all perspectives can even agree on the healing power of the placebo effect and the immune benefits of positive thinking. Many of theses issues resist simple "thumbs up/thumbs down" judgement.

But there's a line between claiming that something may work for some people, some of the time, and claiming that something rare and expensive is "lightning in a bottle," a "secret weapon," or a "breakthrough." Ham-handed advertising jargon has no place in a real discussion of how to improve your life with better habits and better food.

I think trying garcinia cambogia in an effort to gain an edge in a battle with weight loss is a fine idea, and I'm happy to sell it under that premise. I simply can't get behind the bolder claims attached to some of these products.

While any business is happy to have a trusted public figure driving sales, the FFL staff has always taken the claims of the Great and Powerful Oz with a grain of sea salt. And really, so has everyone else. No customer ever asks if kale "works," or exercise "works." Much like anyone who loves the harmless thrill of the lottery, I don't think most people truly expect Oz's diet pill recommendations to make good on his miraculous claims. But still, they ask, usually rhetorically, simply needing permission to give a low-risk plan a try.

Part of the Oz Dilemma has to do with the fact that many people at Foods For Living assign great value to both integrity and business sense. But there's a larger concern at play, and it goes back to what fundamentally defines Foods For Living.

Foods For Living's mission, since its inception, has been to provide a curated selection of healthy and specialty foods and supplements, alongside staff knowledgeable and friendly enough to make shopping easy. Part of this staff's role is to stay on top of health trends, providing access to all, while separating hype from health, when called upon, to the best of the their ability. It's not always as easy as it sounds.

We'll continue to sell what people want to buy, and we'll continue to be honest about the science involved, to the limit of our knowledge. Inevitably, though, people will buy Oz's recommended products. They will call ahead to check availability, and they will order them specially. They will let us know their displeasure when stock is depleted by a demand usually reserved for new Star Wars movies.

So it is not with cynicism or condescension one may hear, on any given day in the supplement aisle: "Dr. Oz has some great tips and recommendations, but I really can't get behind this (week's) pill until there's more research on the effects." Mind you, I know this could interfere with a sale. But if we didn't say these things, we would be losing a lot more than a sale. We'd be losing integrity, and that's something that you can't simply restock.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Foods For Living as a whole or any of its employees. 

5 Health Hazards That Are Right Under Your Nose

From my days on the force.
My headaches became more seldom after I stopped looking like a Chicago cop. Let me explain.
The mustache, a fine tradition in face grooming, is something I often sport. My mustache decision falls somewhere on a continuum with aesthetics on one end and apathy on the other. While its damage to my reputation or cuddliness are worth mentioning, I had never considered it a "health hazard." It was with the glee accompanying a real epiphany that I connected the following:

1) An unkempt mustache could, at its most wild, tickle the nose.
2) A tickled nose can trigger the body's natural response to nasal invaders, resulting in all sorts of sinus acrobatics, including headaches.
3) Most crucially, the mustache can be a repository of pollen and dust. As a seasonal allergy sufferer, the answer to reducing my sinus headaches it comes... RIGHT UNDER MY NOSE.

This got me thinking-- what other health hazards, great and small, are lurking about the average domicile?  Or even on the average person? Or even in the average person's brain?

Brain Parasites that Make You Crazy
Toxoplasmosis—the sickness caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii—is the reason why the old, infirm, and/or pregnant are sometimes counseled to avoid cat litter boxes. (Don't be fooled by Toxo gondii's name—it's anything but nonviolent.) Toxo is a protozoan that is little threat to those with a healthy immune system, with the small caveat that it remains in your brain even after it's defeated.

A Czech scientist named Jaroslav Flegr is one of the world's foremost authorities on toxoplasmosis. He contends, among other things, that the dormant parasite can actually change your brain's makeup in subtle ways, even affecting your personality. Read this article and join the list of prominent scientists who say he sounds crazy right before they say, "That actually sounds plausible." And change your cat litter. Often.

Licorice is Giving You a Cardiac Event
Heart attack pills?
Many people know this, but it bears repeating: those with heart issues would be well advised to avoid excessive licorice. To quote the University of Maryland Medical Center's website, "Licorice with glycyrrhizin may cause serious side effects. Too much glycyrrhizin causes a condition called pseudoaldosteronism, which can cause a person to become overly sensitive to a hormone in the adrenal cortex. This condition can lead to headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks. It may also cause water retention, which can lead to leg swelling and other problems."

"But!" you shriek, "I like licorice for its medicinal benefits, like easing peptic ulcers!" That's OK. Medicinal licorice drops, such as those found at Foods For Living, are deglycyrrhizinated. (That's why they're called "DGL.")

Much like my mustache, sorbitol is mostly harmless. But (unlike my mustache), it can cause diarrhea and other GI distress in some people. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol and common sweetener, popular in scores of products from chewing gum to cough syrup. It is not a synthetic product per se, as it's found in pears, apples, and some berries, though the version usually present in products is synthesized. Don't be alarmist—the chance of sorbitol intolerance is low. But if you are having digestive distress and can't determine the culprit, ask your doctor about sorbitol.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet... for Nastiness
This should not be how your carpet looks.
When it comes to secret repositories of nast, carpet is a culprit. As the International Association of House Inspectors will tell you, carpet mold is a problem. It can trigger allergic reactions, or even become toxic. Anti-mold-colonial advice includes the use of antimicrobial carpet padding and keeping carpet dry, especially after cleaning.

Pollen, my hated enemy, is as adept at hiding under my feet as it is under my nose. Pollen (and pet dander) in a carpet can exude a subtle miasma into the life of an allergic person until she's crying for mercy. Here are some quick tips on cleaning pollen out of carpet.

Between the Sheets
A potential crippling in the making.
There's nothing quite like the tidiness of a properly made bed. But quarter-bouncing bed tightness comes with a priceand it's a lot more than 25 cents. Too-tight sheets can constrict your feet and ankles, causing anything from mild discomfort to tendonitis. Impress your drill sergeant, but untuck the foot of your bed before sleeping.

Frankly, I had intended to include "germ hotspots" in this post, but the list of little-known germ danger zones from the kitchen alone would bloat this blog beyond acceptability. It looks like you'll be living in danger until text time.