Blackmail by Quacks


Trevor Butterworth examines how Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) blackmails companies like the maker of Budweiser in an excellent essay: Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall For The Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe.

Fortunately, there are real experts on the Internet, and they are not pulling any punches. The Food Babe “is the Jenny McCarthy of the food industry,” writes “beer snob” and cancer surgeon David Gorski on Science-Based Medicine. “Of course,” he adds, “I don’t mean that as a compliment.”

As Gorski notes, Hari’s strategy is to “name a bunch of chemicals and count on the chemical illiteracy of your audience to result in fear at hearing their very names.” Anti-freeze in beer? Propylene glycol has many uses, but the reason it’s used in de-icing solutions is that it lowers the freezing temperature of water. That’s it.

Here’s the thing: you may chuckle about how stupid the Food Babe attack on Budweiser is. But what about the global citrus industry? There are real people growing your orange juice in Florida or Queensland. These are real people who are rapidly loosing their battle with citrus greening. This is a perfect example of the value of having genetic engineering in the plant science toolbox – whether it’s papaya, cassava or citrus – it’s plain stupid to rule out using the safest, and fastest method for developing a resistant strain of the crop. GE saved the Hawaiian papaya. Today the #FoodFear activists would probably succeed to kill the papaya crop.

The problem is that the Big Organic interests have figured out that they can cripple producers by making consumers afraid of any plant whose DNA was precisely designed by modern biotech. That makes the orange growers afraid to use the best tool to protect their orchards (it’s hard to sell orange juice that moms think will poison their children – moms know that because the Googled “GMO”).

From The Fight to Save Our Oranges: Additional solutions are being sought on many levels, says Folta, from straight up nutrient management to changing the way citrus is grown entirely. For example, new genetics are helping breed trees that don’t get the disease or show symptoms at all. In “transgenic citrus,” trees have a gene added to confer resistance or tolerance to the disease. In fact, there is a gene from spinach that seems to help the tree grow fine with infection. 

“The genes from spinach should not have any effect on the normal growth of the citrus plants. The genes are just providing resistance/tolerance against citrus greening, so the trees can survive and be healthy. The field trials we have in place will confirm this,” says Dr. Erik Mirkov, a Professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, and a faculty member in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology in Weslaco, Texas at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center. Mirkov discovered and developed the spinach gene therapy in his lab.

There are other genes that have been installed to help the trees grow or fight infection as well. But opponents of GMOs may not like these options…

“The use of genetics and biotechnology in modern breeding methods is becoming more prevalent in the food supply. It will be our job to keep looking for ways to provide consumers with education and assurances that the technology results in foods that are no different from those produced by other breeding methods,” says Mirkov.
Folta adds, “These genetic solutions are all very promising, but there are some big hurdles to overcome in terms of consumer acceptance and massive deregulation. There is a big effort already to question the safety and efficacy of these products even though no fruit have ever been consumed, and they simply contain a gene product that is eaten in any spinach salad,” says Folta.

Blackmail by #FoodFear: Imagine that you are an orange grower. You’ve abandoned your first-infected orchards; you’ve burned the more recently affected trees. New trees are very costly to replace the sick trees “and take four to five years to become productive, but those trees are not fully productive for a few more years after that.” The Food Babe has already been on TV frightening people away from Franken-Oranges. What do you do? Quit farming and go on food stamps?

If you are a Ugandan cassava farmer you can’t fall back on food stamps. But your cassava crop is being decimated by the Cassava Mosaic virus and Cassava Brown Streak virus. There is a resistant transgenic cassava available. Sadly Greenpeace and the other anti-GMO activists have been very effectively promoting food-fear – even spreading false video interviews with farmers who are growing the first GM cassava.

#FoodFear blackmail works only because you dear consumer allow it to work. Think about that, please.

How to eat well in Genoa [Genova]

George Mason economist Tyler Cowen, author of An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, just posted a note on some of his delectable discoveries in Genoa.

BTW, if you haven’t yet read An Economist Gets Lunch, I can almost guarantee you will find Tyler’s book as engaging as we did. The book has nearly zero intersection with all the other foodie books on the shelf. You will enjoy the reading immensely, and enjoy the eating for the rest of your life. 

Genoa is one of the best food venues in Italy, as is Liguria more generally.  It is also one of the best places in Europe for vegetarian dining.  Maximize the number of tarts and vegetable tarts you eat, skip hotel breakfast and look for small places with morning snacks, preferably baked goods, and treat them as the equal of cooked dishes.  Forget about meat altogether.

1. Antica Sciamadda, 14-16 Via San Giorgio, arrive at the 11:30 opening and keep on buying the tarts and farinata as they are freshly baked and put out on the counter.  There is a vaguely Arabic feel to the dishes, and there is an excellent video of the place here.  There are many excellent ‘sciamadda’ in Genoa and they lie somewhere between a food stall and a very small restaurant, so do not count on them being open for dinner.

2. Trattoria alle Due Torri, Salita del Prione 53, near the Columbus house.  Order pasta and focaccia, this is some of the best spaghetti I’ve had, and the pansotti (ravioli in walnut sauce) is notable.

3. La Rina, superb seafood restaurant, don’t focus on the main courses.

There are relatively few tourists in town, although the most common group — by far — is Russians.  From Bologna, here is a post about flunking out of Gelato University.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

The Allure of the Underground Supper Club

If you a foodie, then this New Yorker piece on underground chef Craig Thorton’s Wolvesmouth is for you. Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.


For a confluence of reasons—global recession, social media, foodie-ism—restaurants have been dislodged from their traditional fixed spots and are loose on the land. Established chefs, between gigs, squat in vacant commercial kitchens: pop-ups. Young, undercapitalized cooks with catchy ideas go in search of drunken undergraduates: gourmet food trucks. Around the world, cooks, both trained and not, are hosting sporadic, legally questionable supper clubs and dinner parties in unofficial spaces. There are enough of them—five hundred or so—that two former Air B-n-B employees founded a site,, to help chefs manage their secret events. The movement is marked by ambition, some of it out of proportion to talent. “You’ve got a lot of people trying to be Thomas Keller in their shitty walkup,” one veteran of the scene told me. If you’re serving the food next to the litter box, how else are you going to get people to pay up?

At Wolvesmouth, Thornton has accomplished something rare: above-ground legitimacy, with underground preëminence. In February, Zagat put Thornton on its first “30 Under 30” list for Los Angeles. “Top Chef” has repeatedly tried to get him on the show, and investors have approached him with plans for making Wolvesmouth into a household name. But he has been reluctant to leave the safety of the den, where he exerts complete control. “I don’t want a business partner who’s like, ‘You know, my mom used to make a great meat loaf—I think we should do something with that,’ ” he told me. “I don’t necessarily need seventeen restaurants serving the kind of food I do. When someone gets a seat at Wolvesmouth, they know I’m going to be behind the stove cooking.” His stubbornness is attractive, particularly to an audience defined by its pursuit of singular food experiences. “He is obsessed with obscurity, which is why I love him,” James Skotchdopole, one of Quentin Tarantino’s producers and a frequent guest, says. Still, there is the problem of the neighbors, who let Thornton hold Wolvesmouth dinners only on weekends, when they are out of town. (He hosts smaller, private events, which pay the rent, throughout the week.) And there are the authorities, who have occasionally shut such operations down.