Is Whole Foods a bastion of pseudoscience?

Whole Foods is an American-founded “natural” grocery store that has now expanded into Canada and the UK. It specializes in “natural” foods, which Wikipedia characterizes as follows:

Whole Foods Market only sells products that meet its self-created quality standards for being “natural”, which the store defines as: minimally processed foods that are free of hydrogenated fats as well as artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives, and many others as listed on their online “Unacceptable Food Ingredients” list. Whole Foods Market has also announced that it does not intend to sell meat or milk from cloned animals or their offspring, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled them safe to eat.

It also does not sell GMO foods.  Because of its high prices and the demography of its shoppers (young wealthy people), the store is sometimes called “Whole Paycheck.”

I went to one of these places last weekend, and although the foods were tempting, they were also very pricey. I suppose that’s the tariff for organic stuff, and I confess that I’m not pure enough to buy the organic stuff.  Good for those who have the will and money to do so.

But there’s also a dark side to Whole Foods, at least as described in an article by Michael Schulson in The Daily Beast: “Whole Foods: America’s temple of pseudoscience.” The accusation is that the store sells homeopathic remedies and other foods/drugs that sport medically unsubstantiated claims. I didn’t verify this myself, and I learned this only after my visit, but if it’s true—and I’m sure Schulson wouldn’t screw this up for fear of a lawsuit—it’s something that the store should remedy. (Schulson is a freelance writing described as having “a B.A. in religious studies from Yale.”

Schulson’s complaint:

My own local Whole Foods is just a block away from the campus of Duke University. Like almost everything else near downtown Durham, N.C., it’s visited by a predominantly liberal clientele that skews academic, with more science PhDs per capita than a Mensa convention.

Still, there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.

You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,” and bottles of ChlorOxygen chlorophyll concentrate, which “builds better blood.” There’s cereal with the kind of ingredients that are “made in a kitchen—not in a lab,” and tea designed to heal the human heart.

I didn’t verify, as I said, whether the store I visited had a “homeopathy” section, but that would be unconscionable in any store. But browsing the Whole Foods website you can find information about homeopathic remedies for allergies, homeopathic remedies for colds and flu, and at least three homeopathic remedies for the latter. Boiron homeopathic medicines are also advertised as being sold at Whole Foods; the Boirion website lists a huge variety of medicines covering a huge number of ailments.

The liberal (and young) clientele was certainly visible in the Chicago branch I visited. I was probably the oldest person in that crowded store, and, ironically, the parking lot was full of gas-guzzling SUVs, as well as expensive cars like Audis and Porsches.

There’s more, though, about the quackery:

Nearby are eight full shelves of probiotics—live bacteria intended to improve general health. I invited a biologist friend who studies human gut bacteria to come take a look with me. She read the healing claims printed on a handful of bottles and frowned. “This is bullshit,” she said, and went off to buy some vegetables. Later, while purchasing a bag of chickpeas, I browsed among the magazine racks. There was Paleo Living, and, not far away, the latest issue of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Pseudoscience bubbles over into anti-science. A sample headline: “Stay sharp till the end: the secret cause of Alzheimer’s.” A sample opening sentence: “We like to think that medicine works.”

Well, lots of stores have magazines containing that kind of pseudoscience, but if I were the boss of Whole Foods, I’d try to keep that out. If the store is dedicated to keeping its clientele healthy, it should get rid of stuff that isn’t good for health, like homeopathic remedies.

A couple of Schulson’s other complaints, though, sound curmudgeonly:

At times, the Whole Foods selection slips from the pseudoscientific into the quasi-religious. It’s not just the Ezekiel 4:9 bread (its recipe drawn from the eponymous Bible verse), or Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, or Vitamineral Earth’s “Sacred Healing Food.” It’s also, at least for Jewish shoppers, the taboos that have grown up around the company’s Organic Integrity effort, all of which sound eerily like kosher law. There’s a sign in the Durham store suggesting that shoppers bag their organic and conventional fruit separately—lest one rub off on the other—and grind their organic coffees at home—because the Whole Foods grinders process conventional coffee, too, and so might transfer some non-organic dust. “This slicer used for cutting both CONVENTIONAL and ORGANIC breads” warns a sign above the Durham location’s bread slicer. Synagogue kitchens are the only other places in which I’ve seen signs implying that level of food-separation purity.

Actually, I’ve used Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Oil Soap for years, simply because it smells good. The label, which makes all kinds of outrageous claims and statements, verges on demented ravings, but I don’t know anyone who pays attention to that. As for the mixing of organic and nonorganic coffee dust or bread crumbs, yes, I find that overly punctilious, but it’s something that a store specializing in natural foods has to do to let its customers know what is what.

But these quibbles pale in light of Whole Foods’ selling of homeopathic remedies and foods that make unsubstantiated health claims. That alone is enough to justify Schulson’s piece. And in the main I think he’s right when he argues that pseudoscience is pseudoscience, whether it’s in the aisles of Whole Foods or the Creation Museum:

Still: a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (think What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or Whole Foods’ overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article). If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?

Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play.

Where Schulson goes wrong, I think, is in claiming that neither creationism nor quackery is especially harmful:

I’m not saying that homeopathy is especially harmful; I’m saying that creationism may be relatively harmless. In isolation, unless you’re a biologist, your thoughts on creation don’t matter terribly much to your fellow citizens; and unless you’re a physician, your reliance on Sacred Healing Food to cure all ills is your own business.

Well, creationism isn’t harmless to just biologists: it’s harmful to the public in three ways. First, when it’s taught in schools, it keeps children from learning abut one of the great wonders of nature, and the central organizing theory of biology: all living creatures descend from a single ancestral organism, largely via the materialistic process of natural selection, and every species on Earth is related to every other one. That’s just amazing, even to jaded biologists like me.

Second, creationism, an outgrowth of religion, enables further magical thinking, and blurs the lines between science and religion, which is the same as blurring the lines between rationality and irrationality.

Third, the fight to get creationism in the schools is a fight against America’s First Amendment to the Constitution: freedom of (and from) religion. If we allowed creationism in schools, there’s no doubt—as IDers and their Wedge Strategy make clear—that further incursion of religion would follow, culiminating in theocratic public schools.

Yes, it’s people’s own business whether they dose themselves with overpriced water—unless they have something that’s infectious. And, even if they don’t, homeopathy, like false medical claims for stuff like ashwagandha root, is dangerous because it deludes people into thinking that they can cure themselves and forget about doctors. It so happens that I had a friend with salivary gland cancer, and he initially relied on homeopathic medicine to treat it. After it became clear that the stuff didn’t work, he finally got himself to a real doctor, and had an operation. I think he’s in the clear now, but he could have easily died had he not come to his senses.  So yes, homeopathy is dangerous—in fact more dangerous than creationism if you simply count human health. Whether creationism leads to less overall “well being” than homeopathy, given that both enable “magical thinking,” is something we can’t adjudicate. But since neither is true, we should fight against both.

Sadly, Schulson sort of undercuts his thesis by offering an analysis of why we fault creationists so much more than Whole Foods, even though both purvey pseudoscience. He gives two reasons:

Still, we let [Whole Foods' pseudoscience] off the hook. Why? Two reasons come to mind. The first is that Whole Foods is a for-profit business, while the Creation Museum is the manifestation of an explicitly religious and political movement. For some reason, there’s a special stream of American rage directed at ideological attacks on science that seems to evaporate when the offender is a for-profit corporation. It wasn’t especially surprising that Bill Nye would go and debate Ken Ham; it would have been unusual had he, say, challenged executives at the biotech company Syngenta—which has seemingly been running a smear campaign against a Berkeley biologist—to a conversation about scientific integrity, or challenged Paleo Magazine’s editors to a debate about archaeology. For those of us outside the fundamentalist world, I imagine that the Creation Museum gift shop is the one part of the museum that makes some kind of sense. Well, okay, they’re trying to make money with this stuff. Meanwhile, Whole Foods responds to its customers, as any good business should.

I doubt this.  I don’t see the shoppers at Whole Foods being especially pro-business. In fact, I see them as anti-business, at least when those businesses are agrobusinesses or Big Pharma. My own theory (which is mine) is that I don’t think the customers are either aware of the homeopathic remedies in the store (the person who took me there didn’t know about that at all), or they don’t know what homeopathy is.  Those sorts of remedies are, I think, far more common in Europe (where they’re sometimes counted as government-subsidized “medicines”) than in the U.S.

And, second, we often have it stuck in our heads that science communicators have only failed to speak to the religious right. But while issues of science-and-society are always tied up, in some ways, with politics, they’re not bound to any particular part of the spectrum. Just ask Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., liberal political scion and vaccine skeptic extraordinaire, or Prince Charles, who pushed British health ministers to embrace homeopathic medicine.

This I don’t get. I don’t think that when left-wingers promote pseudoscience, they’re granted some kind of immunity by either skeptics or scientists. Orac, Harriet Hall, and other people who (I think) are liberals go after quackery all the time, as do many of the atheist/leftist bloggers like Sharon Hill and Simon Singh.  As for science communicators failing to speak to the religious right—really?  Here are a few names: Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye. It’s my impression that, in fact, people realize that science communicators do speak to the religious right. And they also speak to people like anti-vaxers, “spritual” healers, and anti-GMO foodies. Quackery is quackery, and we’re equal-opportunity skeptics.

The important issue is that a widespread and profitable grocery chain, which promotes itself as purveying “healthy” foods, appears to push quackery—spurious remedies that can hurt people by keeping them from seeking proper medical attention. If you’re a Whole Foods shopper, and have any respect for science and science-based medicine, you should protest this to the store and to the company.

234 Comments

  1. Cara
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Ditto.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I find a lot of organic grocery stores flirt with the homeopathic and pseudoscience. I’ve found these remedies not only st Whole Foods buy also at independent chains and I’ve often remarked that you need to go to these places knowing what is BS.

    As for scientists not speaking out about pseudoscience health claims, that’s just plainly untrue. I recently signed a petition in Canada that lobbied the Health minister to get more accurate language written on so-called homeopathic vaccines so people wouldn’t get this confused with actual vaccines. I’m pretty sure a scientist was behind that. Also, we have a grass roots site called Skeptic North where people with various expertise bust pseudoscience.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Definitely Whole Foods is not alone and demonstrably not the worst at panning useless products. Those products, in my view, are fairly innocuous. At best, they are mostly a waste of money. Not all bad.

      But I have seen people who declare allegiance to homeopathy/natural substances and most of them look so lamentably unhealthy its astounding. Seriously, they are not charming role models for the auspices of the products they are trying to champion.

  3. paul kramarchyk
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Nothing to add. I agree with every word, 100%. Whole Foods is a religion for those who have the means to indulge their paranoia and wishful thinking. And like most religions, a very profitable one for those who make the rules.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      In addition to paranoia and wishful thinking, I’d add “status establishment” to the list of reasons people feel the need to shop at WF. They think they’re broadcasting how impossibly with it they are. With it enough to hold a job that pays well enough to allow them to shop there, with it enough to know what special kinds of foods are going to keep them in tip-top shape, and with it enough to know what kinds of foods are pure evil.

  4. Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    It’s not just on the shelves that Whole Foods promotes pseudoscience. My family
    boycotted the company years ago over the crazed, spittle-drenching climate-change denial of its craven boss, John Mackey; through his actions in this regard he’s doing untold damage to the environment he claims to be respecting.

    His more recent but equally rabid remarks on healthcare have done nothing to persuade we made the wrong decision.

  5. Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    My own theory (which is mine) is that I don’t think the customers are either aware of the homeopathic remedies in the store

    That’d be me. The local Whole Paycheck has a couple aisles in the middle of the store devoted to soaps and shampoos and cosmetics and vitamins and dietary supplements and protein powders and that type of stuff. I haven’t noticed any homeopathic nostrums in there, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it. But the entire section is nothing different, save for price and brand selection, than what you’d find at the local drug store or equivalent section of any other supermarket — and I know I’ve snickered on more than one occasion at seeing homeopathic bullshit in those settings, as well.

    I shop at Whole Paycheck because they’ve got the best produce in the neighborhood, guilt-free meats and dairy, and a pretty good bulk dried goods section. They also carry local goods whenever they can and call attention to them as such.

    If they ever noticeably turned into a Newage crystal voodoo palace, I’d stop shopping there. But I see the fact that they sell (if they do) homeopathic bullshit as no different from the fact that they sell all sorts of other useless or nonessential products — some of which I personally happen to like, such as whole dried chamomile flower buds (for tea). Far be it from me to dictate to people which useless luxuries are and aren’t sanctioned.

    Now, if they were a prescribing pharmacy, or if they had a large banner proclaiming the health benefits of homeopathic potions, or that sort of thing, I’d probably reconsider. But, honestly, I don’t even know if the local store has anything homeopathic — though, again, it wouldn’t shock me to learn that they do.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Their meat selection is great as are most of their other products. But it always bugged me that the middle of every one of their stores has a bunch of crap. I rarely see people in those isles. A lot of wasted space. I do get a feeling that most people have no idea what’s down those isles. They should extend their whole tea leaf selections and go into fine scotches and tequilas.

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        I’d love to see that center space put to better use, too…but, look at it this way. In mass-market grocery stores, the perimeter is where all the real food is at, and the center aisles are devoted to pre-packaged foods, most of them junk (but with the odd can of minimally-processed tuna and unflavored honey thrown in for good measure). The type of person who’s most likely to shop at Whole Paycheck is already conditioned to stay in the perimeter, and only cut through the aisles in order to get from the dairy to the checkout.

        In other words, that space is gonna be wasted, no matter what. Might as well waste it with stuff nobody’s going to buy anyway.

        b&

        • Kevin
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Tis true. Most stores I go into I feel I must walk half the distance to the moon to get what I want.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Plenty of pseudoscientific products at any “health food” store. It’s part of that culture, along with the elaborate packaging and carefully-targeted marketing.

      I don’t shop at Whole Foods. Produce is cheaper and better at El Super or Food City. Healthy yogurt, meat, dry beans, bulk food, etc. are abundant at my local Middle Eastern market.

      Ben (and anyone else in southern AZ) do you know about Market on the Move?

      http://the3000club.org/index.php/market-on-the-move

      Produce selection and distribution locations vary each week, but you can’t beat the price (60 pounds for $10) and the quality of the stuff we’ve had is excellent.

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        I’m actually in central Arizona — Tempe. I’m not familiar with Market on the Move…but all their Phoenix-area locations are at churches that, from the addresses, I’m guessing are generally at least 30 miles away and typically more. Nice idea, though….

        b&

        • Stan Pak
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          That is because churches have big parking lots which are occupied only on Sundays and for the rest of the week are entirely empty.

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

            Happily, more of those church parking lots are emptier on Sundays too.

  6. eric
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    This is off-topic so I apologize for that. It’s a follow-up to Jerry’s Gutting-Plantinga interview post, but since that one has dropped off the home page view, I was afraid if I posted it there Jerry wouldn’t see it.

    In any event…Gutting’s second interview was published yesterday and I think you’ll find this one opinion more interesting than Plantinga’s. This time he’s talking to (and I quote): “Louise Antony, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the editor of the essay collection “Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life.””

    • eric
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      ack, my apologies for the html fail. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea programmatica culpa.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      but since that one has dropped off the home page view,

      There’s an “older posts” link on the home page (or there is generally … [Ctrl-Click] Yep, still there.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      (Sorry, the link is right at the bottom of the page.)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I assume Jerry gets an email for every comment posted to any thread, no matter how old. That’s certainly true for me (for the threads I’m subscribed to) so why wouldn’t it be true for him?

  7. Will Provine
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    “all living creatures descend from a single ancestral organism, largely via the materialistic process of natural selection”

    Jerry, “natural selection” is a totally vague notion. “Natural selection” is comprised of many different causes. When you use them, and they are complicated, then calling them “natural selection” is superfluous. We are always thinking that natural selection is a mechanism that we call materialism, but that says nothing about the actual causes.

    • µ
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      But, you yourself taught me in your Evolution class, years ago, to distinguish artificial selection (directed by humans) from natural selection, so the “natural” in natural selection does not seem superfluous.

      I may still have the lecture notes on that somewhere boxed up

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        to distinguish artificial selection (directed by humans) from natural selection

        Ah, human exceptionalism rears its ugly head.

  8. dean1
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Wegmans supermarket has a “homeopathy” section. I not surprised at all to see this in the faux hippy Wal-Mart, but I was surprised to see a sign advertising this in Wegmans.

    http://gawker.com/5824287/read-a-disgruntled-whole-foods-employees-epic-resignation-letter

  9. Patrick Webb
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    How does Fresh Market compare to Whole Foods in regards to the psuedo? I don’t think I have ever shopped at a WF, but occasional go to FM for specialty items or when we want to splurge on good (expensive) meat for special occasions. FM has the “organic vibe”, but I’ve never really noticed anything that hit my BS meter.

  10. Thanny
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that the concept of organic products itself is very much a pseudoscience.

    Organic foods, in particular, are not necessarily more healthful, safer, or better tasting than others. The variety of plant is more important than whether or not it meets the arbitrary requirements for the label of “organic”.

    Add to that the fact that the world population cannot be fed using organic growing techniques, and it becomes also short-sighted and (perhaps) potentially dangerous.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      The reason I prefer organic is because conventional methods of food production rely upon petroleum-derived fertilizers and because indiscriminate use of herbicides and pesticides causes significant harm to the ecosystem. Sharp declines in monarch butterflies, for example, are due to the use of Roundup-Ready crops, with the glyphosate overspray killing all the milkweed that used to grow on cropland.

      Oh — and peak oil doesn’t just mean peak gasoline, but peak fertilizer as well. You suggest that we can’t feed the world with organic techniques, and you may well be correct about that. But we certainly won’t be able to feed the world with conventional techniques for much longer, either, because those oil wells from which we get the petroleum that we use to make fertilizer…those wells are drying up, fast.

      If our civilization is to survive, it will only be by closing the energy / nutrient loop of our food supply.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        I do like their soaps and creams, esp European stuff that has less crap in it. I also get soap that is manufactured locally (also available in independent stores) that has not smells and is great for sensitive skin. Many of the organic stuff even in cosmetics is done for environmental reasons and I try to eat organic where possible.

      • Stan Pak
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Ammonia in US is produced mostly from natural gas and not petroleum, as far as I know.
        There is no much difference in quality of actual food grown using conventional methods and labeled as ‘organic’.
        Of one does not use fertilizers the yield is usually lower and it must be compensated by more land used. Which may lead to deforestation pressures in less developed countries.
        I personally do think that ‘organic’ food is just marketing scheme allowing companies to yield more money from customers, nothing more. The food is just the same healthy on average.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          I personally do think that ‘organic’ food is just marketing scheme allowing companies to yield more money from customers, nothing more.

          I’m not sure the animals involved would agree.

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            That’s why I buy meats and dairy at Whole Paycheck. As one of their marketing bits asks of chickens, is it too much to ask for room to flap?

            b&

            • µ
              Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

              Agree. the grass-fed free-range non-antibiotic meats are worth the extra $$. Completely different taste compared to the feed-lot meats

              • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                It’s not just the meats…they sell eggs from pastured eggs that’re practically as good as what my mom’s backyard hens lay, and they sell Strauss Creamery products which can only be described as real dairy — whole milk in glass bottles with the cream at the top, and so on.

                b&

          • Stan Pak
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

            I meant here the plants. ‘Organic’ in regard of ethical animal treatment techniques is huge misnomer.

            • Stan Pak
              Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              ‘Organic’ in regards of plants is very offending label too. It suggests that the alternative food is non-organic, akin to rocks. I think it cannot be more silly than that.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

          “Ammonia in US is produced mostly from natural gas and not petroleum, as far as I know”

          They come from the same thing:

          “Oil and natural gas were formed from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals”

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          The elephant in the room, of course, is that we’re pushing, if not well beyond, the planet’s resource capacity limits for human populations. In the past we’ve always come up with some sort of technological solution to keep growth going…but now we’re running out of oil in the ground, the oceans are polluted to the point that the jellyfish are about to take over, and we’ve exhausted the topsoil in our prime agricultural regions — and all that’s before we get to climate change.

          We could conceivably magic ourselves out of the crises we face with some newer technology…but there really does come a point where eternal exponential growth really cannot be sustained any further, and we’re seeing all sorts of signs that we’re basically at that point.

          What happens when populations exhaust their resources is that the populations collapse, and often simply go extinct. Humanity isn’t going to be able to escape a population collapse, I don’t think, not at this point. The big question is how the collapse will play out, when it’ll happen, and what’s on the other side of the collapse.

          b&

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

            My feelings exactly.

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

            “Now it’s time to get tucked in and go to sleep, ok? Sweet dreams!”

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            Yep, technology isn’t going to get us out of this one so easily.

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              It’s starting to look that way. We’re literally down to the wire on this one, as evidenced by the fact that we’re mining tar sands and the jellyfish are taking over the oceans.

              It’s not likely to be very pretty.

              b&

      • Davey
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        One thing about organic farming that isn’t really acknowledged is how much of their manure comes from non-organic farming.
        So, animals producing the manure are being fed using crops produced from artificial fertiliser.
        It’s something I hadn’t thought about until they had an article on the biofortified site.
        They made the point that: “As long as organic farms are allowed to use manure from non-organic farms, they are reliant on chemically fixed nitrogen.”, and ” If organic farms were to use only manure that came only from organic livestock production, which itself relies exclusively organic feeds, this would close the organic nutrient loop. The organic food industry would then be able to support their claims of addressing climate change with regard to nitrogen source.”

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Agreed.

          And, if you think about it one step further, you’ll realize that we should be getting significant amounts of fertilizer from our sewage treatment systems.

          There are very sanitary, inexpensive, and effective ways to do that sort of thing, such as by pumping the sewage into ponds filled with suitable plants, and harvesting the plants to use as fertilizer feedstock. In some demonstration facilities, raw sewage is pumped in one end and potable water comes out the other.

          b&

          • Davey
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            Yes. A lot of people who try to build sustainable eco-housing are using reed beds.
            They have been having some problems with the cold weather here in the UK.
            One company got out of the business because of that, and one of their clients nearly died because of an infection caught whilst maintaining the bed.
            When the beds froze up lots of people were left unable to deal with the pollution and lack of sanitation. So they thought it isn’t suitable for the Northern parts of the UK.

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              Don’t worry. They’re already planting vineyards in southern England; it won’t be that much longer before the northern parts won’t freeze.

              b&

          • Bob J.
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

            True, but before I use our city’s sewage treatment system, I eat hormone filled red meat and use GMO containing toilet paper.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

              Well, just make sure you hang your toilet paper correctly.

              Also, our sewage systems are full of hormones because of birth control pills and other hormonal treatments. There are lots of medicines in there (antibiotics as well) from people dumping their old pills down the toilet.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                You don’t have to dump pills down the toilet–all you have to do is urinate.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                Yes true. How could I forget when I pee so often?! :)

              • Merilee
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                You forgot because you wete focused on the tp hanging arrangement. Maybe you should moonlight as a paper-hanger?

      • Peter Ozzie Jones
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        It’s not just peak oil.
        You need to factor in the limited supply of phosphorous, which gets lost in our sewage. Check out estimates for when we run out of that.

        Most comes from rocks, so maybe the “organic” labelling of foods is misleading from that view? Unless they are getting it from guano!

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

          Oh, yes — and not just oil and phosphorous, but plain ol’ water, as well; witness the epic drought in California, what’s still, for the moment, the most productive agricultural region in the world.

          And then there’s topsoil erosion, loss of pollinators, cultivation of monocultures, loss of diversity in food species, invasive pests…our food production system is decidedly unhealthy, even if we are squeezing out more food to feed more mouths than ever before.

          b&

      • dieter
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        Cheap goods are energy efficient goods.

        If you eliminate one form of energy inputs, you end up having to compensate with other inputs.

        Organic production requires more oil! Crop yields of organic fields are lower, so you need to do more diesel intensive plowing, combine harvesting for the same output. And then there is more water usage; water that needs to be pumped and distributed, etc.

        The price of oil has already gone up tremendously in the past decade. Yet prices of organic food have gone up even more than conventional produce. That is an indication that it is not independent of oil at all. Agribusiness is energy efficient.

        Local food has the same issue. Most of the gaz is used on the last mile by the SUV driving consumer anyway. And what you save in transportation has to be compensated with more fertilzer, heating of greenhouses, etc.

        • Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          Cheap goods are energy efficient goods.

          The cost of energy is only a part of the cost of any product, and it’s often only a very minor part of that cost. As energy costs continue to rise, of course, the portion of energy costs in all products will continue to rise, but, even then, your truism will only be a rough guideline.

          For example, an original Picasso charcoal sketch has less energy embodied in it than a similar-sized finger-painting by a kindergardener, yet the Picasso will cost millions more than the child’s painting.

          Organic production requires more oil! Crop yields of organic fields are lower, so you need to do more diesel intensive plowing, combine harvesting for the same output. And then there is more water usage; water that needs to be pumped and distributed, etc.

          That may well be the case for some or even the majority of actual large-scale present-day commercial organic farming operations, but there’s certainly no requirement that it must be so. The focus on everything I see coming from the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension program relating to urban farming and organic farming and beginning farming and the like is on efficiency of operation. There’s a significant movement towards no-till crop production, for example, with fertilizer coming from compost made from local “green waste.” Its main competitor is “green manure,” where nitrogen-fixing cover crops (legumes) are sown, grown with minimal attention, and then cut and incorporated into the soil to serve as fertilizer. I suspect the eventual preferred method will be a combination of the two, with green manure used to prepare new land for production and periodically afterwards when rejuvenation is called for, and compost and sewage-derived fertilizer most of the rest of the time.

          Also an especially big factor here in Arizona is optimal water use techniques. Rainwater is captured in many ways, including both in cisterns and by sculpting the landscape so as to make the most effective use of what falls directly on the crops — that is, preventing runoff and instead capturing rainwater so it pushes accumulated salts below the topsoil as the water makes its way to the water table. Drip irrigation on an intelligent timer is far more water-efficient than overhead spraying, and you’ll find drip irrigation popular in at least the local organic growing crowd.

          Local food has the same issue. Most of the gaz is used on the last mile by the SUV driving consumer anyway. And what you save in transportation has to be compensated with more fertilzer, heating of greenhouses, etc.

          Sorry, but this bit is quite worng on many levels. The fuel a cargo transport aircraft uses to move fresh fruit from, say, New Zealand to Maine so that the produce doesn’t rot before it arrives…well, it’s insane. The proper answer, of course, is that Mainiacs probably shouldn’t be eating fresh kiwi in December, but instead be eating fresh local apples from cold storage and canned locally-grown berries and pears and the like.

          And if solar heating isn’t enough to keep your greenhouse going, you probably shouldn’t be running it as a commercial operation unless you’ve got an hot springs or some sort of waste heat you can take advantage of.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            Here is how you eat a kiwi by the way. :)

            • Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

              Oh, my…I must admit, that wasn’t the advice I was looking for.

              My favorite way has been, for some time, to slice it in half along the equator and use a spoon to scoop out the fruit like it was ice cream.

              b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                I eat them like that too. I have a few knive on one end, spoon on the other implements for that too.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                Wait — you mean there’s kiwi-specific utensils?

                And how do you keep from cutting yourself with the knife you’re holding as you use the spoon?

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                The spoon is plastic and small so you can’t cut yourself without trying.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

                So, it’s some sort of unholy perversion of the abomination that is the spork? Sounds like something that needs be cleansed with atomic fire, say, by dusting off and nuking the site from orbit, just to be sure.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                No not a spork. Like you imagined it but plastic.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

                But sporks are plastic!

                Unclean! Unclean!

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                I have had the same one for years and I don’t let anyone else use it. It is like this.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                See? It even glows in the dark, like Gojira’s teeth! I bet it’s because the kiwi are all radioactive — that’s why they’re all fuzzy and green like that, you know. Comes from all those H-bombs we dropped on the Hiroshima kiwi farms in downtown Australia.

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

                Ha! That was a perfect imitation of what some of the people I used to work with would sound like. The downtown Australia part was the best!

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Either you’re shittin’ me or you’re scaring me…or maybe a bit of both….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

                For realz. I worked with people who talked like this when I was working my summer jobs during university.

    • eric
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      To me the “organic” label is somewhat in the middle. Not as deceptive or playing on people’s wrong ideas as “homeopathic,” but not as informational as “locally grown.”

      I think as long as the labeling criteria are clearly understood by the consumer, I’m okay with it. (I’d say the same thing about homeopathic products, too – as long as consumers cleary understood that they are paying $5/ounce for water, I’m okay with them doing so. In the case of homeopathy, I think the major issue is that the sellers try every legal trick in the book to try and hide that fact from their customer base).

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        I’d like to see us adopt a European model for what constitutes organic — I believe in Canada you can use that term unless you are certified. I’d also like to see some of the stuff that Europe has documented as carcinogenic removed for cosmetics and creams here like they have been in Europe.

        • eric
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          In my experience, Europe has very poor reglations on (labeling) homeopathic medicines, and sometimes its even harder to tell what you’re buying over there than it is here in the US.

          So it’s a bit of a crap shoot in my experience; they do some things better, some things worse. And of course “Europe” isn’t a country so both the good practices and bad practces will vary across it.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            I’m not referring to labelling homeopathic goods but the banning of substances we still put in our every day creams and cosmetics that are known as bad for us that are banned in Europe.

  11. Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I have not paid systematic attention, but many years ago I had noticed a large homeopathic medicine display in the front of one of our local Rite Aid drug stores, which b.t.w. is a large national chain. So I just now did a search on the main web site for Rite Aid, and bingo. Lots of homeopathic products with ‘active’ ingredients being given sciencey sounding names (Histaminum, Carbo vegatibilus, etc.). Some are for minor issues, but others are for cold and flu relief, pain relief, and even sleeping pills (with warnings to not O.D.)! All product labels that divulge concentration on the web site said they were at 30C and even as high as 200C. That is homeopathic-speak for diluted down to water.
    This really ticks me off. But I know it is a matter of supply meeting demand.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Ditto for CVS and Walgreens, as my and another post note below. How can ordinary people not be confused when legit medical supply stores, the place where you get your prescriptions filled, mingle in crap with the real medicine?

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I’ve asked about that here in Ontario, since my aunt is a pharmacist. Basically the pharmacists can’t win against the big corporations that are / run the drug stores, so the professional association hasn’t taken a stand. Shame.

  12. Kurtis Rader
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I definitely have a love/hate relationship with Whole Foods. On the one hand I love the bakery, deli, and meat departments (they make onsite a lot of the sausage they sell). But the ~20% of the floor space devoted to woo-woo products makes me cringe. It’s not just homeopathic preparations. It’s also a lot of probiotic nonsense, herbs (not meant for cooking), pollen, etc. And, of course, the prominently placed crap like AirBorne at the checkout lines.

    I’ve stopped shopping there because I couldn’t in good conscience support the woo-woo side of their business.

  13. eric
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    My own theory (which is mine) is that I don’t think the customers are either aware of the homeopathic remedies in the store (the person who took me there didn’t know about that at all), or they don’t know what homeopathy is.

    I’ve experienced the latter; people who think that ‘homeopathic’ is just another complicated term they don’t understand, like ‘acetominaphen’ or ‘diuretic,’ but they trust that if it’s in the medicine aisle, it’s medicine. I’ve actually argued with someone very close to me about this, with the argument getting to the point where she stated flatly that I couldn’t possibly be right because the government would never let such a con take place…so therefore if it’s on the shelf, it couldn’t be a con. Faced with needing a lot more time to explain DHSEA, Congress’ role in this, FDA’s role (which is focused more on checking safety than checking efficacy), etc… I just decided to let it drop at that point.

    Ben, I think homeopathic products are slightly different from useless luxuries. The advertising is incredibly deceptive even when it doesn’t break the law by making factully untrue claims. They play on and count on people’s ignorance (like the example I gave above) to lead them to wrong conclusions about efficacy. The folks who sell you chamomile buds aren’t playing on your ignorance of what chamomile buds do. They smell nice, you know they smell nice, and that’s it. If homeopaths operated like that, they’d just be advertising water, like Evian does. But they don’t operate like that.

    Last comment, somewhat unrelated. Recently I’ve seen homeopathic remedies being advertised on TV that explicitly talk about active ingredients (particularly, zinc). Which means there are now, ironically, conmen co-opting the “homeopathic” label to sell non-homeopathic products in the exact same way homeopaths co-opt medical terms and labels to sell non-medical products. I am not sure whether this con-on-con pleases me because the homeopaths are getting a taste of their own false advertising medicine, or upsets me as it’s just more deceptive advertising.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I’d agree that homeopathic products belong in the party favors aisle and nowhere else, and advertising them as effective is deceptive. It’s just that the local Whole Paycheck, at least, appears to carry homeopathic products in homeopathic proportion to their total inventory, which is the next best thing.

      b&

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      I teach our senior capstone class to our biology students. Most of them are pre-med. My first lectures are on science versus pseudoscience, and my absolute fav part is when I go over homeopathic medicines with them. They have all heard the term, but they generally do not know what they actually are. The looks of surprise and disgust… well, lets just say there is hope out there.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      “If homeopaths operated like that, they’d just be advertising water, like Evian does.”

      Indeed. So check the price per L. If Evian’s cheaper, buy it; if the homeopahtic stuffs cheaper, buy it and chill and swill it at home!

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Evian is bottled municipal tap water. Spell the name backwards to learn the type of person who buys it….

        b&

  14. Mal
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Well it would seem that if people are selling ‘organic’ food because of alleged health benefits this could be pseudoscientific in itself.

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/no-health-benefits-from-organic-food/

    There are other reasons for buying of course. Perhaps because of the quality of the food or the supposed better treatment of animals.

    By the way, I don’t think Orac is a liberal. I’m pretty sure he’s a lapsed Repbulican.

  15. Mal
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    ////

  16. potaman
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I once walked into a whole foods with a splitting headache, only to find no tylenol or aspirin (not even generic). I wonder what is worse, selling junk that definitely does not work or refusing to sell largely safe medication, that works (within an hour or so) most of the time.
    I guess Bayer will probably need to brand aspirin as Organic Willow Bark extract, drop a completely safe, well understood chemical synthesis, that anybody who has done a chemistry lab can reproduce for a process that has , I don’t know how many impurities, before you can get something that actually helps you with a headache at whole foods.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Aspirin? That is a natural plant compound. They should have it.

      • potaman
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Well, the standard aspirin synthesis is extremely simple. I did it in my first year undergraduate chemistry lab. Makes no sense to extract it from willow bark.

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Even more reason. Sell it as a ‘natural’ aspirin in an attractive bottle that is decorated with willow leaves. Put a hefty price on on it.
          There is a WF customer born every minute.

          • potaman
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            That is a business model I should seriously consider if my PhD doesn’t work out

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              Maybe you should also consider that business model if your PhD does work out. :)

  17. Hempenstein
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I went to the nearby WF once. That was enough. Closer by is an independent food co-op where I get the artisinal bread laced with Calamata olives that I’m addicted to. Even tho they probably have homeopathic crap (I’m afraid to look), in their parking lot I once saw this bumper sticker: “Don’t Believe Everything You Think”

    Otherwise, nearly all other comestibles come from my observant Jewish friend’s old-fashioned meat market (which does a land office business in pig feet) and which wouldn’t have room for a homeopathic section even if he wanted one. Besides pork roasts, goat and such, I currently get excellent frozen Brussels sprouts from Belgium(!) and okra from Mexico there.

  18. NoAstronomer
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Nowadays almost every food store (in the US at least) will sell homeopathic ‘remedies’ and various supplements. Most of which do nothing, or virtually nothing. It’s just extra income for them.

  19. Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    At least Whole Foods relegates their snake-oil to a special section. At my local Walgreen’s Pharmacy they roll in the quackery right next to the legitimate medicine. Especially in the cold and flu section. Trying to find a decongestant for my kids that works is hard enough let alone wasting shelf space and my time with “homeopathic” remedies that are not clearly marked as such until you look at the “active ingredients” and wonder how in the hell you quantify how much “6X HPUS” actually is until you realize that it’s an algebra problem and X = 0!

    Ultimately, I don’t think Whole Foods is a special case. Even the mainstream grocers are stocking this crap without distinction and drowning out the stuff that actually works. And they’re doing it because there’s a market for it. What’s worse is that the way these products are marketed, unless you know the core silliness behind homeopathy, those fancy “6X HPUS” and “12X HPUS” make it appear as if you’re getting a boatload of herbs for a decent price. When my kids were teething, I took the recommendation of family and friends and bought homeopathic teething gels and tablets because I didn’t know any better and this particular brand simply listed the herbs as ingredients without mentioning that there really weren’t any herbs in there. They seemed to work almost as good as Orajel and that’s because they were sugar tabs, and what baby doesn’t perk up after a good dose of sugar!

    Frankly, after coming to understand the ideology behind homeopathy, I’m sickened by the whole enterprise. It’s as bad as selling holy water on eBay for gastritis except that these people don’t have to label their goods as “For entertainment purposes only”!

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I actually have an image of one of these boxes. Just look how it’s packaged! I could be looking at a box of Robitussin!

      Homeopathic Cold and Cough Remedy

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Ditto for CVS Pharmacy. You know, the people who recently made a big show of giving up selling cigarettes because “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.”. Yeah, those people. HUGE homeopathy section mixed right in with the real medicine, and plenty of BS books too.

    • eric
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Yup, I think its common practice in most US supermarkets and pharmacies to stock the homeopathic cough/cold stuff right in with the real medicine.

      Though I am not sure the WF’s way is really better. My assessment is actually the reverse. Having a section for homeopathy implies you stock enough homeopathic products to justify a section; my experience with Rite Aid, Giant, etc.. is that the sum total of their homeopathic products probably wouldn’t fill a 4′ high x 4′ wide shelf section.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s irritating.

      I’ve nearly purchased homeopathic remedies because they’re not labeled clearly and they’re kept right next to legitimate medicine.

      But I doubt WF “relegates” homeopathy to a special section to make it easy for people to bypass the quackery. Just the opposite, I’d imagine.

  20. jefscott
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I shop at whole foods a lot – their hot bar is a really good way to scrape together a decent meal on the go for 8 or 9 bucks. They also have a pretty good atmosphere in the store.

    That being said, everything about the store screams of scientific bullshit. I once saw a guy at a booth selling a bee-excretion product claiming it was the great treatment for HIV. Not joking. (though ironically I searched pubmed and found the specific chemical, propolis, might have some SUBTLE anti-viral properties). He said the FDA was withholding the product because they wouldn’t have control of the profits. I’m not sure which is scarier, the claim about the properties of the chemical or this guy’s logic on the FDA. This is a frightening example not because it is an exception, but because it represents the norm.

    The food in the store is generally healthier, but it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re “natural” or “Non-GMO” or “Sprinkled with bits of ghandi’s ground up sandals”. It’s because the the foods they sell tend to be more vegetables and fruits and whole grains, etc, and less fatty, salty, sugary, etc. Of course even that’s just a general profile littered with exception. Is an organic honey candy bar drizzled in chocolate REALLY that much better for us than a bar of hershey’s chocolate?

    But this is the genius of whole foods – they’re marketing masters. They’ve taken a few good rules of thumbs about healthy food profiles and littered it with bits of nonsense that make it really hard for the average person to tell the difference. They’re absolute masters of convincing the public that this vague concept of “naturalness” is a fundamental property of food that endows it with beneficial characteristics. And they play on this from every angle – from the earthy colors on the wall to the inclusion of plants everywhere to the handwritten price tags. But at the end of the day, they’re players. They are marketers, and there is nothing about them that isn’t big business (they’re revenue last year was 20 billion), and the inherent irony of the fact is almost unbearable.

    No doubt whole foods, on balance, has a healthier food profile then your average store (at 2x the price). But it’s one of those examples that highlight this fact: having the right answer is often less important then having the right reason for that answer. People who think that the health profile of whole food’s products have anything to do with “naturalness” or “non-GMO” or anything of that nonsense – while making the right decision in buying lots of fruits and vegetables – are so much more likely to be tricked by some other store down the street. Or by the same whole foods store 3 aisles over. Just look for the guy selling anti-HIV honeybee excrement.

    Which is why it’s so god-damn frustrating I end up at their delicious hot bar 3 times a week.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      You have saved me the trouble of typing my own thoughts on this. Thank you!

      The whole Organic™ shtick has devolved into nearly complete bullshit. I now interpret it simply as facile marketing designed to deceive people. My initial unmediated reaction is wariness. I look at ingredients and mentally edit out all the superlative “Organic(s)” and “Organically Grown(s)” and whatnot.

      The only thing I differ in is that I don’t shop at Whole Foods at all. Largely due to price and proximity. I do on occasion shop at Fresh Market, but not regularly. Fresh Market seems to be a bit less expensive than WF, but fairly similar. Their meat is typically of higher quality than standard supermarkets, and sometimes no more, or even less, expensive. Of course, nobody beats the warehouse superstores like Sam’s on meat prices, though their selection is limited.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Great comment.

    • John Taylor
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Very nice comment. Lots of fruit, veggies, legumes and whole grains are the way to go organic or not.

    • John Taylor
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Very nice comment. Lots of fruit, veggies, legumes and whole grains are the way to go organic or not. Eat less meat and less processed foods.

  21. gluonspring
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I don’t find this half as surprising or alarming as the homeopathy section at my local CVS *Pharmacy*. You know, the people who recently made a big show of giving up selling cigarettes because “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.”. Yeah, those people. HUGE homeopathy section and plenty of BS books too.

    They have a fairly large webpage to help you find homeopathic remedies for whatever ails you, complete with a fact sheet for each remedy that purports to tell about the scientific backing: http://bit.ly/1kevHRR

    You know, in case you’re suffering from things like bladder infection (http://bit.ly/OCSJ8a), ear infection (http://bit.ly/1dzJfA7), or the flu (http://bit.ly/1fHtZFe), things modern medicine is powerless to help you with. No need to bother with antibiotics or anti-virals when you can take drops of water, eh?

    This is to say nothing of their huge dietary supplement section.

    It occurs to me now that the elimination of tobacco in their product line might be aimed this homeopathy/supplement crowd as much as anything because, whatever their other misguided ideas, those customers tend to be passionately anti-smoking. So they may just be angling to suck in more of the WF crowd, because selling water drops has to have a huge markup.

  22. gnach
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Oy! After reading the article and all these comments, I need to chew on some willow bark.

  23. Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I looked into the FDA web site to see what they had to say about homeopathic meds. The entry is at Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed . It is pretty straight-forward. What it basically says is that such products can be marketed as long as they are safe, and comply with the standards set forth in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS). There seems no problem with them selling water and sugar pills as treatments, and labeling them as drugs (!)

    There is this guideline which perked me up (emphasis is mine)

    *7 Health Fraud: The deceptive promotion, advertisement, distribution or sale of articles, intended for human or animal use, that are represented as being effective to diagnose, prevent, cure, treat, or mitigate disease (or other conditions), or provide a beneficial effect on health, but which have not been scientifically proven safe and effective for such purposes. Such practices may be deliberate, or done without adequate knowledge or understanding of the article.*

    Buuut the footnote is:

    *A proving is synonymous with the homeopathic procedure (identified in HPUS as a “Research Procedure”) which is employed in healthy individuals to determine the dose of a drug sufficient to produce symptoms.

    My guess is that what is ‘fraud’ is determined by the HPUS guidelines!

  24. Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I’ve never been in a Whole Foods. They have signs warning customers about the bread slicers and coffee grinders?

    That is full-on crazy right there.

    God, people are crazy.

    • John in Florida
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Things like the bread-slicer and coffee grander WARNING signs make me think of the story of the Princess and The Pea. Very preceious, indeed.

      • gluonspring
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Same mentality as in homeopathy, the belief that dose doesn’t matter.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      My thoughts exactly. Taking advantage of proudly ignorant people, encouraging their pride even, is a time honored tradition that is as common today as ever.

  25. DianeAlliLangworthy
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    We use Dr. Bronner’s Castille peppermint oil soap too. Or lavender. We’ve called it “Jesus soap” for years b/c of the label’s ramblings.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I discovered it many years ago. I had fun trying to decipher the lunacy in the fine print. I would not expect anyone to take it seriously.

      • DianeAlliLangworthy
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, my husband first started using it out camping way back in the ’80’s and provided a bit of entertainment reading it around the campfire to his buddies. Nowadays, would need a pretty strong magnifier to read the tiny print.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    “Organic” food is a red flag business with me.

    For the following reasons:

    1) Already in the Rome meeting in the 60’s laying out the npath for a sustainable world, it was known that such agriculture has half the efficiency as best-in-breed.

    There has been little study to get on the web, but a googeable metaanalysis 2012 came to the conclusion that these methods now have ~75 % efficiency. Tests of metaanalysis shows that they have 60 – 80 % uncertainty depending on analysing good or bad work, so its at least better than a coin toss that _we know this_.

    The problems with this is manifold.

    2) First, that’s about as bad overall efficiency as meat production. But no one suggests that we should eat all meat.

    We can’t feed all the world’s people on “organic” food!

    3) So it is not equitable. (Or “solidaric”, if you are into politics.)

    4) Conversely, it is wasteful of resources, directly of land, but also as a CO2 producer. Like it or not, mass production means efficient transport.

    5) EU has folded “organic” food production into “ecological” food production. But there are no quality oversight what I can see, only well wishes (“producers should…”), so according to 4) it is likely _non_-ecological!

    6) And of course, since the anthroposophic religion (hey, if scientology is…) has “organic” agriculture, EU admit that pseudoscience too. Steiner was a fan of homeopathy among other scams, so of course their texts has a form of homeopathic farming. (IIRC, take a steer horn, fill it with half ‘organic’ manure, half industrial fertilizer, bury in field at full moon. Seriously! Also googeable.)

    So ‘organic’ and ‘ecologic’ farming is biased for homeopathy and other pseudosciences, as well as helping global warming while edging out farmers from nations with lower GDP.

    And my conspiracy theory, which is mine, is that it helps farmers from nations with higher GDP to diversify their products and take more money. E.g. it seems to me to be a scam, knowingly so or not.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      The problem is we can’t feed all the world’s people with conventional agriculture, either — and, especially, that conventional agriculture is dependent on petrochemicals for fertilizer (and we’re running out of that stuff fast) and on pesticides and herbicides that have devastating effects on the ecosystem — such as the monarch butterfly population collapse in progress, due mostly to glyphosate usage on Roundup-Ready crops wiping out neighboring milkweed.

      I fear we’re well past the question of whether or not large numbers of humans are going to starve, but we still might be able to change how much of the rest of the planet we poison at the same time.

      b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        As far as I know from Rosling’s statistics on Gapminder, we can feed all people today.

        The remaining starvation, when it isn’t caused by earth quakes, are related to Africa’s Horn and the indigenous populations refusal to move into cities. (As per a National Geographic article last year., IIRC.)

        I don’t know that we need petrochemicals for fertilizers as much as minerals and energy. And we have plenty of bot, besides that we have plenty of oil with frakking et cetera. We should be able to produce fertilizers for maybe 2 centuries more without changing production technology, AFAIK.

        Vertical gene crops (“Roundup-Ready crops”, “GMO’s”) are vital because of their efficiency and speed of adaption, orders of magnitude faster than other types of artificial selection. And the decreased use of pesticides that they bring, especially when selected for weaker stuff than what would else be used, are measurably better for the insects IIRC. I think you are looking at the anti-scientists propaganda instead of the released statistics.

        So, what I know we are feeding people better and decreasing side effects on nature as the years have passed.

        But, oddly to me, you claim the reverse. Have you even looked at the statistics, starting with Rosling’s freely available?

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          I’ll admit I haven’t looked at Rosling’s statistics…but I would suggest that they’re irrelevant.

          Those types of statistics are a population-level equivalent of what’s often called the physicist’s diet. The physicist’s diet assumes that calories in = calories out, and so it doesn’t matter what you eat so long as you eat as many calories as you burn. The problem, of course, is that human metabolism isn’t a bomb calorimeter. For one, if it were true, you could consume any type of hydrocarbon, not just sugars and fats, to get metabolic energy; yet drinking gasoline is decidedly not a recommended way to get your daily calories. Next, our digestive systems aren’t perfectly efficient; they absorb and pass different foods differently. Related to that, our bodies metabolize very similar substances very differently; sucrose is split into glucose and fructose, with the glucose generally being burned for energy and the fructose being metabolized by the liver into cholesterol, fat, and a small bit of glucose. Last, physical exertion is only a small part of the body’s metabolic budget; the real reason exercise helps in weight loss is because (re-)building muscle is very metabolically expensive — an healthy athlete and an overweight slob, both the same height and weight, both sitting on the couch…the athlete is burning many more calories than the slob.

          It’s the same idea on a global scale. Sure, you can count up acreage and calories and people, but that’s just too much of an oversimplification of the system.

          In reality, our petrochemical consumption — a very significant portion of which is devoted to food production — is causing climactic shifts that are set to devastate our agricultural industries. Wine production, for example, is already moving out of southern France and into England! Much more alarming is the ocean acidification, which, especially caused with overfishing, is causing entire ecosystems to collapse in favor of jellyfish blooms. And, regardless, we’ve already burnt half of our existing petroleum and are now on the downside of the Hubbert Curve; sure, we’ve still got lots of petroleum left, but only expensive low-grade stuff — and we’re still trying to grow exponentially!

          And while it may be a nice theory that Roundup-Ready crops lead to less pesticide usage and are therefore beneficial to insect populations, the empirical evidence is that insect populations, especially critical pollinators such as butterflies and bees, are in crisis. In the case of the butterflies, we can correlate this directly with vanishing milkweed populations, and the milkweed is exactly the plant being killed by the glyphosate sprayed on the Roundup-Ready crops. Why bother killing the monarchs with insecticide when you can starve them by spraying herbicide on their food?

          I strongly suspect that the ideal sustainable global human population is well under a billion; we likely need for there to be an order of magnitude fewer of us than there are. We maybe could have fudged a doubling here or there, but not an entire order of magnitude. Sooner or later — and certainly well before the end of the century — one way or another, we’re going to see population levels return to below the maximum sustainable level, whatever that might be. And, as with any other population crash, the numbers are going to go significantly below the maximum, possibly even all the way to zero.

          I don’t know what the future of humanity looks like a century from now, but I do know that, like it or not, any humans still alive then will not be using Monsanto products.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            As I noted in my other comment already, I think all this is irrelevant. I wanted to put down my beef with “organic” farming.

            Best-of-breed farming is just the reference – it is what we mainly use, it is the most effective we have, it is observably effective enough at the moment and it is observably improving all the time – and if you can find ways to improve on it, be my guest.

            [Some odd notes though:

            - "the Hubbert curve".

            Peak oil theory applies to oil fields, not oil markets.

            - "expensive low-grade stuff".

            I thought the current concern with frakking (say) was that it was cheaper than starting new fields!?

            - "exponential - crash".

            AFAIK Malthusian scenarios are Not Even Wrong. The futurists current concern seems to be, since now the majority of the world is middle class, that well to do people don't want the required 2.1 children but something like 1.5. (See Europe.)

            So a destabilizing crash, or rather a faster decrease than we ever increased, is modeled. Peak population somewhere ~2040 regardless of exact details. But the putative decrease would be not from too little food but from plenty of food et cetera.

            IIRC I got most of that from Wikipedia on population growth.]

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

              Peak oil theory applies to oil fields, not oil markets.

              It’s this sort of narrow focus that I think is where the disconnect lies. The same principle as my answer to this one will apply equally well to the other points, so I’ll just address this one.

              While there’s an awful lot to criticize economists about, a few principles are simple and empirically sound. One is the law of supply and demand. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s an excellent first approximation. The more people want something, the more they’re willing to pay for it; the less there is of something, the more you can (and should) charge for it.

              Oil producers are already struggling to meet current demands. Most estimates are that even Saudi Arabia is running at full capacity, with no significant reserve volume to speak of.

              This is confirmed by very simple observation. Long gone are the days when you had to be careful with a pickaxe lest you set off a gusher; today, our most productive oil wells are offshore rigs in the middle of the ocean with the wellhead a mile beneath the waves and the oil itself several miles under solid bedrock. And, yes, tar sands are cheaper than starting new fields — but that’s because new fields are now insanely expensive to start exploiting. Not that long ago, tar sands were the joke petroleum product, the, “You’d have to be as desperate as a drunk sucking down antifreeze” not worth touching stuff. And, oh-by-the-way, tar sands have an energy return on investment of about 3 — that is, for every joule you put into extraction, you get about three joules out of it. In the ’90s, petroleum was giving us an EROI in the mid-30s.

              That last bit points to the real looming problem. Yes, there’s lots of oil left in the ground – – about half as much as we’ve burned over the course of civilization, in fact. But much of what’s left is going to take more energy to get out of the ground and into gas tanks than you’d get from burning it. This is a problem! We’ll need an energy source just to extract our energy source.

              Before we get to the fractional (net negative) EROI reserves, it’s going to cost more and more to extract the oil, and that additional expense is going to get passed on to customers. At the same time, wells produce at slower and slower rates as they pass peak, meaning there’s less and less available to ship even if you wanted to suck it down faster. Of course, sucking it down faster just means it’ll run dry that much sooner, at which point the supply shuts off abruptly.

              While all of this is going on on the supply side, the demand side of the equation is increasing. Modern economies are utterly dependent on a 2% – 3% sustained growth rate, and that’s been fueled directly by a matching 2% – 3% sustained growth rate in petroleum production. Worse, as you’ve been pointing out, we absolutely need petroleum in order to grow our food — we need the petroleum-based fertilizers, we need the petroleum-based pesticides, we need the diesel to put into the farm equipment and the trucks that get the food from the farms to the stores…and we have no serious alternatives for any of those options. All while the population is still growing, increasing the demand on our food production processes that much more.

              Remember the oil price shocks of the ’70s, and the resulting economic crisis and global recession?

              That ain’t nothin’ compared to what’s going to happen when Saudis first fail to meet production targets for other than obviously political reasons. And the ’70s was well before global oil peaks; we had spare capacity to drill our way to recovery.

              We don’t any more.

              Now, take just that one facet of the economics of peak oil, and extrapolate to, say, ocean acidification resulting from CO2 pollution. A very significant portion of the world depends on the oceans for protein, and the jellyfish are taking over. How do you propose we feed enough chickens to make up for the fish we’re not going to be harvesting very soon, especially considering we won’t be able to start up a new oil well to feed the chickens?

              If you look very, very narrowly at each of the problems we face, you can generally find a very narrowly targeted solution. Petroleum reserves running low? No problem! Just switch to tar sands and coal gasification. It’s when you realize that the narrowly-focused solutions each have cascading sets of problems of their own that you start to realize the true scope of the problem…

              …a problem which, ultimately, is several billion more people than the planet can realistically (even if not ideally) sustain.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              One more tidbit to add. Here’s a page with a very interesting chart at the bottom:

              http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/land/oseroi.php

              I won’t vouch for the figures, but they do pass the sniff test. And, if they’re right, oil shale has a third the energy per ton of municipal trash, a quarter the energy of firewood and (literal, not figurative) bullshit…and just barely more than baked potatoes.

              I don’t think they’re exaggerating…but, even if they are, that comparison should really put into perspective just how desperate we are for petroleum.

              Cheers,

              b&

            • lisa parker
              Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

              Just a couple of points; the last report I’ve heard says global population has actually fallen since the last census. And most of the human starvation around the planet has less to do with food production and more to do with various civil wars and longstanding drought (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and areas in the Middle East.) And if the global food supply is endangered, why are we using food crops as an alternate energy source to lower the need for petroleum?
              The use of ground marigolds and chrysanthemums as pesticides is growing and it poses no threat to anything but bugs. And it’s cheap. That should help.
              A few years ago I saw a documentary about an American inventor who held almost as many patents as Thomas Edison. He briefly alluded to his discovery of the possibilities of Chinese tallow trees. He said that he had pressed the seeds of these trees and gotten an oil that not only burned cleanly but could be used in a diesel engine with no additional refining. When I told my husband about it, he said I was crazy, so I picked up a handful from my neighbor’s yard, threw them into the sink and lit them. Even the un-pressed seeds burned with a steady blue flame for several minutes. Chinese tallow trees grow all over the place and were referred to as ‘trash’ trees by landscapers; now they are considered an invasive species and are illegal to plant (in Texas anyway.) Tallow trees are lovely as far as I am concerned, especially in the Fall when their leaves turn different colors as they get farther from the trunk. They grow extremely fast and have tons of seeds so they reproduce easily. (In some places around here it’s difficult to not have several seedlings in a yard.) So why doesn’t anyone cultivate them as a fuel source?

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

                Biofuels are one hot topic of research, but there are economical and technological challenges that haven’t yet been solved. (Some will “solve themselves” when oil gets expensive enough that its price moves above that of the alternatives.)

                With any type of field crop for biofuels, you have to factor in the energy cost of growing and harvesting the crop, as well as that of processing it to a final usable form. Corn-based ethanol doesn’t do too well on that account; sugar cane does much better. You’d have to run the numbers on tallow trees to see how they work out. Also keep in mind that arable land is becoming a scarce resource, as is water for irrigation.

                Another popular research subject for biofuels is reactor-grown algae. The basic idea is simple; toss an handful of algae spoors in a giant fish tank, wait a while, skim the algae, and “wash” out the lipids which can then serve as feedstock for all sorts of hydrocarbons. Doing it in a lab is relatively easy. Doing it at industrial scales is turning out to be a rather significant challenge — preventing other strains of algae from proliferating, keeping the right kind of circulation of currents going, keeping the glass clean enough for sunlight to penetrate the tank, how to filter out unwanted byproducts that might kill the algae, all that sort of thing.

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

                The best part of cultivating tallow trees is that it takes no effort. They can withstand drought, wide temperature fluctuation, flourish in almost any soil, grow in full sun to partial shade (but not in deep shade)and are resistant to both herbivores and insects. They also do very well in urban areas and are especially good for “sidewalk holes” along busy roads with a lot of traffic where most trees will not grow well. It can provide shade to counter the heat island effect of mainly-concrete areas, as well as habitat for urban animals such as lizards and birds (23% of all the trees in the Houston area are tallow trees.) They grow very fast (mature and seed producing in 3 years), and remain productive for about 100 years. They can reproduce from seeds (even seeds several years old), root fragments, cuttings, tree stumps, freshly cut leaves and are almost impossible to kill. A single tree will produce 100,000 seeds per year (A mature stand can produce 4,500 kg of seeds per hectare per year.) making it the third most productive vegetable oil producing crop in the world. And bees love the stuff; it makes very high quality honey. What more can you ask of a tree? So their a little invasive…

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

                Sounds like they certainly are lovely trees — though I’d point out that much of what you wrote also applies quite nicely to many native legumes, especially mesquites and the palo verde.

                But, again, for alternative fuel production, it’ll come down to questions of economies of scale — in this case, barrels of oil per acre. In the United States, we use about 20 million barrels of oil per day — that’s over half a billion gallons. Every day.

                A barrel of oil weighs about 140 kg. To make the math easy, we’ll assume that the seeds are pure oil; that works out to about 30 barrels per year per hectare. You see where I’m going with this — you’d need over fifteen million hectares productive for an entire year just to meet a single day’s oil demand. That’s a square 250 miles on a side — for just a single day’s worth of oil. Realistically, you’d probably need a couple thousand such plots to meet just US domestic petroleum consumption.

                Those numbers don’t work for agribusiness…but they do work for rooftop solar, for the simple reason that the existing residential rooftop surface area is already enough to provide for total US energy needs — and it’d be trivial to expand that to surfaces other than residential rooftops. And solar panels are mostly just glass, so the environmental impact is roughly the same as the environmental impact of the construction of the roof itself.

                There is, of course, the challenge of turning electricity into something you can use to power your car or a cargo airplane or a combine harvester or what-not, or anything else that uses petroleum (especially including fertilizers). But, as a worst-case scenario, there are energy-intensive processes that have been used at industrial scales that can be used both to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to turn carbon dioxide into feed stock for petroleum refineries — chemically, the reverse process of burning oil, which is why it takes so much energy. But, again, just the amount of solar energy already hitting our rooftops is so abundant that there’s enough there for exactly this sort of extravagant worst-case-scenario method — and there’re lots of interim steps that will likely help us get from here to there.

                For example, there are serious proposals to put CO2 scrubbers on coal plants and use wind turbines to power turning that captured CO2 into petroleum alternatives. The technology is sound; the only problem is the cost. But the last estimates I saw was that it’d be price-competitive with petroleum at the wellhead when petroleum is in the $150 / barrel range. There’re many other variations on that theme…but, again, they all need petroleum in the $150 – $200 / barrel range to be competitive. The problem there is that, when oil gets that expensive, the economy is going to be hurting as a result and people are going to be reluctant to invest in anything. But the bigger problem is that oil’s just going to keep getting more and more expensive, whether we want it to or not…and, by the time it reaches $300 / barrel, we might not be able to afford to implement alternatives even if we want to….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                The best part of using tallow trees to make biodiesel is that they require almost no effort (you don’t even really need to plant them, much less feed, water or replant them seasonally.) They don’t require pruning, insecticide use or other maintenance and the seeds can be harvested from the ground. The seeds are not fragile or subject to bruising or rot and store easily. In addition to producing oil, the seeds are coated with a bio-wax that can be used (and is in Asia) to make candles, soap or about anything that petroleum wax is used for, and are highly prized by beekeepers for their superior honey. Instead of any air or water pollution, they produce oxygen and help prevent soil erosion. They produce for 100 years, so there is no need to worry much about soil nutrient depletion. You don’t have to look for it, drill to get it, especially in any areas that can be dangerous for work crews or ecologically fragile. If you spill it, it is nontoxic. The oil require almost no refining, cracking, polymerization or catalyst. They certainly can’t provide for all of our energy needs, but are the best vegetation source, IMO

                The bad part is that they are very aggressively invasive and will take over any bit of dirt their little roots or seeds can touch.

                I have been very impressed with the film made for collecting solar energy; it definitely looks easy to install and is very light weight. It definitely looks to be the best for rooftop panels, but solar power is still so expensive (but certainly better than wind turbines; they cost a lot more than they produce.) I wonder how well the solar panels would to do with rooftop rain collection. That seems to be the best answer to conservation of fresh water.

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

                I’m not trying to suggest that tallow trees aren’t wonderful plants, or that they have no place in our energy future; I’m sure they’ve got a lot going for them and are likely to have an important niche.

                It’s just that…well, if my math is right (and it may well not be), you’d need over five times the total land area of the United States in order to grow enough tallow trees to make as much oil as we use. And that’s not arable land; that’s total land, mountains and deserts and cities and everything else — nothing but tallow trees, five times over.

                (Yes, the amount of oil we use is staggering. That’s the problem!)

                In contrast, there’s already enough square footage on the buildings we’ve already built to put up solar panels to collect enough energy for the job, even if you use the most inefficient practical means to turn that energy into a petroleum substitute.

                I have been very impressed with the film made for collecting solar energy; it definitely looks easy to install and is very light weight.

                There are definitely some very exciting advances being made; it’s a thriving field.

                It definitely looks to be the best for rooftop panels, but solar power is still so expensive

                Well, the panels on my roof will outlast my roof. And, yes, it’s a big capital expenditure…but the payback time is generally on the order of several years, which works out to a 10% annual return on investment. Not too shabby, eh? Especially in today’s investment environment — and this is a guaranteed minimum return; the numbers look better the faster energy prices rise.

                but certainly better than wind turbines; they cost a lot more than they produce

                Wind makes great sense at utility scales. At home scales, it depends an awful lot on your location and the nature of your property. Most farmers, though, could probably make at least as much profit per acre by adding turbines to their land as they currently do from crops.

                I wonder how well the solar panels would to do with rooftop rain collection. That seems to be the best answer to conservation of fresh water.

                In my own case, the panels just lay flat (well, they’re extremely securely fastened) a few inches above the roof. They don’t do anything to the rain, but they would protect the roof from hail and similar types of impacts.

                Rainwater harvesting is a fascinating subject. In some localities, especially in Colorado, it’s actually illegal; they want the rain to make it to the watersheds. In my area, it’s encouraged. Here, most of the focus is on sculpting the landscape to capture the rain as it falls and minimize runoff. Some people collect rainwater in barrels or basins of various types, but there’s no clear consensus of which is more effective, and it’s a lot more convenient to not try to store the water.

                Different climates are likely going to have different (though perhaps rhyming) answers of their own….

                b&

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Also, don’t take me wrong, but I would criticize this in a creationist too.

          Even if best-of-breed agriculture wouldn’t be as good as believed*, it doesn’t make “organic” farming efficient enough.

          *Today’s rice farmer use ~ 1/6 of the resources needed/food portion that the earliest slash-and-burn farmers did.

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            Again, I’m not trying to argue that organic farming can feed as many people as conventional techniques, at least not in the short term.

            I’m challenging the assumption that even conventional techniques are adequate to the task, and suggesting that, since we can’t feed everybody anyway, we might as well feed those we can in a way that will maximize the number of future generations as opposed to one that maximizes the number of bodies at any given point in time.

            Cheers,

            b&

      • darrelle
        Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        It is not either or. Things change. Agricultural methods are changing. How we produce food stuffs a generation from now is as difficult to predict as any other technology sector.

        I am not nearly as sure as you are that a population crash is very likely. As you are probably aware, though perhaps disagree with, total population by some generally well regarded methods is projected to peak at around 9 billion. While I agree that the picture thus painted is not rosy, particularly when including energy and environmental issues as is necessary, it seems far from hopeless to me.

        What if Organic™ (which is what we are really talking about here, as opposed to organic) food production is more damaging, calorie for calorie, to the environment? Torbjörn Larsson has made reference to sources that indicate that it is.

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Those nine-billion-human figures don’t take into account the fact that we’re already past peak oil; instead, they assume we can sustain current extraction rates indefinitely. In reality, the pressure is for exponentially increasing consumption and growth, not for a steady state.

          They also don’t take into account the pollution that would continue to result — what sorts of continuing increases in atmospheric and oceanic carbon, both of which are already significantly decreasing global food production capacity.

          If you were to observe similar growth, food exhaustion, and waste buildup trends in any other species, from bacteria in a petri dish to an invasive predator on a small island, you’d predict an imminent crash, and you’d be right. Thinking that humans are special enough that these basic principles don’t apply to us is what’s driving us towards that exact same cliff.

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 26, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

            I also wonder what quality of life those 9 million are expected to have. Right now, what saves our asses with the 7 billion, is that a large portion of those people aren’t consuming energy at the same rate as we fancy & lucky first world types are. China is already facing a crisis in pollution as more people start driving. What if all of India drove cars like we drive in the West?

            I could be wrong. Maybe I’ve missed a key variable but to me 7 billion is really pushing it. I’ve read (and don’t have the source) that a failure in wheat crops in Canada and Russia (the major wheat producers) for a few years would mean starvation for the third world fairly quickly.

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

              That’s the question that so few people ever bother to address in this debate.

              Even if the world could theoretically support nine billion, or a dozen billion, or fifty billion or whatever…why should anybody think that that’s a world anybody would want to live in?

              In what way would the world be a better place with even more billions of people than we have now? And what will all those people do?

              I should think that a world with a third of a billion would be much better than a world with a dozen billion.

              And yet all the talk is about the maximum number of people we could theoretically shoehorn in.

              Why?

              b&

              • Hempenstein
                Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

                Why, exactly!

              • darrelle
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

                Not sure what debate you mean. Not sure I’ve ever heard anybody opine that a world with nine or a dozen billion would be a good thing, or the world they would like to live in. I do know a lot of people who discuss these issues talk about how to deal with a population of nine or a dozen billion because that is the reality that we are stuck with, at best. Your argument is “game over.” That is definitely a possibility, but it is not the only one.

                This discussion was originally about whether or not WF, and similar retailers, are purveyors of bullshit or not. They clearly are. The Organic™ industry is about 75% bullshit designed to make money by misleading people. Just like lots of other big business. Buyer Beware.

                And like lots of other industries the thing that really sucks is that organic food production is important, vital even, and we really need to continue to pragmatically and rationally develop these technologies, but the Organic™ industry hinders that. Craps all over it, more accurately. Hell, most of the innovative people working on developing organic, more sustainable, less ecologically damaging food production methods are the people most pissed off with the Organic™ industry.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                And like lots of other industries the thing that really sucks is that organic food production is important, vital even, and we really need to continue to pragmatically and rationally develop these technologies, but the Organic industry hinders that. Craps all over it, more accurately. Hell, most of the innovative people working on developing organic, more sustainable, less ecologically damaging food production methods are the people most pissed off with the Organic industry.

                No argument from me on that one.

                But it still comes down to a question of what I should be buying at the grocery store…and Whole-Paycheck-style Organic™, problematic as it may be, is still substantially less evil than conventional.

                I’m still hoping to get started on my own garden before it gets too hot this year…and will get started after it gets too hot if that’s the way things work out. The goal is to strive to become self-sufficient as far as produce goes without even pretending to get upset when I inevitably fall far short of the mark. The garden’s also going in the front yard, with a secondary goal being of encouraging everybody else on the block to follow suit.

                Going back to the “If I were king” thread, one of the things I’d do is use eminent domain to turn everybody’s yards into cropland. The good news is that we’re actually seeing some voluntary movement in that direction…community gardens are starting to take off locally and are beginning to significantly improve the diets of the poor and homeless people who volunteer at them. I might actually live to see the day when it’s normal (though perhaps not universal) for people to pick their own produce, and only go to the grocery store for luxury produce items.

                What’d be really neat is if it starts to expand to the point that people started raising livestock locally as well…chickens are becoming popular, but a few even have pigmy goats and the like….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • darrelle
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                Nothing beats a good home garden. A lot of work to get started, less to maintain once you do.

                We put in a garden when we lived in New Mexico that produced enough to keep us and several neighbors stuffed with a wide variety, from broccoli to zuchini.

                Heck, some stuff nearly buried us. Like jalapenos and cucumbers. We made pickles like nobodies business. All kinds, varieties of dill, olive oil, ice pickles, kinds I never heard of before or since. We gave them away to anybody that would take them. A friend made jalapeno jelly as fast as she could, but she couldn’t keep up with the supply.

                It’s really nice when you are making dinner and to decide on what veggies you want you walk out the back door and pick something that is better than you could buy just about anywhere.

                And the tomatoes. Don’t get me started. The best tomatoes I’ve ever had, still. Six big plants of a beefsteak variety. Six feet high, nearly as wide, surrounded by wire fencing to help support them. Tomatoes so good the neighbor kids would steal them off the plants and eat them like apples. Now, after thirty years of mostly store bought tomatoes, I can barely remember that tomatoes originally did actually have a distinct flavor to them.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Nothing beats a good home garden. A lot of work to get started, less to maintain once you do.

                Believe me, I know — which is why I’ve not been in any rush to get started. As much as possible, I want to get the infrastructure right the first time and never touch it again either ever or for a very long time. That means terracing, pathways, irrigation, electricity (for things like decorative lighting or fountains or what-not), the works. When I’m done, I don’t want to have to do much of anything other than plant and harvest.

                And overabundances will be a good thing — propaganda tools to help convince the neighbors that they should be following suit. I’m already planning on planting some of my neighbor’s favorite chile peppers in the plot closest to his property. Probably the best possible outcome would be to have lots of overabundances that the neighbors all want, to the point that my garden doesn’t have enough space to meet the demand, meaning that they won’t have any choice but to start growing stuff for themselves. [Insert evil laugh here.]

                And I know exactly what you mean about tomatoes. Mom has taken to planting seeds recovered from Whole Paycheck heritage tomatoes…and, last season, she had an overabundance of the best tomatoes I can ever remember eating. I’ll certainly cultivate some of her more successful tomatoes, but I’m also looking forward to experimenting with some real exotics.

                Cheers,

                b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      “GDP” = GDP/capita.

    • Erik Verbruggen
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Indeed converting the whole global food production to organic in a blink might not be necessarily wise, but that’s not what buyers of organic food are doing. I am a soil ecologist doing research on organic farming, so I have given some thoughts to the merit of it.

      Here’s some things you might consider: fertilizers are expensive, as well as pesticides including their application.

      There may be scale benefits not apparent right now: say if larger areas are cropped organically and pollinators recover, this may increase fruit set and yield.

      If the higher price of organic food leads people to reduce meat intake, this may partly negate the increased acreage.

      Organic farming is not the same as bio-dynamic, the latter uses those full moon cow horn preparates.

      I dont like the not-always evidence-based aspects of organic farming either, but it serves the benefits of simplicity so that you know what you buy, and to appeal (in other words: this sort of dogma does have a purpose, I the rules changed all the time Iit could be tricked and lose gegeneral appeal from a lay audience)

      I like to see organic farming as a “playfield” of nature sometimes. It increases diversity of agriculture as practised, and we are finding out things about agro-ecology we otherwise wouldn’t have. Eventually it should partly merge with mainstream and adopt the best of both worlds.

  27. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Yeah, homeopathy is quackery, but isn’t there something to certain probiotics? No, not supplements. Instead, I’m speaking of healthy foods such as kimchi and good-quality (unsweetened) yogurt. Am I right about this?

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Recent tests seem to think that prebiotics are more useful than probiotics, although the studies are far from conclusive yet.

      I found this link quite interesting in that it looks at popular remedies that may have some evidence supporting them as opposed to ones that have none: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/play/snake-oil-supplements/

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Probiotics ARE useful, and I’m sick and tired of people labeling them pseudoscience.

      They simply do not know what they’re talking about.

      I think the biggest area of medicine in the future will be the gut microbiome. Probiotics and prebiotics are the major players here.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        I’ve no doubt hat the ecology of gut bacteria will become very important in medical science.

        On the other hand, I have very low confidence in the woo-probiotic pills, powders, and what-not peddled at health food stores (not referring to yogurt/kimchi/etc. food items here). Like the rest of the “alternative medicine” market, it is entirely unregulated. There is no way to know what you are actually getting in your probiotic pill and little or no actual science backing up the marketing woo.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          I take a specific probiotic that my gut doctor recommended that is a particular strain good for IBS. Since I developed IBS recently, after having a stomach bug, I’m sure my flora is totally off kilter.

          • Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

            IBS

            Ah, yes: Irritable Bogrolladjustment Syndrome.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

              I had to google “bog roll” but it was what I thought it was. Nice.

  28. Pete
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The soaps/oils/ointments/etc. aisles of WF are generally no-go areas for me because I assume they will contain much quackery. However, I suspect WF is not very different from other grocers in this regard (particularly those that sell local/organic). After reading this, however, I may have a walk down those aisles next time to see if I can find me some vitameatavegamin.

  29. Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Whole Foods has a bigger piece of dubious fruit on its shelves: its owner, John Mackay. A fairly recent New Yorker article, even as nuanced as the New Yorker is, made it clear that Mackay is yet another billionaire who wears “libertarianism” as a cloak to hide what I uneasily call his fascism. (Uneasy, because it’s billionaires like Mackay who have recently begun to draw upon Nazi imagery to present themselves as victims of an anti-wealth plague, and boy do I hate it when I find myself using the same descriptions, even if — in my case — accurately. It sort of feels like schoolyard taunts, and I’m getting in my “no, YOU’RE the fascist!” after the bullies take over the field.)
    Mackay is what he calls a “conscience capitalist.” There’s been quite a lot written about him and this bright new term lately. Here’s one piece from NPR: “Whole Foods Founder John Mackey On Fascism And ‘Conscious Capitalism’ : The Salt : NPR.” (Sorry, I meant to paste the link in there and didn’t.)
    He’s a bad man, is Mackay, and I have to believe that the elegant presentations (and high prices) at Whole Foods — which, not really by the way, do great damage to our native markets like Citarella — are facades behind which he is hiding.
    So Whole Foods is kind of, well, he’s gotten the trains to run on time. Placate the peasants with pretty fruit and you take over the country.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Mackay sounds like he is perjured by his own ideals. This happens to lots, if not all, libertarians. They have the right ideas, but the reality is people are not willing or capable to distinguish what is ‘good’ from what is ‘right’, and that is a show stopper for most concepts promoted by libertarians.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Naomi.

  30. Ginger K
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    To answer your question, yes, it most certainly is.

    This is typical of Whole Paycheck. Quackery and pseudoscience abound. Trust me, if those didn’t make $$$, Whole Paycheck wouldn’t sell them.

    Many otherwise educated people accept pseudo-nutritional claims. Even academics, and people with advanced science degrees, buy this crap by the carful — and they should know better. Part of the problem at least for chemists (my area) is that those holding advanced degrees are so specialized that they simply are never exposed to anything outside their esoteric field. I know a lot of chemists who are creationists simply because they never took a college biology class and the topic was not covered in high school. The same is true for nutrition and food claims. Customers need to educate themselves, and they do not or will not. Amazing. (I know many devoutly religious chemists. Also amazing.)

    There was a case in MA many years ago in which a customer took the advice of a Whole Paycheck employee and treated her medical illness with some “natural” concoction instead of following her physician’s treatment. This customer eventually got much worse, and the family sued WP for practicing medicine without a license. They won. Now every WP has a disclaimer posted near the quackery department saying that their employees are not medical professionals and the items they sell are not intended to treat any illness or disease.

    BTW, the CEO of Whole Paycheck is a raving ultra-right wing kook. He proclaimed his vociferous opposition to Obamacare, and has defended the NRA and the GOP on many occasions. Most of his customers would find his views appalling, but they continue to make him and the store richer.

    Personally, I despise Whole Paycheck. I only shop there if I absolutely can’t find an item anywhere else. They treat their employees like shit (these are frequently idealistic young people who earn miniumum wage and no benefits) and their customers even worse. What a hypocritical organization.

  31. Jen
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I have a PhD in Biology, and Whole Foods is my favorite store. I know what homeopathic remedies are, and I know that Whole Foods sells them. I just don’t care. I don’t even buy organic food at WF. Their produce department has both organic and non-organic, and I just go with non-organic for the lower price. The produce is the best in town–same for meats, seafood, cheeses, breads, etc. Nothing I buy there is organic-not even the milk. But it is all delicious and stays fresh much longer than the same items purchased at other stores (Have you ever bought produce at Trader Joe’s? It is rotten before you get it home!). Two other things: 1) WF has bulk grains, nuts, and spices (not organic), so if you only need a pinch of turmeric or 1/2 cup of lentils for a recipe you end up saving a lot of money and space by just getting what you need. And, 2) their BBQ hot bar is delicious. When I am feeling particularly starving, I get a pile of pulled pork with some mac and cheese and brown sugar baked beans (not organic), and sit down with all of the Kombucha-lovin’ homeopaths and pig-out. Yum!

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Have you ever bought produce at Trader Joe’s? It is rotten before you get it home!

      What absolute piffle. TJ’s produce is great.

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        I’ve found them to be hit-and-miss. Sometimes their produce is decent; sometimes it’s on its last legs. But worst of all is that it’s all pre-packaged, so you don’t really know until you get home and open it.

        They’ve got good cheeses at good prices.

        Their meats generally don’t impress me, though they do sell a large package of lox that I like.

        They’re a pretty good place to get pre-packaged bags of nuts and dried fruits.

        Their dairy section is better than the typical grocery store but not up to Whole Paycheck’s standards.

        They’re the best place to go for surprisingly-not-at-all-bad very cheap wine.

        But most of the store is devoted to prepackaged goods…and though the packages certainly look a bit more interesting than the usual drek grocery stores serve up, they’re still every bit as much laden down with insane amounts of sugar.

        I shop there, but only occasionally, and generally only for something specific. For example, they carry a canned “tuna for cats” cat food that’s just tuna and the usual assortment of micronutrients (especially taurine); Baihu loves it, but I only let him have it as dessert.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          It may depend on which part of the country you’re in. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with TJ’s produce, and I know (because we’ve discussed this very point!) that the same is true of the other members of a little email group I blather on incessantly. On the other hand, we’re all on the east coast between DC and NJ, so things could be different elsewhere.

          Our local TJ’s sells the fruit loose, the veg generally packaged as you say, though some of that’s loose too.

          Their nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, etc., are excellent, and very, very much cheaper than we find elsewhere. Their extra-firm tofu’s to die for — it’s only since discovering it that we’ve started buying tofu regularly: I once, in the interests of science, made a sandwich with it and it worked just fine. Their mushrooms are cheaper and seemingly fresher than we can get elsewhere. The frozen fish is about as good as frozen fish gets, and not expensive. The sausages are good. The frozen veg are worth checking out — they have things like frozen leeks which I’ve not seen elsewhere.

          Overall, their prices are surprisingly keen.

          Our one big criticism of TJ’s is that their nearest store is some distance from us, so that we can only shop there when we have something else to do in that area.

          • Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            I suppose it could also vary from store to store. Aside from the produce, my experiences reasonably match yours, except for the stuff I haven’t tried.

            On the subject of tofu…the best I’ve found is to be had at Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket in Chandler. It’s sold wrapped in plastic wrap, the blocks kept in an open container of water. I don’t remember if there’s any English printed on the label. If you’ve got any similar stores near you, you might want to consider checking them out and looking for the least sophisticated packaging you can find.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

              you might want to consider checking them out and looking for the least sophisticated packaging you can find

              That’s exactly the case. A year or so ago our local Shoprite began stocking a variety of tofu that’s as you describe — cheapo packaging, no fancy name, no pretty pictures, etc. It’s not quite up to TJ’s standards, but it’s not far off . . . and perfectly acceptable at our table.

              Oh, and like TJ’s version, it’s about a third cheaper than the crap in the fancy packaging.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

                Then thanks for the tip! Next time I’m at TJ’s, I’ll get a package. Considering they’re halfway between me and Lee Lee’s, if it’s as good as you suggest, that could prompt me to eat more tofu.

                (There’re other things one can get at Lee Lee’s that aren’t available elsewhere, but there’ll be times when it’ll make sense to swing by TJ’s for some tofu that it wouldn’t make sense to go all the way to Lee Lee’s….)

                b&

      • darrelle
        Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        There can be huge variation between different locations. The store managers can have a major impact on, well, everything.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      I love looking at all the cheese and salivating. :) I also love the bakery.

  32. jwthomas
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Ben’s more moderate view oWhole Foods. I know about all the crackpot merchandise they sell, from goji berries to
    raw milk. I’ve been shopping in natural food stores since the sixties and know what I can use and what to pass over. It’s the only place nearby where I can buy high quality fruits and vegetables, purchase Almond Milk to avoid the saturated fats and cholesterol in regular milk (I have a heart condition), find probiotics to restore the normal state of my digestive system after an antibiotic regimen, and much more. It’s also the only place where I can buy eggs from pastured hens who’ve been treated humanely instead of being stuffed into the overcrowded hellholes factory farming maintains.

    I’m also not wealthy (I’m retired on a very modest pension)or status seeking (I have no status and pefer it that way.) I’m just someone who has learned the hard way that you get what you pay for and that the American mania for buying cheap, processed food has created a nation of obese and increasingly diabetic consumers.

    As for WH’s CEO – have you inquired into the political opinions of the owners of the
    stores you shop at now?

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      That last point is very significant. Few corporate executives of any stripe are decent human beings.

      Of the supermarkets, Whole Paycheck at least “gets it” with respect to humanely-raised animals and produce that treads as lightly on the environment as is practical. Thee’s lots to criticize them for…but there’s even more to criticize Walmart for on those fronts, plus Walmart’s egg-laying hens live horrific lives. If you’re going to choose your evils, at least choose them on actual differences.

      Cheers,

      b&

  33. tubby
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    The only real reason to go to a Whole Foods is if you’re trying to get something that’s hard to find outside of that weird moral health and wootrition circle. Given the scene over priced bottles of diluted water are shameful but not unexpected. It’s part of the whole Peter Pan vitalism and obsession with purity.

  34. krzysztof1
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I would summarize JAC’s third point about how creationism is harmful to the public (if it is taught in public schools, or becomes widely accepted) like this:

    Allowing creationism to be taught (even as an alternative hypothesis) would eventually lead to theocratic domination of public education, thus violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

    The question could be raised as to whether this is an example of the slippery-slope fallacy. I suspect that is a counter-argument that could be made from the creationist/ID side. They would, and in fact do, say (disingenuously) that they are not trying to do build a theocracy, they are fighting a battle against scientific materialism, which is destroying the rest of society that has been built with the help of religion. And one of their weapons in the fight is to discredit in various ways the Darwinian view (as they see it) that evolution is a random, purposeless process. One such way is to try to show that mainstream evolutionary science is flawed.

    However, it is easy to dismantle that argument. First, if what they are doing is really science, it’s a battle that should be fought in the peer-reviewed papers that publish the results of work actually done by scientists. It’s from that published research that the content of textbooks comes from, or should come from! No reputable scientist (as distinguished from those whose integrity may have been compromised by a desire for fame or by receiving funds from a special-interest group (I’m thinking tobacco companies here)) would DREAM of publishing anything that had not been replicated by other researchers under the most careful conditions. Since the creationists have not been able to do this, they have staged their fight on what they see as more favorable battle grounds: School boards, legislative bodies and popular sentiment. Fortunately, the courts have not so far been kind to these efforts. Still, losses in the courtroom don’t seem to have deterred them from trying.

    Second, statements from their own websites and remarks by major figures in the ID ‘community’ have revealed the theistic underpinnings that they have taken pains to minimize. (I’m still working on compiling a list of statements)

    Third, their Directors and Fellows include virtually no one with true scientific credentials. Instead, they are mostly an overlapping mix of businessmen, politicians, and conservatives. Hardly a group that can claim to be objective about scientific findings.

    Interestingly, The DI’s “about” page, while not claiming that their only focus is science (their sub-org, the CSC [Center for Science and Culture], does that). But there is this: “. . . the contemporary materialistic worldview denies the intrinsic dignity and freedom of human beings and enfeebles scientific creativity and technological innovation.”

    When I looked the list of fellows of the CSC I saw a different trend. Most of those persons had science credentials of some sort, but almost all listed heavy involvement with religious activities. For example, Dean Kenyon co-authored the notorious Of Pandas and People, which I believe was used as a textbook of biology in some Christian Schools. It was exposed in court as a creationist text when someone pointed out that only a few words had been changed to make it appear that it endorsed intelligent design rather than creationism. (I think that was the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, if memory serves me.)

    Out of 24 CSC Fellows whose bios are listed on the website, only two list no clear connection to religious activities.

    Finally, the notorious “Wedge Document” of 1999 explicitly stated that its “governing goals” were “1. To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies; and 2. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” In their 2006 rebuttal to negative commentary after the strategy was leaked (titled “The Wedge Document: So What?”), they basically stood behind it other than to note that it was now “out of date.”

    The most charitable thing one can say about the DI is that they want to make a teleological worldview of nature (with humans at the pinnacle) the dominant one. And of course a teleological view entails a creative being with a purpose. This is quite clear in their objection to “Darwinism” which is that it is random and without purpose, without goals.

  35. Larry Smith
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Ha! I just purchased a Groupon for Whole Foods an hour before reading this post! They do have good meat and for my little corner of suburbia, a pretty good cheese dept.

    Here’s a thought: if WF is truly committed to homeopathy, shouldn’t the Groupon I bought for $5 be worth only $2.50, thereby increasing its efficacy? Just wondering…

  36. Charles Sullivan
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen a few homeopathic “remedies” in Safeway supermarket and in Fred Meyer supermarket (a subsidiary of Kroger) in Portland, Oregon. I even took some photos.

  37. madscientist
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I eat nothing but Inorganic Food. It’s a tough life – I can’t even eat wax fruit because even *they’re* organic.

    As a chemist, this marketing nonsense really riles me. When people start talking about “organic food” I yell at them: “eat your own shit, that’s organic!”

  38. gbjames
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, I’m very late to this page and so I’ll limit myself to this.

    I agree with nearly everything in the original post and in most of the comments, including those about John Mackay.

    I shop at our local WF for the fish. They have a good selection of fancy cheese which I buy from time to time. The bakery sucks. I do buy some soap now and again so I can wash my armpits. But there is way too much woo-crap. The same is true at our local “natural foods” coop, where my wife purchases most of our fruits and veggies. We’re starting to get some from Will Allen’s urban gardening program on a weekly basis this weekend, so the coop may lose some business from us.

    I think that if the “good food” supermarkets abandoned the woo products they would lose a lot of business. I suspect that is where the main profits are. Sad, really.

    • Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      “I shop at our local WF for the fish.”
      Yes indeed. Almost the only time I go to Whole Food Markup is to get blue fish, which I love inordinately. They don’t always have it, but I’ve never found another store that carries it.

      • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        blue fish, which I love inordinately. They don’t always have it, but I’ve never found another store that carries it

        I’ve had it from the local Shoprite, although I can’t remember when last I saw it there. (I tend not to notice it because my wife doesn’t like it.)

  39. kansaskitty
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I buy organic vegetables & fruits at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s when I can because I don’t find greens & fruit doused with pesticides very appetizing! I also like their cheeses, dairy and organic whole grains. I’m not wealthy nor a hippie – just a retiree trying to eat well and stay healthy as long as possible. I also try to avoid the GM grains when possible – especially the ones that the only reason they are genetically modified is so the growers can douse them with Roundup. Ugh. I know there is homeopathy stuff at WF, but I just don’t go down those aisles.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m allergic to pyrethrin which is sometimes used in organic gardening so I won’t eat organic food! I’ve gotten hives from it.

    • Thanny
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      Organic does not mean free of pesticides. They use plenty. The only restriction is that they’re not synthetic. Which says nothing about their toxicity.

      In general, organic pesticides are much less effective than synthetic pesticides, so much larger quantities are used (yes, organic food often has more pesticide on it than normal food). They’re also not nearly as well studied as the synthetics, so the extent of their negative effects and length of their persistence in the soil are essentially unknown. One popular one is known to be quite toxic to aquatic life, though.

  40. Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised no one hasn’t already brought up this excellent parody song about Whole Foods.

    http://goo.gl/KPDIhP

    • DianeAlliLangworthy
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      Gettin’ real! Good one!

  41. ladyatheist
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    People who have fallen for the naturalistic fallacy when it comes to food often fall for it when it comes to medicine. I’ve known a few.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

  42. Vicki
    Posted February 26, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    If I want organic fruit, vegetables, or dairy, I don’t have to go to Whole Foods: Safeway and QFC both have them, and are both closer to my home.

    On homeopathic, I am taking every opportunity to ask people “do you know what ‘homeopathic’ means? It’s not the same as herbal.” Not a large-scale educational process, but I’ve set a few people straight on the subject, and they thanked me for it.

  43. Quantumbee
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    At the risk of throwing a wrench in the conversation about homeopathics, I confess that I use Boiron’s Optique I for irritated eyes (bloodshot etc.) and it always works very quickly. It has 7 homeopathic ingredients in a base of purified water and 0.9% sodium chloride.

    The only other experience I’ve had with homeopathics was when my daughter had a big black eye from a skiing fall and her piano teacher offered her some arnica pills. You could practially see the swelling and bruising going away.

    Now I realize that there is nothing scientific about these anecdotes, and I know science very well, but when something works, you tend to go back to it.

    By the way, I shop Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fresh Market and enjoy them all.

    OK, letting the stoning commence!

    • Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      At the risk of throwing a wrench in the conversation about homeopathics, I confess that I use Boirons Optique I for irritated eyes (bloodshot etc.) and it always works very quickly. It has 7 homeopathic ingredients in a base of purified water and 0.9% sodium chloride.

      May I suggest?

      Give a regular non-medicated non-homeopathic bottle of saline eyedrops a try. You’ll likely be surprised when you discover that they’re equally effective.

      The only other experience Ive had with homeopathics was when my daughter had a big black eye from a skiing fall and her piano teacher offered her some arnica pills.

      Arnica has shown promise in some clinical trials as more effective than a placebo for reduction of bruising, so that’s not too surprising. Topical treatment would probably be more appropriate than oral ingestion. There’s also questions of dosage and purity; there’s damned little regulation of herbal remedies, so you don’t know if you’re getting more or less of what you think you’re getting than you’re actually getting, and you also don’t know if they’ve cut it or used something undesirable in the formulation.

      That all, of course, assumes that it’s an herbal treatment we’re discussing. Herbalism is radically different from homeopathy. Willow bark tea, for example, would be an herbal treatment, and it really does contain the same salicylic acid as an aspirin tablet (though, again, how much?).

      Homeopathy, on the other hand, is nothing but water. Some substance — never mind what — is added to a vial of water. The water is then repeatedly diluted with more water with some sort of bizarre shaking ritual at each step until, statistically, it is overwhelmingly unlikely that there’s even a single molecule of the original substance left at the end of the process. We’re talking on the order of a single drop diluted over dozens of Olympic-sized swimming pools — which is why the original substance doesn’t matter at all, because the final concentrations are so low they’re literally undetectable by the most sophisticated of measuring techniques.

      Cheers,

      b&

  44. Sean
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    You can add “Earth Fare” to the list of stores who sell (endorse?) homeopathic medicines.

  45. lisa parker
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Nothing aggravates me more than all the rhetoric about “organic food.” Can anyone cite one example of “inorganic food?” (except maybe Twinkies, but I’m not sure they qualify as food)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Crazy cheese. That crap can’t be real.

  46. Johan Mathiesen
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    My store of reference is New Seasons Market here in Portland. I find these stores reflections of the New Agers/hipsters who proliferate these days. There is a direct line between organics and vegetarianism, veganism, and homeopathy. There is a lot of astrology in these stores, as well. Just because you’re young and liberal doesn’t mean you’re bright.

  47. Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    You should watch the Bronner’s video on Netflix (Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox). It explains how that label came about. Warning: your head will asplode.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0881909/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

  48. uglicoyote
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  49. Dave
    Posted March 2, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Well I’ve never known of a homeopathic remedy that resulted in death unlike some of the rigorous “science based” pharma drugs have been known to do.
    I tend to use major discernment whenever those people in the white coat attempt to sell me the new chemical of the week.

    An occasional herbal or homeopathic (arnica) have worked very quite well for me many times. If my trust in the “white coat” people was higher I guess I would have reached for a toxic NSAID instead.

    • Posted March 2, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Yep: I guess the worst side-effect of a homeopathic overdose would be drowning.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 2, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Homeopathic remedies won’t kill you in and of themselves but when someone believes in their efficacy over actual medicine, it can end tragically as with this kid who died from a treatable strep infection.

      This is why I want good labelling on homeopathic stuff an better public awareness.

      • lisa parker
        Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        While I don’t generally believe many of the homeopathic remedies are effective, there is a lot to be said for herbal and traditional medicine. As you said, though, they are not regulated, labeled nor policed as modern pharmaceuticals are. This can result in their being noneffective and/or prone to overdoses or dangerous when when combined with prescription (or even OTC) meds when consumers view them as ‘just herbs.’ But as someone whose life and family were nearly destroyed by medicines prescribed by doctors who were just trying to ‘fix’ me, I can attest that one should be wary and informed before one swallows anything!

        • Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          I can attest that one should be wary and informed before one swallows anything!

          This is true…but there’s a definite tightrope act to be followed, with the odds favoring blind trust in your licensed physician.

          Especially in cases where your condition is unusual, it might be possible to become better informed about your condition than your physician. However, doing so requires careful study and analysis of the peer-reviewed literature, something few people are interested in or, frankly, capable of. The learning curve is quite steep, especially if you don’t already have a background in medicine or the sciences.

          The danger lies in doing what you think is a thorough investigation…but one that isn’t of the peer-reviewed literature and isn’t truly critical.

          But there’re much easier options that’re at least comparably effective and often much better.

          First and foremost is to tell your doctor everything you think might be relevant, and especially to discuss anything that worries you or that you don’t like, for whatever reason. And if your doctor is unwilling or unable to discuss these sorts of things with you, find another.

          Next is to get a second opinion.

          Closely related to that second is to seek out specialists in the field. For more common ailments, your physician should probably already have referred you to one who’s trustworthy. For really exotic stuff…you’re back to reviewing the peer-reviewed literature to find who the experts are, and then getting your physician to check that they’re not quacks and to help introduce you and present your case history.

          …and, of course, the world is far from perfect. Shit happens, and even when you do everything possible shit still happens….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • lisa parker
            Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

            I do not completely blame the doctors. I research all of the prescriptions myself before I took them. My only excuse is that I was desperate to keep my job and not take sick days. That didn’t work out so well.

            The biggest problem was that it was more than 10 years ago and medical science’s understanding of the human nerves system left a lot to be desired. But when you research a medicine and all the doctors and other sources tell you something like “We don’t really know how or why it works; it just makes some kind of changes in the amino acids…” don’t swallow it!

            I do fault my doctors for proscribing additional drugs when one didn’t work instead of discontinuing the first one and/or just upping the dosages, and prescribing more meds to mitigate the side effects. And I saw lots of doctors, specialists and gp’s and they all knew who I was seeing and all the meds prescribed.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

              Doctors aren’t sure why migraine medication works – at least the kind I take. They thought it was because the meds were initially developed to treat blood pressure & relieved the blood vessels around the skull but now they aren’t so sure. I’m okay with it though. It works great.

              However, my doctor put me on Lyrica. I was so bloated & gained 10 pounds. He wouldn’t listen to me when I told him & just said that wasn’t a side effect & it must be all me. I went off it myself & the weight dropped off. I looked up online what others experienced & lots of people complained about the same thing as me. I try to take as little as I can when it comes to medication & luckily, I don’t need the Lyrica anymore.

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                They never tell you about the weight gain. Everyone I know who has taken these types of meds has gained weight and all the doctors said the same thing yours did.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                Most likely they are parroting what the pharma salesmen are telling them. My doctor is regularly late because he takes walk in meetings with these guys. I suspect if he prescribes enough of their stuff, he gets free vacations!

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                …and that would be more evidence of why running health care as a for-profit “insurance” “market” is a really, really bad idea.

                Can you imagine similar shady deals between the private sector and police? Well, I mean, yes, of course you can — but generally only in the context of third-world countries and corruption scandals. In medicine, though, that’s just regular business.

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                I am afraid that you might be naive about a lot of police.

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                The sad thing is, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate this country from a third-world banana republic, save for our standard of living and poverty levels…which are rapidly falling and rising, respectively….

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                I don’t doubt that.

            • Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

              Don’t get me started on the insanity that is our society’s determination to do everything possible to make everybody get and stay sick as long as possible. Never mind the human side of the problem; what it does to economic productivity is insane.

              Hopefully, when the doctors say, “We don’t know why it works but it does,” they’re saying that because they’ve done well-executed empirical studies that show that people who took the drug (or whatever) did better than those who didn’t. And, ultimately, that’s what matters to you as a patient: skewing the odds as best you can in your favor.

              That’s another important point. Medicine today still remains largely an exercise in statistics. There’s lots that we can be extremely confident about…but, for so many things, we just simply don’t know. In many cases we have some ideas, but all they really do is skew the actuarial tables one way or another.

              For patients, what that means is that first, yes, you really do want to stack the deck in your favor as best you can; second, that you’re just stacking the deck but you’re not actually guaranteeing anything; third, that means you can still lose; and, fourth, if you lose even after trying to stack the deck, you should be prepared to cut your losses. But, even then…shit still happens, no matter how hard we try.

              If it helps, your suffering will at least help prevent somebody else’s future suffering. There won’t be an easily-identifiable direct connection, but we’re essentially looking to pick the signal out of the noise, and the more data we gather, even informally, the more effectively we can do that. Even if it’s nothing more than you being a tiny part of a statistic in a morbidity analysis that anonymously combs through your patient or pharmaceutical history, or even if it’s just a matter of one of your doctors remembering how you reacted and that triggering some sort of recognition in a future patient…it all helps.

              …eventually.

              And you yourself are as healthy as you are in large part because of all the people who similarly suffered before you.

              It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s our only hope of ever seeing heaven — of making it here on Earth. And we’ve made remarkable progress over the millennia….

              Cheers,

              b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                Thankfully, medical science has come a long way in understanding the brain. Never the less, I still don’t think people should go blindly along letting anybody mess around with their amino acids. Or brain chemistry either. But I went from “the coolest Mom in the world” (according to my kids’ friends) who always came up with the best history and science fair ideas and Halloween costumes, through the best parties, ran the finance committee for the school board, from being a valued employee who handled everything from a paper stuck in the copier to reestablishing communications after an elephant stampede, from hosting dinner for all the VIPs of the major energy companies to finding a South American ocean-going barge with a Norwegian captain making a delivery to Tokyo lost at sea over Christmas weekend, researching the most efficient transport and storage for crude and partially refined petroleum and running IT (which was very different 15 years ago) systems and training for the single most profitable group of the Exxon Corporation. (and let’s not even start about the Valdese), from having a photographic memory and perfect aural recall (which did annoy people sometimes) to a virago who went into uncontrolled rages and physical violence (none of which I ever remembered), bouts of hysterical crying and suicidal behavior alternating with periods of catatonia and agoraphobia that progresses to the point where I would not even leave my bed or talk on the phone. And short term memory loss along with large chunks of my past. Not to mention I went from a size 2 to a size 22 in a little over a month. And I STILL had migraines almost daily. The worst part of it was what it did to my kids. As for my doctors, one had a heart attack, one fell off a cliff, one gave up her practice and I didn’t keep track of a handful of other specialists. So my advice? Leave the amino acids alone!

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

                Sadly, the brain is the most important and least-well-understood organ of the body. But at least we’re making progress….

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

                And now we know that it, and nerves will heel and/or rejuvenate. It just takes a while.

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

                Yes! And knowing that fact (and having the evidence to support the knowledge) is the first and, perhaps, most important step in improving the healing process.

                There’s a dreadful amount of work still to be done and it may well be that nobody reading these words will live long enough to see it reach what we might consider satisfactory results…but at least we can finally get to work.

                b&

  50. Michael
    Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Th article “Don’t Take Medical Advice From the New York Times Magazine” in Slate magazine raises a correlating problem to the pseudoscience you are discussing. A danger of the “democratization” of health care is certainly an increasing amount of self-prescription with pseudoscience. While each certainly ought become duly informed about the medicine prescribed, particularly in an age of increasingly capitalized medicine, there is a definite danger in chemophobia as promulgated in the media. Much of “natural medicine” does include some degree of chemicals in a less refined form. Some of those chemicals (plants) are potentially helpful, but unregulated with regards to dosing and time frames. Much of it is downright harmful. While we ought be able to reject the use of medicine at any time, even for irrational reasons, we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that “natural” solutions are any less potentially harmful.

    Regarding medicine and the news, while sites like the NY times well blog are entertaining, and certainly can provide a healthy dose of info for your daily psychosomatic living. For example, due to a now probably debunked study the benefits on running before eating, it’s become my own running habit. Does it really matter if its true or not so long as I actually get out and go running? Many of our habits don’t actually need to be put to rigorous inquiry. That leads down the path of neurosis and the illusion of full control (through full knowledge).
    If the news must always be new, it is probably the worst authority for one’s medical decision making. The news is packaged, not peer reviewed. “Cutting edge” today is often tomorrow’s outliers. Hence the need for professionals who can assess the evidence. If a doctor seems too enthused about purely medicinal treatment, then one ought coordinate with specialists according to one’s comfort and disposition (MD/ND’s, nutritionists, etc). It is the specialist, however, who helps us weigh evidence, and not the authority of the journalist.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/02/curing_chemophobia_don_t_buy_the_alternative_medicine_in_the_boy_with_a.single.html

    • gbjames
      Posted March 3, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Today I learned that okra cures cancer! Who knew?

      • Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Ha! Who knew, indeed?

        …and, of course, that’s a perfect example of why I wish the public had more scientific literacy. It’s very, very, very easy to kill cancer cells in vitro. A drop of bleach will do the trick, or simply forgetting to feed the buggers.

        The challenge lies in finding something that will kill cancer cells and only kill cancer cells. Oh — and that will do so in a living body.

        I will absolutely be growing okra in my garden once it’s up and going, but not to prevent or cure cancer. Rather, because its the only way to make a mighty fine gumbo….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • gbjames
          Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

          It must be cool to be able to grow okra in your garden. Here in the frozen north we only get the shipped-up pods. By the time they get here most of the cancer-curing properties have probably been lost.

          • Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

            My parents live just a few miles away, and Mom always plants at least a bit of okra every season.

            Whatever they sell in stores, even Whole Paycheck…whatever it is, it only bears passing semblance to okra….

            b&

      • Posted March 3, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        Today I learned that okra cures cancer! Who knew?

        And so were born a million “Okra Winfrey” jokes . . .

      • lisa parker
        Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Oooooooohh, I love okra! Does this mean I have my asbestos again?

        • Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          Sure, but not sure why you’d want to batter your okra in asbestos…simple flour, maybe with a bit of salt and pepper, tastes so much better….

          b&

          • lisa parker
            Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

            I usually use some sort of flour-based batter or corn meal when I fry okra, seasoned with a little salt and ground cayenne or red pepper, but I also love it stewed with onions (maybe a little bacon when I’m feeling naughty.) I suppose using asbestos in the batter could help with heart burn, but I was thinking more along the line of using it for my oven mitts.

            • Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

              Unless your hands are exceptionally small, I don’t think okra is going to make even an hypothetical oven mitt. Maybe finger mitts…but I’m not so sure you’ll find that their insulating ability is sufficient.

              Okra also works well in succotash variations…add some fresh garden squash, corn, and other summer “vegetables” (all are actually fruits, including okra) to the okra and onions and bacon, along maybe with some oregano and a splash of sherry.

              b&

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                Unless your hands are exceptionally small, I don’t think okra is going to make even an hypothetical oven mitt.

                Not until Monsanto gets hold of it, anyway.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                Yeah…after Monsanto gets hold of your hands, you’re likely to walk away with slimy tentacles at the ends of your wrists that uncontrollably do the most unspeakable things, all while causing you unimaginable agony. Best hope you get eaten soon thereafter….

                b&

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                *sigh*

                I do wish html came with a {/joke} coding . . .

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Don’t know about you, but I’d rather Monsanto did something to the okra than my hands — at least we might be able to sic Dow Chemical on the Monsanto okra, whereas my only hope with Monsanto hands is a swift and painful death down Cthulhu’s gullet….

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

                Now I’m really hungry! But the image of little okra finger puppets your comment inspired will keep me giggling for a while.

            • gbjames
              Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              I like to put some olive oil on them and grill them outside. No slime.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                If you don’t want slimy okra, then the key is to not actually cook it but just get it heated through as quickly as possible. Olive oil on an hot grill should do the trick; if they go long enough to get slimy, they’ll also go long enough for the olive oil to scorch.

                …but it’s also the slime that makes it such an awesome thickener for gumbo, which is why you do the slow cooking over low heat.

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                Gumbo generally has meat parts floating in it, so I avoid the stuff. Maybe there is a non-meat gumbo, but that probably wouldn’t be gumbo.

                Well… I lied. Mr. Google responds with stuff when I ask him about vegetarian gumbo. Maybe I’ll try that some day. Not sure where I’ll get asbestos to add to it though.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, there’s a meatless Friday / Lenten variant. I’m sure it’s quite tasty, but at that point it’s just vegetable stew. A mighty fine gumbo needs the sausage and seafood and everything else from the kitchen sink….

                Reminds me of a restaurant that used to be across the street from Mesa Community College, run by very recent Chinese immigrants. They had a couple of the expected American perversions like sweet-and-sour whatever on the menu, but it was mostly stuff that they would have served back in whatever part of China they immigrated from. Their soups were wonderful, especially the one with a little bit of everything in it.

                b&

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                Mr. Google responds with stuff when I ask him about vegetarian gumbo.

                The one that really startled me when I discovered the stuff exists was vegetarian haggis, which I’d always assumed would be impossible. And very good it is too (at least, the brand I tried).

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                Frankly, I’m still not convinced that “regular” haggis itself is any more real than jackalopes or drop bears or snipes. Vegetarian haggis sounds too much like Yoda levitating starships without bothering to squint and wave his arms. What’s the point?

                b&

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Frankly, I’m still not convinced that “regular” haggis itself is any more real than jackalopes or drop bears or snipes.

                It’s real enough, and the food of the . . . er, ceiling cats.

                When I lived in the UK, in Exeter (SW England), one of the local supermarkets used to get in lots of haggis for Burns Night and St Andrew’s Night. I had fun watching the locals pick the stuff up inquisitively, read the ingredients, and put it down hastily.

                But, as a good Scot, I had even more going there the day after Burns Night or St Andrew’s Night and buy up as much of the remaining stock as would fit into my freezer at 75% off.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

                I’ve eaten & enjoyed haggis. The secret is not to overdo it as it is a bit rich.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                I’ve eaten & enjoyed haggis. The secret is not to overdo it

                What????!!11??

                There is no such thing as too much haggis!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

                My digestive system begs to differ.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

                Dunno what’s happening to my typing tonight (lack of haggis, probably), but that last para should have read:

                But, as a good Scot, I had even more fun going there the day after Burns Night or St Andrew’s Night and buying up as much of the remaining stock as would fit into my freezer at 75% off.

  51. marksolock
    Posted March 5, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] My friend Jerry Coyne has a long essay on his Why Evolution Is True site about Whole Foods. […]

  2. […] revised version of Jerry Coyne’s post, “Is Whole Foods a Bastion of Pseudoscience?” was published in The New Republic as […]

  3. […] and author of Why Evolution is True, as well as the eponymous website. A version of this post originally appeared on the Oxford University Press Blog. Images via […]

  4. […] and author of Why Evolution is True, as well as the eponymous website. A version of this post originally appeared on the Oxford University Press Blog. Images via […]

  5. […] was horrified when I went to Whole Foods a while back and found them purveying homeopathic remedies, which is the first inkling I’ve had of a connection between the left and woo (okay, call me […]

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