“Could ethical concerns ultimately drive public acceptance of the new food technology? Cor van der Weele, Professor of Humanistic Philosophy at Wageningen University, is convinced that’s the case, with artificial meat at least. “People will see the moral benefits of cultured meats. Taking stem cells from a pig rather than killing millions of pigs in factories is already a more attractive idea to consumers.” She quotes studies of the viability of growing meat in sunlight-fuelled “bio-reactors” placed in desert areas: the reduction in resources is staggering. “It would require 1% of the land and just 2% of the water that traditional meat production does. And it would involve a 90% reduction in greenhouse gases,” she says.
Eating real meat in 2035 could be as morally questionable as eating foie gras – and about as expensive. As Dr Mark Post says: “A meat-eater with a bicycle is much more environmentally unfriendly than a vegetarian with a Hummer.”
“The trouble is, chefs don’t look to be re-inventing themselves as people willing to cede any control to their customers. Young chefs everywhere are adopting the tasting menu as a way to show off and control costs at the same time—and to signify their ambitions. Few follow the one laudable exception I know: that of Dan Barber, the visionary chef-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an experimental farm and research center on the lavish Rockefeller estate in Westchester. Some years ago he changed to a tasting menu because, he recently told me, “our menu is dictated by what comes in from the farm in the morning. I don’t think people realize that not having a menu here isn’t a gimmick. Farmers aren’t responding to my menu requests. They’re leading the dance. Always.”
And fewer still have the talent or artistic vision to sustain a long tasting menu. Trying a diner’s patience, though, is an achievement that even a mediocre chef can aspire to. In Somerville, near Boston, the young, self-taught owners of a restaurant called Journeyman made tasting-only menus a part of their business plan, along with the usual local/seasonal/carted-from-the-farm-or-raised-in-our-window-boxes ingredients. When I dined there last year, the inflexibility of the dour, dogmatic servers would have been comical had it not been so infuriating. As more and more restaurants adopt this model, tasting-only menus will empower formerly well-meaning, eager-to-please cooks and servers to become petty despots, and more and more diners will discover that absolute power irritates absolutely.”
But a new meta-analysis of the relationship between weight and mortality risk, involving nearly three million subjects from more than a dozen countries, illustrates just how exaggerated and unscientific that claim is. The meta-analysis, published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data from nearly a hundred large epidemiological studies to determine the correlation between body mass and mortality risk. The results ought to stun anyone who assumes the definition of “normal” or “healthy” weight used by our public health authorities is actually supported by the medical literature.
The study, by Katherine M. Flegal and her associates at the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health, found that all adults categorized as overweight and most of those categorized as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal-weight individuals. If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn’t increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead. […]
In reality, of course, it would be nonsensical to tell so-called normal-weight people to try to become heavier to lower their mortality risk. Such advice would ignore the fact that tiny variations in relative risk in observational studies provide no scientific basis for concluding either that those variations are causally related to the variable in question or that this risk would change if the variable were altered. […] In other words, there is no reason to believe that the trivial variations in mortality risk observed across an enormous weight range actually have anything to do with weight or that intentional weight gain or loss would affect that risk in a predictable way.
How did we get into this absurd situation? That is a long and complex story. Over the past century, Americans have become increasingly obsessed with the supposed desirability of thinness, as thinness has become both a marker for upper-class status and a reflection of beauty ideals that bring a kind of privilege.
In addition, baselessly categorizing at least 130 million Americans — and hundreds of millions in the rest of the world — as people in need of “treatment” for their “condition” serves the economic interests of, among others, the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry and large pharmaceutical companies, which have invested a great deal of money in winning the good will of those who will determine the regulatory fate of the next generation of diet drugs.
Anyone familiar with history will not be surprised to learn that “facts” have been enlisted before to confirm the legitimacy of a cultural obsession and to advance the economic interests of those who profit from that obsession.
Don’t expect those who have made their careers on fomenting panic to understand that our current definition of “normal weight” makes absolutely no sense.”
Our Imaginary Weight Problem
“Wanting and liking are based on separate brain circuits and can be controlled independently. […]
The liking system is based in the subcortex, that part of our brain that is most similar to other species. Electrical stimulation here, in an area called the nucleus accumbans, is enough to cause pleasure. Sadly, you need brain surgery and implanted electrodes to experience this. But another way you can stimulate this bit of the brain is via the opioid chemical system, which is the brain messenger system directly affected by drugs like heroin. Like brain surgery, this is also NOT recommended. Wanting happens in nearby, but distinct, circuits. These are more widely spread around the subcortex than the liking circuits, and use a different chemical messenger system, one based around a neurotransmitter called dopamine. […]
The reason wanting and liking circuits are so near each other is that they normally work closely together, ensuring you want what you like. But in addiction, the theory goes, the circuits can become uncoupled, so that you get extreme wanting without a corresponding increase in pleasure. Matching this, addicts are notable for enjoying the thing they are addicted to less than non-addicts. This is the opposite of most activities, where people who do the most are also the ones who enjoy it the most. (Most activities except another Christmas tradition, watching television, where you see the same pattern as with drug addictions – people who watch the most enjoy it the least).
So now you know what do when you find yourself chomping your way through yet another packet of crisps over the holiday period. Watch your face and see if you are licking your lips. If you are, perhaps your liking circuits are fully engaged and you’ll be happy with what you’ve eaten when you’re finished. If there’s no lip-licking then perhaps your wanting circuits are in control and you need to exercise some self-restraint. Maybe after the next mouthful, though.”
BBC: The Psychology of Food Craving
You don’t even want to know. Trust me.