Foodspotting

I just came across a fascinating site worthy of some gourmet exploration. Foodspotting is a site that allows readers to upload photos of food linked to geographic information and also to short descriptions of the food featured in said picture. As they say:

It’s just about the food: It’s not about the place, the price, the surroundings, the crowd or the nutritional value — it’s just about good food and where to find it.

Good food can be found anywhere: We built Foodspotting to work in any city, small town or country from the start. It encourages exploration — trying new things vs. following the crowd.

So here I can find out what dishes people are recommending in Colombia. That mazorca in the photo here is one of my favorite street foods in Colombia – this one came from the Usaquen district in Bogota.

Belgium is there, a place I really enjoy traveling.

Or in my new home city of Tampa.

So go explore food over at Foodspotting

Fostering Fat

The NY Times has an article, Fixing a World That Fosters Fat:

WHY are Americans getting fatter and fatter? The simple explanation is that we eat too much junk food and spend too much time in front of screens — be they television, phone or computer — to burn off all those empty calories.

One handy prescription for healthier lives is behavior modification. If people only ate more fresh produce. (Thank you, Michael Pollan.) If only children exercised more. (Ditto, Michelle Obama.)

Unfortunately, behavior changes won’t work on their own without seismic societal shifts, health experts say, because eating too much and exercising too little are merely symptoms of a much larger malady. The real problem is a landscape littered with inexpensive fast-food meals; saturation advertising for fatty, sugary products; inner cities that lack supermarkets; and unhealthy, high-stress workplaces.

In other words: it’s the environment, stupid.

The main idea, as stated by Dr. Dee Edington, “If you change the culture and the environment first, then you can go back into a healthy environment and, when you get change, it sticks.”

A little anthropology would be nice here, along with the economic prescriptions such as food pricing, advertising and availability. Inequality makes fast food, which is cheap, quite appealing to people without a lot of cash. Rich people also have dedicated spaces for exercise and the like, since our environment does little to make us move. Food also means something – simply declaring it “unhealthy” and labeling the number of calories are appeals directed at an audience assumed to be rational: cost/benefit analysis should win out, right?

For those who want a little anthropology, you can go to the Food, Obesity and Eating page, which rounded up a lot of the writing I did on this early on. For some relevant pieces, go directly to:

Culture and Inequality in the Obesity Debate

Successful Weight Loss

Calories, Not Diets

Comfort Food and Social Stress

What’s in your gut? Termites, for example

Science News has a fascinating short story, Gut bacteria reflect dietary differences, by Gwyneth Dickey, that highlights one of the ecological dimensions of ‘enculturation’ that I think some symbolic models of culture have a hard time grasping. It turns out that a Western diet produces a less-varied gut ecology in Italian children than was found in African children. Moreover, the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ could apply in a particularly interesting way to those who eat termites.

The original article, Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe (urban Florence) and rural Africa (Boulkiemde province, Burkina Faso), by Carlotta De Filippo and colleagues, is open access on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website, so you should definitely surf over there if you find this interesting.

De Filippo and colleagues discuss the microbiome, the ‘complex consortium of trillions of microbes, whose collective genomes contain at least 100 times as many genes as our own eukaryote genome’ (see also Gill et al. 2006). This enormous, varied ecosystem in the gut, a symbiotic community, supplements human metabolic capabilities, provides a first line of defense against pathogens, modulates gastrointestinal development and even informs the configuration of the immune system (paraphrased from De Filippo et al. 2010).

Different gut ecologies brought about both by environmental factors and by food production techniques, dietary preferences, and even food handling practices are one way that human groups might inadvertently induce biological variation in our species, a subtle culture-biology link through the populations in our gastrointestinal tracts. Now De Filippo and colleagues has gone out and actually demonstrated this variation empirically, using high-throughput 16S rDNA sequencing and biochemical analyses of fecal microbiota.

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Globalisation: the products but not the ethics

  

One of the ‘Quotes of the day’ in Time Magazine on the 21st of April 2010 was:

“They have made the mistake of letting the Marlboro Man into the country. “

A photo is featured alongside the quote. In the photo, there is a billboard advertising L.A. Lights cigarettes and an upcoming Kelly Clarkson concert in Indonesia. The Tapei Times writes: “Just a few kilometers after passing a towering Marlboro Man ad, a second billboard off the highway promotes cigarettes with a new American face: Kelly Clarkson.” Radiosophie report: “The marketing ploy comes two years after Alicia Keys objected to a similar tobacco-fuelled sponsorship deal in Indonesia.” The Los Angeles Times and Jakarta Globe also covered the story.

Since the scandal, Kelly Clarkson has allegedly cancelled her tour and her Tobacco-company sponsorship, but the same cannot be said for the Tobacco-company sponsored tours of Incubus (Jakarta, 5 March 2008), James Blunt (Jakarta21 May 2008), or Jamiroquai (Bogor, 8 April, 2009). Tickets to these concerts cost little more than Four US dollars ($US4), so it is clear that without huge sponsorship deals from Tobacco companies, the big artists simply would not perform in Indonesia. It makes me wonder, how many other Pop artists escape the Paparazzi radar and perform with Tobacco-company sponsorship in Indonesia?

For me, these billboards exemplify what globalisation brings and what it doesn’t bring to the developing world. It brings the products but not the ethics. 

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Obesity Meets Family Medicine

By Kelsey Hitchcock, Anna Pavlov, Ryan Shay, John Villecco and Sara Yusko

For several hours we talked about obesity with the resident doctors at the local family clinic. After covering the typical recommendations for losing weight, such as eating healthy and increasing exercise, Dr. B informed us of the most practical treatment method they use. “I usually ask the patient to complete a food journal.”

According to Dr. B and the other residents, a journal can provide concrete evidence of successes and areas in which adolescents could improve their diets. So we asked about the success of such an assignment. Dr. B chuckled and said, “I’ve never had a patient complete a food journal.”

As soon as he said this, two other doctors in the room added their own experiences. One echoed Dr. B’s statements, and the other told his one and only success story:

“The patient was fourteen years old. He didn’t like how big he was becoming and decided to play sports. After he started playing sports he lost thirty pounds.”

As we explored the issue of adolescent obesity within our community, we found that while the recommendations for losing weight may appear simple, successful results were not easily obtained. Our goal was to better understand the prevalence and treatment of adolescent obesity through patient observation and interviews with resident doctors in this mid-Western city.

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Sidney Mintz and Reflections on Sweetness and Power

Sweetness and Power
The Racliffe Institute for Advanced Study hosts a conference series on Women, Men and Food. Video from the six conferences is available online, ranging from the introductory Food for Thought to Studying Gender, Studying Food.

The one I want to highlight is Sweetness, Gender and Power: Rethinking Sidney Mintz’s Classic Work. That classic work is Sweetness and Power: The Place fo Sugar in Modern History, which links the production of sugar in slave plantations in the Caribbean with the rise of sugar consumption in England – economic history explained through anthropology. Given my interests in consumption, here’s what he writes early in the book:

What turned an exotic, foreign and costly substance into the daily fare of even the poorest and humblest people? How could it have become so important so swiftly? … The answers may seem self-evident; sugar is sweet, and human beings like sweetness. But when unfamiliar substances are taken up by new users, they enter into pre-existing social and psychological contexts and acquire – or are given – contextual meanings by those who use them… Uses imply meanings; to learn the anthropology of sugar, we need to explore the meaning of its uses, to discover the early and more limited uses of sugar, and to learn where and for what purposes sugar was produced (6).

The Radcliffe conference features four prominent academics – Amy Bentley, Vincent Brown, Judith Carney, and Sucheta Mazumdar – who place their work in light of Mintz’s ground-breaking book. The topics cover the academic study of food, enslaved women, gender and capitalism, and China and sweet potatoes. Mintz himself wraps up the conference with his own retrospective on his work, including an early line from his friend Eric Wolf, “Well, Mintz is a peculiar anthropologist.”

Link to the Sweetness, Gender, and Power: Rethinking Sidney Mintz’s Classic Work conference videos.

Calories Not Diets

Have a favorite way to lose weight, one that has worked for you? As long as it involves cutting calories over the long term, then it will probably be effective. That’s the basic lesson from the latest research.
frank-sacks
Last week Frank Sacks, a Harvard professor of nutrition, and his colleagues published a major study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates (full text). A total of 811 participants from Boston and Baton Rouge were divvied up into four diets with different emphases on protein and fat. The participants were then followed over two years. The conclusions, as summarized by Journal Watch, were:

Changes in weight and waist circumference at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months were indistinguishable among groups: At 2 years, only about 15% of each group had lost at least 10% of body weight. Attendance at group counseling sessions strongly predicted successful weight loss.

So there’s the catch! The weight loss was modest. As the Journal Watch title puts it, “Four low-calorie diets yield the same mediocre results. Dieters ate different amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrate — but, after 2 years, most were still obese.” Still, many people would accept an average loss of 9 pounds and 2 inches less of waistline.

The main implication of this study is that calories matter, not diets. As Frank Sacks emphasized in a great interview on Science Friday, most research on diets has focused on the short-term. But weight loss is a long-term problem – and there calorie restriction is what really adds up. How to achieve that is a major issue, which I considered at length in a previous post on successful weight loss.

In the Science Friday interview Sacks himself ends up advocating a “very common sense approach – to have portion control, to cut out the highest calorie stuff you are eating, and getting some exercise. It’s all an integrated whole.” To that end, Sacks says that individuals should experiment with different diets to see what works for him or her.

On the research side, Sacks bluntly states that “we should move on from trying to figure out which diet is best.” Rather, we should examine why individuals vary so much in their response to weight loss programs. “The difference in individual response just overwhelms any possible dietary difference.”

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