Vegetarians are Wimps!

See, we always knew it:

Men who eat soya-based foods may be harming their fertility, doctors said yesterday, after a study found a link between soya-rich diets and lower sperm counts.

But look on the bright side. Tofu eating will be a self-limiting problem over the generations.

Supermarket Promotions

Some interesting stories of mild skullduggery in the way that supermarkets manage and advertise their price promotions here. However, there\’s something not quite right about this assumption:

Hundreds of articles have been written about supermarkets slashing prices, but Tesco\’s operating margin actually increased from 6pc to 6.4pc between 2000 and 2007, while Asda\’s operating margin remained flat over the same period. Only Sainsbury\’s saw a significant fall (a result of Justin King\’s "sales led" turnaround rather than any price war).

It is a similar picture for suppliers. While own-label supermarket suppliers have seen a slight dip in operating margins between 2000 and 2007, margins are still running at more than 5pc. As for branded suppliers their margins may have been flat throughout that period, but they still enjoy margins of more than 10pc.

So what is going on? Okay, supermarkets and suppliers could have offset the cost of some of the price cuts with savings, but if they really have slashed the hundreds of millions of pounds off prices that they claim to, surely we would have seen some hit on margins?

Certainly, it\’s possible that a series of price wars could cut margins. But the absence of declining margins doesn\’t mean that prices have not fallen. There\’s two (at least) further possibilities. The first is that people further up the supply chain have seen their margins weaken or their basic prices change in some other manner. If, say, the price of beef falls (whether it is by shafting the farmer\’s margins or not) then it\’s entirely possible to maintain the processor\’s and the supermarket\’s margins while still delivery a price cut to the final consumer.

The second is that the supply chain could simply be becoming more efficient. As, in fact, we would strongly hope (and can observe that it did) would happen.

The absence of collaapsing margins doesn\’t, in and of itself, mean that consumers are not enjoying lower prices.

Er, Sorry?

However, supermarkets\’ efforts to reduce wastage are arguably at odds with their raison d\’etre. Supermarkets exist to help people feed their families at the cheapest price possible.

Reducing waste conflicts with lowering prices in what manner?


The findings, published today in the journal PLoS ONE, show that broccoli changes how genes linked to causing prostate cancer act.

Scientists gave men 400g of broccoli, equivalent to a couple of portions, in addition to their normal diet.

The results show that regular amounts of broccoli can reduce the risk of prostate cancer by changing how specific genes behave and could also help prevent the disease becoming more aggressive.

Well, it had to be useful ffor something, didn\’t it?

Forward to the XIV th Century!

With Caroline Lucas MEP:

She concluded: “A re-localisation of our food systems would allow us take back control of our food from industrialists and financiers, and to feed a growing population in a way that is equitable and sustainable, while safeguarding human health, as well as the welfare of animals and the environment.

Let\’s only eat local, in season food!

December is Turnip Month in England! January we have Swedes! For a change, in February, it\’s Turnip Month again! March? Have you ever had anything as tasty as a spring green?

NB: strawberries are scehduled for the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. As long as it doesn\’t rain that year in those weeks.



Some parents still believe that chips are a healthy vegetable, according to a new survey.

They\’re not?

She added that although many people considered potatoes to be a vegetable, they did not contain as many nutrients as other vegetables and were more correctly associated with starches such as rice and pasta.


Almost eight out of ten said that they did not think that frozen fruit and vegetables counted towards the Government recommendations of five portions a day.

You what?

How many years have they been telling us about this five a day plan? And the message is still this confused?

"There is a lot of research which shows that eating 400 grams, or five portions, of fruit and vegetables"

While there are of course huge gaps in what I know and don\’t, I\’d put forward the thought that I\’m probably better informed than the average citizen out there: and even I have had a very hard time finding out what is the definition of a "portion" in the sense of five portions a day. 80g is it now? Which isn\’t, in fact, all that much, is it?

But how much money have the been spending on promoting this over how many years, to get this really rather poor result? And why has the result been so bad?

The Rise of Vegetarianism

John Harris is really rather sane here about vegetarianism. Except for this little bit:

In the short-to-medium-term, it may well be the price of meat rather than high-minded ethics that sends sales of Quorn through the roof.

How appalling that markets work, eh? That people change their behaviour when the incentives they face change?

Kevin Watkins

Let me get this straight.

Kevin Watkins is director of the UN\’s Human Development Report Office.


Thomas Malthus, the 18th-century cleric, must be chuckling in his grave. As world leaders gather in Rome for the UN summit on hunger, his grim prediction that humanity faced a future of rising food prices and mounting malnutrition has finally arrived at the centre of the international agenda.

We\’ve got a Malthusian in such a position?

Putting in place a WTO agreement that stops rich countries dumping surpluses, opens up their agricultural markets and allows poor countries to protect their producers is a vital ingredient for any viable long-term recovery strategy.

One who says that tariff protection in poor countries is going to be to the benefit of the people in those poor countries?

No wonder the international world order is so fucked.

Reduced self-reliance is driven by many factors. The neglect of smallholder agriculture by national governments and aid agencies is one factor, reflected in the shocking state of transport and marketing in poor rural areas.

He\’s actually arguing for more peasant agriculture? When, as Paul Collier has so wonderfully pointed out, what we want is more commercial agriculture in such places?

We\’ve actually got an example to point to as well. Zimbabwe.

Twenty years ago the commercial farms in that country meant that it was a large nett exporter of maize. Their replacement by peasant farming has meant the country is starving.

I despair, I really do, when we\’ve got such people arguing in favour of "self-reliance". No, twat, what we want is greater interconnection, more globalisation!

Might I quote Dani Rodrik here?

If developing countries had all kept their import protection, the global supply of food would have been lower today, not higher. (That is because import protection would have led global production to be reallocated from efficient exporters to inefficient importers.)

If that was true then, then it\’s true now and looking into the future. So Our Kevin is actually arguing for  policies which will reduce the global supply of food into the future.

As I said, no wonder the system is fucked with idiots like this running it.

Well, Yes, We Knew This

Nor is it clear that organic saves the environment. A biochemist at Edinburgh University, Anthony Trewavas, has shown that organic uses more energy per tonne of food produced because the yields are lower. Also, because it requires more land – roughly twice as much as conventionally grown food – it means there is less available to be left unfarmed for biodiversity.

As for the oft-cited claim that organic food stops you ingesting tons of deadly cancer-causing pesticides – this got short shrift from Sir John Krebs of the Food Standards Agency. He wrote in Nature magazine: "A single cup of coffee contains natural carcinogens equal to at least a year\’s worth of carcinogenic synthetic residues in the diet."

Something of a scam then. But then we knew that too.

Raj Patel

Sorry, but how does this work?

They observe that "petrol tanks and stomachs were competing well before biofuels were proposed to tackle climate change," since transportation and industrial agriculture are both premised on cheap fossil fuel. One way to tackle the competition for a scarce resource is to change transport policy – a shift towards walking and cycling would reduce both the demand for fossil fuel, and secondarily mean that there were fewer overweight people, thus driving down the need for food. All well and good.

They estimate that a population of a billion people at a healthy body mass index would use a total of 10.5 MJ through the daily business of eating and living.

And then they throw in this grenade. It\’s worth quoting at length to see the damage that gets done subsequently.

"An obese population of 1 billion people with a stable mean BMI of 29.0 kg/m2 would require an average 7 MJ of food energy per person per day to maintain basal metabolic rate, and 5.4 MJ per person per day for activities of daily living (calculations available from the authors). Compared with the normal weight population, the obese population consumes 18% more food energy."

It\’s a straightforward comparison between a billion not-quite-overweight people and a billion obese people.

If those obese people become not-obese by exercising more then their food consumptions doesn\’t go down. Indeed, dependent upon how much exercise they do, their weight could come down while their food consumption goes up.

If they got slimmer not by exercise, but by eating less while using more fossil fuels for transport (instead of walking and cycling) then food demand might go down.

In fact, there\’s been one researcher who claims that using your car to go to the shop is "more efficient" than walking, as the calories you need for the walk take more emissions to create than the petrol gives off.

So I\’m a little confused here. My understanding is that farming plus the inefficiencies of human conversion of food into energy mean that exercising, that walking and cycling, will increase food demand, not reduce it. If that\’s correct, then what are these people talking about?

Eating English Food

Well, yes, sorta.

But these seasons slip by unnoticed, while we gorge on a monolithic diet of white bread, potatoes and red meat. We steadfastly ignore the real beauty of the alimentary calendar. The unique landscape and growing conditions found in each UK region should allow a recognisable distinctiveness that local people can not only take pride in but also work to their advantage.

Why not attract a large crowd to the opening of the mackerel season in Newlyn? Or celebrate the onset of gooseberry season in Evesham with a well-publicised race to get the first punnet to London – as is done with Beaujolais nouveau?

Most wromantic but logically wrong. For we are here agreeing that there is to be trade in food across regions in the UK. Fine, excellent, nothing wrong with that.

But once you\’ve accepted the principle of trade, once even two adjoining households are to swap their surplus production, all you have left to argue about is the boundaries of that trade area. And why on earth should said boundary be anything less than the entire globe?

Something which, of course, means that the eating seasonally here proposed is somewhat redundant for of course everything is in season somewhere.

DC Sure is Weird.

Talking about where to have lunch in Washington DC Ezra Klein offers this:

It\’s all vegan, but it\’s unreasonably delicious. Get the spicy chicken bowl,

Vegan chickens now? No wonder the entire governmental system based there is so screwy.

This Would Be Interesting

Scientists are working on a variety of cell culture procedures. The cutting edge of in vitro meat engineering is the attempt to get cells to grow as if they were inside a living animal. Meat like steak is a complex combination of muscle, fat and other connective tissue. Reproducing the complexity of muscle is proving difficult.

"An actual whole muscle organ is not technically impossible," said Bob Dennis, a biomedical engineer at both North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina, who attended the conference. "But of all the tissue engineering applications it is by far the most difficult one."

While scientists are struggling to recreate filet mignon, they anticipate less trouble growing hamburger.

"The general consensus is that minced meat or ground meat products — sausage, chicken nuggets, hamburgers — those are within technical reach," Matheny said. "We have the technology to make those things at scale with existing technology."

It might lead to the Great British Sausage, chicken nuggets and hamburgers being made out of somthing that is readily identifiable as actual meat.


Parents who want their children to eat healthily should focus more on serving them extra fruit and vegetables and less on giving them expensive organic produce, according to one of the country\’s leading nutrition experts.

Organic food for reasons of taste, for moral reasons perhaps, but not because it\’s doing you good. For the extra expense means eating less of thoise fruits and veggies…

Empty Calories

"They get fully hooked, it is an extremely noxious thing. It is more common with bulimia than anorexia but you get the combination of empty calories with no nutritional value and the risky behaviour that goes with being drunk."

This is something that rather annoys me, this mantra of "empty calories".

Yes, I know what is meant, there\’s no vitamins there, nothing beyond simply the calories themselves.

But going from there to "no nutritional value" is near insane. Of course they have nutritional value: they\’re calories!

Scum, Scum, Scum

How glorious, our Brussels Lords and Masters sacrifice a charity upon the altar of the Great Game:

No charity would be better placed to save lives in Chingai than ApTibet, of which the Dalai Lama is the patron. It has carried out more than 150 aid projects in India and Tibet, funded by many well-known trusts and individual donors, more than 50 of them co-financed by the European Commission (EC).

But this is no longer possible. Two years ago, after China and Europe became "strategic partners" under an agreement signed by Tony Blair, the EU\’s acting president, in December 2005, the Commission suspended ApTibet\’s operations because of its link to the Dalai Lama. Since then, it has done all it can to close the charity down, such as demanding repayment of €451,000 (£340,000) it had given ApTibet for a project in Chingai which it had approved, inspected and signed off as satisfactory.

The EC has become so ruthless in its desire to appease its "strategic partner" that it is now threatening to recoup a further £1.5 million from the charity it has already bankrupted, for other completed aid projects with which it had previously expressed satisfaction. It is also demanding legal costs of £75,000 for a court case brought by ApTibet\’s trustees in fighting for the charity\’s survival.

This is what soft power and aspirations to influence upon the world stage mean.

Scum they are.

Female Logic

I hate to blithely dismiss a whole swathe of scientific findings but I don’t believe a word of this. Fat gene, my foot

Gosh, what is it, what stunning secret knowledge makes India Knight capable of simply dismissing peer reviewed science?

Having written a diet book explaining how I lost my five stone, I also have a diet website that acts as a support tool.

Ah, she\’s written a diet book. Can\’t have science harming the royalty stream now, can we?