Saturday, December 12, 2015

Shills Vs.Fearmongers in Fierce Food War

Battle over public opinion pits Big Food puppets against populist health advocates

I had no idea I was a fearmonger until I became ensnared in a bizarre Twitter thread with some rabid registered dietitians.

This was my first virtual excursion into the Food War, a global contest in which Big Food and its foot soldiers fiercely battle anyone who disputes their dietary dogma. Both sides claim to wear the mantel of science, like two football teams each convinced they are favored by a Higher Power.

What surprised me the most about the Food War was how many so-called health professionals still cling tightly to outdated, poorly designed studies to defend their dietary advice. I found myself in a minefield of research propaganda and pseudoscience funded by corporations increasingly threatened by mounting evidence that sugar- and highly processed carbohydrate-filled products are linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

It all  began when I questioned the credibility of registered dietitians while following the Tim Noakes hearing witch hunt in South Africa. This led to a corporate supermarket RD named Leah McGrath sending me an unsolicited list of tweeters who she claimed had "integrity" -- although they all support serving high-sugar flavored skimmed milk to school children. I tweeted something about some RDs being mouthpieces for Big Food and received an excited response back from McGrath asking me if mouthpiece meant the same thing as shill. It turned out she and her RD pals take perverse pride in being called a shill and highlight the occasion with the hashtag #shilltastic every time they are labeled such.

Yes, #shilltastic is a thing.

Then McGrath thought I'd be interested in reading an article tweeted by a dietetic intern named David Weinman who proclaims himself to be pro-science. The piece was typical Salon click bait about so-called sancti-mommies, a new breed of millennial females who pass harsh judgement on the health and safety of the foods other mothers feed their children. Why I'd be interested in this article escaped me since the Salon piece focused mainly on anti-vaccine and GMO politics, topics on which I had not even opined. Weinman asked me in a tweet if I was implying scientists would commit fraud and jeopardize their careers to shill for Big Food -- as if that possibility were as absurd as ponies sprouting pig tails.

For the first time I had an upfront and personal view on how Big Food's army of registered dietitians and wannabes co-opt the word "science" to discredit anyone who disagrees with their perspective.

Suddenly all of the news stories I'd been following made more sense:

** Professional dietitians funded by Kellogg's and other Big Food companies persecuting Dr. Tim Noakes and dietitian Jennifer Elliott for not accepting their dietary dogma as fact. 

** "Scientists" ganging up against journalist and "Big Fat Surprise" author Nina Teicholz to discredit her editorial in the BMJ on the sketchy methodology of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

** The feds wiping egg off their face after reversing themselves on avoiding eating egg yolks, shellfish and other foods that contain dietary cholesterol, a warning which turned out to have scant scientific merit.

** Corporations like Monsanto and Coca Cola bribing academics to perform research that will make their products seem harmless and labeling conflicting research findings as pseudoscience.

(The Coca Cola story reported by New York Times investigative journalist Anahad O'Connor outed the company for bribing researchers to convince the public that sugary drinks can be part of a healthy diet as long as you exercise. Coca Cola VP Rhona Applebaum resigned over the scandal after emails published by the Associated Press revealed the academics were paid puppets and the bogus research network -- Global Energy Balance Network -- quickly disbanded citing "resources limitations.")

Though I am neither a scientist nor health care professional, I have a huge stake in who wins the Food War. I am Jane Q. Public, a surrogate for those whose hearts and minds both sides are attempting to control. In a few months, I will have a new grandchild who will be fed biased nutritional information at school and supplied with milk that contains more added sugar than should be consumed in a whole day.

My meandering journey into the low-carb high-fat way of eating has serendipitously led me to the sidelines of the Food War, and I think I may just stick around for a spell.


  1. Hi Nancy - thanks for mentioning me! I did think it was funny that you referred to my @BuildupDietitians page and me as a "mouthpiece" - I had never really heard that term outside of maybe a gangster movie! Anyway, I sought to connect you to dietitians in school food service to give you their perspective on flavored milks. Hope you can stay open to learning more about registered dietitian and science-based information. Cheers!

  2. You're welcome, Leah. Unfortunately, I was not too impressed by the views of your colleagues who support outdated nutrition guidelines based on sketchy research. If I decide to become less healthy or obese, I will be sure to follow their recommendations.