Sep 14, 2004 - current events, food, stupidity    No Comments

Atkins is counting its own carbs … and laying off employees

In a recent release, Atkins (the ‘low carb’ giant) announced it would be laying laying off an undisclosed number of its 370 employees (check it out here). This came out after an anouncement the previous day about the company’s bank debt being priced down.

Things don’t look good, but (I hate to say it) I’m happy … as it indicates some intelligence creepy (albeit slowly) back into the population. While I can’t argue with people who’ve had success at weight loss and (even more importantly) maintenance after loss utilizing the Atkins system (or similar systems, like the South Beach Diet) … I still have to ask the basic question: Is a diet that cuts a particular type of food out a good thing … or would a better thing be to get off our collectively flabby butts and excercise a bit?

I mean really, folks: low carbs … carbs … things like bread and pasta and such … things that are consumed in abundance in Europe … and I’ve got to wonder what the overall health of the Italian and French populations are when compared to us in the states. I seem to remember articles awhile back that showed that France consumes more wine per person than the US does, yet has lower cholestrol and fewer heart-related health issues than we do. Makes you wonder if it’s because of our lifestyle … not the food we’re packing into our mouths.

Actually, I think it’s a combination of things:

Excercise (it’s all in the mind)

The national excercise of the U.S.A. is the “12-ounce curl” or the “channel-changer flick”. We’ve taken the concept of “picture it in your mind, and it will happen” to an extreme (just look at the plethora of half-hour infomercials touting “lose 30 pounds in 20 seconds just by frowning” or “get six-pack abs … and still drink that six-pack!”). I know I feel more toned after watching 30 minutes of aerobics … guess I don’t really need to do them then, right?

Fast (from lips to hips) Food

It used to be that “fast food” meant “good food prepared and delivered quickly”. If you believe that definition still holds, then have another Big Arch Delux, lardboy (remember those things? I think they topped out at the same amount of fat and calories as the entire daily consumption of Tuvalu). If you want to swear off fast food permanently, check out Fast Food Nation, a romp through the side of the industry you never really wanted to know … but probably should.

My point is simple: “Fast Food” is neither “good food” nor “good for you food”. Period. That’s one of the reasons I became a personal chef, to provide a more wholesome (yet convenient) alternative to the world of “meat” patties (they ain’t real meat … or, at least, not meat you’d really wanna eat) and fries.

“If I can (blame/sue) someone for my problem … it’s no longer my problem”

Let’s face it: American society is litigious … any way we can make money off our own stupidity, by gum, and we’re’a gonna do it! Pour hot coffee in your lap while you’re driving … it’s clearly the fault of the guy who gave you the coffee (not your own clumsiness … never that). And when it comes to food, we’re no different. One guy ate nothing but fast food for a month and gained 30 pounds … another guy did the same thing and didn’t … what’s this mean? Simple: we must force restaurants to put nutritional information on the menus (critical assumption: we actually read and understand it), because the restaurants are feeding us too much bad food … never mind that the concept of “family sized” portions is based on a family of humpback whales, we demand to get our money’s worth.

And if we can’t … sue ’em. It’s the next best thing to the lottery.

Ok, ok … ’nuff of my high horse … I need a bacon double-cheese burger.

Aug 23, 2004 - science    No Comments

Maybe everything just vibrates …

If you’re up for an interesting read, check out Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, a delightfully mentally stretching romp through the worlds of relativity, quantum physics, and cosmology.

I’ve got the book on CD (compliements of Audible) and it’s an interesting way to while away the commute across the state (my current employment is about an hour’s drive away from home). I’m almost beginning to comprehend the concept of 9- or 10-dimensional space … when my brain takes a slight detour around the “particles are waves … waves are particles … everything is strings … and strings are waves” part.

I remember watching a program about research being done in the area of our sense of smell. The theory being put forth is that the nose doesn’t differentiate smells by the configuration of the molecules that make up the smell, rather it uses the vibrational differences between molecules. In other words, without knowing what chemicals combined together to produce a particular odor, if they combined compounds based on their vibrational frequencies … a smell could be duplicated. Now, all that needs to be done is the mapping of the ‘smell notes’ (different frequencies that, when combined, generate specific smells) and (much like having mapped the genome) we can replicate smells.

Wait … wait … ahh, here we go … the scientist is Dr. Luca Turin at University College of London. There’s a book on the entire thing (something else to add to my reading list): The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses

But look at things a different way: what they’re saying is that certain molecules vibrate in certain ways and it’s the vibrations that control the smell. I think this is just the tip of a much bigger iceberg: one where all our interactions with reality are in fact nothing more than frequency combinations. Look at our 5 senses:

  • Variations in the vibrations of photons generate the color spectrum that we see
  • Variations in the vibrations of molecules generate different smells
  • Variations in the vibrations of molecules of air generate different sounds

That’s 3 out of 5 that can be mapped to vibrations as opposed to particles:

  • Touch appears to be “particle-based”, but that makes sense: touch is a rather “coarse” sense, requiring relatively large quantities of matter before it can be physically detected.
  • Taste also still appears to be particle-based … but if smell is vibrational, it’s conceivable that taste could be seen the same way (we know that single molecules, for example a single capsaicin molecule, can be detected … so it appears we’re on the same molecular scale as smell

Sure, we talk, think, and visualize the world as a collection of particles … electrons, protons, etc. … but those particles are themselves made up of smaller entities (quarks) which are (if you adhere to superstring theory) made up of vibrating strings). Is it possible to take the frequencies of all the vibrating strings that make up a particular thing and figure out the overall harmonic pattern of the thing? Better yet, identify what frequencies combine to produce particular sensory responses (blue, sweet, rotten, etc.)

I’m babbling, I know … but it’s an interesting concept … at least, it’s interesting when I’m trying to keep from doing real work.

Aug 15, 2004 - observations    No Comments

So it does, but it doesn’t (at least, we don’t think so)

Compliments of an incredibly stupid maneuver Friday I’ve endured some sort of muscle spasm in my back for the past couple days. Not a comfortable situation, but (with the aid of modern science) one that can be managed …

… at least, I think it can be managed. Modern medicine’s a truly wonderful thing. But, when you cross it with the “wizardry” of modern marketing … and throw in a dash of “truth in advertising”, you get some wonderfully puzzling situations.

Take my back, for instance. My first thought was to anesthesize the problem, and I immediately thought of Doane’s Pills (since I remembered an advertisement proclaiming them a back-pain solution). A quick (but calculated) trip (making sure not to move in unplanned or uncomfortable ways) to the local store and I was home with a box. After following the recommended dosage, I was feeling considerably better (given the appropriate time for the pills to dissolve and disperse their active ingredient through my blood stream).

Don’t ask my why I went back to look at the box … maybe it was out of awe at the power of a couple small, white tablets over my thoracic musculature … I honestly have no idea … but it least to my current puzzlement.

First off, let’s take a look at the box itself:

One of the first things you notice is the large, yellow “Releaves Back Pain” claim. Excellent, just what I was looking for …

… except, if you focus in on the paragraph immediately below that claim:

you’ll find that, according to the manufacturer, Doane’s isn’t any more effective (against back pain) than regular aspirin, ibuprofen, or a ball-peen hammer behind the right ear (that’s another story … for now, let’s just call it “folk medicine”).

Now, I know that, compliments of the disclaimer, everything is “legally” fine … but I gotta wonder about a society that permits both the claim and the counter-claim discounting it to be part of the same advertisement.

Then again … we pull the same stuff in the vitamin suppliment industry.

Aug 13, 2004 - current events, food    No Comments

The (French) Kitchen’s Closed …

Julia Child passed on in her sleep last night, according to her publisher (here‘s a link to the story on MSNBC). She was 91.

I’d love to say “I met her once …” and relate a touching, personal story but that’s simply not the case. I, like most of the rest of the food-loving world, knew her only from afar: her cookbooks, TV programs, guest appearances on Emeril Live, and so forth. So, I’ll forego a long winded eulogy and simply say,

“God bless, Julia … you will be missed.”