Small. Local. Organic. Misinformed.

Maize

I like food, probably a little too much. I also value good science and correct information.

There are lots of narrative threads when it comes to the story of food, and their themes have been changing over the last few decades. Food used to be about sustenance, now it’s often about status. Food used to be about the commodity, now the narratives are reflective of food communities. In some parts of the world, the food supply is critical, where as in resource-rich western countries, we are overwhelmed with food selection.

The transition from the modern to the post-modern story of food and farms was served by the Food Movement and it’s lauded oracles like Michael Pollan. Pollen’s book, “The Omnivores Dilemma”, is revered by many as a revolutionary tome. But for every person who accepts the Food Movement mantra of “Small, local, organic”, there are just as many critics who have seen through the Food Movement’s post-truth veneer.

I read one such critique today, a long but revealing article by Marc Brazeau, a former chef and food writer from the US. Once a Food Movement follower, Marc realised that he could no longer support the core tenets and primary position of the Food Movement because of the lack of credible scientific evidence that the Food Movement is built on.

In one telling paragraph, he writes,

“Lazy critiques of industrial agriculture masquerading as critiques of biotech get away with missing the mark or getting the causality backwards because of the mystery surrounding the technology and people’s inchoate intuitions about messing with nature. They get away with sloppy logic and misinformation because most people have sentimental intuitions that farming should somehow be exempt from commerce, from technological change, from legalistic constraints – that it should somehow operate on a more pastoral logic, even as it works to serves a mass, industrialized society.”

In other words, the Food Movement and other pro-organic, anti-conventional, anti-GMO activists get things backwards, but get away with it because most people don’t really understand the technology while having an emotional attachment to “natural” things and an innate aversion to things that “mess with nature”. Even though organic farming is actually no better (and probably worse) than conventional farming, most people have a fear of the unknown and are easily swayed by propaganda that feeds into that fear, even though it’s fundamentally irrational.

“… when you start with a conception of a tomato being crossed with a fish that you got from a cartoon on a picket sign and you wind up finally understanding that it is a single well understood gene out of tens of thousands of genes being transferred from one organism to another, you wonder, why all the drama? When you realize that you share half your DNA with a banana or that an herbicide resistant soybean has been bred to express a different version of a single enzyme so that it is not affected by a single herbicide, the technology becomes a lot less mysterious and a lot less intimidating.

You learn that the Bt gene in insect resistant corn comes from a soil bacterium that’s been used for decades as an organic pesticide. You learn that the proteins that have been bred into the corn and cotton are toxic to insects that eat the plants because the protein is activated by their alkaline gut and binds to a specific receptor to damage their digestive tract. It’s harmless however to humans and other critters because it’s digested in our acidic stomachs like any other protein. And besides, we don’t have that receptor anyways.”

Reading the article reminded me of Dr Leaf’s book “Think and Eat Yourself Smart”. In fact, Brazeau’s post is an eloquent take-down of the first few chapters of “Think and Eat Yourself Smart” without intending to be so, mainly because Caroline Leaf’s book is just a Christianised version of the Omnivore’s Dilemma and the Food Movement gospel mixed with her scientifically dubious ‘cognitive neuroscience’.

Take Caroline Leaf’s definition of “Real Food”, “Real food is food grown the way God intended: fresh and nutritious, predominantly local, seasonal, grass-fed, as wild as possible, free of synthetic chemicals, whole or minimally processed, and ecologically diverse.” (Think and Eat Yourself Smart, p29) This is an appeal to antiquity and authority, an assumption that what was best for the Garden of Eden is God’s desire for how the world should be today. It’s just the “Small, local, organic” philosophy, rebranded with a Christianese slant to appeal to her audience in the western Church.

The Christianised version of the Food Movement’s romanticised post-truth ideals aren’t any better than the originals. Dr Leaf’s aspirational promotion of local, organic, macrobiotic, agro-economic tree-hugging food systems as God’s model for the modern church is idealistic inanity.

It’s time the church moved beyond the Christian rehash of popular secular philosophies and started critically assessing the teaching of those who would promote themselves as ‘experts’. As a church, we deserve the narrative that’s accurate, not the narrative that is simply appealing.

You can read the full essay by Marc Brazeau at http://fafdl.org/blog/2016/11/18/tales-of-a-recovering-pollanite/

References

Leaf CM. Think and Eat Yourself Smart. USA: Baker Books; 2016 (April 5)

Advertisements

The confused teaching of Dr Caroline Leaf

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-12-53-18-am

Dr Leaf released her latest e-mail newsletter today.  I decided to follow up with a brief review of this week’s instalment after her last e-mail newsletter completely misrepresented Ephesians 4:16, the function of the hypothalamus and the effect of stress on the population,

Dr Leaf was true to her usual form.  Her fundamental assumptions remain subtly skewed, forcing each layer of argument into an unbalanced and unstable alignment, and the more she tried to justify herself, the more unstable her arguments became, until eventually they toppled.

There was the obligatory dig at the medical profession, another smug ad hominem dismissal claiming that doctors have ‘negligible training in nutrition’, so doctors don’t understand the ‘whole approach’ that Dr Leaf and other so-called ‘progressive’ food thinkers have.  In reality, doctors have a lot of nutritional training, a darn-sight more than communication pathologists and self-titled cognitive neuroscientists.

And again, Dr Leaf demonstrates her paucity of knowledge or respect for the scripture by again misquoting Proverbs 23:7.  You don’t need to be a Biblical scholar to be able to read a verse of scripture in context, and in context, “as he thinks in his heart [mind], so is he” has got nothing to do with our mind or our thoughts (as I’ve discussed before https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/05/30/dr-caroline-leaf-manhandling-scriptures-again/).

But the critical error which invalidates Dr Leaf’s essay this week is the intellectual dissonance she creates by making two paradoxical claims.

“Your mind, or soul, has one foot in the door of the spirit and one foot in the door of the body. The mind creates coherence between the spirit of man and the body of man, and therefore influences and controls brain/body function and health, and influences spiritual development. Your mind, with its intellectual ability to choose and its emotional authority, controls all physical aspects.”

and

“Fasting has been shown to enhance brain function, and reduce the risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, insulin sensitivity and blood pressure. For instance, restricting calories can support the induction of sirtuin-1 (SIRT1), an enzyme that regulates gene expression and enhances learning and memory.”

Essentially, Dr Leaf is saying in one breath that the mind is separate to the physical brain but controls all of the function of the physical brain and the body, but then moments later says that changes in the body alters the function of the brain which then alters the function of the mind.

So which is it?  You can’t have it both ways?  It’s impossible for the mind to control all physical aspects of the brain if the mind is vulnerable to changes in the brain and body.

The dilemma of Dr Leaf’s mind-brain paradox stems from her defective set of assumptions on the triune being.

“You are intrinsically, brilliantly, and intricately designed with a spirit, soul and body (Genesis 1:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). This is known as our triune nature.  Our triune nature is divided into different components. Your spirit is your ‘true you’, or what I call your PerfectlyYou. The spirit has three parts: intuition, conscience and communion (worship). Your soul, which is your mind, also has three parts: intellect, will and emotions. Lastly, your body has three parts: the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm, from which the brain and the body form.”

Dr Leaf’s ideas about the triune being are Biblically and scientifically tenuous—more conjecture on Dr Leaf’s part than hard science or solid theology (Read here for more information on this https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/07/25/dr-caroline-leaf-dualism-and-the-triune-being-hypothesis/)  Yet she bases her entire ministry on these shaky assumptions, cherry picking studies and manipulating facts to suit her arguments and ignoring the glaring contradictions that inevitably arise.

So Dr Leaf’s latest offering to her followers again demonstrates the confusion and contradiction that plagues her teaching—layer upon layer of cherry-picked factoids manipulated to prop up her tenuous assumptions. Dr Leaf would do better by listening to scientists and doctors rather than arrogantly dismissing them.