Wednesday, May 28, 2008


So I have a problem: I have ten pounds of peaches sitting in my kitchen. And they're all ripening as I type this. I've been looking over any and all recipes in my cooking library in the hopes of finding dishes and desserts that can hold back the mountain of peaches, recipes that can use as many peaches as possible before they become overly ripe.

I entertained the possibility of inviting friends and colleagues to a peach feast, but many have left town for the summer.

There is a bright note to this, however, in that I get a chance to test new recipes and use favorite recipes with peaches as a stand-in. However, my sister, her boyfriend, and I can only eat so much yet we don't want to waste such delectable fruit.

Any suggestions?


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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Great Soy Conspiracy and A Word on Accountability

So here's my analysis of the article I mentioned last time, of which this is excerpted and edited from the email:

I can see why you’re concerned about soy after reading the article. I read it and it lulled me into a false sense of objectivity before smacking me with its biased and inflammatory statements. It’s child abuse to give an infant soy formula? Seriously? (Breast milk is best for an infant, actually, and normally all he or she needs nutritionally.) The article is the antithesis of how I would like people to approach science and nutrition, especially when it comes to looking at primary research. Marc Leduc, the article’s author and creator of the website, presents an absolutely one-sided argument against soy. Here’s one of the many problems I have with what Leduc wrote:

Some sources claim that "soy has demonstrated powerful anticancer benefits...the Japanese, who eat 30 times as much soy as North Americans, have a lower incidence of cancers of the breast, uterus and prostate."(7)

Indeed they do. But the Japanese, and Asians in general, have much higher rates of other types of cancer, particularly cancer of the esophagus, stomach, liver and pancreas.(8) Asians throughout the world also have high rates of thyroid cancer.(9) The logic which links low rates of reproductive cancers to soy consumption requires attribution of high rates of thyroid and digestive cancers to the same foods, particularly as soy causes these types of cancers in laboratory rats. [Emphasis mine]
Why the sudden lack of citation(s) here? He doesn’t point to any studies that would support this last statement, and he doesn’t cite any research dated after 2002, the year the article was written, even though the website seems to have been last updated in 2006. There are also limitations with looking at rat studies and cancer that he doesn’t address. (Consider the amount of soy that would need to be given to rats and the fact that no one can ever conduct an intervention study on humans where they are fed possible carcinogens, at least, not without breaking several laws.) Speaking of citations, the fact that he only highlights links to other parts of his website is somewhat disconcerting. If those articles follow a similar standard as this one on soy, then I’m even more troubled.

Oh wait. Here’s something troubling. An article from the Complementary Alternative Medicine Association:
The second main "anti-nutrient" soybeans contain is phytic acid. Present to some degree in all types of beans, phytic acid blocks the uptake of important minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium and especially zinc. Soybeans have the highest phytic acid levels of any legume, and as such have an extraordinary ability to cause mineral deficiencies. Third World countries with diets high in grains and soy have the most profound deficiencies of these minerals. []
From Leduc’s article:
Soybeans also reportedly contain an anti-nutrient called "phytic acid", which all beans do. However, soybeans have higher levels of phytic acid than any other legume. Phytic acid may block the absorption of certain minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Epidemiological studies have shown that people in 3rd World Countries who have high consumption of grains and soy also commonly have deficiencies in these minerals. It must also be noted that this may be of particular concern with regard to babies who are using soy-based infant formulas. [Paragraph 5]
To me, the wording is a little too similar to go without a citation. (Plagiarism…) Also, notice that Leduc says phytic acid (or phytates) “may” interfere with some mineral absorption, but then when he restates this fact three paragraphs later, he declares that phytic acid does indeed block this absorption. (As a writer, he should have noticed that.) To be clear, phytates can hinder the overall absorption of the above minerals by binding to them, but most cooking and preparation methods can reduce the amount of phytates to varying levels. In the case of nonheme (plant) iron and phytates, simultaneously consuming vitamin C or a little meat with the phytates can counteract some of phytates’ binding effects.

When I wrote to you about soy, I didn’t cite any primary research articles to you for a few reasons. Unlike Leduc, for each study that presents a conclusion one way, there can be a handful or more of other studies that present the opposite conclusion. For example, here’s the link to a full text of a meta-analysis from a 2002 Journal of Nutrition issue that looks at data from studies on the possible effects of soy on premenopausal women and men: Here’s the abstract for a study from the most recent issue of Topics in Clinical Nutrition that looks at soy and postmenopausal women: (Unfortunately, the full article is only available to subscribers or through database access to the journal.) I could keep going with similar citations and counterexamples, but then it would be inappropriate overkill here and counterproductive as well. Unless you want to know where my information comes from (lectures, nutritional science textbooks, journal databases, primary and secondary sources, and some computer searches) or you want to know the scientific details behind what I say, I see no reason to write that way to you. You’re a person asking my informed opinion about something related to food and nutrition, and that’s the context to which I’ll respond.


And this is how I see my site here. As I've mentioned before when I started developing this blog, I am learning nutrition as a student. There's no RD after my name nor do I claim to be offering any health advice in any capacity beyond that of another person on the street. What I will endeavor to do here, however, is to write responsibly, especially when it comes to nutrition.

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Here the Enemy Awaits

I just wrote a long email to someone dissecting this article about the dangers of soy. The person who wrote to me loves soy foods and is now freaked out about it because of that article, which is a shame. The problem with the article, and the website as a whole, is that the guy has good intentions with what he presents. He wants to share what he knows about good health. Then again, we all know the consequences of good intentions except this guy is carrying out his intentions in a confused way here. (I'll reprint my review of the article next time.) This sort of thing makes it difficult for anyone who is concerned about nutrition to discern the truth from lies and exaggerations. Leduc begins well and the article looks to be informative, objective and mostly balanced until you come across this sentence:

It is child abuse to feed a baby soy formula.

Wait, what? There may be ignorance or an overzealous approach to health or something else involved in feeding a child soy formula, but that decision may not be the same as child abuse. Soy-based formulas are not the ideal food for babies; that honor goes to breast milk. There are more problems with the article, but my reprinted letter will cover them next time.

The article is symptomatic of most Internet articles coming from personal websites or websites that put on airs of professionalism in that you can write whatever without accountability or strict standards. Even websites that claim to offer helpful and friendly advice (including mine) should be approached with some skepticism.


I encountered this sort of problem with my nutrition courses this semester, especially in my food science lab. The professor asked us to bring in recipes for assignments throughout the semester, so many students (myself included) would begin our searches on the Internet. Unlike other students, however, I have a modest library of general cookbooks on hand to consult as references and guidelines, and I usually use recipes from them rather than those from the Internet. As the professor mentioned on a few occasions, and as I have witnessed first-hand, many recipes online are unreliable. Even recipes from the Food Network can fail spectacularly.

The premise for one of the food science labs was that a coffee cafe owner wants to update old recipes and add new items to their menu. We are tasked with bringing in a scone, muffin, or quick bread recipe and testing it over two lab periods. Of course, most people brought in recipes they found online. One pair brought in a muffin recipe from the Food Network. This recipe had them placing dried cranberries at the bottom of each muffin cup before pouring in the batter and baking. Everyone went about making their respective recipe. We then had an informal taste test. After their muffins cooled, the partners using the Food Network recipe turned them upside down, as stated in the recipe. The dried cranberries had all burned black and were hard as rocks. What had happened was that the batter did not reach the bottom of each cup due to the layer of dried cranberries placed there (as per the recipe). So the cranberries had no buffer against the heat from the oven. Thankfully, the two mixed the cranberries into the batter for the following lab, and everyone who tasted it liked it.

So the moral from these stories is don't blindly trust everything on the Internet.

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Lucky Soul

Great pop music. It's shame their album hasn't been released in the US yet. But! You can visit them here and at their new blog. Say hello for me.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Power and Responsibility

In a moment of weirdness, I have been elected as vice president of the university nutrition club, despite certain factors against me winning. But now that the easy part is done (ha), I have to plan for the next school year. At Oberlin I have been in various organizations and given responsibilities for which I was not entirely qualified. But I carried out my responsibilities as best as I could, given my greenness and the steep learning curve I always faced. I hope to not repeat mistakes from those ventures here because I see a lot of untapped potential in the club. To prepare, I'm starting to gather books on leadership from a business and nonprofit standpoint and to evaluate at the club as an outsider, an easy task to perform.

I have never been fully comfortable with most leadership positions, especially when it involves money. My parents' admonitions (what they consider as advice) about future careers--don't enter the restaurant industry, essentially--have always kept me away from devoting more than an iota of thought-space to different aspects of business such as management and leadership or even professional social skills. The fact that the business deals involving family was always tinged with nepotism and inconsistent accounting also played a role in my avoidance of all things related to business. Biographies of famous leaders sounded interesting (they can make for fascinating stories in and of themselves) but I was biased against them, mainly because I thought there wasn't much to gain from them.

Now I must look to these long-neglected areas for inspiration, models of behavior, and the necessary self-questioning. What is a leader? Who do I consider a leader? What qualities does that person possess to characterize them as a leader? (Why are all the books that deal with leadership specifically found only in business section of the bookstore? Are poets, writers, artists, philanthropists, scientists, historians, soldiers, et. al. not leaders as well? You'd think certain biographies [another problematic area of major chain bookstores] would be grouped with books on leadership...) For now, the path to these answers seems to lie with self-knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses, knowing how to complement or negate them, and an awareness of others and of what they can and can't (or won't) do.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Meme and the Literacy Meme

I'll start by saying I blame Liz for this meme:

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users. [Edit: I use Goodreads, which doesn't have this sort of metadata. Edit #2: And it's free.]

Bold what you have read, italicize those you started but couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand.
Add an asterisk* to those you've read more than once.
Underline those on your to-read list.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina

Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov

Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
Atlas Shrugged?
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha*
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels and Demons
The Inferno?
The Satanic Verses?
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles?

Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels?
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes : A Memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States : 1492-present

A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas

The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an Inquiry into Values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

So what does this tell you about me? There are many books out there that I haven't read and just as many that I don't wish to read. Of the ones from this list, the only one I've been re-reading is Lolita, which I really enjoyed the first time. I'm in the middle of re-reading it because I wanted to re-examine the weirdness between HH's obsession with Lola and his observations of the mundane details of bourgeois--oops, I mean middle class--American culture.

The only book here that I've recently read was Guns, Germs & Steel, which was two years ago. All the others I've read during high school with The Hobbit being the exception (5th grade summer). Moby Dick was a pain to try to read, but I approached it after finishing the 8th grade so I'll have to revisit it at some point to see what I think of it now that my approach to reading has changed.

Of the ones I've already read, I want to re-read Crime & Punishment and GGS; the former because there's a recent translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that is supposed to be the best thus far, and the latter because the ideas there have seeped out into what I've read this year and I want to reacquaint myself with their nuances.

Many books with question marks are ones that I may read, but friends have given me bad or ambivalent reviews about them. For example, I don't really look forward to reading any Ayn Rand since she's supposedly a terrible writer. However, since I still run into people who espouse her philosophy based on her books and the work of her institute, I sometimes feel that I need to have the necessary ammunition to counter their idiocy. And reading her books would give me a better understanding as to how to do that.

I'm a fairly slow reader when it comes to novels or books so I tend to stick to short stories, essays, articles, and the occasional novella. I guess what I seek when I read is a high idea density to length ratio, which is almost pulpy in execution. This may also be why I like comics and movies; they tend to have this high ratio.

This meme reminds me of the recent lamentations about the state of reading in America. (See the NEA's report and Ursula Le Guin's response in The Atlantic, where the entirety of the latter is only available to subscribers unfortunately.) The list is comprised primarily of bestsellers or "classics" so the originator of the meme presumes that everyone would be familiar with them. Does that familiarity mean people have read the majority of the books? Does reading a significant number of these books translate into being a "well read" or literate person? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that many of the books are classics and thus heavily referenced in our culture so every educated person needs, at the very least, to know how that book fits as a cultural reference. No, in that, granted, it's still possible to conduct an intelligent conversation with someone who hasn't read the same books. However, these conversations may not have the same sense of depth or cultural and social resonance that they otherwise may have. And this was one of the (many) points raised in Le Guin's Atlantic essay, that books are a "social vector" in that it spurs a shared sense of culture and literary camaraderie. These types of conversations and the literary references are, in one sense, the verbal analogues to online dialogues/writings that have hyperlinks imbedded in them. So the existence of these types of online memes, their proliferation, and the responses to them can be seen as indicators of cultural health.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008


In a rare night of TV watching, I saw Santogold perform on one of the late night shows. (Its name escapes me at the moment.) There's something about "L.E.S. Artistes" that caught my ear immediately. Was it the buzzing sound that forms part of the music's tapestry? The strained voice singing about a desire to leave behind noxious people and metamorphose into someone different, someone better? Either way, the cultural and musical signifiers embedded in this song are very appealing.

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