We are bombarded with diet and nutrition information. Separating wild claims from scientifically vetted data is on ongoing problem. Because T. Colin Campbell is himself a scientist one of the first issues in the Plant-Based Nutrition course was how to analyze the validity of data, information, advertising, products and claims. To do this we were introduced to a set of questions that the school called The Critical Questions Tool for Analyzing Nutrition Messages.
The Critical Questions Analytical Tool
1. What is the message message recommending or promoting?
2. What problem is this recommendation intended to solve? Is it, in your opinion, an important problem?
3. What questions are being asked about this problem (by the author or in the research cited)? What questions are not being asked?
4. What kinds of evidence are being used to answer these questions? How does it relate to other evidence on this topic, if you know?
5. What kinds of assumptions are being made about the problem? (An assumption is a belief that may be unstated or taken for granted without providing evidence)
6. What can you tell about the author’s approach to science and the scientific method? What might be missing?
7. Are the conclusions offered well reasoned and warranted by the evidence provided? Explain what is and what isn’t to your own satisfaction.
8. What might be some important consequences of accepting these conclusions (for you, for author/producer, for the environment, for society at large)?
We were encouraged to use this tool for evaluation of what was presented in class as well as how we evaluated new information as we encountered it. I found that taking the time to consider each of these questions was helpful in clarifying advertisements, articles, products and radio and TV commentaries. I hope you can use this tool too.
For fun try applying these same questions to some of the political messages that candidates are using to get our vote. You might find them as hard to swallow as the useless vitamin and mineral supplements.
I have used cooking techniques, shopping strategies and nutrition concepts to help people regain a modicum of control over their day to day lives. Over the past twenty years of doing this as the Nutrition Magician® I also discovered the incredible power of meal-time to break down communication barriers, increase a sense of community, encourage team work and build bonds between co-workers and more deeply develop a the sense of family.
My first inklings of the trans-formative nature of meal-time came while managing a senior center serving one of the poorest populations in Portland, OR. I would watch frail and reclusive seniors find energy from the nutrition provided through daily meals but often, and sometimes more importantly, would see broken spirits enlivened, clouded minds become lucid and tired bodies become active participating members of the community. Their transformation transformed me too.
Over time my meat/dairy based culinary school training has given way to a whole-food plant-based diet (WFPBD) providing the foundation for physical and social change through meal-times; what I call the intersection of hearth and heart. First, watching Forks Over Knives (available on NetFlix) then reading The China Study provided basis for my paradigm shift. I look forward to finding, experiencing and sharing new discoveries.
So when admonished so frequently to “ask our pharmacist” what exactly should we be asking?
Let me apologize in advance for any misspellings. Any and all brand names are used solely for the purpose of this review and in no way is meant to defame nor endorse any product, supplier or producer.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Mr. Vilsack,
I am writing to share concerns about current aqua/agricultural practices that are effecting our health, safety, economy and future. I know that your mission encompasses vast areas of our economy but it is the Center of Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will be my focus.
While striving for increased food production the increased use of nitrogen based industrial fertilizers has put all water supply at risk. The problem is succinctly stated in the Environmental Protection Agency paper, aptly enough titled The Problem; “Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.” Human’s suffer by increased exposure to contaminants resulting in increased healthcare costs. Runoff impacted waters are creating fishery “dead zones” resulting in loss of jobs, decreased catches and contaminated harvests. Additionally, crops raised on nitrogen fertilizer enhanced soils are not as nutritious as those raised in diversely organic composted soils. Based on USDA’s own nutritional data the nutrients found in 43 different vegetables were shown to have “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C over the past half century (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, December 2004). Even though the problem has been documented and acknowledged by our own government agencies we continue to encourage bad practice.
Increased food production industrialization seems to ignore current science and common sense. So what can we do? Though certainly not comprehensive, I recommend three immediate actions:
1 End mono-culture farm subsidies thus encouraging crop rotation, better organic farming practices and crop diversification.
2 Recommend a tax on the use of nitrogen based industrial fertilizers that reflects the costs of water degradation, fishery depletion and associated jobs lost.
3 Promote through education and subsidies the small regional multi-crop farmer who is better able to provide product that needs little processing, more economical distribution and provides local jobs.
I look forward to supporting a USDA that values sustainable human welfare as much as it does corporate economic development. You have the position and the power to lead this effort. I encourage you to do so.
Full time consumer and registered voter
My first exposure to the food service industry was while still in high-school when my first real job was as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. In the mid-70’s I took my first job in restaurant management and it was not until the late 80’s that I went to culinary school to become trained as a chef. As a restaurateur attending local, state and national conferences held by The National Restaurant Association and later The American Culinary Federation it was not surprising nor did I question the presence both as purveyors and sponsors of all aspects of the food production industry including The Sugar Association, the National Dairy Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and, of course, the largest trade association serving the food and beverage industry the National Food Processors Association. This is actually only a short list of the plethora of organizations that promote food who are the foundation of funding for virtually all meetings, gatherings and conferences regarding the food service industry.
It was only after being working through a USDA Team Nutrition Training grant to the Oregon Department of Education School Nutrition Programs department that I became aware of institutional and private sector interdependence. It was hard to escape or ignore the tacit endorsement of the various food-producing industries who were instrumental in providing conference funding, educational programs, research development and public policy recommendations as evidenced by their presence at meetings and conferences for state and local education boards, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the National Association of School Nurses, the School Nutrition Association, the National PTA , to name a just few which I attended. Look at these organizations membership roles to get an idea of how each serves the other.
Along with these various trade, professional and government associations the USDA is charged with both promoting public health, food supply and safety while at the same time supporting economic development across all sectors of the economy. Even the language used in the media, in this course and in daily conversation is misleading. We talk about spending on healthcare, crop production, food processing, diet research without acknowledging that each of these spent dollars is actually an investment in a trillion-dollar enterprise which fuels the stock market, creates profits and provides countless jobs for everyone from warehouse janitors and farm laborers to investment bankers and CEO’s. The survival of the economic status quo is at stake whenever changes in current food habits are suggested by scientists like Dr. T. Colin Campbell.
With these cross purposes as the backdrop against which food, diet and health information is disseminated it is not surprising that data is skewed, research is contaminated, funding is targeted and information biased. Public health and business profit seldom develop along the same path. In such an environment it would be surprising if confusion was not the norm.
I just received the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate, Completed June 2016, eCornell and T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. For 20 years I have been teaching about food, cooking, nutrition, kitchen management, shopping strategies and more. I have been winding down thinking that retirement would be a good idea but this course changed my mind. After learning more about the scientific basis for a whole-food plant-based diet (WFPBD) is feel energized, motivated to get back to doing what I love best, sharing the magic of mealtimes and all the good that comes from making healthy choices. I look forward to the opportunity to share, learn and grow.