QuickReaction, Thursday-6

Note: Most of these comments were written before I started reading Michael Pollan so I guess I can claim them as my ideas.

Converting cellulose: If this discovery holds up (not another cold fusion) this could be huge. Converting cellulose to starch is great, but less mentioned was that glucose was the other by-product, in even larger quantity (and glucose can be easily converted to ethanol). Cellulose is easy to obtain, in fact, most plant material is cellulose. Starch and glucose are much smaller portion of biomass. I’ve always thought it stupid to make ethanol from corn (the actual kernels, not the entire plant) since we spend some much resource growing this relatively huge plant and then only use a tiny portion of it. Plants are sunlight harvesters, but when most of the photons are converted into (currently) useless cellulose the efficiency of bioconversion is lousy. So that’s why this is huge, now most of the photons captured by plants could be put to work in food or energy. Here’s a more extensive article on the process: Naturally there is a gotcha, it’s insanely expensive. BUT, they used recombinant DNA processes to generate the enzymes and that is a scalable technology so the idea that the cost can come way down is plausible.

Another breakthrough? This is way more tentative than the cellulose conversion since it merely involves computer simulation of materials that don’t even exist. But any forward step on methane absorption could be huge as well. Capturing methane from concentrated sources but in highly diffused form is almost impossible today so this idea, if actually feasible, could be huge as well. But it will be a long time before we hear about this one.

Biased study against organics: The leftie food nuts think so. As much as I pick on the rightwingnuts there are good opportunities to pick on lefties. I almost wrote a quickreaction to Gwenth Paltrow’s stupid cookbook and diet (right, blonde movie stars picked as most beautiful woman of the year are the credentials needed for nutrition science and cooking) that endorses the silly idea of “elimination diets” (detox is a word that should be banned as it is way overused). But naturally when Stanford says there is no nutritional advantage to organics this might as well be attacking the holy grail (or in other religious terms, denying jesus’ divinity or mary’s virginity). The trouble is the organics claims are mostly intangible. I actually endorse some of them, but that’s just preference and opinion, not facts and science. The organics industry (and it is an industry and interest group just as much as Cargill or ConAgra) has done a good job of selling the POV, attempting to extrapolate from the family garden to a huge highly automated factory agriculture. Absolutely heirloom tomatoes from our garden taste better, even than Whole Foods organics, but that doesn’t scale. No commercial agriculture is doing the equivalent of the home garden. But the left is sucker for that kind of sentimentality and thus goes ballistic when it gets debunked. Science is not political, it can roast leftie sacred cows as well.

Calorie counts on menus work: Once again I’m going to disagree with a study, even though the study partially confirms the hypothesis (that labeling calories on food items at fast food joints cuts consumption). I think there are a lot of issues, but I’ll pick two: 1) making the counts very visible with same font and font size – MickeyD’s is doing this and it’s impressive. In fact, it’s hard to not see the counts. And in some cases the counts are so staggering they really are a deterrent (for instance, the cost of “crispy” chicken (vs grilled) in any dish, and, 2) that teens ignore the counts – big whoop, teens ignore everything sensible and are so subject to peer pressure and other nonsense I have no clue how you’d get them to eat less (less generous handouts by enabling parents might help, I’ve observed that effect first hand). So, yes, calorie counts are useless there. But on top of that, there are a couple of other flaws: a) most people are not dieting or worrying about calories, so getting stats for the entire population isn’t very meaningful, and, b) a lot of people doing dieting, esp. those who listen to nutrition scolds don’t even go to fast food places. But like gun control or anything else, even though the benefits are modest, this is still something worth doing. As someone who now does pay attention (I, like the teens, usually didn’t) it is a great help, and the biggest help when the counts are easy to see and understand (not in some nutrition pamphlet like early attempts).

Red meat is still evil: This article has been showing up in many places with slightly different versions of the story. It turns out, after the nutrition scolds have been fighting red meat for decades, now there is essentially no evidence they’re right, to denounce red meat as evil. BTW, this doesn’t mean it’s innocent, just that there is no evidence it’s guilty. So obviously they’re starting a new front in their war. It’s no longer the saturated fat, it’s feeding the bacteria in your gut who then make TMAO which naturally just happens to be floating around in the blood of some sick people, ergo, red meat is evil, again. Note that the article itself says “However, the new study cannot prove that high TMAO levels cause cardiovascular disease” And once again this is just an association (so possibly CV disease causes the high levels of TMAO (or bacterial activity), not the other way round. Now I got this myself, a few days ago when I first saw the articles, but after reading  Pollan it’s clear I was just beginning to catch on to the nutrition frauds.

And here is a new diabetes treatment – harrah! But note this bit, “Experts unconnected with the work cautioned that other substances have shown similar effects on mouse cells but failed to work on human ones.” Oh, I guess it’s just an initial burst of excitement over a “treatment” that hasn’t even been tried. Tell me the establishment isn’t pushing an agenda and disregarding facts. See above how I talk about a “breakthrough” in converting cellulose to sugars – not exactly the breathless just around the corner claims this kind of article makes.

Facts or fiction: I can’t really tell because I can completely decide what I think the article is saying, i.e. things are getting better but still aren’t good enough, perhaps, or is it the scare talk of an epidemic sweeping the country, or have the methods of measurement changed or are the metrics different. How knows, so what good is the article?

About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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