Nutrition Care Manual for What to Eat
Let us think for a moment about the concept of epistemology. Epistemology is a two-dollar word that essentially means knowledge. But it’s a little more than that: epistemology considers how we know what we know.
This is an idea that Ancient Greek scholars deliberated thoroughly, and like many of their musings, it remains as viable a question today as it was then. How do we know what we know? The Ancient Greeks determined that knowledge essentially comes from one of two sources. Either you experience something yourself or someone told you. This sounds simple enough, but it’s actually quite complex.
Let’s briefly consider these ideas, starting with the someone told you piece. When we learn from others, we are receiving their interpretation of the information they’ve received. This is true when we read journalists’ accounts of events in the newspaper when we attend a religious speech or sermon when we face the judge in a courtroom when we read a textbook and in every other life circumstance. There’s no getting around this.
Whenever you speak, it reflects your understanding of whatever it is you’re talking about. Your perspective of the topic comes from the sources you’ve read and/or listened to. This might be news reports, political speeches, TED talks, movies and/or documentaries, and the internet, to name a few, and of course your coworkers, friends, and neighbors. We take this base information we receive and most of us tend to add our own thoughts and ideas to it.
This is absolutely normal. Now, in effect, we’re interpreting someone else’s interpretation. (“The preacher said this, and I think he was talking about that, so this and that must be related.”) We then share our perspective with others.
They add their own layer of interpretation and share the message further. It soon begins to look like the childhood game “telephone,” but the difference is that it’s not a game, and it’s not meant for amusement. This is how we get our information. This is how we gain knowledge. Sure, we might occasionally check sources, but if most people generally believe something to be true, it’s much easier for us to accept it as true. Also, it’s very easy to believe something if “all of the authority figures” promote a certain perspective.
If I do a web search for a certain thing and get 2 million hits that reinforce a certain perspective, and among that list are powerful and credible sources, that’s a much easier position for me to accept than if my web search yields 10 reinforcing hits from entities I’ve never heard of. You can start to see how this is becoming more complex.
Not only are we subject to greater influence when information comes from sources we consider authoritative, such as the preacher speaking on religious tenets or the farmer speaking about crops, but we also tend to gauge the quality of information by how many sources back it up.
Most of us are more willing to believe something that 2 million people agree on than a position that only 10 people agree with.
If enough people believe a certain way, this position becomes the status quo. It gets better (or actually, worse). Research in marketing shows that people prefer to purchase from sellers they’re familiar with. Since human nature finds uncertainty uncomfortable, we seek to reduce it; so it makes sense that as consumers, we’re more likely to purchase from someone we’re more familiar with. Big Business spends billions of dollars on creating familiarity with their company and their products for just this reason.
Over time, we as consumers become familiar with companies through their extensive advertising.
As we become familiar, we are reducing uncertainty and developing trust. So this familiarity means that as a consumer, I’ll more likely purchase from the company I’m familiar with and that I (therefore) trust. This is one reason advertising works to increase sales and profits.
The same can be said of ideas rather than products. When a message is consistent over time, it builds familiarity, which reduces uncertainty and builds trust in the information—whether the information presented deserves that trust or not. Further, when a particular idea is promoted by an authority figure or authoritative institution, such as our government, it’s harder for us to justify dismissing it as patently untrue.
Our leaders know this and rely on it. Consider George W. Bush’s admission of selling propaganda as truth in his comment, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”1 If a powerful public figure says the same thing enough times, people will begin to accept it as truth. Also, when the status quo latches onto a perspective, it becomes increasingly difficult to swim against that powerful social stream, which by definition will label you a nonconformist and maybe even worse.
This is why many say that “change takes time”—a statement rooted in the knowledge that change is an initiation of new ways of thinking and being in the world, which goes against our strong human need for comfort and stability. As Arthur Schopenhauer, the great German philosopher (1788–1860) said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” So getting back to the question of how do we know what we know? As you can see, there are a lot of cooks adding to that soup we call our knowledge.
As for the other component of that question, the personal experience prong, that’s not straightforward either. We interpret our experiences based on our current knowledge. But remember that our knowledge is subject to the slant of whatever source we’re adhering to. So even when we experience something personally and learn from it, there’s a good chance that what we learn from that experience is also tainted by the information we’ve received from others in how we interpret what we’re experiencing. So even when we learn by directly experiencing something ourselves, that knowledge is deeply influenced by what we know from others.
Take the example of divorce: if your closest friend experienced a nasty divorce, where neither they nor their former spouse could agree on terms and both experienced tremendous pain and anguish through the proceedings, chances are your idea of divorce, whether you have experienced it or not, would be affected, possibly jaded. Then, in the event that you divorce, some of your friend’s experience would be in the back of your mind—no matter how amicable the situation; and it will likely influence your actions.
Now, let’s consider these ideas within the US capitalistic milieu of today. To provide focus to this discussion and because this is a book about healthy living, including food, we’ll start with the food industry. The authoritative sources in the US for information about what’s good for us to eat are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Surgeon General, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and maybe the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
These are governmental institutions, funded and operated by the federal government—paid for by you and me. In making their recommendations about what’s healthy for us, we like to believe, indeed we need to believe, that these institutions have our best interests at heart.
Why would a governmental institution make recommendations that would harm the population it serves? Yet, as soon as we utter this question, there’s another voice in our heads that laughs at the idea that the government has our best interests at heart. Some of us need to believe this, but most of us know that this is a utopic illusion and not our present-day reality. If you don’t live under a rock, you know that today’s political parties and the way they legislate is a mess.
The left and the right fight just for the sake of it. Whatever party is not in the oval office blocks the president’s agenda because they can. Rather than working together—unifying—to best serve our nation’s people, our politicians are busy taking sides and remaining intractable—separating—and protecting themselves and their ideological tenets. Politicians are subject to huge donations from special interest groups that result in those same politicians voting a certain way on a certain issue, one that conveniently advances the special interest group’s agenda, and swaying colleagues to do the same.
In fact, recent research has determined that the US is no longer a democracy but rather an oligarchy, run by those with the most money. Those who actually run this country aren’t “the people,” as democracy promises, but rather the huge corporations that purchase profit-enhancing rights and privileges via political contributions, and to heck with the people! Why else would billions be spent in campaigning for a job that takes home less than $200,000 per year?
This is relevant to our discussion because the FDA, Surgeon General, USDA, and CDC are governmental bodies—and are just as riddled with politics and corruption as Capitol Hill. To prove my point, let’s look at one recent example— the occurrence of senior CDC vaccine safety scientist, Dr. William Thompson.
In a blog dated February 12, 2015, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.—one of the nation’s most prominent environmental attorneys—said that Dr. Thompson, who invoked the protection of the Federal Whistleblower Statute following the release of his taped conversations disclosing pervasive corruption within CDC’s Vaccine Safety Division, is maintaining that his bosses forced him and other researchers to lie about the safety of mercury-based vaccines,2 when the research clearly showed otherwise. Indeed, Dr. Thompson said: “Thimerosal (a controversial mercury-based preservative) from vaccines causes tics… I can say tics are four times more prevalent in kids with autism.
There is biologic plausibility right now to say that Thimerosal causes autism-like features.” The worst aspect of this, perhaps, is the latent corruption between the CDC and pharmaceutical concerns as noted in Dr. Thompson’s account of what occurred when bringing this indiscretion to the attention of his superiors:
In 2004, he sent a letter to CDC Director, Julie Gerberding, alerting her that CDC scientists were breaking research protocols to conceal the links between Thimerosal and brain damage in children. Gerberding never responded to Thompson’s allegations, but her deputy, Robert Chen, then head of CDC’s Immunization Safety Office and Thompson’s direct boss, confronted Thompson in an agency parking lot threatening him and screaming, “I would fire you if I could.” In 2009, Gerberding matriculated to Merck as Chief of the company’s Vaccine Division.
Two years prior to the move, she approved Merck’s HPV vaccine for pre-adolescent girls—an estimated billion-dollar value to the company.
Following Thompson’s revelations, Merck transferred Gerberding from its Vaccine Division to Executive Vice President for Strategic Communications, Global Public Policy, and Population Health.3 Special interest groups have tremendous influence over the information that these governmental bodies—which we trust to decide in our best interests on what is safe for us to consume—disseminate.
It is not only unethical; it needs to be made illegal in order for the public’s best interest to be protected. What this means for the American people is that the information that our governmental institutions give us about what is healthy for us to consume is deeply influenced by corporations standing to profit immensely from the release of some information and the withholding of other information.
It is well-publicized that these governmental bodies and the large corporations affected by their decisions are run by the same people, as I just noted above. Decision-makers once employed by Monsanto and Pfizer now make decisions within these governmental institutions that affect these corporations, and vice versa, back and forth, and there are numerous examples of this revolving door relationship between government and industry and the conflict of interest that results.
For example, Marion Nestle reports that in her then-new job as manager of the editorial production of the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health in 1986, she was given these rules on her first day of work: No matter what the research indicated, the report could not recommend ‘eat less meat’ as a way to reduce intake of saturated fat, nor could it suggest restrictions on intake of any other category of food.
In the industry-friendly climate of the Reagan administration, the producers of foods that might be affected by such advice would complain to their beneficiaries in Congress, and the report would never be published.4 This was a very real concern, as federal health officials had suffered nearly constant congressional interference with their dietary recommendations for nearly a decade. Getting back to epistemology and how we know what we know, we rely on our leaders for our information about what is healthy for us to consume. The FDA, Surgeon General, USDA, and CDC steer public health in this nation. They are our most accepted and largest authoritative sources for our personal health.
These institutions and the news reports and governmental agendas generated from their reports are our primary sources for how we know what we know about food, nutrition, and health in the US. Yet, the information they give us is highly tainted with the agendas of the profit-seeking corporations these bodies are in bed with.
In other words, our government will tell us what it is told to tell us by corporations like Monsanto and Pfizer so that they will keep increasing their profits. Yes, this happens at the expense of our health and in spite of the fact that our tax dollars are paying their salaries.
In fact, the entire medical industry, including the pharmaceutical and hospital businesses, relies on our being ill or they don’t make any money. People with this agenda in mind are the same people telling us what to eat. So now that we know a bit more about how we know what we know regarding what is healthy to consume, let’s set everything aside for a moment that we’ve ever been taught about what is healthy for us to eat. Set aside your beliefs and your current knowledge on this topic. And think about it.
Think about what it means to rely on animal flesh and other animal products for our livelihood, to sustain life through the process of killing other living, breathing beings. Think about what our dependence on animal products means to the very large and powerful meat, dairy, and poultry industries, and to the numerous other industries connected to them. In short, our ill health is their wealth.
I also ask you to think about the health risks of continuing a meat-based diet—as we’ll see in this book, there are many—and the conditions in which these animals are raised, their only purpose in life to be made fat and then slaughtered and sold for hamburgers or chicken nuggets. With this as their sole life purpose, no care is given to their living conditions, which are riddled with disease, overcrowding, and, immense suffering from the beginning of their miserable lives to the end. Is this what it means to be human, to bring living creatures onto this planet for the sole purpose of serving our wishes, without any thought to the suffering involved with this? In a humane world, how can we actually believe that the suffering of others doesn’t matter as long as we get what we want?
In considering our consumption of animal flesh, think also about our fellow human beings and the jobs they endure in these factory farms and the slaughterhouses and consider their working conditions and abuses.
Consider what it would be like to do this work for a week or even an hour. Imagine walking around on the kill floor, ankle-deep in blood, the air thick with the stench of death and decay, howling animals’ last cries of fear and suffering ringing in your ears and echoing in your soul—50 hours a week. Think about how many animals we need as a growing global population to feed the world’s people over time, how many resources we need to feed these animals, and whether, as a responsible people, this actually makes sense.
Think about the culture of violence that murdering for our food contributes to. Then think about why you eat meat. I mean really, why?
Once you remove yourself from everything you’ve ever learned about the benefits of meat consumption, why do you eat it? Then it’s healthy argument is out, because it’s not healthy, so there are really only two reasons remaining: because everyone else does and because I want to.
Well, I won’t go into the dangers of leading an unhealthy lifestyle because everyone else does. As a kid, didn’t your caregiver ask you “If everyone else jumped off the bridge would you jump too?” You make a conscious choice whether or not to ‘drink that dangerous Kool-Aid.’ So let’s talk about them because I want the argument. In a hedonistic society, that’s reason enough. But in a responsible society, that just doesn’t cut it.
- James Robinson