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Samizdata quote of the day

Just had to throw away some sausages, and it occurred to me: the same people complaining most about food waste are the ones who object to preservatives, aren’t they?

Why’s every social movement a puritan cult?

Guy Herbert

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • John B

    Without preservatives Mankind might not have survived, or at any rate not developed much. Preservatives such as salt, smoke (chemicals therein), sugar, vinegar, saltpeter, alcohol (all of which are ‘chemicals’ and have ‘E Numbers’) meant food could be processed in harvesting seasons, or times of plenty and eaten in Winter or when fresh food was scarce.

    Without preservatives and salt-pork, salt-beef, exploration of the World by sea and seaborne trade would not have been possible.

    The function of preservatives is to stop the growth of bacteria harmful if ingested, and to prevent moulds which destroy the food and also can be harmful. Bacteria and mould are not always readily apparent in a food, so eating foods without preservatives that are not very fresh is risky. Refrigeration only stops growth of bugs, once food warms up the bugs multiply.

    The war on preservatives, like so much, is waged on ignorance, by those who have opinions and no knowledge.

  • Paul Marks

    It was J.S. Mill who summed up Social Reform movements as “liberticide”.

    Sadly Mr Mill was supportive of some of this Social Reform (i.e. ever bigger and more intrusive government) himself – but his summing up was correct. The Social Reformer seems themselves as ABOVE society, ordering people to live according to the will of the Social Reformer.

    Social Reform is about undermining LIBERTY (hence “liberticide” – kill liberty), with the FALSE justification that more government spending and more government regulations will improve the lives of “the people”. The people that the Social Reformer is threatening with violence if they do not obey him or her.

  • Mr Ecks

    Mr Herbert–If you might be out there I wonder if you have any thoughts re the idea that Digital Immunity Passports will be an attempt to revive Bliars ID scheme in a new and nastier form.

  • Stonyground

    The same kinds of people have a problem with packaging. Some packaging is wasteful but the vast majority of it is absolutely essential for getting the product from the producer to the consumer in a usable condition.

    Having said that, cereal boxes are something that I don’t understand. Some cereals are sold in a bag with a design printed on it. Other cereals are sold in a plain bag inside a box with a design printed on it. It surprises me that the potential for virtue signalling by doing away with the boxes has not been spotted by any of the cereal companies.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ecks – I am not Mr Herbert, but the answer to your question is YES.

    Of course the passport idea is about social control – all of this is about social control.

    And Mr Blair was just a small part of a vast “Progressive” establishment.

    A typical member would be the billionaire Michael Bloomberg (indeed many billionaires) – who as Mayor of New York City wished to control every aspect of the lives of ordinary people (what they ate – every detail of their lives). “Nanny Bloomberg” was not exception, he is the norm.

    And when “President Biden” (or rather the masters of this puppet) will appoint judges – and those judges will destroy what is left of the Bill of Rights.

    As Senator Cruz is fond of pointing out – the totalitarians only need one more Justice on their side on the Supreme Court.

    One vote away from any dissent being banned as “Hate Speech”.

    The accursed Economist magazine was gloating about this today – Justice Thomas is old…..

  • Bruce

    Cereal packaging, especially of processed products like corn-flakes, serve two purposes. Firstly, protect the product during shipment and secondly, provide an “advertising banner” so that the punters can select their cereal quickly and easily. “Brand differentiation”.

    Note also that inside the cornflakes box is a plastic bag which also contains air. Before purchase, whilst the product is being bounced around the countryside, this “extra air” in the tightly-sealed bag essentially buffers the contents so that the punters are not ending up with corn dust, instead of corn flakes. It also keeps moisture and a blizzard of “bugs” out of the food therein.

    The cardboard box can be re-used as garden matting or recycled to make more cardboard boxes. As for the inner polyethylene bag,that too can be “recycled”, though the energy equations may be a bit more murky than for paper and cardboard.

  • Chester Draws

    There are some people who will do virtuous things without anyone seeing them do so. That number is quite small. (I’m not hugely generous, but I always make my donations anonymous, whether large or small. I was astounded to discover that I am very much in the minority — I had always assumed most people prefer to donate anonymously.)

    The market for virtuous products sold at mainstream outlets is therefore tiny. People who want to advertise their virtue will buy organic granola from a specialist organic shop, not cornflakes at a supermarket.

  • Ferox

    All of the generic store-brand cereals here are sold in bags rather than in boxes. I assume that the lack of the box and the associated costs (printing, folding, the extra steps to put the bag inside the box, etc) are part of the cost savings.

    Of course, this being America, they are sold in HUGE bags as large as pillowcases. And most of those cereals are artificially flavored sugar-coated starch bits with virtually no nutritive value other than their base calories.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Paul Marks: Just as an etymological note, the word “liberticide” also appears in Shelley’s sonnet “England in 1819,” written I believe in that year. (When Shelley wasn’t being ethereal and romantic he could get quite political!)

  • Silverbug

    It might be of interest that in the 1980’s a number of controlled studies were published showing that the addition of some preservatives extended the healthy lifespan of the animals.
    The ones I remember were BHT, BHA and Ethoxyquin. People writing books on human life extension were advocating taking small amounts, people like Prof Roy Walford, Pearson and Shaw, John A Mann et al.
    The average increase in animal life span was around 30 -35%. Mostly the preservatives were used in fatty foods, potato chips etc.
    Then came the big push against “unnatural” foods and these items were then removed, as a result shelf life deteriorated and stronger flavours were added.
    I never understood why people came to believe that preservatives kept bad food on the shelves instead of simply keeping food fresher longer.

  • Kalashnikat

    The other variation on this theme I see is the noble elites advocating “Zero Waste.” As a practical matter, zero waste in food is impossible…also as a matter of cost effectiveness and diminishing returns as you approach “perfection” or “absolute success.”

    And let’s not forget the renewable fuels advocates, pushing corn-ethanol which requires more energy to produce and transport than it contributes, all the while incentivizing farmers to put more marginal quality land into agriculture, reducing habitat and requiring fertilizers and pesticides…heaven forbid we should use GMO technologies to leverage food crops…

    And the “eat local”/sustainability movement…not many areas that are popular to live in are blessed to be able to produce sufficient food for the population that wants to live there…

  • Jake Wunderdogg

    Zero Waste?

    Does that mean Soylent Green is People??

  • Fraser Orr

    I don’t agree with the OP. It seems to me that you can be for managing two contradictory goals. You can, for example, be in favor of allowing people to drive to work quickly, while also be in favor of keeping speeds down to a level as to reduce accidents. Or in food you can be for trying to find a balance between tasty and healthy, two things often in contradiction.

    And the latter point is significant more broadly. The reason that tasty and healthy are often contradictory is because the needs we have today are radically different than they were in earlier periods of human history when our taste preferences evolved (when we needed far higher energy levels, were much more physically active and were not nearly so concerned about living into our dotage.)

    So, for example, bacon may well have been a very good choice in the past because it is loaded with energy and can be preserved via smoking and salt. But that doesn’t mean it is a good choice today when we don’t need nearly as much energy to type at a computer in our air condition homes, before driving to the massive food store in our air conditioned cars. And of course that smoke that preserved the bacon is also full of carcinogens that might kills us in our seventies, and salt, that has an acute, and perhaps chronic effect on our blood pressure causing excess strain and damage to our circulatory system, again reducing the likelihood we will be great grand parents. (Which of course isn’t to say bacon is bad for you, just that it is bad if eaten three times a day.)

    So I don’t see the incompatibility between wanting to reduce food waste and trying to reduce the number of preservatives in food. I think is is fair to ask whether either of these two is a worthy goal, but if one thinks they are, one can surely seek a balance. And to call it a “puritan cult” seems to me to be hubris.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The reason that tasty and healthy are often contradictory is because the needs we have today are radically different than they were in earlier periods of human history when our taste preferences evolved (when we needed far higher energy levels, were much more physically active and were not nearly so concerned about living into our dotage.)”

    We evolved mechanisms to *adapt* to both activity levels and available nutrition, because in the past both were very variable.

    It’s a bit like talking about how we evolved to breathe more oxygen in, due to higher physical exertion in the distant past, and claim this is why we are always catching fire through breathing too much and over-oxygenating our blood. The statement that we used to use more is just as true of oxygen as energy. But it doesn’t work that way. The body monitors the level of vital chemical balances, and adjusts our intake and expenditure to keep it between the lines. It’s called ‘homeostasis’. And it would be nuts to thing energy intake, storage, and use wasn’t regulated, too.

    “So, for example, bacon may well have been a very good choice in the past because it is loaded with energy and can be preserved via smoking and salt. But that doesn’t mean it is a good choice today when we don’t need nearly as much energy to type at a computer in our air condition homes, before driving to the massive food store in our air conditioned cars.”

    Energy intake and expenditure are regulated so that in the long run they remain equal to within 1%. An adult male can burn about 3500 Calories per day, equivalent to a pound of fat. In 40 years of adult life, 365 days a year, we must consume 365*40 = 14600 pounds of fat equivalent in energy. 1% of that is 146 pounds, or about 10.5 stone. From the age of 20 to the age of 60, most people do not put on (or lose) more than ten stone in weight. That level of precision doesn’t happen by chance or accident. (The difference is 35 Calories a day, which is less than the margin of error for many foods and thus effectively unmeasurable without specialist scientific instruments.) Energy intake and expenditure are under precise control.

    So if people gain weight as they age – which they do, predictably and systematically – then it must be because the control mechanism is increasing the weight deliberately. Now, it is quite possible the evolutionary reason for this is lost in prehistory. Maybe older people are cut off from food first during a famine, so need to carry more stores. Maybe older people are ill or injured and thus unable to hunt more often, and so need to carry more stores for surviving the periods while recovering. It might also be because as one gets older one is more likely to be a dominant elder defending a territory, rather than an outsider eking a living on the edges of the herd, and so you need size and strength and weight to defend a territory, rather than low energy needs and speed to escape and survive without one. Whatever it might be, there seems likely to be some good reason why a bigger store of energy is more beneficial as one ages.

    But this means weight is a proxy for age, and so affects sexual selection. People looking for partners want young, and thus look for slim. This means that those struggling to find willing partners are motivated to stay slimmer than is healthy for their age, in order to fake youth. This is how the dieting mania started.

    There’s an effect called “the obesity paradox”, in which it is observed that overweight people live longer and survive illness better than supposedly ‘normal’ people. It’s only called a ‘paradox’ because it disagrees with the common wisdom, though, which is not to be challenged. A more sensible and obvious interpretation of the observation is that what we currently call ‘overweight’ is actually the ideal and healthiest weight, which increases with age, and varies largely with genetics. But no, people can’t accept that, and will argue against any such interpretation.

    “And of course that smoke that preserved the bacon is also full of carcinogens that might kills us in our seventies, and salt, that has an acute, and perhaps chronic effect on our blood pressure causing excess strain and damage to our circulatory system, again reducing the likelihood we will be great grand parents.”

    Salt is regulated very precisely, too. Any excess is quickly and harmlessly excreted in urine, unless you have hypertension. Excess salt can be harmful for a small number of older people with high blood pressure – for everyone else it has no adverse health effects at all.

    And yes, we have a taste for strong flavours like smoke because they’re powerful anti-bacterial preservatives. It’s why people particularly in hotter climates have a more marked preference for spicy and pungent foods – onions, garlic, chillies, spices, etc. Most plants are loaded with natural pesticides and preservatives – it’s their equivalent of an immune system. And about half of those pesticides (when tested) are carcinogenic, although the vast majority have never been tested for safety and are frequently unknown to science. 99.9% of the pesticides you eat are natural, and occur in all vegetables. Any idea that only artificial preservatives occur in food, or are a long-term risk, is an instance of the naturalistic fallacy – the belief that anything natural must be good for you and anything artificial must be bad for you. It’s the result of widespread ignorance of the nature of “chemicals” – because labelling laws only require artificial chemical additives to be named on food packaging, the ignorant assume all chemicals are artificial, all potentially harmful chemicals are artificial, and the natural world doesn’t contain any.

    It’s largely down to ignorance and fear of the unknown. That people should fear the unknown is understandable, but that this doesn’t motivate them to learn more about it, to discover their fears are unfounded, less so. It’s also a problem with the lousy science education system. Kids ought to be told in basic chemistry classes that the world is made of chemicals, and the natural ones are often even more dangerous than the safety-tested and regulated artificial ones. But that goes against the Environmentalist agenda. “Four legs good. Two legs bad.” With heavy emphasis on “Two legs bad”.

  • Paul Marks

    Nullius – the post was about Puritans and Puritanism. Not in the religious sense – but in the general sense of people who want to ban things (for example the former Mayor of New York “Nanny” Bloomberg).

    I am always glad to be of help.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Nullius – the post was about Puritans and Puritanism. Not in the religious sense – but in the general sense of people who want to ban things (for example the former Mayor of New York “Nanny” Bloomberg).”

    I know. I agree.

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