Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bug counters to infest kitchens

British food frenzy

What do you look for in a restaurant to celebrate the new year? Good food, wine and atmosphere? No, the authorities are sure that what diners really want to know is how many bacteria are in the kitchen, and how much saturated fat is on the menu. Yummy.

The Times reported this week that the Food Standards Agency is to give every restaurant a cleanliness rating, with orders to post their “scores on the doors”. Eateries will then be graded on the “nutritional value” of their food. Perhaps we should also be told whether they kill vermin humanely, what their policy is on workplace bullying by chefs, and the immigration status of their washers-up.

Anybody would think we were in the middle of a food poisoning epidemic. In fact, Britain’s eateries are not only better but also cleaner and more inspected than ever before, and have mostly stopped putting strychnine or lead in food, like their Victorian forebears did.

It may make the grease police and droppings inspectors of the FSA choke on their low-fat diet, but most of us do not eat out in search of hygiene or “nutritional values”. If we did, we would never eat burgers or foie gras. If we wanted to dine in a clinical environment, we could eat straight from the fridge wearing latex gloves.

Even in these “transparent” times there are some things better done behind closed doors. As Fergus Henderson, chef at the immaculate St John restaurant in Smithfield, says “a scoring system on the doors suggests there is something tainted about eating out”, and risks bringing “magic” restaurants down to earth by “showing their dirty laundry on the door when it’s not dirty”.

It turns out that half of Britain’s remaining cases of food poisoning are not in restaurants at all, but in hospitals, schools and care homes where the food is often unsavoury in every sense. If the authorities want something for their prodnoses and peckstaffs to do, they might start by putting their own kitchens in order.


Potential cure for alcoholics is hailed

Australian scientists say they have found a way of eliminating alcoholic cravings using a drug that blocks the euphoric "high" associated with getting drunk. The research focused on cells in the hypothalamus region of the brain that produce orexin, a chemical linked to drink or drug-induced euphoria. Scientists at Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute made a compound that blocked orexin's effects, and gave it to rats that had already been turned into alcoholics.

The head of the team, Dr Andrew Lawrence, said the results were remarkable. "In one experiment, rats that had alcohol freely available stopped drinking it after receiving the orexin blocker," he said. Dr Lawrence said alcoholics could also be prevented from relapsing. Rats that had gone through a detox programme and were then given the blocking drug did not resume their addiction when "reintroduced to an environment which they had been conditioned to associate with alcohol use". He said: "Orexin reinforces the euphoria felt when drinking alcohol so, if a drug can be developed to block the orexin system in humans, we should be able to stop an alcoholic's craving for alcohol."

The reseach could also be used to treat eating disorders, he said, since it appeared that alcoholic addiction and eating disorders set off common triggers in the brain. The scientists are now conducting further experiments to find out the precise circumstances that activate the orexin system, which will help them to develop a drug.



On Sunday night, 2006 will be farewelled with bells, whistles and more than a few drinks. It's what we do. The inclusion of a chosen tipple or two in our festive and year's end celebrations is the norm; to not down a few yourself or offer a drink to a guest on New Year's Eve is still considered unusual, even in this era of health concerns.

Alcohol has always been a part of our culture. We use it to celebrate achievements, mark milestones and when we are enjoying the company of friends. Our high-quality alcoholic products [wine, beer and rum] are world renowned. Alcohol adds to our economy and culture.

Why then are we so shocked when teenagers drink? For generations, sneaking and sipping has been the way of youth. For generations it was snickered about and older people shared a wink and a nod when a young one nicked a mouthful and got caught. But the red flag had been raised on teen drinking, as well it should.

Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey 2005 data released this month showed that while tobacco and cannabis usage were down on similar surveys on 2002 and 1999, anti-drinking ad campaigns had done nought. Teens' drinking behaviour in Australia has remained relatively unchanged since the 1990s. Almost all 16- and 17-year-olds have tried alcohol, with more than half of those surveyed describing themselves as current drinkers and revealing they had consumed alcohol in the week before the survey. Commonwealth Government statistics show one in 10 teens drink at harmful levels in Australia. About seven in 10 boys and girls aged 14 to 17 drink alcohol and a third engage in high-risk behaviour at least once a month after binge drinking. Oh, yes. Teenagers are certainly drinking.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, underage drinking accounts for 20 per cent of all alcohol consumption in the US. It's hard to imagine the consumption would be very different here in the land of beer and booze-ups.

How to address this issue is complex and thorny, but what is startling in recent times is the propensity to see it as linear: blame the parents and blame the teens. Alcohol consumption by 17-year-olds during the Schoolies celebrations this year was blamed squarely on parents for providing their children with booze. Forget about context, or that most parents realised their teens would obtain alcohol and wanted to have a say in what was consumed; forget that most parents agonise over the drinking dilemma; or that by-and-large this generation of mums and dads have swung away from the autocratic approach of their parents and try to listen and be fair: Critics are quick to judge the parents of teens as bad, bad, bad.

It is clear drinking excessively is unhealthy and dangerous. The National Health and Medical Research Council says male teenagers should have no more than six standard alcoholic drinks on any one occasion and teenage girls should have no more than four. Go beyond these limits and the chances of being involved in drink driving, unwanted sexual advances and physical and verbal abuse increase. Their bodies suffer, too.

The solution to teenagers binge drinking or drinking alcohol at an age that is dangerous to their development and safety will not be found in blaming parents, or the teens themselves. The solution can only lie in making the whole of society take an interest. It is our social behaviour that feeds the problem, our embracing of getting "sloshed", our rules governing the promotion and advertising of alcohol, our inclusion of alcohol in everything special and important. We all must bear the consequences of our choices and we must share the load of responsibility for this problem.

Most of those who bellow loudest about the culture of underage drinking must not have adolescents themselves, as this is a group like none that has gone before. They are savvy, aware, bold and stressed: the way in which alcohol is pitched and presented could be just for them. The fact is that most teens, even if they do drink, are heeding the warnings. Most consume moderately and deliberately. Still, urban myths grow and one-off tales of alcohol abuse and teenage misbehaviour are expanded on to create the impression of a damned and dark generation.

In June, the Government launched its National Alcohol Strategy for the next three years. It said it was developed as a response to the prevalent high-risk alcohol consumption in the nation. Each year, about 3000 people die as a result of binge drinking and about 65,000 people are admitted to hospital. The annual cost to the Australian community of alcohol-related social problems was estimated to be $7.6 billion. All this and more could be waiting for some of our teens unless we take collective responsibility and get real about expectations. We need to get serious about offering real help instead just extending real judgment and real criticism.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


No comments: