Friday, December 01, 2006

Stupid food bureaucracy spreads to Virginia

The casserole has been canned. Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen -- be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies -- unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday. They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense. "We're very aware that a number of homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and mom's pot roast has got to be healthier than that," said Jim Brigl, chief executive of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services. "But that doesn't meet the code."

County officials estimate that about 2,000 people are homeless in Fairfax. They are served by a network of shelters that swells to more than three dozen over the winter. FACETS, a Fairfax nonprofit group, coordinates most hypothermia shelters, which are set to open Friday in two dozen churches and other facilities.

The crackdown came after the county Health Department received a complaint about food being served to the homeless population that was bedding down at area houses of worship as part of the wintertime hypothermia program that began last year. Health officials took a closer look at what shelter residents ate and where the food came from. Under state and county code, food served to the public must be prepared in a kitchen that has been inspected and certified by the county Health Department. Those standards are high: a commercial-grade refrigerator, a three-compartment sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes and a separate hand-washing sink, among other requirements. Health officials said they weren't aware that food from unapproved kitchens was being served in homeless shelters. "We're dealing with a medically fragile population . . . so they're more susceptible to food-borne illnesses than the general population," said Tom Crow, the county Health Department's director of environmental health. "We're trying to protect those people."

To help the churches prepare, the Health Department is waiving a $60 fee for certification and is holding additional safe food-handling classes for church volunteers. It is also giving churches that do not have approved kitchens a list of other houses of worship with such facilities. "We're not trying to come across as being a heavy-handed government," Crow said.

Nonetheless, ministers from several of the two dozen participating churches said they oppose the crackdown and hope the Health Department backs off. "We see the reason for being certified. They want to ensure people's health and safety," said the Rev. Keary Kincannon of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, which will open as a hypothermia shelter for four months starting Friday. "On the other hand, how much do you have to be a stickler with that?" Kincannon asked. "What's more important: whether we're open to have somebody get in out of the cold and get a meal? There's kind of a balance there."

The Rev. Judy Fender of Burke United Methodist Church said 50 volunteers had been planning to cook beef stew, pork loin and other nutritious meals in the church kitchen when it hosts the hypothermia shelter Dec. 17 through 23. But she found out this week that, because the kitchen is not Health Department-approved, it will have to prepare its food elsewhere. It will be a logistical nightmare, Fender predicted, and is an insult to members who have cooked meals for years in the church kitchen without any problems. "Why do [they] think that the traditional way of fixing a home-cooked meal is going to poison people off the street?" Fender asked. She said she will appeal to a higher authority to get the Health Department to back off. "I'm probably going to be in prayer that something is going to give on this," Fender said.

The crackdown has also hit year-round shelters. They prepare their food in on-site commercial kitchens, but many also accept donations from people who bring leftover food, home-baked goodies and other products to their doors. "It takes the personal element out," said Pam Michell, executive director of New Hope Housing, which runs three year-round shelters and two wintertime programs. "There's something about being able to bring a batch of brownies or being able to bring a home-cooked casserole to a shelter and feel like you're doing your part to end homelessness," she said. "That warm, fuzzy touch is going to go away."


Folic acid lessens heart disease risk

Maybe, and if so minutely

Taking folic acid can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, among the biggest killers in the Western world, new research has found. British scientists have now discovered that raised levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood is one of the causes of cardiovascular disease. They say increasing intake of folic acid would be a relatively cheap and simple way of reducing heart disease. Since folic acid helps to lower homocysteine, the scientists believe increasing intake of the vitamin could help reduce the risk of disease.

Previous studies have already suggested that eating plenty of folic acid, a type of vitamin B, could help to prevent strokes and some cancers and could potentially halve the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Folic acid is already recommended to pregnant women as it is known to help prevent spina bifida in babies. The British Department of Health recommends that all women take a daily supplement of 0.4mg of folic acid before they conceive and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, while the baby's spine is developing. Rich dietary sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, bread, green leafy vegetables such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and green beans, as well as oranges, dried beans, peas and lentils.

The study was published yesterday in the British Medical Journal. A team led by David Wald of Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, were attempting to resolve the debate over whether homocysteine causes heart attacks and strokes. They examined previous studies and found that tests involving large numbers of people and people genetically prone to higher homocysteine levels yielded similar results - that lower homocysteine levels had a protective effect. The tests achieved similar results even though they did not share the same sources of possible errors.

And although studies of the effects of lowering homocysteine levels were too small to be conclusive, the results were still consistent with the protective effect of folic acid. The researchers wrote: "The conclusion that homocysteine is a cause of cardiovascular disease explains the observations from all the different types of study, even if the results from one type of study are on their own insufficient to reach that conclusion."


War on Drugs expands to catnip: "Drug warriors scored a virtual victory after the 2006 U.S. elections when they hurriedly extended the War on Drugs to a psychoactive substance previously exempt: nepetalactone, the main psychoactive ingredient in catnip. It is well known that the sniffing of catnip makes some cats 'turn on.' Their eyes open wide, they roll over on the floor, they hug and bite the catnip toy and kick it with the feet, and they friskily run to and fro, similar to human beings who go crazy ingesting psychoactive drugs. While catnip does not have the same effect on human beings, the advocates of banning catnip have pointed out that children who give their cats catnip and then see the cat being 'happy' might get dangerous ideas about getting high." [Is this satire? It's getting harder and harder to tell]


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].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


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