Category Archives: Food

Fruit Trees Save Girls’ Lives

The BBC says the risk of a young girl being put to death at birth is high in parts of India.

In Bihar, payment of dowry by the bride’s family is a common practice. The price tag of the bridegroom often depends on his caste, social status and job profile.

The state is also infamous for the maximum number of dowry deaths in the country.

The risk to a girls’ life is therefore a financial issue. The model has been changed in one town by a simple financial management plan. The parents invest in a set of fruit trees for every girl born. The fruit generates income as the girl is raised and the set of trees help offset the cost of marriage.

“This is our way of meeting the challenges of dowry, global warming and female foeticide. There has not been a single incident yet of female foeticide or dowry death in our village,” [villager Shyam Sunder Singh] says.

His cousin, Shankar Singh, planted 30 trees at the time of his daughter Sneha Surabhi’s birth.

The practice is not new. The article says the village now has nearly 100,000 mango and lychee trees for just 7,000 residents and has become far more lush with shade and hospitable compared to other villages in the area.

Now if only the Basel II accords, which require a capital investment/offset for financial and operational risk, could make banks less shady

Fat is good for us, really

I am amazed by the low-fat marketing movement. People all around me in America seem obsessed with the idea that removing fat from your diet somehow makes you healthy. From a risk management perspective this makes no sense to me.

It should be common sense just from observing nature. Take the bear, for example. A bear that catches a fish will tear just the fat of the salmon off (with the skin) and then discard the rest. Birds of prey then take the meat from the bones left behind.

Would a bear target fat and skin if it was so unhealthy? We do not live like bears, of course, and there is no accounting for taste but observing them can give us a clue about how to live.

CBS news does a nice job making this point in a much more scientific manner in their article called Friendly Fats — and Fiendish Ones:

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 35 percent of the calories you eat per day should come from fat, as long as most are from healthy, plant-based foods. That’s about 60 grams a day for most of us, or roughly 15-20 per meal.

Note the reference to “healthy” foods. The irony is that fat has become bad because of the movement by the food industry to create artificial non-fat versions of fat. Follow me? Marketing fat as bad is what created demand for non-fat substances that turn out to be far worse than the fat itself. The industry telling you to buy non-fat, in other words, is the same industry that is making fat bad for you. Trans-fats are the perfect example:

There’s no good news here! Man-made trans-fats, found in foods like crackers, cookies, baked goods and fast food, is crafted from partially hydrogenated oil, which means liquid oil that had hydrogen added to it to make it solid. It’s been shown to boost weight gain and belly fat even when the exact same number of calories are consumed and the percentage of total fat is identical. Trans-fats have also been linked to an increased risk of infertility. One study found that infertility risk jumped by a whopping 73 percent with each 2 percent increase in trans-fat.

I will never forget a security product company where I worked that kept an unlimited and free supply of trans-fat filled products available for employees.

A whole cabinet full of boxed and bagged food products would disappear in just one day. I asked them if they were aware of the risks to their employees from the trans-fats to which they replied “we can not afford to buy the fancy food”. Save money? They paid for the insurance to treat all the employees who were affected by the bad fat in the cabinets. Moreover, productivity is surely impacted by the bad-fat. A risk management view would ban the artificial fats and bring in the good fats.

Let me make a finer point here about this company. It was a security product company. They had a marketing campaign to sell security products for unknown and unquantified risks. Their campaign was sometimes even based on just fear — buy this product or you could suffer the consequences. They were very successful and very proud of making hundreds of millions of dollars on this fear-based strategy. Yet, without any awareness of irony, when it came to evaluating risks for their own employee health they found it better to save money than reduce a clear and known danger.

Clear and known to whom? The risk of trans-fat, to be fair, has been mixed into deceptive marketing practices.

Unfortunately, food products can claim to provide zero grams of trans fat if the food contains less than 0.5 grams per serving (to identify this “hidden” trans fat, check the ingredient list for the words partially hydrogenated). And, a product can also be labeled trans-free if it’s made with FULLY hydrogenated instead of partially hydrogenated oil. Technically, fully-hydrogenated oils are trans-free, but they’re not risk-free. A Brandeis University study found that eating products made with fully hydrogenated oil, a trans-free alternative to partially hydrogenated oil) may lower HDL, the good cholesterol and cause a significant rise in blood sugar (about 20 percent).

The bottom line is that unprocessed food is increasingly found to be the source of nutrition with the least risk to health. A simple risk calculation should make fat the hero and non-fat the zero and the CBS report is a great sign of things turning in the right direction.

This trend could take a while. I believe the current chemical non-fat fascination is from as far back as the 1950s when the industry focused on making food sanitized to be healthy. The marketing has been so effective I hear some people say they would rather eat pesticides than see a worm or a blemish. Obviously those people have no idea about risk.

Those within the industry who are working against the grain have found things can get ugly.

“The tomatoes you find in the supermarket taste like cardboard,” [Joe Procacci] said. “We’ve come up with something consumers want. It tastes great. But they won’t let me market it.”

He speaks of the Florida Tomato Committee, an obscure but powerful group of tomato growers who regulate the quality of tomatoes shipped out of state. To some, many UglyRipes are the Frankenstein of the breed: misshapen, wrinkled and scarred tomatoes that look as though they’ve been to war.

Not the face many Florida tomato farmers want the world to see.

Quality? Who in their right mind would want to measure the quality of food by appearance alone? Yet that is exactly what has happened.

“Let’s take the Miss America pageant,” said Dan McClure, a member of the committee from Palmetto. “How often have you seen an ugly woman in the pageant? The same thing applies here.”

The committee to sell you tomatoes apparently just wants to win your business at the most superficial and least important level possible. After that, they do not care what happens to you. If that does not scream bad risk management, I am not sure what does.

Shelf-life is important. Cost is also important. However, they are not the most important and the non-fat movement should be put back into the box. A better measure of quality is taste as a short-term goal. An even better measure is health, as a long-term benefit, and from those two measures we should see that fat is good for us, really. So the next time you hear an American holding a non-fat drink and eating a non-fat muffin rant about how much they love/hate bacon just say “I agree *fat* is great but it is even better from healthy, plant-based foods”.

Honey’s Anti-Bacterial Power

The BBC extols some amazing anti-bacterial properties of honey from New Zealand:

[Biochemist Professor Peter Molan] says UMF manuka honey can even tackle antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria – a growing problem for hospitals around the world.

“Staphylococcus aureas is the most common wound-infecting species of bacteria, and that’s the most sensitive to honey that we’ve found.

“And that includes the antibiotic resistant strains – the MRSA – which is just as sensitive to honey as any other staphylococcus aureas.”

The article has numerous examples from patients of successful treatments, such as this one:

I got bitten by an Alsatian. It grabbed my hand and gave me a five-stitch bite. So I went off to the doctors, and they solely used manuka honey, nothing else, no other treatment. I’ve got barely a scar now, and that’s only three weeks ago. Now in the medical kit I carry in the truck, I have manuka honey and bandages, and that’s all.

I wonder why the most antibiotic resistant strains are still sensitive to honey. They certainly have had the time to build resistance. The Maori apparently have known the healing effect of manuka honey for hundreds of years.

Image of a honey bee on the manuka flower from the Active Manuka Honey Association

Killing IE6

Jeremiah turned me on to this article about the man at Microsoft whose job is to kill IE6.

“Part of my job is to get IE6 share down to zero as soon as possible,” said Ryan Gavin, head of the Internet Explorer business group.

Gavin said Microsoft will continue to work with companies to move legacy applications to more modern versions of Internet Explorer, as well as continuing to highlight the improved security on offer in Internet Explorer 8. For example, a recent campaign run by Microsoft Australia compared using IE6 to drinking milk nine years past its sell-by date.

Supposedly IE6 is the “most used browser version in the world”. I am not sure I buy that statement, especially as it is not sourced. The article claims this is due to being the default browser in XP and also because of developing nations use of old hardware. Bah, it could just as easily be because robots and scripts masquerade as IE6.

Whatever the case, a good solution would be for Microsoft to work with companies like Yahoo! (we are talking legacy here, right?) Facebook and Google to post a warning banner to users of IE6. Something that says “Hello, your browser needs to be upgraded to use this site” could be very effective. Why would a Google or Facebook ever dare to interfere with the user experience? One giant reason is to help turn off things like SSLv2, which actually dates all the way back to the very fist IE4 in 1998.

Late last year I was surprised when Google called me in and asked for my suggestion for what to do about SSLv2. Hard to believe but their engineers still debated how best to support SSLv2 even though it has no advantages and a giant security disadvantage. I gave the same answer as above — post a warning to users with a deadline, give fair notice and link to more information. Start forcing redirects to an upgrade page. No one needs to use SSLv2 and it has been prohibited by regulations for at least three years. No one needs it, and yet it persists. IE6 thus will be an even harder argument, as it might actually be useful, so what chance does Microsoft have to kill it off?

Aside from security flaws there is really no immediate need to mandate users upgrade from IE6. Why would Google to do the right thing and help Microsoft? Their support of an IE6 end of life plan is improbable, but who knows. Google just added SSL to their search page. They already try to warn users of suspicious or dangerous links. Maybe they would also see value in warning users that Microsoft no longer supports IE6 and then offer Chrome as an update.

Incidentally, I must also comment on that milk analogy by Microsoft. It is probably more appropriate than they realized. I would reply that “milk nine years past its sell-by date” is also called cheese. It could in fact be some really GOOD cheese. The big difference, obviously, is that old milk does not require patches and support from the manufacturer (cow?) to remain safe.

So, unless Microsoft can point out the clear (health) risk (they refuse to support their product any longer) consumers will very likely see no harm to aging their milk for many years to come.

If you see something, think twice about saying something

Bruce has quoted a poem in his blog post for today:

If you see something,
Say something.
If you say something,
Mean something.
If you mean something,
You may have to prove something.
If you can’t prove something,
You may regret saying something.

I think the best lines are actually

If you shoot something,
Eat something.
If you eat something,
Floss something.

Bruce brings forward a story about a man who has been accused of the equivalent of crying wolf. This is only slightly removed from yelling fire in a crowded theater. Apparently this man left a bag full of papers and then tried to call in a bomb threat.

My favorite lines are good security references too, but have little to do with the particular philosophical example of fraud and risk to the public.

Bruce often says if you ask amateurs to help with security work then expect amateur results. I think his post today is meant to support this.

I disagree for several reasons. One, intelligence functions best with a network of inputs rather than in isolation. There is always chatter and noise, but go for too much squelch and you lose vital signal. Two, experts all were once amateurs. Why not embrace and provide the opportunity? Three, the definition of expert is rarely accurate, especially with rapidly changing technology — kids can become more “expert” than even “trained” professionals — so who decides? Etc.

This takes me back to the customized billboards I created some time ago.