Archive for category Evolution

The Potato Famine Diet

I’m not a fan of ‘the past’. There’s too much of it quite frankly, most of it is messy and violent, full of bad people with bad ideas and there’s no internet. (Yep, sorry folks, I’m one of those dreaded ‘millennials’ that are apparently ruining everything, sorry……..#notsorry)

I feel in the minority however, most people these days love the past! They’re obsessed with it. So much so they will stop at nothing to take us back to it!

It may surprise you that I am not actually talking about politics (for once). I’m talking about food. More specifically I’m talking about diets. There’s a trend in faddy diets and ‘clean’ eating at the moment that focusses on going ‘back to basics’, going back to a simpler time and eating like our ancestors did. They obviously make a convincing argument, the whole ‘wellness’, ‘clean eating’ movement are extremely popular and don’t seem to be going anywhere. (Dammit). So with that in mind…….

tomatoes, garlic and a red pepper on a wooden chopping board

Looking for a diet that’s based on a famine that killed over 1 million people!? Well look no more my friend because I present to you the ‘Irish peasant diet’!………seriously. That’s a thing.

The Irish ‘peasant’ diet

I spotted an article on twitter from The Irish Independent titled ‘Is this Ireland’s answer to the Med diet?’ In which it went on to describe how research had found that a diet from mid-Victorian Ireland in poor, rural communities made them healthier than their city dwelling counterparts, they were living longer and contracting fewer diseases, and therefore we should adopt a similar diet now.

The ‘diet’ consisted of vegetables, milk and fish. Sounds pretty healthy right? What’s my issue here?

The average life expectancy of a man in Ireland during the 1800’s was 40 years old. Sanitation was basic, people were starving and healthcare was minimal if there at all. The reality is that ‘peasants’ were eating what was available to them. Sure, it was a ‘low-calorie’ diet but when you look at all other lifestyle factors that might not count for much. The article mentions that Tuberculosis cases in rural areas were lower compared to cities and attributes that to die. But let’s remember that in Victorian city slums, people were living in unsanitary conditions, closely packed together with limited access to clean water and that tends to help diseases, like tuberculosis, spread like wildfire. The article also talks about the benefits ‘peasants’ had due to their ‘low caloric intake’……….aka. STARVING TO DEATH.

lots of potatoes

Following the logic of that article I have a few of my own ideas on ‘limiting caloric intake’: How about the 1930’s ‘Stalin Diet’?, or maybe the 1940’s ‘Warsaw Ghetto Diet’? or if you fancy something a little more up to date why not the 1980’s ‘Ethiopia Diet’? Sound flippant? So does basing a diet on a tragedy that killed over a million people…

Maybe I’m wrong though, maybe these Victorian peasants weren’t starving because they had no food, maybe they were the early pioneers of the ‘Keto’ diet! – the diet based on the idea of putting your body in a state of ketosis to lose weight. It’s unlikely though….unless they were so determined to make their diet work that the death of millions didn’t prompt them to rethink their methods…..anyway, I digress.

We are living in a world that has never been more medically and scientifically advanced. Life expectancy and our ability to treat and cure disease has never been better and yet people are desperate to go backwards. Back to a simpler time, when we didn’t have the big scary GMO’s and nasty (un-defined) chemicals in our food. A simpler time, when disease amongst the poor was rife and living beyond 50 was a significant achievement.

The article does what a lot of the ‘it was better in the old days’ types tend to do which is cherry pick ‘evidence’. They select the positives and ignore everything else, presenting a false, rose tinted view which ignores the inequality and suffering of many in favour of pushing an agenda……….still talking about diets. Definitely diets…….

The article gives the opinions from a few nutritionists, one of which says…

“Peasants may also have experienced periods of food scarcity. Whilst this is clearly not always beneficial and malnutrition would have been a concern, we now understand that limiting caloric intake can trigger biological processes that support health and help prevent disease.”

two hands held outwards together cupped in a form of request

I had to read this quote several times to fully understand the point she was trying to make. Food scarcity is ‘not always beneficial’? When is a lack of availability of a basic human resource ever ‘beneficial’ exactly? It’s fine though because we now know that those malnourished peasants were clearly just paving the way for the ‘faddy’ diets of the future right? This take is flippant and condescending. This ‘peasant diet’ is nothing more than fetishizing and trivialising poverty.

A symptom of a wider problem?

If we move away from the past and take a look at the present this patronising attitude towards poverty is everywhere. Although instead of praising the poor on their dietary ‘choices’ we now condemn them.

There is a great deal of ignorance when it comes to poverty and the realities of living with austerity. This can be seen clearly in the approach to advising or criticising poor people on their diet. You might see ‘clean eaters’, chefs and other middle class ‘foodies’ telling people to stop buying ready meals, cheap takeaways and processed food, or as Mr Jamie Oliver calls it, ‘crap’, and instead get down to our local farmer’s markets at the weekend, buy fresh produce, prepare fresh meals for their families everyday and just live a ‘better, healthier life’. They see these changes as easy and simple, insinuating that a failure to do so is just down to laziness and a lack of self-care.

three bacon cheeseburgers on a wooden board

What they fail to understand or even consider is the restrictions that exist on many, when it comes to what food is available to them. Much like the ‘peasant diet’, it isn’t about choice. The truth is that, now, in 2018, ‘junk’ food is widely available, it’s convenient and it’s affordable. Many families and individuals in this country are living hand to mouth or having to rely on foodbanks (a polite reminder that it is 2018). They can’t afford (whether it is time of money) to get out to a market every weekend. As Anthony Warner (aka The Angry Chef) said, “We need to stop mistaking the markers of inequality for the causes of inequality”.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of people giving advice are well meaning, but they’re not helping. They’re just being patronising.

Oh, and another thing! Seeing as I’m on the subject. What is the obsession with poor people owning TV’s? It is often always a criticism of people on benefits or below the poverty line that they have a tv. The TV always gets a mention. I have 3 issues with this…

  1. They’re often always described as being a ‘big’, or ‘massive’ or ‘huge’ flatscreen tv……ALL tv’s are flatscreen’s these days. It’s just a TV.
  2. Who cares if they own a TV?! We don’t know the circumstances of how they came to own that TV or how much it cost. That TV is a source of entertainment for that family or individual, why is that an issue?
  3. It’s 2018, people have TV’s. What kind of Dickensian vision of poverty do the upper and middle classes of this country have of poor people?! And more importantly, is that vision how they think the poor should be?

There are many reasons why someone might struggle to eat a healthy balanced diet. Disability, chronic illness, employment or lack of, isolation, a potato famine. We need to stop blaming and misrepresenting people in poverty for things they cannot control, all that does is gloss over the chronic failings in our ability as a society to care for our most vulnerable in times of vast inequality, it ignores all other lifestyle factors and it completely disregards people suffering in order to justify an agenda that leads to widening inequality and punishing the poor just for being poor………………………………..…………….DIETS! DEFINITELY STILL TALKING ABOUT DIETS!…..

 

Karin McClure

Karin has been actively involved in skepticism for 4 years and has been involved with the Merseyside Skeptics for 3 years. She has given talks on the pseudoscience around diets and health at QED
Skepti-camp, Ignite Liverpool and Merseyside Skeptics and has been interested in diet and health for 3 years. Karin is also an artist and has sold her work at events around the country and online, information can be found on her website lunalynes.wordpress.com where she also shares posts about her experiences with mental health, as well as art updates.

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A List of Skeptical Things…

People are always asking me what skepticism is. As this is a notoriously difficult question to answer accurately in a few words, I tend to mumble something incoherent and run away. The same goes for questions about what happens at Skeptics in The Pub events. Trying to dispel the notion that we simply get together for a few drinks and slag things off is difficult to do in casual conversation. Especially as Skeptics in The Pub does occasionally fit that description. I would rather never have to answer these sorts of questions at all. The problem is that at the same time, I do want to convey to people outside of our strange little world what it is exactly that we do, and why it interests me. Why do I go to skeptical events at all? What first grabbed  me and pulled me into this world that so many of my friends and family think is some kind of science cult for the culturally depressed? Read the rest of this entry »

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Of Men and Pterosaurs

So there I was, roaming ‘teh interwebs’ one last time before entering an extended Christmas weekend and going off radar, when I came across a link tweeted by a fellow Skeptic. It referred to something called ‘Project Pterosaur’. Interesting, I thought. I wonder what that’s about? So in the interest of simple human curiosity I clicked on the link.

Oh, and what glories did I behold! This site is the most fantastically bonkers and bewildering woo-stew I have ever seen. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, vacate the Earth or simply join in the fun these people seem to be having.

The main site is something called objectiveministries.org, and it is an ‘educational resource’ for Creation Science. These kinds of sites are everywhere, the most well-known being answersingenesis.org. They’re all attempts to push very skewed versions of reality onto the public under the pretense that science is some kind of ungodly blight that hides the ‘truth’. This site is no exception. The link above takes you to a particular article on the site, detailing the aforementioned Project Pterosaur.

So, what is this project? I’ll let Dr Richard Paley, the leader of the project explain it in his own words:

“The goal of Project Pterosaur is to mount an expedition to locate and bring back to the United States living specimens of pterosaurs or their fertile eggs, which will be displayed in a Pterosaur Rookery that will be the center piece of the planned Fellowship Creation Science Museum and Research Institute (FCSMRI). Furthermore, the rookery facility will establish a breeding colony of pterosaurs in order to produce specimens that could then be put on display by other regional institutions or church groups.”

Yes, you read that right. Project Pterosaur is an expedition to kidnap living pterosaurs – a clade of creatures the fossil record implies hasn’t existed since the cretaceous period – and put them in a special zoo. Presumably with a big sign saying: “Nur nur! Silly Evolutionists!” Read the rest of this entry »

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Darwin, Evolution, Hitler and the Public Misunderstanding of Science

Chuck D

Chuck D

Some of you may know that this year is the anniversary both of 200 years since Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of his seminal work, On the Origin of the Species.  That book was in fact published 150 years ago TODAY, 24thNovember 1859.  I’m afraid that this has turned into more of an essay than a blog post and for that I apologise.  I hope you think it’s worth it!  Given the occasion I think an essay on Darwin is forgivable…  First, I want to make a few specific comments about a newspaper article on the abuse of evolutionary theory.  I will then provide a brief summary of an article that answers many of the points raised in terms of science in general.  I’ll move onto a specific discussion on evolution before providing the other side of the evolution-ethics debate (too-rarely promoted) in the final section.

The Trouble with “Darwinism”?

An article on the Times website recently highlighted the links between high school shootings and the theory of evolution.  A point by point rebuttal of the article is not really necessary.  The piece is well-written and (on the whole) accurately reported.  However, it is also solely directed towards getting a controversial, narrow point of view across and is, therefore, extremely biased.  While an article on the good and evil associated with the theory of evolution would provide a fascinating read, the tramping out of menacing photographs of youths pointing guns at cameras, students in tears in the aftermath of a shooting and a shrine set up to the dead alongside quotes from those same gun-toting students, ignorant American celebrities and those who have a vested interest in discrediting evolutionary theory only serves to obscure and sensationalise the debate.  The author is simply piggy-backing on the emotional outcry that followed those earlier stories.    The dubious links between scientific theories and hypotheses and their application to the real world were the story of the twentieth century and continues to dog us to this day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Our Man In Ottawa: How to deal with Creationists

MSS-member and recent émigré to Canada Chris Hassall gives us a rundown of how to cope with the Creationist crazy.

When dealing with woo the most profitable tactic is usually simply to expose their quackery by taking apart their arguments. Very few woo-ers have anything more than thin reasoning behind their beliefs; often just enough pseudoscientific babble to provide a veneer of respectability for what is clearly nonsense. However, Creationism is one area in which a substantial publishing industry has grown up around the defence of the topic such that the average Creationist can bury you in books in response to questions. Also, a relatively large number of people are interested in finding a way to harmonise theories of biological origins with theological concepts (principally the creation myths of the Abrahamic religions). Thus we have two potential strategies that have emerged from the fray: confrontationalism and accommodationism. It will soon become clear to which camp I belong… Read the rest of this entry »

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Our Man In Ottawa: Creationism 101

MSS-member and recent émigré to Canada Chris Hassall gives us an introduction to Creationism in all it’s flavours and glory.

While there are many forms of woo that involve a warping of science, that which is closest to my heart is Creationism. While homeopathic practitioners, psychics, claim scientific support (or at least use scientific terms) when arguing their respective cases, no other variety of woo has produced so much spilled ink (as well as money for the authors) as that promulgated by “creation scientists”. I will briefly outline the two most prevalent forms of creation woo with some brief critiques and a quick guide to the leading figures in each of the movements. I’ll finish with a discussion of how we should be dealing with this particular form of woo. Read the rest of this entry »

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