Raw water: the New Age death wish

Drinking from a stream: stupid ideaWould you willingly expose yourself to cholera? While treatable, this highly infectious disease causes great physical distress and suffering to its victims, and is even fatal to some. Most readers have never experienced it because it’s rather a rarity in developed nations, those that have the benefit of modern water and wastewater treatment systems. That’s thanks to decades of stringent and effective health and safety standards and constantly improving treatment systems.

But for some, it seems, those systems are a terrible burden; a worrisome threat to their natural state. The very notion of clean, hygienic water bereft of bacteria and pollutants threatens their peace of mind. They demand to be fed unfiltered water, bravely willing to accept the threat of travellers’ diarrhea, Giardia, Cryptosporidium (from cattle feces), dysentery, Salmonella, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli, found throughout the natural environment), Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Hepatitus A, Hepatitus E, Campylobacter (from bird guano), Norovirus, Shigella and other infections and parasites.

It’s better, these New Age adventurers believe, to risk illness, pain, paralysis and even death than drink water from a municipal tap that might have come into contact with chlorine or fluoride. The taint of civilization, of modernity, or – gasp! – chemicals shall not pass their lips. Seriously: this is truly one of the most bizarre, stupid, and dangerous, wingnut fads to emerge.

“Raw” water – or as The Verge more appropriately called it, “raw diarrhea” – is the latest craze among those obsessed with the internet-driven fads-du-jour.

These are the same people who worship the Queen of Pseudoscience Fads, Vani Hara aka The Food Babe. These are the warriors who spent thousands more to buy free-range chicken, organic avocados, tomatoes, corn, and kale, then crusade against GMOs (oh, the irony, the irony…). These are the folks who refuse to get their children vaccinated because they think having children suffer and possibly die from diseases like rubella, smallpox, polio and whooping cough is more natural than having them artificially healthy through medicine. These are the people who crusaded against the ubiquitous chemical, dihydrogen monoxide in foods (insert laugh track).

I doubt one of them knows how municipal water is treated, how the infrastructure or facilities work, what technologies have evolved or changed, and how many millions of technicians, scientists and engineers work every day to improve our water systems. I doubt one of them actually knows the science or history behind chlorine or fluoride. To New Agers, science is a dark art: scary, mystical, untrustworthy.
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Anti-GMO = Anti-Science

FrankenfoodsThe politics of persuasion play a bigger role in the anti-GMO movement than science. Like so many anti-science movements before them – the anti-gluten fad, the anti-vaccination idiocies, creationism, the HIV and Zika virus conspiracies, chemtrails and on and on. Like them, anti-GMO is built on a combination of ignorance, fear and gullibility. And it’s all codswallop.

First, lets get something clear: almost every single thing you eat today has been modified. Tomatoes, corn, beef, chicken, salmon, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, peas, apples, almonds, peanuts, wheat, potatoes, bananas, milk, cheese, yeast… aside from some wild fish and wild game, everything you eat is the product of selective breeding, hybridization, grafting, careful feeding, vaccinating, fertilizing, antibiotics, hormones, spraying or a combination thereof. And the result is genetic modification. Not necessarily genetic engineering, but the result is the same.

Look at corn. It’s been played with by humans for the past 10,000 years. The ancestral teosinte bears no resemblance to the corn on the cob on your plate. Today’s corn is genetically very different from its ancestor. Archeologists found 4,440-year-old corn in Mexico and the genetic structure revealed how humans modified the plants deliberately and systematically to create better, bigger produce. Genetic modification for millenia.

Of course no one called it that, back then. Today we have genetic engineering and biotechnology and, since most of us really don’t know exactly what they entail, what the research is, what the techniques are, we find them scary. Somehow a farmer hybridizing plants in a field feels safer, more “natural” than a scientist doing it in a laboratory. Nonsense.

More to the point, what you see as “corn” in the supermarket is just one of many thousands of varieties grown in North America. Could you even tell the difference between the basic categories of dent, sweet and pop corn from looking at it in a field? What about flint, flour and pod corn? I couldn’t. But okay, the bag of frozen niblets says it’s “sweet” corn. What does that label actually mean to you, the consumer? As opposed to sour corn? Salty corn? You’ve got your label, now what?

The corn you eat is already genetically modified to be insect resistant, to be more drought-resistant, to be herbicide tolerant. Most of that was done over the past several decades to improve crop yields or to counter pests, predators and disease. You’ve been eating it for years.

What some people often don’t consider is that those modifications are helping reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides, irrigation and even fertilizers, which is better for the environment.

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The Paleo-Fantasy

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PaleofantasyPerhaps the best – and certainly the funniest – description of what happens to your life when you pursue pseudoscience fads like the “paleo” diet is here on Popsugar. It’s laugh-aloud funny and too good not to be shared. I loved so many lines it’s hard to pick one or two, but from the description of making inedible “paleo” cookies:

The cookies look exactly the same before they are digested as after. They are eternal and unchanging. As time passes, they don’t decline in quality or taste because they can’t. They’ve already started out at theoretical zero on that scale.
I weep as I take a bite. These cookies will outlive me unless I destroy them.

For a more serious critique of the “paleofantasy” diet, read this piece on Scientific American:

The Paleo diet not only misunderstands how our own species, the organisms inside our bodies and the animals and plants we eat have evolved over the last 10,000 years, it also ignores much of the evidence about our ancestors’ health during their—often brief—individual life spans (even if a minority of our Paleo ancestors made it into their 40s or beyond, many children likely died before age 15).

Not to mention the main issue raised by nutritionists and anthropologists: the “paleo” diet is mainly based on mean, but our ancestors ate a lot – some say mostly – vegetables:

A paper out just this month suggests even Neanderthals–our north country cousins and mates– may have eaten much more plant material than previously suspected. Still, the more macho camps paint a picture of our ancestors as big, bad, hunters, who supplemented meaty diets with the occasional berry “chaser.” Others suggest we spent much of our recent past scavenging what the lions left behind, running in to snag a half-rotten wildebeest leg when the fates allowed. Although “Paleolithic” diets in diet books tend to be very meaty, reasonable minds disagree as to whether ancient, Paleolithic diets actually were. Fortunately, new research suggests a clear answer to the question of what our ancestors ate.

And what about the insects? Paleolithic humans ate them, probably a lot of them:

If you’re really going to follow a paleo diet, you ought to be eating bugs, “lots and lots of bugs,” Daniella Martin argues in “Edible.” The diet, after all, suggests we should eat more like early hunter-gatherers did, and what could be easier to hunt and gather than bugs? (Martin uses the term “bugs” interchangeably with “insects” to refer to “terrestrial invertebrates.”) The creatures are packed with protein and other nutrients. In some non-Western cultures they are considered a staple; in others, a delicacy.

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Watch the TED Talks, above, for a brilliant explanation why the “paleo” diet fad is just a paleo fantasy.