FoodGate: The Problem with the US Food System

You can’t fix healthcare until you fix health. You can’t fix health until you fix the diet. And you can’t fix the diet until you know what’s wrong. What went wrong? FoodGate.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig, Dentist Cristen Kearns and Health Policy Expert Laura Schmidt team up to explore how the US food system has led to higher rates in obesity and related metabolic diseases in the last 50 years.

Preventable disease rates keep going up, even while behaviors have improved: smoking rates are down, cholesterol and blood pressure are down, and physical activity is up. We should be reaping a health benefit, but we’re not. The primary reason: we’re eating too many refined carbohydrates and too much sugar.

How did the food system come to encourage this? Pharmaceutical companies benefit from long-term drug treatment of metabolic diseases. Organizations such as the Sugar Association and the Beverage Association fund questionable scientific studies to convince the public that obesity and sugar are not related. These efforts include funding aggressive marketing campaigns to influence public policy. According to Schmidt, they spent 31 million dollars in a single election to convince voters in San Francisco and Oakland not to support a soda tax.

But there is hope. Research into the effects of too much sugar is getting attention, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lustig and others. There are many parallels between this issue and smoking. According to Schmidt, we’re about where we were in 1970. The tide is slowly shifting, but we have a long way to go. Policy-makers are just now beginning to recognize the negative consequences of an unhealthy populace on healthcare costs and future social security benefits. Lustig advises, “You want social security? Stop drinking soda and tell all your friends to do so, too.”

Watch FoodGate: The Break-in, the Cover-up, and the Aftermath.

We Are CSE

From automated programming to giving computers the ability to see and be better work partners to improving healthcare and securing your internet use, discover the diversity of research and people who are the UC San Diego Department of Computer Science and Engineering with the new series – We Are CSE.

Browse more programs in We Are CSE.

Losing the Nobel Prize

When Alfred Nobel stipulated the creation of the Nobel Prize in 1895, the inventor of dynamite could hardly have guessed that the award – considered by many to be the world’s most prestigious honor – would often come at the expense of the very careers and the disciplines Nobel sought to promote. Per Nobel’s will the Prize is ostensibly awarded to those who “have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind,” but it has arguably fallen short of that commendable goal on several occasions.

In Losing the Nobel Prize, his provocative and incisive critique of the award, physicist and cosmologist Brian Keating addresses what he calls the Nobel’s “systematic biases,” noting that by its nature the Prize discourages communal efforts among scientists, and during its history has lauded such questionable pursuits as lobotomy and eugenics. Recipients have included Nazis and war criminals, but surprisingly few women. Upon reflection, perhaps not so surprising; Nobel’s will states that:

It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not. [Emphasis added]

Since its inception, only two women have been awarded the physics prize, and none in over fifty years.

Keating is uniquely equipped to offer a perspective on the Nobel Prize. He is the inventor of BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), the most powerful cosmological telescope ever made, and co-leader of the team that conducted the BICEP2 experiments that lead to discovery of “the spark that ignited the Big Bang.” After much drama and debate that discovery was subsequently proven to be a cosmic mirage, but in the interim Keating found himself drawn into the headlong pursuit of the Nobel medal, encountering competitiveness, intrigue, and naked ambition along the way. The lessons Keating learned in losing the Nobel Prize serve as a cautionary tale about abandoning the collaborative spirit in pursuit of a near-unobtainable prize, but also as a prescription for radical, much-needed reform of the world’s most coveted award.

Following his talk Keating chats with David Brin, noted science fiction author and futurist, in a lively conversation about the nature of scientific enquiry, the merit of awarding scientific prizes, the importance of collaboration, the need for transparency, and the urgent need to improve communication between scientists, policy makers, and the general public. Above all, both men stress that those lessons learned by Keating and outlined in his book may ultimately prove to be more valuable than the prize itself.

Watch Losing the Nobel Prize with Brian Keating.

Golda Meir Through a Feminist Lens

8232Author and Boston University law professor Pnina Lahav discusses her forthcoming biography, “Golda Meir: Through the Gender Lens.” She explores the first and only woman prime minister of Israel, and her complex relationship with her role as a female leader in a man’s world.

As a child, Golda migrated from Russia to Wisconsin and received conflicting messages about her place in the world. Wisconsin law insisted she had to be educated in school and wouldn’t allow her to work at her mother’s grocery store during the day. However, as a young woman, the message from society was also clear: women were supposed to become wives and mothers – and her parents were eager for her to comply.

Her sister, Sheyna, encouraged Golda to run away from home in order to pursue the life she wanted. Sheyna gave her this advice: “The main thing is, never get excited – always become an act of cooling. This action will bring you good results.” Golda put this advice to use in the many political crises she encountered throughout her adult life.

According to Lahav, Golda had a nuanced view of the division of labor between men and women. During the rise of the feminist movement, many women resented being resigned to the kitchen. However, Golda endorsed kitchen work as a way to contribute to the community. She felt that, in the fullness of time, gender roles would melt away, and she instead focused on the needs of the Jewish people as a whole, as opposed to the needs of women, specifically.

During her long career, when Golda was in favor with the public, she was considered the “grandmother” of the Jewish people. However, according to professor Lahav, when people disagreed with her political strategies, the old gender stereotype kicked in. “They believed it was because she was a woman that many of the harms were visited upon them. A woman is considered nasty, unnecessarily rigid, emotional, capricious, whimsical and unfit for public office. She was not even beautiful and did not dress well, they said – as if that was a necessary qualification for the job.”

To learn more, watch Golda Meir Through a Feminist Lens. Browse related programs in the series Herman P. and Sophia Taubman Endowed Symposia in Jewish Studies.

Providing Hope

“Gang violence is about a lethal absence of hope. Nobody has ever met a hopeful kid who joined a gang.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, exhorted Jesuits to strive to find God in all things while actively engaging the world, and to focus on cultivating the whole person. Put another way, faith must be expressed through positive works in order to serve the common good. After years of giving the final benediction for victims of gang carnage, Father Gregory J. “Greg” Boyle, SJ, put those principles into practice by founding Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang rehabilitation program in the world. Homeboy’s mission is to provide the means for men and women to break the inter-generational cycle of gang violence through therapy, education, practical services, and vocational training. Homeboy’s various businesses – Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café, Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery, and others – focus on job training to provide healthy alternatives to gang life. The benefits extend well beyond the ten thousand former gang members served yearly and into the wider community.

8232As evinced by his quote above, Father Greg believes that the single greatest motivator for gang membership is the lack of hope for a better life. His remedy, treating gang members with compassion while offering a holistic and pragmatic “exit ramp,” was considered radical at a time when law enforcement relied on harsh suppression and mass incarceration to confront the growing problem of gang violence. Despite widespread skepticism from police and prosecutors time has proven the value of the Homeboy model, and it has spawned imitators across the globe. At the root of Father Greg’s philosophy is the importance of empathetic relationships in breaking the destructive mindset of “us vs. them.” As he notes, “The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”

Watch: Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship with Father Gregory Boyle – Burke Lectureship