Category Archives: Food and Drink

Caveat Lector

The next time you read, see or hear a news story related to dietary or health study claims you might want to keep remember story titled “I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How” 

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily,” page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it.

You really should read the whole thing to see exactly how easy it is to game the science journalism field. And if you want to be happy you should also embrace the strategy of believing the studies that purport to show the health benefits of eating/drinking whatever you want and ignoring those that claim those same habits are unhealthy.

Works for me.

Hunger in Northwest North Carolina

Through my organization’s annual food drive I’ve become very familiar with the work of Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC. Unfortunately that familiarity is why the recently released results of a study on food insecurity provides little in the way of surprises, but does serve to help remind me of why we’re so passionate about our efforts on behalf of the organization. If, after reading the following numbers, you feel like helping out you can make a financial contribution at our food drive’s online donation page at 

Here are just a few of the sobering statistics:

  • Nearly 300,000 different individuals turn to our network of more than 400 partner programs for food assistance annually – or 1 in every 6 people living in our region.
  • Despite Second Harvest Food Bank’s continuing success in sourcing more food for our partner agency network (in the past five years, distribution has more than tripled from 7.9 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds), 44 percent of programs report having less food than needed to meet the needs of those requesting assistance.
  • 32% of those who receive food assistance through our partner agency network are children under the age of 18. Because programs that serve only children were not eligible to be sampled for the Client Survey, for example our BackPack and Kids Cafe programs and summer meal sites, this percentage underestimates the actual number of children being reached by Second Harvest Food Bank.)
  • 10 percent of those who receive food assistance through our partner agency network are seniors age 65 or older. (30 percent are age 50 and older.)
  • 78 percent of those who seek food assistance from Second Harvest Food Bank’s network live in households at or below the poverty level.
  • 57 percent of households have monthly incomes of $1,000 or less.
  • Over the past year, 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care; 31 percent of these households are making this choice every month.
  • 73 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for utilities.

    • 30 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for medicine/medical care.

    • 31 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for transportation.

    • 31 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 64 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for housing.

    • 24 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 24 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for education expenses.

    • 9 percent of these households are making the choice every month.

Remember, there’s an easy way to help at

Meet the Ultimate Beer Bureaucrat

Who knew? If you want to sell beer in the US you have to get the label approved by one guy:

Any brewery that wants to market its wares in this country needs to get it through Kent “Battle” Martin, giving the federal official extraordinary power. With only vague regulations outlining what is and isn’t permissible, he approves beer bottles and labels for the Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, a section of the Treasury Department…

This year, Battle has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels, the only fact his press handler would provide…

Most government departments are nebulous and anonymous. But because of the sheer volume of his interactions with brewers, Battle has become a symbol for the TTB’s nonsensical rules…

Battle has rejected a beer label for the King of Hearts, which had a playing card image on it, because the heart implied that the beer would have a health benefit.

He rejected a beer label featuring a painting called The Conversion of Paula By Saint Jerome because its name, St. Paula’s Liquid Wisdom, contained a medical claim—that the beer would grant wisdom.

He rejected a beer called Pickled Santa because Santa’s eyes were too “googly” on the label, and labels cannot advertise the physical effects of alcohol. (A less googly-eyed Santa was later approved.)

Meat-Like Coffee

The Wall Street Journal had an article about a new coffee flavor wheel developed by a roaster in Durham, NC. Gotta say I like it;

Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel

I’m gonna start using this around the office. Pretty soon people will hear me say things like, “At first it tastes leathery but there are definite tobacco undertones.”

Lewisville’s Westbend Vineyards Closing to Public March 2, 2014

This is big news for the Yadkin Valley wine community and for the town of Lewisville, NC:

Westbend Vineyards – one of North Carolina’s oldest and most pioneering wineries – stunned the Yadkin Valley wine industry with its announcement that it plans to close its winery, brewery and tasting room to the public March 2.

Winemaker Mark Terry offered this twist on the news: He and his daughter Nicole are opening a wine and beer retail store in downtown Winston-Salem. They hope to open Corks, Caps & Taps in early April. From that location, Terry will market Westbend’s extensive wine portfolio, in addition to other North Carolina wines…

Terry said Westbend will continue to maintain the vineyard, keep winemaking permits current and continue making wine until all inventory is sold through the new retail store. The future of the grapes – and the winemaking facility and equipment – is unsettled at this time, he said.


Fighting the Flab Google Style

Google took an analytical approach to promoting better eating habits at its offices and some of the common-sense approaches they came up with would work in your office or home too:

Employees were eating too much of the free candy and that, the firm surmised, might hinder efforts to keep workers healthy and happy.

What if the company kept the chocolates hidden in opaque containers but prominently displayed dried figs, pistachios and other healthful snacks in glass jars? The results: In the New York office alone, employees consumed 3.1 million fewer calories from M&Ms over seven weeks. That’s a decrease of nine vending machine-size packages of M&Ms for each of the office’s 2,000 employees…

For Google, it’s more than just the candy that employees consume. In another case, the company tried to get workers to drink more water. So it stashed bottled water on eye-level shelves and behind clear glass. It then put sugary sodas on the bottom shelves of refrigerators and behind frosted glass. After several weeks, water consumption increased 47 percent while the calories consumed by drinking sugary beverages fell 7 percent…

But even the plates at the food bars have been Google-ized. To get people to eat smaller portions, the staff experimented with plate sizes, providing a big one and a small one. Nearly one-third of employees chose the smaller plates and didn’t go back for more servings. When Google posted the result in cafeteria signs, the overall use of small plates increased a further 50 percent.

Quite frankly in our house the best solution is to just not buy any of the stuff that's bad for you because not one of us has an ounce of willpower when it comes to food. 

Important Beer Info: Beware the Light

If you've been drinking beer long enough you've encountered skunked beer at some point. So how does a beer get skunked? First thing you need to know is that the professionals don't call it skunked, they call it lightstruck.That's important to know because it ends up that the popular wisdom that letting a beer get hot will cause it to get skunked, er, lightstruck is incorrect:

What those researchers found is that there are two distinct pathways to getting skunky-smelling compounds in your beer. The two main actors is this tale of woe: hop alpha acids and light. Not heat. Not oxygen. Light…

All beers that have been bittered with hops can suffer skunking: As an experiment, get a draft beer poured into a clear glass and then let it sit in the sun for 10 minutes or so. Compare that beer to one fresh from the tap. You should definitely detect some skunk in the lightstruck beer. With clear, green or blue bottles, the glass doesn't filter out the ultraviolet and blue wavelengths that start the skunking reaction. Brown bottles are much better at keeping those wavelengths out of your beer…

In the end, if you want to avoid the skunk entirely, just buy a beer that has been packaged in a keg, cask or can. Those beers can (and do) develop bad flavors, but you'll never get one that has been skunked.

Duly noted.