Neurotoxic soyburgers story came from pro-meat/anti-vegetarian group -- UPDATED

Update: The search for truth goes on: yesterday morning, I blogged a study from the Cornucopia Institute on the use of the neurotoxin hexane in production of soyburgers, which sparked a controversy n the comment thread about the science, focusing mostly on the question of whether any of the volatile hexane would still be present after the burgers made it to your shelf. For the record: I'm dubious about this objection, since in the absence of a study to the contrary, I think it makes sense to assume that the substances you put into food during production are still present at consumption. And of course, the release of hexane into the environment as part of the production of these "healthy alternatives" undermines the whole cause of improving health.

I posted a followup last night, after Xeni emailed me with a tip that the Cornucopia study had been funded by an agriculture think-tank/lobbying group called the Weston A Price Foundation. Based on that tip, I believed that I'd been had -- just another example of a corporate subsidized "science" that concludes that the company's products are just dandy (or that its competitors' wares are bad for you).

But I was wrong. I've just spoken to Kiera Butler from Mother Jones, who has followed up with Cornucopia. Cornucopia promises that the Price foundation did not fund its research (and further, that none of its research is ever substantially funded by any concern or individual), and the principal researcher repeated her concern that there is no evidence that the hexane boils off before consumption, and that in any event, "health food" companies have no business emitting terrible toxic waste into the atmosphere (here's her update).

And I agree. And we were wrong. Xeni and I offer our sincerest apologies to both Cornucopia and the Price Foundation for publishing inaccurate information.

Looks like I got spoofed: the study in this morning's post about neurotoxins in soyburgers turns out to have been funded by an anti-vegetarian, pro-meat lobbying group, the Weston A Price Foundation. These are also the folks who say lard is good for you. Maybe the science is good, maybe it isn't (read the comments for good debate on it), but I sure feel a lot more suspicious about it than I did this morning. (Thanks, Xeni!)


  1. Cory, I appreciate your writing but in this case I wish you (or Xeni) would have done a bit more research on Weston A. Price. They are all about traditional foods, anti-CAFO (confined area feeding operation), pro-small/local farmers, and pro-grass-fed meat. They are all about raw milk. They have a LONG-standing position that is anti-soy, not because it is vegetarian, but because at least in their opinion it has serious health implications, and they are not the only ones who believe this, even many mainstream health authorities believe that soy should not be a major portion of our diet.

    I do not understand why this is any more suspect than a pro-vegetarian group like PETA and PMRC sponsoring studies (which they have), but don’t seem to be called out for it.

    As far as lard, laugh if you want, but I’d recommend you at least read Gary Taubes’ excellent book Good Calories Bad Calories before you use this as an example of why NOT to trust a particular group’s motives/ideas.

    1. They fund anti-soy research/publishing because it cuts into their profit. They don’t give a sh*t about your health, sorry to tell you. You think they support “grass-fed meat” because they care about the animals? No. It’s all about the $$$, and more people will eat their meat if they think the animals were treated good. The introduction/production of soy has made it easier to cut meat out of peoples diets and cut directly into their profits, so they look to eliminate it.

      1. Sodium chloride doesn’t generally exist in the body, as it dissociates in solution. Now, sodium and chlorine ions, on the other hand…

    1. Lard is very low in dihydrogen monoxide. As frightened as I am by dihydrogen monoxide (I never learned to swim) I can’t get too worked up about hexane used to extract oil from soybeans. The dose makes the poison.

  2. A quick jaunt over to Wikipedia confirms hexane as the most commonly used solvent for oil extraction. We evolved eating lard, butter & many freely available saturated fats, I would think they must be better nutritionally than the factory foods being invented & pumped out by large companies whose reason for being is to make money, not feed humans effectively.

  3. Describing the Weston A. Price foundation as a anti-vegetarian, pro-meat lobbying group is very misleading. Sure they do not believe vegetarian diets to be healthy (which obviously includes the view that eating meat is essential)… but they also focus on the unhealthy aspects on non-veg. diets (eg. grains). They would be more accurately described as a paleo diet lobby group… advocating for the return of diets that are more akin to those of ancient cultures (nutrient dense) or if you want to get more specific- the research of Weston A. Price lobby group. You got spoofed by your spoof.

  4. I’m going to continue following Marion Nestle’s advice and limit my saturated fat intake with a focus on consuming more poly and monounsaturated fats than saturated.

    In terms of Haroun’s statement, yes humans did involve in an environment where they ate lard etc (not butter until agriculture and farming kicked in, and by that stage our ancestors were all well and truly evolved into Homo sapiens), but this high energy food was rare and valuable in an environment where starvation would have been a regular occurrence. Hence I don’t buy the argument that saturated fat is great since our ape-ancestors ate it whenever they could.

    I avoid processed or “factory foods” as much as possible, but poly and monounsaturated fats abound in non-processed whole foods such as nuts, so why not eat them rather than saturated fats? Unless of course you are one of the people that believes that saturated fats are not harmful and are actually beneficial, which I know some people do.

  5. Okay – here’s my criteria:

    I eat burger that comes from a local cow that I know was treated humanely and was fed real food (rather than hormones and other chemical crap).

    This doesn’t justify eating meat. I don’t intend it to. I just like meat, and I’d rather it wasn’t treated poorly before I fry it up for breakfast.

  6. boing boing I love your stuff, but sometimes you guys need to do a bit more research before posting.

  7. WAPF is pro farmer, not specifically pro meat. They are, as mentioned before anti-CAFO and anti-soy.

  8. Can someone please point me toward the link between The Cornucopia Institute and the Weston Price Foundation? I can’t seem the evidence that the Weston Price Foundation (which supports homeopathy and other pseudoscience bs) funded this particular study. According to the Cornucopia Institute, their mission is:

    “The Cornucopia Institute will engage in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture. Through research and investigations on agricultural issues, The Cornucopia Institute will provide needed information to consumers, family farmers, and the media.
    The Cornucopia Institute is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public interest group. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of law.”

    In addition, the first half of the report is about the practices of various soy foods manufacturers when it comes to their use of organic soy and provides seemingly good information on which companies are supporting North American farmers of organic soy. Whereas the Weston Price Foundation tends to be anti-soy altogether.

  9. Weston A. Price is well known and liked by people like Michael Pollan (The Omnivour’s Delima) – they normally do good work and it’s usually well researched.

  10. I have run across enough bogus, slanted, and just plain invented information from all the major parties in the diet dogfight, as vegans invent frightening new factoids, and the meat industry buys new studies each year, that I have been forced to assume that all the major players are wrong, most of the time. The fact that it often comes down to quasi-religious belief vs. corporate drones does not add to the appeal, nor does it increase the overall truth level.

  11. Lard *is* good for you. In terms of fats, I eat mostly butter, lard and olive oil (monounsaturated), my blood pressure is perfect as is my cholesterol, and I can run for long distances with little effort, despite rarely “exercising”. I have maintained the same (lean) weight for 10 years, except during a vegetarian experiment where I went unhealthily underweight. I am not, however, an office worker, and probably burn most of the fat in my daily trade.

    Poly fats are not common in traditional foods like nuts, they are mainly in processed seed oils – only popular in the last 100 years. Today’s diet contains MUCH less saturated fat than the old days – but there is MORE heart disease for some reason?

    Weston A. Price foundation seems to be right on most points as far as I read. There is no need for ‘anti-vegetarian lobby groups’ as vegetarianism is self-defeating. Vegetarian diets will lead to your eventual death without the vitamin supplementation provided by modern technology! Vitamin B12 – look it up – that’s all I need to say to those who think humans do not need to eat animals. You are only healthy because you are depleting your stores of B12!
    Check your mouth for the incisors and canines, too. Why do you have those scary sharp teeth, to chew soy patties?

    Even meat eaters should eat a liver once in awhile to stock up on B12 and other vitamins concentrated in it. Humans evolved to eat all those organs we throw away these days.

    Note that I also don’t agree with the mistreatment of meat animals and am taking up hunting this year to get my own ‘free-range’ meat. Don’t eat what you wouldn’t kill yourself, I’ve always said – time to stand behind it.

    1. People live longer now, hence higher rates of cancer, heart disease and dementia. People also now live longer WITH those disorders due to medical treatment. There’s one big confound for your theory.

      1. True, but many people are getting heart disease/strokes/heart attacks at very young ages these days – well within the life expectancy in 1900. And what about the youth obesity problem?

        There are also quite a few documented cases of tribes isolated on tiny islands, who to this day eat lots of fatty meats and organs, and have long lives and very low rates of heart disease, obesity and cancer.

        Of course you should not eat too much of any one thing, including saturated fats. But they do serve many important functions in the body (speaking as an ex-biochemist here), and should not be forced out of the diet by cheap fats that were not eaten for the past million years of human history.

        I like to skim this guy’s blog for recent developments on the saturated fat story –
        he’s a practicing biochemist who studies fat and posts data, mostly from modern research papers. I won’t claim he’s unbiased, but the data is stuff you won’t read in the newspaper. The most recent study posted about full-fat dairy decreasing heart disease (against the goals of the study) is an interesting one.

        1. vegetarianism is self-defeating. Vegetarian diets will lead to your eventual death without the vitamin supplementation provided by modern technology!

          Hmmm, about a half a billion Indians would probably disagree with this statement.

    2. @Rectifier • #22

      >Vegetarian diets will lead to your eventual death

      All diets will eventually led to your death.

    3. “I have maintained the same (lean) weight for 10 years, except during a vegetarian experiment where I went unhealthily underweight.”

      Then you’re doing it wrong. :) The stereotype of veggies as spindly and weak is simply not born out by the evidence. Witness Carl Lewis. Or a fucking bull. (Different metabolism, sure, I know. Kind of a joke.)

      Many veggies are unhealthy, because they don’t know what they’re doing in regards to nutrition. The same applies to most people generally, though the symptoms are likely to be drastically different.

      “Soy protein concentrate burgers? At a higher price than the best meats?”

      Where have you seen this? Good organic, free-range beef is always more than any friggin veggie burger. Bean or soy or whatever. In my experience at least. And I definitely dig both.

      The following is not directed at Rectifier specifically:

      Whenever people start laying in heavy and in an emotionally charged way about a lifestyle issue, I know enough to know that they likely don’t know as much as they think.

      Nutrition is as vastly complex is biochemistry. Lard is likely good and bad in different ways. The same is likely true for poly-unsaturated fats (less likely to congeal, but more prone to oxidation and free-radical generation, for example).

      Anybody who speaks with absolute authority on a scientific issue should be laughed out of the auditorium. :)

      1. Most of the vegetarians that I know seem to live on sugary drinks, peanut butter and ranch dressing. They’re quite the opposite of underweight.

        1. Yeah, I tend to get too many calories from alcohol. beer is vegan.

          So I poked around on these Price people’s website a bit, and there’s definitely some inflammatory rhetoric there, and claims made from single studies that were conducted nearly half a century ago.

          (referring specifically to footnote 12 here:

          not to say that they don’t do some good work and make some good points. i’m not well versed enough to pass such judgment. but i don’t think calling them “anti-vegetarian” is at all out of order. they are explicitly opposed to vegetarianism.

          anywho. night all.

          1. > Yeah, I tend to get too many calories from alcohol. beer
            > is vegan.
            Few beer is vegan, unless you happen to live in Germany, where brewers often still stick to the obsoleted Reinheitsgebot (purity requirements, according to which beer may only contain hops, barley and water). See

          2. Not all beer is vegan. In fact, most good beer is not. Google “isinglass” and see what comes up. Then, get drunk.

    4. “Poly fats are not common in traditional foods like nuts, they are mainly in processed seed oils – only popular in the last 100 years.”

      “Vegetarian diets will lead to your eventual death without the vitamin supplementation provided by modern technology!”

      Okay, so modern = bad, except when modern = good?

    5. Vitamin B12 can be found in yeast and wheat gluten….Please read up more on it before you say that you only get it from meat, that is farthest from the truth.

      In fact modern meat will lead to your death. Half of the deaths in America each year are from heart disease. Lead causes of heart disease: high blood pressure (salty foods), high cholesterol (Your liver produces all of the cholesterol your body needs to form cell membranes and to make certain hormones. Extra cholesterol enters your body when you eat foods that come from animals (meats, eggs, and dairy products)).

  12. Whoever did the study…

    Does nobody worry about the large percentage of men drinking soy milk?

    “in addition to all the nutrients and protein, soy contains a natural chemical that mimics estrogen, the female hormone.” –

    Before traditional birth control, herbal plants were often used that influenced hormone levels. (Check out the book Eve’s Herbs) “Many post menopausal women use soy products to help control hot flashes and other problems caused by hormonal imbalances. And soy is very effective in supplying the hormones needed!” –

    This isn’t pseudo-science.

    Aside from the obvious (pretty much all processed food, even “health” food, is polluted with toxins), soy upsets the natural balance of hormones in men and women when taken in large quantities (as in every day in cereal or as part of a daily meal).

    There are plenty of fruits and veggies out there, nuts and legumes that don’t upset the body’s balance when eaten daily. I seriously hope vegetarians don’t believe soy is the crux of their lifestyle.

  13. Seconding/thirding/4thing those who agree your dismissal of the Weston Price folks is wrongheaded. The Price Foundation’s take on traditional diets and sustainable nutrition deserves more than a curt “anti-veg, pro-meat” dismissal.

    I know you’ve read Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is excellent for showing the screwed-up’edness of abandoning traditional diets, which includes things like, yes, lard, for the high carb psuedo-health food of today.

    And anyone interested in vegetarianism or veganism should read Lierre Kieths “The Vegetarian Myth” which does an admirable job of debunking a lot of the ideas of vegetarianism as more sustainable or less cruel.

  14. I was afraid at what was going to find in this comment thread, but I’m glad to see so many dietary free-thinkers here who aren’t afraid of fat, and are pro real foods. You’ll all said what I was going to say. Thanks.

  15. The more I read, the more FAIL I see.

    Which of the hexanes?

    How much ppb or ppt was found in the soy?

    how does the amount found in the soy (if any) compare to how much is found in other vegetable oils using a hexane as an extraction solvent?

    how does the amount found in the soy (if any) compare to how much someone is exposed to by wearing shoes, coming into contact with leather products, or any of the other products processed with a hexane?

    how much is someone exposed to from soy products or vegetable oil as compared to when they paint their home, carpet their home, use paint stripper, fuel their car, clean their guns, or service their cars?

    Raw Milk? Pasteur is spinning in his grave!

    a particular food being unhealthy for all or a sweeping generalisation of people? that’s some crypto-racism – not even discriminating against someone for their skin colour or bone structure but because of the presence or absence of certain flora in their gut! Which they get from their parents and caretakers in youth! or enzymes!

    I love Cory: The mere fact that he’s willing and able to add caveat to a piece he published or blogged about, to retract or apologise, is the heart of humanity’s technological duty: Responsibility. Science! REASON!

    We have the ability to reserve judgment until we get all the facts.

    independently replicate replicate replicate results to confirm them or it’s a statistical anomaly and worse than useless, it’s potentially an outright misleading strawman. (a lie!)

  16. And to re-iterate and repeat anon @25 from the original article:

    It’s a scare tactic by an animal agriculture advocacy group. This is the main article they cite-

    It’s conclusion?

    “Fortunately, the use of hexane as an extraction solvent does not seem to lead to any noteworthy residues in vegetable oils, so repeating this investigation does not seem to be necessary.”

    INDEPENDENT REPLICATION OF RESULTS OR GTFO. It’s not useful, informative, or even valid until it’s been repeated many times by independent researchers.

  17. i wrote to amy’s, because i really like their burgers. I told them i wouldn’t eat any more of them until they stopped using hexane. They wrote back and admitted to using it. here is the letter they sent, in case it is of any interest to you.

    Thanks for taking the time to contact us. We have completed several major projects in the past to replace soy protein concentrate and de-oiled lecithin with alternates that do not use hexane extraction. Until now, we have not found suitable substitutes. Recently however, new ingredients have become available and we are beginning to incorporate them into the few products that use soy protein concentrate and lecithin. You should see these reformulated products on the shelves in the very near future.

    In the meantime, please try Amy’s California Veggie Burger and Bistro Burger which do not contain any soy protein.

    so that’s what i know.

  18. Cory and Xeni.. you guys have been busting them out tonight. Much appreciation!

    -gogo vicmorrow (i can’t find my sign in button!)

  19. Cory, as has been mentioned, you’re pretty far off on the Weston Price Foundation. They’re about promoting the fact that, based on the research of Weston Price (who was a high-up in the ADA), it seems like humans can live healthfully on any diet except the Western Diet. I’d like to see the statement corrected.

  20. Hexanes or not, things like that aren’t even the point of not eating texturised soy products to me.

    See, I find it strange how so many “hippies” who supposedly love gardening, and vegetables, and “free thinking”, and hate “the corporations” are happy to gobble down industrial byproducts (TSP is a byproduct of soy oil manufacture, previously unmarketable) processed to the point of unrecognizability.

    Soy protein concentrate burgers? At a higher price than the best meats? When I went through my vegetarian experiment, I ate mostly beans, rice and veg in a variety of admittedly delicious curries… shame the nutritional value just isn’t there. I still eat lots of beans to this day though despite going back to eating meat, because they are tasty.

    But I tried one of those burgers once and just thought it was revolting!

    1. Hexanes or not, things like that aren’t even the point of not eating texturised soy products to me.

      I find it strange that instead of simply cooking without meat, many people feel the psychological need to cook with fake meat.

    2. Soy protein is a higher value product than soybean oil, making the latter the “byproduct.” The need to find a market for all that oil led to the rise of the US biodiesel industry. But you’re right, because of tofu’s hippie/veggie brand, soybeans as a crop (no to mention huge multinational agribusinesses) haven’t gotten the attention corn has. In reality, both corn and soy can be very problematic. Take tropical soybean production, for example. Please.

  21. “The FDA does not set a maximum residue level in soy foods for hexane, and does not require that food manufacturers test for hexane residues.”

    But FDA’s Food Additives Webpage ( gives a 25 ppm limit on residual hexane when it’s used as a solvent in food processing. So while all foods are covered by this regulation, there’s nothing *specific* to soy foods. And while the FDA doesn’t say you have to test, they do say your food product has to meet the regulation or your product will be declared adulterated and illegal for sale.

    Cornucopia had samples of soy bean oil, meal and grits tested for the report and got levels of 10, 21 and 14 ppm respectively. To put these figures into perspective, that’s less than 1 ounce of residue per US ton of product.

  22. Look — lard is good for you. Lazy reporting is not. The NYT had an excellent blog post by on Tierneylabs about information cascades a couple of years ago, and I recommend it to anyone who considers themselves an enlightened blogger. Here’s the link:

  23. After doing a lot of research (by which I mean 10-20-30 pages of primary literature every day for over two years), I went from thinking the Price people were wackos to slowly realizing that they’re on the right track. I disagree with their current stilt on raw milk, but otherwise I agree with most of their principles.

    For those that are interested, the original Weston Price book is available free on the web:

    I would also recommend “Fat of the Land,” written by the last great Arctic explorer, Vilhjamur Stefansson, professor of ethnology at Harvard:

    Note that as a result of illness in his travels (dysentery, which nearly killed him), he found great relief in a low-carb diet, dying at the age of 82. His experiment in eating nothing but meat and fat for a year (along with Andersen in the Bellvue hospital ward) is nothing short of amazing, and is detailed in the above book.

    I also note that the Weston A. Price Foundation has a Form 990 on the web, available at (with registration). From their 2008 form 990, I see only two employee2 drew a salary ($6,000 and $5,000 a year), with over half their $915,000 annual revenue coming from paid memberships. A cursory review of their form 990 for 2008 shows no funding for lobbying or lobbyists. I don’t have time to review the financials for other years, but they don’t exactly fit the model of a lobbying organization.

  24. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets alike can be done in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Either way, it’s important to monitor what you eat. I don’t understand the motivation behind espousing a particular ideology that views one as superior. Ultimately, we all get to choose what we put into our bodies.

    I’m a vegetarian and I perceive myself to be very healthy. Granted, I take daily vitamin supplements and have to pay particular attention to getting my nutritional needs met.

    I don’t think that my way is any better or worse than a non-vegetarian diet. It’s just my choice.

  25. Poor Cory – some days, he just can’t win! :D

    Would be interested in where the study did come from, though :)

  26. For all you people sticking up for Weston A. Price Foundation just search for Homeopathy on their site. That foundation’s publications are loaded with pseudo-science babble. I won’t trust any of research connected with them with a ten foot bean pole.

    1. “I won’t trust any of research connected with them with a ten foot bean pole.”

      Why would anyone conduct research with a ten foot bean pole? And was it a soy-bean pole?

  27. I was sceptical because of the volatility of hexane: it would be gone from cooked food like the alcohol in a wine casserole.

  28. I’m a veggie, but I’m not totally skeptical about Weston Price.
    As CatCubed says, there’s some pseudoscience there… But their stance on saturated fats and raw milk seems to have an increasing amount of research behind it.

  29. Despite what people have to say on both sides of this particular issue…

    … allow me to propose that B!B! adopt a policy of informed skepticism IN GENERAL and be a bit slower to jump on something. I’d really, really like to have some degree of confidence when I quote B!B!

    Y’know, a happy mutant kind of vibe.

    1. Okay, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’d really like to have some degree of confidence when you quote B!B!, then perhaps you might take your own advice and “adopt a policy of informed skepticism IN GENERAL” — don’t quote what you read on the internet! I mean, if you quoted it, how is that Boingboing’s fault? (it’s not, that’s how!)

      1. I see what you did there!

        However, the need for personal skepticism does not impact any of the merits of B!B! having more rigor.

        So yes, Zing! you got me! Now can we discuss if there is a need for better B!B! standards? Look over this thread, I’m not the only one suggesting it.

  30. ‘I’ am always a dedicated activist.
    ‘He’ is always a pressure group.
    ‘They’ are always shills and/or lobbyists.

    My old gran had more common sense than either side in this ridiculous food war: “A little bit of what you fancy does you good.”

  31. Again I ask: can someone please demonstrate that this study was connected to the Weston Price Foundation?

  32. Some people are commenting that the Weston Price Foundation is promoting a paleo diet. They are NOT. Instead they promote a post-paleo diet. Their diet encourages dairy, preferably raw. But there is no dairy on a paleo diet. To get dairy products one would have to have domesticated livestock, which did not happen during the Paleolithic Era. And they recommend whole grains, which they have you soak, sprout, or ferment to neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.

    To learn about a true paleo diet, and the various variations of it, see:

  33. I believe in a better living through chemistry.

    People who think because it is natural it is good for you in general are asshats who dont understand basic science or reality. Lots of natural occurring things cause disease, cancer, death, etc… Processed -vs- not processed, “natural” -vs- “artificial”… Not the issue. Things on both sides are bane and boon. Time, documentation, and research will boil the truth to the surface. Cross/selective breeding can have the same devastating effects as manually editing the DNA of a crop. Heh, maybe even more; YOU DONT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO GET with cross breeding and selective breeding, but if things a mapped out you and some idea what might happen if you edit DNA. Case in point… Corn (the result of cross/selective breeding) led to the deaths of many across europe from pellegra.

    Natural fats? Still fats, and can still be bad for you if you dont use common sense and moderation. Your organic fru-fru bacon is still going to clog your arteries and kill you.

    We’ve been engineering, modifying, and processing our food most of our existence. Corn? Would never have come to be without man. Melons? Not in the form they are today. Carrots? Carrots WERE NOT ORANGE, they were breed to be orange in holland as some sorta tribute to the crown!

    This thinking is dangerous. It is going to make people think sugar is healthier than HFCS and just replace the root cause of diabetes with another one.

    Cooking? Processing. Pickling? Processing. Kneading bread? Processing.

    In almost all cases problems caused by diet are over indulgence and lack of diversity.

    Also… NOT ALL BEER IS VEGAN. isinglass, used for clarifying, is basically dried fish bladder.

    Eat your veggies, fruits, soy, beef, fish… IT’S ALL CURRENTLY POISONED WITH SOMETHING due to acid rain, mercury, unsanitary factories, chicken/pig shit/teflon in the water supply, or some other very scary aspect of environmental pollution. While people screamed and cried over the ghost of global warming they completely ignored THE ACTUAL POISONING OF THE EARTH, AIR, AND SEA, thus poisoning OUR ENTIRE FUCKEN FOOD CHAIN.

    I just want my guilt free meat that asks me how I want it prepared and gives suggestions. Or meat pods that grow in the desert. skip to 6 minutes in for the relative bit.

    I will go a step further and say NOTHING IS UNNATURAL. A VCR is as natural as a beaver dam, wasp nest, or termite mound.

  34. I don’t know about drinking raw milk (unless I know the farmer on a first name basis), but cheeses made with raw milk are damn tasty.

    1. Funny you should mention that, because “knowing the farmer by first name” was the ORIGINAL cure for tuberculosis.

  35. It is a very annoying facet of current internet discourse that if you find a person or organization to be “wrong” on one subject, you automatically ignore everything they have to say on every subject. Weston Price foundation offers a “minority report” on many subjects connected to health and wellness. It is worth the time to look through their arguments and decide for YOURSELF whether you agree with each of them. I do not agree with much of their information on homeopathy and vaccinations, but they have some very worrisome information about soy. Additionally, it is worth looking at the body of work of Weston Price himself, who studied a number of groups of people around the world–their health in connection with their diet.

  36. the reason we’re so culnerable to this kind of questioning and debate in the US (& to a lesser extent canada) (cant speak for UK) is that we have no traditional indigenous food culture. when you grow up in france or italy you eat only traditional foods of your own culture, that have been worked out over MANY centuries and are served in a fashion that is balanced with regard to nutrition and aesthetics. this is why france, italy don’t have obesity OR fad diets. there’s simply no question of what to eat.

    and psyster, you had some good points, but you lost it at the end. i’d invite you to eat your vcr, see how healthy that goes down. the question of the semantics of natural is a distraction from the question of what is good for you.

    the problem with better living through chemistry is that you’re relying on scattershot, flashbulb glimpses of the affects of various chemicals on your body that can never take into account all the effects of the introduction of one process or chemical into your body/environment. (which are ultimately one and the same) older foods and the traditions they came up in have a much better track record of health and nutrition than any new processed foods. most food processes that come about nowadays are created either to fix a problem created by some other new-fangled process, fix a pseudo-problem based on naive and incorrect assumptions about food and nutrition, or simply to create a “value added” foodstuff that can be sold for a higher price and enrich the food corps. sometimes all three.

    example: corn fed beef. cows evolved to eat grass and walk around. immobilizing them in front of a giant pile of calories (feed corn) causes them to become excessively fatty. first the meat industry sold us this unhealthy side effect as a benefit “marbling”. then when people got scared of excess saturated fat, they created all kinds of processed low-fat meats, then when people got scared of that it became processed no-fat soy products, then those turn out to be terrible for the environment and possibly for health so they create…i don’t know, whatever’s next on the frozen aisle of whole foods. each time the cost goes up. each time some new health benefit or flavor enhancement is plastered in red lettering on the box. each iteration involves chemistry, sure, but is it bad for you or good for you? who knows? it’s to the point now that professionals who think about this stuff all day can’t really say for sure.

    saying “better living through chemistry” or “nothing is unnatural” is like saying “better living through catchphrases.”

    1. Ahhh… what is god for you.
      As you point out, eating a VCR is not good for you. But neither is eating arsenic good for you, but that is natural. Natural mushrooms can kill you. This is not about natural vs “artificial”. It’s about picking those things which are good for you whether or not they are occur with or without human intervention and avoiding the things which are bad for, again without really taking into account whether they are man made or not. Any “natural = good, artificial = bad” rule is bound to fail for the simple reason that it is wrong. Besides, the stuff you eat gets bathed in acid, mixed with interesting chemicals which break the chemicals in the food down.
      The artificial stuff we use is largely made using similar chemistry. Enzymes and other chems used to modify what we had. Nothing unnatural going on. Chemistry IS natural.

      And what is bad for you? Probably things which decrease your quality of life and/or the length of your life. So is genetically modified bad? Depends on who you are, and more importantly WHERE you are.
      In China they have managed to eradicate the regular famines which struck the country. They did this by designing and controlling the cultivation as well as using a genetically modified strain of rice.
      This rice may or may not be bad for you and I, it may or may not be bad for the environment. But for the quality and length of life of chinese people it seems quite good.

      In the end it seems like the old rule “everything is good in moderation” is probably still relevant. In the western world we need to cut down a bit on meat consumption (which I find rather hard..) and make sure we get a sensible balance of other foods. We also just need to eat less overall (most of us).

      Processed vs unprocessed.. learn to read the label. If it contains stuff you don’t want to eat, then buy another product. Even if it’s just your opinion that we shouldn’t eat that certain ingredient.
      We’re spoilt for choice. Processed foods aren’t automatically bad for you, they’re just a mixture of meats, grains, sugars and spices (mostly), but sometimes have less wonderful stuff thrown in (strong preservatives, colours, flavour enhancers, filler material).
      We have the choice. Let’s use it. And listen to your OWN body. My diet is not going to fit you perfectly.

    2. I dont think I will eat a beaver dam or termite mound anymore and I will eat a vcr, but I will eat yellow #5 today. (I think blue used to be made out of FLY EYES at one point)

      I m not for unfettered user of chemistry and science in any area. Lab tests, trials, research, simulations, etc… We need to know the facts before we say, ok, its safe, lets do it, and even after we do it we need to continue to monitor to make sure we didnt make mistakes. A better living thru chemistry can only happen when things are approached responsibly.

      The ability to change the characteristics of meat by breeding and feed is considered “natural”. The evolution of cows has been control by man since the stone age. Public tastes change and the industry tries to meet that change. Better examples would be pork and chicken. Fat became bad, and all those pigs that used to be raised for fat/calories started to go unsold. A few years later we have a leaner pig (that unfortunately tastes like chicken).

      Then there is the science of fortifying and enriching food to meet goals. adding iodine to salt, vitamins to milk, etc… These public health initiatives are important to stave off what an unbalanced diet can do to people. We are engineering rice with more vitamins that will survive in less hospitable climates.

      To an extent humanity has to be the guinea pig when it comes to everything they consume because there is only so much one can learn in the lab.

      Right now we have the cheapest and most high calorie an nutritious food available in all of history. If everything was switched to ‘natural’/’organic’ we wouldnt be able to feed ourselves. food would rot before people could consume it. unbalanced diets would cause epidemics. insects and blight would ravage crops. lives stocks would get sick, diseased, and die.

      Our life expectancy is far greater than our for fathers. Better medical care is one reason, but the abundance of unrotten, disease free, high calorie nutritious food is another.

  37. After reading through these comments I thought I’d make an additional brief statement. When I saw Cory’s post, I got it from his tweet, which said that WAPF was a “Big Meat” lobbying group. Obviously that’s false, but in any case, it IS a group with a very specific view on nutrition. I don’t agree with all of their positions, and their reliance on scientific studies seems a bit selective and self-serving. IE, they only pay attention to the studies that support their view and ignore ones that might challenge it. No different from other such organizations with specific agendas, but still not one to trust for an unbiased report. I agree with many of the stances of this organization, but I don’t rely on them as a source for unbiased information.

    I did not realize that Cory had posted something earlier and then this was a “correction” so to speak. I think this teaches us all to look at who funds (or is otherwise connected to) studies no matter what they say, because data can often be massaged to say things that you wouldn’t get if you actually looked at it in an unbiased way. Again, Good Calories Bad Calories has a wealth of examples of this, but also lots of references to people and articles that detailed how these biases can corrupt science.

    1. Yet nobody has demonstrated that this report is, in fact, connected to the WAPF – so I’m not sure we’ve learned any lessons yet.

  38. The reason it is questionable coming from them is that they focus only on vegetarian products when nearly all prepackaged foods contain this and other neurotoxins. They are just trying to scare people away from vegetarian burgers. A better study would tell us a wide variety of popular foods with neurotoxins but the list would be be extensive and most people would never publish it because it would anger their sponsors.

  39. sigh……

    As I’ve said here once or twice in the past –

    Despite the best efforts of the anxiety industry and the 24/7/365 news media, the human mortality rate remains stubbornly fixed at one hundred percent.

    1. Not at all. An estimated 110 billion people have died, and around 6.8 billion never have, so the mortality rate is actually somewhere around 94%.

  40. Fact of life is that everyone must eat something that was once alive.

    Plants and trees don’t walk around and look cute nor do they give any indications of pain, as we know it, when we rip into their reproductive organs, eat their young, and leave them alive so we can do it all over again later. That being said however does not make them any less alive. They live, they grow, they die just like any other living thing.

    If you just don’t like meat that’s cool. Don’t like veggies that’s cool too. Go with what works for you but understand that with the exception of water everything you digest was once a living breathing entity. It’s just the way life is. Of course I suppose you could eat dirt and rocks but not sure you’d live long on that sort of diet.

    Personally, I believe that anything, done to excess, will cause you health problems and this includes foods. The answer therefore lie in variety. Perhaps this is where many of the health issues come from, restrictive diets that include the same things day after day, year after year. Just some “food for thought” for you…….

  41. I’m thinking of starting a new diet where I don’t eat anything with more than four ingredients, unless I mix those ingredients myself. I’ll write a book about it later and get rich. It’ll be awesome.

    1. sounds like a marketable idea.
      Well enough done and marketed and you could probably sell it.


    2. four ingredients is unnatural. my new two ingredient diet is going to totally destroy this snake oil crap you’re selling to a credulous and idiotic public.

      1. four ingredients is unnatural. my new two ingredient diet is going to totally destroy this snake oil crap you’re selling to a credulous and idiotic public.

        I’ve got you all beat. I’m working on my new one-ingredient diet, and it’s working out really well. Of course, you have to vary that one ingredient quite a bit or things get boring, so I think they’ll be a couple of books coming out on it.

        Today’s 1-ingredient lunch: Swedish Fish

  42. Most of those “extreme” diets have serious side effects. Atkins has little things like renal failur, liver problems, low amounts of minerals (nerve and bone problems, for instance, due to calcium deficiency).

    Veggie diets just don’t contain all chemicals we need. Without supplements a vegan is likely to have permanent nerve and brain damage within 5 years and pregnant women should NOT adhere to a vegan diet as it is very likely to cause low birth weight and problems with nerve and brain development.

    Less extreme vegetarianism does not necessarily have these problems, but I’m taking the extremes as examples.
    People who eat balanced diets should not have the problems above. Simple.
    Observing the body, its requirements and its response to not getting what it needs shows us what we basically need. That seems to be a little of each. Some meat (we don’t need much), some veggies (many need to be cooked for us to actually get any nutrition), some fruit.
    Grains, fat and sugars are good as energy, and in the right doses for your lifestyle they will all do you good.

    1. Another example of poor researching ability and letting old myths control your thinking. Zero proof of any of these much repeated issues with the Atkins diet. Where are the studies? There aren’t, just theories which have never been shown to be real.

      “Grains, fat and sugars are good as energy, and in the right doses for your lifestyle they will all do you good.”

      You don’t need grains or sugars to live. Our paleo ancestors didn’t.

      The whole idea of what is an “extreme” diet is very relative. Is it “extreme” because most people don’t do it? If that’s the case, relative to 100 years ago, most of us would be considered to be doing an extreme diet – extreme in the amount of processed foods that is.

      We’re going to continue to have these fights forever it seems, but for me the most convincing argument is that we evolved on a certain diet and way of eating and often eating that way has shown to be beneficial. That includes not just eating in a paleo way (ie no grains, no dairy, no processed foods), but also in terms of eating for periods and then fasting for longer periods then we are currently used to – say 20-36 hours. Even CR, which decreases the overall amount we eat and emulates what may have been a scarcity of food for large portions of the year for many populations.

      Are these “extreme”? Maybe, depending on your definition, but that doesn’t make them bad, unhealthy, etc. We malign “freaks” who eat differently from us because food is a very intimate subject for many. We judge people based on their choices with food just as much as with politics.

      1. You’re right about the grains. they’re just an easy source of energy, and won’t do you serious harm if eaten in any moderate amounts. Grain has been with us for a while, but not all that long.

        As foor poor research.. here ya go, sonny.
        Link to a case study, I can give more if you want. You need access to ScienceDirect to get the full text. Tsuh-Yih Chen, et al., 2006

        Here is some criticism of that case study above:
        Atkins actually does not have any good research FOR it either.
        “Fifth, a systematic review of the safety of Atkins-related diets concluded that there is not enough evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low- carbohydrate, high-fat diets. This conclusion was later confirmed by a Rapid Review in The Lancet.4”
        A.H. Manninen, 2006

        Atkins has repeatedly shown to be very dangerous to those with ANY kidney or liver problems, although the danger to fully healthy individuals has not been shown to any significant effect. Of course, a confounding factor is that many who start on Atkins are severely overweight which predisposes them to a wide range of problems.

        I’m familiar with how to do research, and have looked into Atkins a bit (family members wanted to try it, asked me to look into it as I have a little more training in reading these kinds of science papers) and I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone I care about as all evidence supporting it is anecdotal and has been since the movement started.

  43. Lard IS good, for eczema – applied as a grease on the skin.

    But the basis of the story is true, hydrocarbons are used to extract proteins out of vegetable matter and most of the hydrocarbons are extracted and re-used again. However I remain unconvinced this process is energetically better then just eating meat for protein, the whole point about meat is to use an animal to extract resources from the environment that is inaccessible to use for our benefit. Primarily in the grasslands and prairie; grass (made into beef, mutton and especially milk) and in the forest; acorns, tubers and other undigestibles (and made into pork), and in the deserts scrub (into again mutton and goat meat).

    In the grand scheme of things the easiest means of nutrition is to harness the abilities of ungulates who benefit from grass’s ability to efficiently use sunlight, what could be more green?

    – Ethel

  44. In light of some of Raj Patel’s work about the real costs of things, at what point do extraneous chemicals and processes do more to feed the machine than to feed the demander?
    I don’t believe that the nuclear farms and monsanto deserve the credit for our life expectancy. That is just a bit pre-mature as we’ll be seeing more of their effects. The organic debate isn’t primarily about health, it’s also about taking efforts away from feeding the processes and suppliers, and to feed all of us something we should trust rather than insatiable cravings for things that prohibit us from craving anything else.

  45. I second the suggestion to check out, a great source of information on diet and health from a somewhat-biased but scientifically sound source – i.e. he is good at reviewing the quality of the science, and takes his own biases into account

    Also, as many articles have mentioned recently, “mainstream” scientists have begun to admit that saturated fat has NO link to heart disease, as Taubes argues so convincingly in good calories bad calories. Links:

    I agree that the Weston Price Foundation has some flaky-sounding ideas, but there is lots of science supporting the issues with carbohydrate-heavy and seed-oil-heavy diets.
    See this link for a good overview of the theory behind “paleolithic” diets:

  46. I just love food themed threads on BB. They get everyone so worked up! It can make for entertaining reading because everyone has an opinion. What isn’t entertaining is demands from strangers that I must eat this or that. No I really don’t. I don’t demand that you stop eating meat, so why must some people commenting demand that I start?

  47. Weston A Price was simply a dentist who researched ancient diets from around the world.

    The well-respected Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley uses many of WAP’s findings – with delicious results.

    My favorite cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, has many references to WAP. My family eats the following daily due to WAP and our health has improved:

    organically raised produce
    slow food
    rich bone broths
    soaked grains
    grass-fed butter
    cod liver oil
    coconut oil
    sourdough bread
    avoid MSG
    avoid nitrates, nitrites
    avoid processed foods
    avoid trans fats

  48. A broken clock is right twice a day. People who have strong beliefs about diets are often partly right simply by luck.

  49. “Veggie diets just don’t contain all chemicals we need. Without supplements a vegan is likely to have permanent nerve and brain damage within 5 years and pregnant women should NOT adhere to a vegan diet as it is very likely to cause low birth weight and problems with nerve and brain development.”

    Not according to the American Dietetic Association:

    So vegetarians and vegans have to do some planning to have the healthiest diet possible. Omnivores should be doing the same thing. Many just think they don’t need to.

    1. Just because the ADA endorses something doesn’t make it sacrosanct. The ADA has a large list of corporate food-industry donors and so is theoretically influenced in one way or another. Just saying…

    2. No vegan diet can give vitamin B12 (and very limited amounts of quite a few other important chemicals for your nervous system.
      These can ALL be gotten through eating supplements. That is, IF we actually KNOW all the necessary chemicals (which we don’t, the list of necessary chemicals has changed due to research and will likely continue to change for a while)

      Adding to that, are you willing to take that chance, or advocate taking that chance? We ARE after all omnivores with specialized mechanisms for digesting multiple types of food, and completely lacking in the necessary mechanisms for extracting nutrition from most dark green veggies (without first cooking them in some way).

      dvdmon #81 also has a point.

      Making nutrition into a religious war is not beneficial to anyone. I can fully understand MANY objections to meat, especially in regards to modern farming techniques. Moral principles, not liking meat and so on. But in the end I feel (see, my opinion..) this should be about health and practicality. Practicality includes looking towards the ecological impact as well as simple nutritional thinking.

      It IS possible to live healthily as a vegan, but it requires careful thought and planning, much more so than for most other diets. It also requires supplements, most notably B12 (which can now be synthesized using bacteria for manufacture) or serious consequences will ensue.

      My personal choice includes eating LESS meat than I used to for moral and practical reasons, trying to choose foods from responsible firms/areas and eating a bit of everything (fruit, corn, veggies, meat, dairy) for balance.

      Just trying not to go to extremes, it’s so easy to accidentally go there when you start thinking about these things, and non-extremely trying to advocate using your head, not some silly rules cooked up by someone with an agenda (or a book to sell you)

  50. Uh, not that I consider Boing Boing a source for ‘hard news’ or anything (no offense) it would be nice to actually see some facts around the connection you’ve unearthed between Weston Price and the Cornucopia Institute, as many other commentators have also requested. I can’t find much of a link other than they partnered together on a few white-papers and studies most of which actually seem rather positive and sensible.

  51. Uh, not that I consider Boing Boing a source for ‘hard news’ or anything (no offense) it would be nice to actually see some facts around the connection you’ve unearthed between Weston Price and the Cornucopia Institute, as many other commentators have also requested. I can’t find much of a link other than they partnered together on a few white-papers and studies most of which actually seem rather positive and sensible.

  52. Cory, you post is being used to discredit this important research. Cornucopia is not affiliated with Weston Price organization that I have been able to find. You really need to consider how Xeni and you have come to the conclusion that this report produced by Cornucopia has been linked to Weston Price.

  53. Kiera Butler from Mother Jones here. Cory, I’m not sure where you heard about this, but actually, the Weston A. Price Foundation did NOT fund the study at all. Rather, it was conducted by the Cornucopia Institute, a farm and food policy group that is neither “pro-meat” nor “anti-vegetarian.” From Cornucopia’s FAQ page:

    “The Cornucopia Institute is “neutral” in terms of people’s dietary choices. We have members who are omnivores, vegetarians who consume dairy and eggs, vegans and folks with a 100% raw diet. And we have farmers who are vegans themselves, and produce only food that conforms to their belief systems, and we have farmers that are involved in livestock production.
    Since we have been on the forefront of defending raw food, and keeping it free from adulteration like irradiation and “pasteurization,” as our continual fight in court to overturn the almond pasteurization mandate represents, we are an important champion for people who want truly raw food in their diets.
    Other vegetarians appreciate the work we have done rating all the organic soy products in the country so they can buy their favorite foods, in confidence, knowing which ones come from American family farmers in which ones are made from questionable soybeans and other ingredients imported from China.
    We think everyone should have the choice to eat a diet that they have chosen. We think people should have access to the healthiest and most nutritious food and that the family farmers who produce it deserved to be fairly compensated. Corporate agribusiness partnering with government is endangering everyone’s ability to purchase truly authentic and nutrients superior food in the marketplace.”

    You can read more about the Cornucopia Institute at

  54. Just spoke to the executive director of the Cornucopia Institute on the phone – there does not seem to be anything particularly anti-vegan or vegetarian about them or the study, which I continue to ahem, digest. There is nothing ‘scaring me off of soy” about it. Certain brands seem to be manipulating the organic buzzwords.

    “The vast majority of organic food manufacturers believe deeply in the principles that are foundational to the organic movement—ecological sustainability, fair prices for farmers, and so on—and their products reflect this commitment.

    But the system is not perfect. Given our willingness to pay more for organic foods, companies sometimes enter the organic sector motivated by profit and choose their own bottom line over a commitment to organic principles. Some companies go to China for cheaper organic ingredients instead of supporting North American family farmers.

    This report, and its accompanying scorecard, focuses on soy foods and provides wholesale buyers and consumers with a resource to help make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace. ”

  55. For the record: I’m dubious about this objection, since in the absence of a study to the contrary, I think it makes sense to assume that the substances you put into food during production are still present at consumption.

    Okay. Then let’s say I’m dubious about your objection, since in the absence of a study to the contrary, I think it makes sense to assume that “volatile” substances are in fact volatile and behave accordingly.

    Which one of us is being, ahem, “scientific?” Neither–we’re just lurching to the idea that we’d prefer to be true for various other reasons, and justifying it with some hand-waving about premises and assumptions.

    There’s plenty of reason to dismiss my assertion/prayer that hexane is no big deal out of hand, because I eat two highly processed veggie burgers a day (true story). And I share the dim view of cigarette-company-funded studies about the positive effects of Marlboros. But there are also “interests” at work elsewhere. BB makes more money, via page views and hence ad rates, from controversial, editorializing posts (and the attendant follow-ups they might require) than it does from neutral posts. Mother Jones does nothing to assure its readers of its value by printing the story, “Those Veggie Burgers You Like Are Reasonably Good For You, Just Like You Thought.” And so forth.

    To amplify what someone said above–I am neutral, skeptical and objective; you are biased and gullible; they are scammers and shills. BB is a lot more readable when it’s telling us about “wonderful things” than when it’s telling us what the right-thinking must think about them.

  56. You might want to worry about the dichloromethane used in making decaf coffee/tea as well.

    It IS possible to completely remove chemicals used the making of a product (just look at dehydrated food). Hexane is incredibly volatile (as is dichloromethane) a glass full sitting on your table would be gone before you knew it (though the fumes would water your eyes).

    If you’re worried about this, you’d be stunned to know about all the other really toxic chemicals used in food production which don’t end up in the end product.

    A little science knowledge goes a long way, esp when reporting on matters of science. A journalist who doesn’t know enough about science to apply a critical eye has no business reporting about science.

  57. What is it, chemically, that’s keeping the hexane in the food? Van Der Waals forces; the stuff is pretty inert otherwise? Hexane is super-volatile — I always had trouble doing certain tests on it back in O-Chem because it kept evaporating on me. Same goes for pentane, heptane, octane, etc.

    Hexane is one of several alkanes found in gasoline that you use to fuel your car — if this story REALLY scares you all that much, then bring an oxygen mask with you when you fill up your car; you’ll probably inhale far more during one filling than you would by eating soy burgers every day for a year.

    And anyways — unless you’re huffing the stuff, your body will more than likely just put it on the urinary express; it’s not like it’s going to take up residency in your brain or anything.

    Oh.. I just read Brillow’s comment (immediately before mine). :)

    btw — good reading for people interested in this topic — “Why is there anti-freeze in my toothpaste”? The book explores all of those weird food additives that are used in consumer products (including foods and consumables), why they’re used, and whether or not you should worry.

  58. I’m sad to see how you have charecterized the Weston A Price Foundation, “agriculture think-tank/lobbying group called the Weston A Price Foundation.”
    The Weston A Price Foundation is WONDERFUL! They support only organic, humane, and sustainable approaches to agriculture. They are hardly Big Agriculture!

    They support the consumption of nutrient dense food. Check out their very interesting research on the benefits of eating unadulterated animal products. They encourage people to make their own food and avoid packaged food – a DIY approach to nutrition. I encourage everybody to check them out. Go see their website:

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