In July 2002, The New York Times Magazine published Gary Taubes' article "What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?," which made the case for carbs, not dietary fat, as the cause of heart disease and obesity. Taubes was swiftly excoriated by the health and nutrition industry and made fun of by other food reporers. Nearly 15 years later, Taubes is no longer a heretic, and the idea that many kinds of fat are healthy is promoted by the orthodoxy, who act as if they knew it all along.
In his piece for The Vindicated, Taubes writes about how the press and the health and nutrition industries came over to his side without admitting they'd ever been wrong.
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Here are three issues I have with the concept of vindication, at least of the variety for which I am, regrettably, a candidate.
1. You have to establish the conditions for vindication to be necessary, which means you first have to be publicly shamed or ridiculed, an experience I personally could have lived without.
2. Vindication is not a binary phenomenon; it’s not a yes or no, black or white thing. The people who had publicly insisted you were an idiot are very likely to continue to do so, rather than admit or, perhaps more important, acknowledge to themselves that they might have been wrong. That’s human nature. The best you’ll ever get is some degree of vindication. Never the whole thing.
3. The orthodoxy can always protect itself by accepting your once-heretical ideas as valid, but conveniently forgetting or ignoring the heretic’s role — i.e., yours — in forcing the issue.
We know that people have gotten fatter over the course of the last 60 years. We don't yet know exactly why, writes David Berreby in a fascinating long read at Aeon Magazine. Yes, we know that diet and exercise have something to do with it — but they don't explain all the changes we've seen. Yes, you can find plenty of people who will proselytize to you about how they've found the One True Obesogen — but in order to do that they have to ignore contradictory studies and studies that suggest there's more than one thing going on.
Long story short, if we know anything about obesity its that it's complicated — and that's true for both the factors that create an obesity epidemic, and the factors that allow people to reliably and permanently lose weight. The problem, writes Berreby, is that legislation on the subject has been focused pretty much entirely on diet and exercise, alone. That suggests that laziness and gluttony are the primary reasons people get fat. But we don't know that that's true.
Berreby's piece is a really fun read, mainly because it can serve as an introduction to the plethora of far-reaching and often contradictory data on obesity. There are lots and lots and lots of different things that might be behind the obesity epidemic, from industrial chemicals, to sugary high-fat diets, to epigenetic factors that pass the environmental impacts of one generation on to their descendants. There are even social factors that influence how exposed you are to other risks and affect your ability to make the healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise. Read the rest