This is why it’s a bad idea to let lawmakers decide science

March 10th, 2016

  See this article. It’s about how in opposition to the findings of the FDA, state legislators in West Virginia recently celebrated a victory. They decided to legalize the consumption of raw milk in their state and celebrated by toasting each other with the stuff. Well, guess what happened? They all got sick and the health department is investigating. Now, before everybody gets all dogmatic and ranty, you should know that I have changed my opinion several times on the subject of raw milk cheeses vs. pasteurized or thermalized products. At the end of the day, it’s about personal choice and good information to me. You get to decide all by yourself whether or not you find the risk of consuming these products is acceptable or not. While it is certainly much riskier to consume these products, I think people should be able to find out what the realistic risks and possible benefits are. I promise to go into this more deeply in the future.
For the time being, let me be clear about what I have learned about this subject. 

1) It is certainly riskier to drink raw milk than pasteurized. Read what PubMed has to say about that here. There is much, much more scientific data about this. We’ll get to that later when I feel more confrontational. It won’t be long, my buddy calls me “Mr. Confrontation.”

2) Raw milk is not healthier than pasteurized milk in any way. Let me repeat that for the hordes of people that have heard the opposite: Raw milk is not healthier than pasteurized milk in any way!!! The loss of vitamins to heat is minuscule, the enzymes in the raw milk are not active as enzymes in a human body, and your body does not benefit from the bacteria present in raw milk.

A good primer on the subject can be found at the website of the Center for Disease Control here.

I will grant one point, which is an important one. I do think that cheese made from raw milk general tastes slightly more interesting to me. It is because of this that I think the consumer should be armed with all the information and be given the opportunity to make their own decision. After all, as risky as it may be to drink raw milk, it is far riskier to get in your car and go to work. The difference is that there aren’t any large groups of people telling you that getting in your car makes you healthy and doesn’t pose any risk at all. And remember, I still would far prefer to eat cheese made with high quality, gently pasteurized milk by an expert hand, than to eat a raw milk cheese made with low quality milk, out of season, from a sick animal, made by a beginner. It will taste better and be safer. At the end of my day, I personally don’t care very much what the Cheesemaker did to my milk, I care if I think it tastes good. And yes, I feel a bit safer eating the pasteurized stuff but as long as I know the farmers are keeping a sanitary environment and I think they’re responsible, I have no problem eating mountains of raw milk cheese.

I promise, I will go into this in painful detail later, I just really wanted to point out how it would be nice to have actual experts make health decisions for us or at least be invited to the table.
Again, thanks to the great Steven Novella at Neurologica for getting this conversation started.


Genetically Modified Organisms?!?!?!?! HIDE UNDER THE BED!!!!!

March 9th, 2016

I planned on writing a bit on this lately controversial topic. See this: Action On A National GMO Labeling Measure Heats Up On Capitol Hill.

It’s a sensitive and frustrating topic because people seem to have strongly held beliefs on both sides. One side is defensive about corporate greed, evil scientists, evil government, and extreme caution of anything perceives to be “unnatural.” The other side sees this technology as a marvel of human progress that can potentially save the world and safely feed billions.

The longer answer for me personally is that all GMO technology is different, and if you want to claim that one specific example is safe, unsafe, environmentally friendly, or not, you really need to address which specific GMO you are talking about. Then you need to convince me with some objective, hard data to defend your side of the issue. The shorter answer for me, personally, is that I generally tend to think that advancements in science are in large part responsible for giving us all the modern, comfortable lifestyles that most of us enjoy. This includes safer food, clean drinking water, smartphones, tablets, cars, vaccines,…

However, my mind is continually open (just not so open that my brains will fall out). If someone is claiming that a particular GMO is bad for whatever reason, convince me with the data and I will gleefully change my mind. I first would caution you that this may be an uphill battle for a couple of reasons: First, before you start screaming about how the evil scientists are trying to murder us or gain control of our brains, maybe you should exclude the good scientists at Oxitec, who managed to genetically modify male mosquitoes to mate with females and kill the babies, thereby potentially eliminating the Zika virus wherever they are released. I’m sure there are quite a few pregnant Brazilian women who are happy to lessen the chance of having babies born with shrunken heads. Thank you, GMO scientists.

Thanks, Norman Borlaug!

Oh yeah, you also may want to thank Norman Borlaug, who genetically altered wheat to give it higher yields, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been credited with saving roughly one billion people from starvation.

Second, the term GMO is very loosely defined. Where do you draw the line? Just so you know, just about everything we eat has been genetically modified at some point in its history; that’s how life works! Show me wild corn, it’s not a thing. Ever try eating a wild banana? They’re just about inedible. Cross-breeding, cross-pollinization, grafting, hybridizing, and more have been practiced by farmers since farming became a thing. You think cows that produce extra milk that their calves could never consume happened naturally? We humans have been running this show for quite some time now.

That apple just had a nose job. Can’t tell, can you?

Today’s scientists simply have better tools at their disposal to experiment more quickly and efficiently on the genetic level.

There I go ranting on again. Just remember, I am open to the possibility of any product, GMO or not, to be unhealthy or risky in some way. Just show me the mechanism and let me see the data. There are certainly many foods that can hurt me and I don’t want to eat them. GMO foods are certainly no exception, but I have to take each one on a case-by-case basis. These two statements are equally silly to me:

• “I got sick eating a mushroom that I picked, therefore all mushrooms are bad and can kill you.”

and

• “GMO tomatoes have been proven to increase your risk of heart disease (not true) by 10%, therefore, all GMO foods are bad.”

Although I did get violently sick from drinking too much rum in 1982 and I haven’t had one sip of rum since.

Anyway, if this topic at all interests you, please read Neurolgica’s blog post on the subject. It’s quite good, easy to read, and eye opening. He’s much smarter than I am.


Congratulations!!!

March 4th, 2016

One of our best and most loyal customers won an Oscar on Sunday night! cheese-+-oscarI think it’s probably best to ask him or her for permission to give their name out but I am so happy and proud of him or her. To be honest, I am not a big fan of the Oscars but if someone I know pretty well gets nominated, I’ll suck it up and watch. Besides, it was a nice diversion for my family just one week after the biggest tragedy of our lives. Fortunately, the award was given extremely early on and I was spared from sitting through countless minutes of nonsense. It’s funny, I have been known to jump through extraordinary hoops to avoid witnessing this festival of self-congratulating rich people, but if somebody I know gets nominated, I’m like a high school girl at a Back Street Boys concert! Did I just reveal my age?! I’m pretty sure I’m down with all the homies and whatnot. I can feel my niece rolling her eyes at me right now. Anyway, I’m back to work after being gone for about six weeks to be with my family. It’s nice to have a routine to come back to and the Oscars provided some much needed distraction and excitement while my family and I try to move forward after the loss of my beautiful mother. She was always so eager to hear about all the celebrities that visit the shop. She even had a list going to brag to her friends. She knew about the nomination. She would have been so pleased to see the selfie I will inevitably take with me and the Oscar winner next time he or she comes into the shop! I guess I’ll have to send it to my sister instead. She will love it.


Pining for a Rungis Valentine

February 10th, 2016


 

Ahh, Rungis. No thank you, I don’t need a tissue. Most of us, even the French, even Parisians, have never even heard of the largest and greatest food market in the world. The stories are almost legendary. It is the size of a small town, located near Orly airport in a southern suburb of Paris. This gastronome’s fantasyland covers 573 acres, employs 13,000 people daily, has its own train station, freeway exit, and is not open to the general public.

The Marché International de Rungis (Rungis International Market) is open to professionals only. They hold the seemingly bizarre hours of 1:00 am – 11:00 am. The freshest seafood always disappears by 6:00 am or so. The market is constantly patrolled by security and omnipresent food inspectors, including veterinary, bacteriological, and provenance. It’s so huge that you have to drive between sections. The bulk of this gargantuan display of food winds up in the specialty shops, supermarkets, and restaurants in Paris and the surrounding areas.

Rungis is not for the squeamish. There are aisles full of hanging animal carcasses including pigs, cows, calves, lamb, rabbits, and more exotic game. That’s just the Boucher (butcher). There is a whole other section for the cured styles of meats (charcuterie), and yet still another section called volailler (poulterer) where you will find all manner of very recently deceased birds. Needless to say, they keep Rungis quite chilly and you would be wise to wear a winter coat inside. Have I mentioned the fish section? 200 lbs. of halibut, anyone?

There are also separate buildings for more humane fare. Flowers, dairy (mountains of cheese!), fruit, and veggies.

This brings me to my point. In France and most of Western Europe, people generally shop at specialty shops. They like to seek the advice of experts, and are generally better educated about their food products and where they come from. Part of what makes America great and successful is our work ethic and competition derived from our capitalistic economy. The other side of that coin is that we are always in such a hurry. We can’t even imagine doing our food shopping at seven different stores, much less two or three. We like to make as few stops as possible, and load up with enough ground beef to last a family of four for a month. Europeans are much more likely to walk into the butcher shop, tell him or her what they want the ground beef for, choose the exact type or mix of meats for the meal they have planned, listen to suggestions of what looks good right now or what may go well with it, and possibly watch the butcher grind it right there in front of them. Then they go to the Boulangerie for the bread, the florist, the farmer’s market, the cheese shop, the wine shop, and the patisserie for dessert. The service at all these places will be similar, probably curt but professional and helpful, and the selections will be perfect.

So, you can certainly save some time and money with one-stop shopping. I do it myself more often than I’d like to admit. But maybe one day soon, maybe for Valentine’s Day, try a little Euro on for size. Go to a bakery and find some fresh bread, visit the farmer’s market for your fruit and veggies, stop by a specialty seafood store or a butcher, get some flowers for the table from an actual florist, swing on by a cheese shop, grab a nice bottle of wine out of that little fridge that you bought when you thought you were going to start buying Bordeaux futures, and walk into that pastry shop that you have been drooling over. Maybe do the shopping together and prepare the food together as well. It’ll be cheaper and better than buying that overpriced prix-fixe at that famous restaurant anyway. By the way, send me a note if you find a volailler in Los Angeles!


Cheese Power!!!

February 8th, 2016

ACBlogA unique solution to assist with global warming. We all know that cows release methane which is a huge greenhouse gas, this dairy uses the cow’s waste to produce clean (although smelly) energy and voila, net zero carbon footprint!


Us Men are Hilarious

February 1st, 2016

ACBlogWe had a private Grilled Cheese and Beer Night again last night at the shop. That makes five events this week! The event went extremely well. As far as I can tell, they all left very impressed with our signature event. They were all fathers of children in a local nursery school. I think it is called “Crestwood” and it sounds like it’s in Brentwood. We do quite a lot of these fundraisers. I believe it’s called a “party book.” The participants contribute a fixed amount to pay for their tickets, they pay our fees from those proceeds, and the school gets the rest. It works out great for everybody. We get paid our regular fees, they get a great event, the school benefits, and most importantly for us, we get to introduce new customers to the shop and forge new relationships.

Usually these events are for both parents but sometimes, like last night, it was fathers only. We’ve had women only nights before but this one was just for the dads. It was a small group of 12 (we can accommodate up to 26), and it seemed to me that this was the first time that most of them had met.

The social behavior was fascinating to me. It worked out that the first six men were there for several minutes before the next guests showed up. I took one look at the seating arrangement, leaned over to Jackie (she was working the event with me), and said “look how they’re sitting.” She asked what I was talking about. I said “not one of them is sitting next to anybody else.” They had naturally occupied every other seat. In fact, even though there was plenty of room between seats, the guys at the end actually slid their chairs around slightly to the corners of the table to get as far away from the others as possible!

I wondered if I do this too. I’m pretty sure the answer is “yes!” The first thing I thought of was public restrooms. If I’m in an airport or a movie theatre, somewhere where there are a big row of urinals, I would never take one directly next to another occupied stall unless I had no other choice. Why do we do this? It strikes me as very antisocial. Maybe it has something to do with machismo. Men like to be perceived as strong and independent. Maybe that explains it. Maybe most of us are secretly terrified that someone might think we’re gay. I don’t know if this behavior is a bad thing or a good thing, but it’s certainly interesting and pretty amusing. It might not even be specific to men but it seems to me that we’re more often guilty of this behavior than women seem to be.

I also have noticed that when people are forced to go outside their comfort zones and have no choice but to sit directly next to a stranger, they quite often wind up exchanging contact information by the end of the event. Not much makes me much” happier than to see relationships get forged at one of our public events. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they met their partner, husband, wife, best friend, or new business relationship at one of our events.

The lesson for me is to not be so afraid to meet knew people. We are all interesting in our own way and have unique stories to tell. As a recovering curmudgeon, I will force myself to sit next to strangers more often. I’ll probably get more dirty looks, but also meet some interesting new friends. Maybe not so much in public restrooms though, I’m talking to you, Larry Craig.


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