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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 10:40 am

The rest of the story 2010

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Readers recognized family members in old photos from Stevie’s Latin Village.

Last year, as always, after my columns were published, I found new information I wish I’d known about at the time, or updates worth sharing. Here’s my list for 2010:

Writing about Stevie’s Latin Village (“A restaurant to remember,” 4/8) brought back recollections for me and many readers as well – some of whose memories were better than mine! Stevie’s legendary bartender was Leonard Ganci, as both his daughter, Rosalie, and daughter-in-law, Nancy, e-mailed me, rather than Joe. (Perhaps, since my memories of Stevie’s are from my childhood, I can be forgiven that one!) Gerri Samson recognized her late mother, Dolores (Cooke) Duke in one of the pictures. (Look again, Gerri, and I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize your mom in another of the pictures.) And Mae McMillan, the waitress quoted in the article, contacted IT to say that she’s living in Jacksonville, and still active in Rt. 66 activities.

On Feb. 25, I asked, “Is soda a sin?” The overconsumption of sugar/acid-laden beverages and their health effects has raised suggestions that soda be taxed as a “sin” similar to alcohol and tobacco products. I received many positive reader responses.

The negative reactions consisted of someone who had no intention of changing his soda habit, and two identical e-mails from Audrae Erickson, one to my personal e-mail address, one in the IT online comments.

Erickson is president of the Corn Refiners Association, an advocacy organization that includes among its members Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. It’s headquartered at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., conveniently close to the White House.

Erickson’s e-mails, like advertising campaigns her organization funds, is bent on “educating” consumers that high fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners, and has played no part in the rise of obesity: “High fructose corn syrup, sugar, and several fruit juices are all nutritionally the same. High fructose corn syrup is simply a kind of corn sugar. It has the same number of calories as sugar and is handled the same by the body.”

To support her position she quotes experts such as the American Medical Association: “high fructose syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.” And the American Dietetic Association: “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

Erickson continued in her e-mails, “Singling out certain foods or beverages for government penalization, whether through nutrition or tax policies, will only serve to further confuse consumers and will not lead to meaningful results in assisting Americans to adopt healthier lifestyles.”

And finally: “Manufacturers of corn sweeteners do not receive government subsidies. Our industry buys corn on the open market at the prevailing market price.”

All true – at least I thought so at the time. Even so, Erickson was missing or obscuring the point. (Incidentally, industrial food producers frequently claim that consumers will be “confused” by labels or information about how their wares are produced or what they contain, which I find demeaning and insulting.) Yes, corn farmers are the ones who receive government subsidies, not corn refiners. Those subsidies ensure that farmers produce more and more corn, even when their costs of production are higher than the price they receive for it on the “open market.” That “open market” is dominated by a very few corporations – among them ADM and Cargill – that are so encompassing that they exercise considerable control over that “prevailing market price.”

I’d heard some anecdotal stories about the negative health implications of high fructose corn syrup, but nothing that qualified as hard facts when I wrote the article. But in August, a team from the University of Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center changed that. The Reuters Agency headlined: “Cancer Cells Slurp Up Fructose, US Study Finds.”

Head researcher Anthony Heaney and fellow researchers found that pancreatic cancer cells (one of cancer’s deadliest forms) use fructose to divide and proliferate, challenging commonly held wisdom that all sugars are equal. The team found that pancreatic tumor cells used glucose and fructose in different ways. “Tumor cells thrive on sugar but they used the fructose to proliferate. Importantly, fructose and glucose metabolism are quite different,” Heaney’s team wrote in the journal Cancer Research. “[These findings] may help explain other studies that have linked fructose intake with pancreatic cancer, [and] have major significance for cancer patients, given dietary refined fructose consumption, …. indicat[ing] that efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth.”

“I think this paper has a lot of public health implications. Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets,” Heaney stated.

In 2004 researchers reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that U.S. consumption of high fructose corn syrup went up 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, Erickson’s response will be.

A trip to Mississipi and Southwestern Louisana in October provided a firsthand update on the oil spill. [See “Gulf tragedy gets personal,” 7/15.] I heard a panel discussion on the effects of the oil spill on the fishing and culinary scene. Although no one precisely can predict the long-term effects, the panelists were cautiously optimistic for a revival of much of the fishing industry. The biggest problems seemed to be that the fishermen/shrimpers were being paid so much by BP for cleanup work, they’d be unwilling to go back to the hard labor of fishing, and public suspicion about the safety of Gulf seafood. Everyone agreed that the most endangered shellfish were oysters because of dispersants used to break up the oil, causing much of it to fall to the ocean floor instead of floating on top. Since oysters live on the ocean floor and that bottom oil is virtually impossible to remove, long-term contamination is likely. Indeed, oysters were the only seafood lacking at restaurants, though we were lucky to visit Duprey’s in Abbeville on the very first day oysters became available.

IT staff writer Patrick Yeagle participated in “An exercise in empathy” (9/16), eating on a budget of just $4.15 per day, simulating the amount that food stamp users receive. He says:

“The hunger challenge was both easy and hard: easy in that the actual cost restraints were absolutely feasible, and hard in that it took a lot of work to calculate and record what each morsel cost. I suspect it would have been much harder to do for a month because it was so easy to forget the challenge and go over budget if I wasn’t totally vigilant. While it wasn’t overly difficult for a week, I can realistically see myself falling behind on my budget after a couple of slip-ups over a longer time. In general, I followed the advice you and my sister gave me: eat in season, practice portion control, buy in bulk and cook your own food. As an added bonus, that approach also favors a healthy diet, encouraging the use of fresh fruits and vegetables, natural grains and a variety of different foods to round out nutritional needs.”

Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association board member and IT editor Fletcher Farrar reported on the EPNIA pie and cookie sales (“Baking pies to build a better neighborhood,” 11/4): “We raised about $3,000. At our December meeting we watched a slide show of all the year’s activities – it was exhausting just to watch all we’d done!” Exhausted they may be, but the EPNIA is also exhilarated about its future – their master plan awaiting city council approval, continuing to tear down slum houses, and restoring historic homes. Even for those of us who don’t live there, it’ll be fun to watch what happens.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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