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Letter to Organic Style magazine

aaDear Editor,

aaI am the author of two health books and run a consumer-information website ( covering health, environmental, and animals rights issues. I have no diets to sell; I advocate for people to understand the basic science of how the human body works so that they can sort trendy hype from sensible information.

aaIn Organic Style, I thought at last I’d found a magazine with integrity that covered healthy living from a perspective of genuine social and environmental concern. Then I opened my January/February 2004 issue and found the sales pitch by Maria Rodale promoting the South Beach diet. I am disgusted by this on several counts.

aaRodale’s column is full of misinformation, sloppy assumptions and groundless assertions--blithely offered as fact. She cites potatoes and rice as “bad carbohydrates” and “processed food,” and lists meats among “unprocessed foods.” Huh? These ideas have no basis (other than pop-diet books); they are merely the whimsical hearsay of the low-carb movement, which although undeniably popular is still little more than a cult.

aaLike most anti-carb proponents, Rodale dismally fails to distinguish between simple and complex carbohdyates, tossing out healthy complex grains with the simple-sugar bathwater. She lumps potatoes and rice in with sweets, and tars all bread with the same brush. And fruit--a crucial source of nutrients and natural disease-fighting phytochemicals--is cast as a fiend. She mixes just enough fact with fiction to sound halfway credible. (Of course excesses of white sugar/white flour and alcohol are unhealthy, sure vegetables are nourishing, and whole foods most nutritious.) The uneducated layperson may not be able to distinguish these few facts from the unsubstantiated bunk.

aaThis is no “lifestyle.” It is a restrictive regimen like any weight-loss diet. Slicing out bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and even a glass of wine or an organic Ginger-o is no life I would want--nor would anyone I know. Wiping out an entire macronutrient category is not sustainable, pleasurable, holistic, or healthy. It’s unreasonable, obsessive and misses the point. And it’s unnecessary.
aaCasually tagging an entire food group “bad carb” is not only irresponsible, but childish simplism (the tone is one step removed from “bread is naughty” and “rice is a no-no!” Broad, general “good/bad” labels are always a telltale hallmark of dieting mentality.
aaThe South Beach diet on the whole does not promote the consumption of fresh whole foods, as Rodale misleadingly enthuses with the zeal of the newly converted. Like its many carb-demonizing counterparts, this diet demands massive protein consumption, most of which is encouraged in the form of meat and other animal products (as Rodale cites, “meat, fish, fowl, eggs, cheese…”) . Aside from countless other faults that should discourage their consumption, these foods are anything but unprocessed. (Her grandfather “railed against processed foods?” What would he say about factory farms?)

aaOmissions in this piece are as glaring as the inconsistencies and errors. This unrestrained espousal of protein and fat excludes dozens of compelling facts about human and environmental health. I’m disappointed that a magazine with your charter allows such dietmongering without at least a counterpoint citing the well-substantiated damages.

aaIf you must condemn a food group, why attack the one with so little legitimate evidence against it--and then campaign for the one with all the health and environmental minuses? Why spare the “meat/dairy category” any confrontation, when it is indisputably destroying public health and the planet at equally staggering rates? To denounce grains and extol the virtues of meat must be either politically-driven hypocrisy or plain stupidity.

aaNowhere is it noted that the main reason these diets ever “succeed”--temporarily--is because they are low-calorie, regardless of food source, and particularly deprive the body of the fuel it most needs to run (carbohydrate). Starving the body of what it needs IS by definition a “weight loss diet.” The long-term health effects are disregarded. Rodale fails to discuss how depriving the body of essental carbohydrate causes muscle loss, slowed metabolism, and in severe cases a ketogenic state that can stress or even damage kidneys. She misses the concept of true fat loss vs. indiscriminate “weight” loss, harping on “pounds” as if that tells us anything. (Woo hoo--she’s lost ten pounds! Of what?) Body weight never was relevant to health or fitness, yet Organic Style helps to encourage this fallacious obsession.

aaYou allow lavish support for a meat-centric diet--but neglect to note the 1.5 million deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke every year, in which animal fats and meat play an *overwhelmingly* established role. Mainsteam and alternative health authorities agree on this, supported by thousands of reputable studies. A diet comprised almost entirely of meat and dairy products represents job security for cardiologists and oncologists.

aaBeef, poultry, pork, dairy and even fish are all strongly implicated in America’s top three killers (and other diseases). This is attributable to the excesses of saturated fat, chemicals, hormones, pollution, infection, and drugs involved. Foodborne illnesses, the vast majority meat-related, also sicken 38.6 million Americans annually (and kill 2,700). Diets high in animal protein have been firmly linked to osteoporosis and diabetes as well. A diet emphasizing flesh and dairy foods is nearly devoid of fiber and many nutrients.

aaHere is another giant omission: ALL animal food production is rapaciously destructive to our planet. Where is your purported environmental sensibility? This selfish, short-sighted infomercial ignores the fact that animal food production is an environmental disaster with wide-ranging and catastrophic consequences.

aaApparently, fast weight loss means more to you than the 190 trillion quarts of methane gas released annually by the world’s 1.3 billion head of cattle. (This is the second-most significant contributor to the greenhouse effect, after carbon dioxide.) Fast weight loss must be more pertinent than the 87,000 pounds of excrement per second produced by livestock raised for food in the U.S. (This pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.) Does it befit your name to ignore that more than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the U.S. are used in animal food production? Or that making a pound of meat demands 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water (compared to the 25 pounds of water used to grow a pound of wheat or potatoes)? Half the rainforests in the world have been destroyed in the service of hamburger. I could go on for pages--there are entire books filled with statistics such as these.

aaIf Organic Style is supposed to favor issues of social justice, how can you forget that every pound of beef we consume diverts 16 pounds of grain to cattle feed--an insult to a world plagued by hunger and malnutrition? And millions of miserable animals die every day for food production, after enduring outrageous, indescribable cruelties. This merciless carnage doesn’t seem to suit your title either. The “style” must count for more than the “organic.”

Animal food consumption is a health nightmare, an environmental travesty, and barbarically inhumane. Yet you advocate it in your pages because it *supposedly* helps people lose a few “pounds”--as if there aren't proven ways that are better for everything and everyone! But hey, anything for a buck and to lose a few pounds fast, right? Money and weight loss may be the two greatest American dreams. Here you serve both masters.

aaRodale’s sunny weight-loss ad disregards ALL of the above-described issues, which I can assure you are extremely germane to the eco-conscious reader you supposedly target, who expect better from a magazine founded on the concept of living green.
Publishing high-protein diet baloney renders your other efforts into token lip service. I found it amusing that one of your feature stories in the same issue focused on four different food pyramids. The article itself is inconsistent--one pyramid says “don’t shun meat” while another says “avoid saturated fat”--but none fit with Rodale’s new anti-carb religion. Instead of evoking integrity, you appear schizophrenic.

aaI also notice that on page 97 is an actual advertisement for the book--published by Rodale Press, as her column acknowledges. Like Atkins and other high-protein diets that have been muscle-wasting (if not killing) people since the 1970s, the book’s cover unapologetically brandishes “fast weight loss” as its purpose. The ad promises loss of 13 pounds in two weeks--without health risk. It promises to target belly fat first. It promises you won’t have to give up your favorites.

aaWell, basic biology and common sense tell us you can’t lose 13 pounds healthily in only two weeks. You can’t lose fat that fast, just muscle and water. It’s not possible for a diet to “target” tummy fat or any body part. No one in their right mind who knows a thing about human physiology or health would endorse this drivel--or does. A diet comprised of mostly fat and protein, primarily from animal sources, not only can’t fulfill these fantasmagoric promises--it’s a hazard in umpteen ways.

aaThere is no proof anywhere that people get fat on complex carbs. If they did, most of the world would be sick and obese. That’s not the case. It certainly isn't true for me or many people I know. The hawked book promises “don’t give up your favorites”--but I certainly would be doing just that if I had to give up bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. I wager this is true for most Americans--who are thoroughly perplexed these days, thanks to the conflicting stories to which your magazine now contributes.

aaYes, I eat vegetables and nuts. I also eat fruit. And lean (vegetarian) protein, and healthy fats in moderation. I also eat as many complex carbs as I please--which is to say a LOT--and small amounts of (organic) sweets and occasional alcohol. I have done so for 15 years, in proportions much like the pyramids in your article. Not surprisingly, by doing so I easily maintain the figure that most people on these crazy diet schemes are desperately trying to achieve. And they never stop trying--because each diet inevitably fails them and a new one emerges.

aaAnd that is exactly what the South Beach diet is--the latest high-protein copycat with a hip new name. You do your readers--and the environment--a gross disservice to actively promote it. These fads already have an regrettable amount of ignorant momentum behind them. They don’t need your help in spreading the misinformation.

aaIt seems that Organic Style, like any other publication, must do the bidding of its advertisers and cater to the whims of its publishers. Even so, I am appalled that you had to let your Vice Chairman of the Board/founding editor air her personal dieting views--and worse, title them “simple truth!” as if they were sound universal health advice. Is Organic Style Maria Rodale’s playground, or a magazine honestly presenting ways to live a healthy, “green” life?

Right now you appear no different than the fashion-crazed Vogue, Glamour or Mademoiselle--publications to which I thought I’d found an alternative. Why pay to subscribe to such hypocrisy? I can get that anywhere else in the world for free.

aaWhat a shame. Now I’ll have to broadbrush you into the “bad” publications category.

aaRobyn Landis
aaAuthor, BodyFueling and Herbal Defense

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