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10.24.2005 - Health & World Peace

And now for something completely unrelated to code...

Kate and I have been trying to maintain a healthier diet, and while having dinner the other night we came upon the subject of High Fructose Corn Syrup used as a sweetener in most processed foods in the U.S. instead of sugar.

From the articles I've read on the stuff, its not entirely good for you. It's also why Coke doesn't taste the same in Europe as it does here - they won't let anything containing it in the door.

Thinking on this, Kate and I came upon a theory. We all know that the U.S. has a bit of an obesity problem (hell, I'm only a few pounds overweight and I stick out like a sore thumb when abroad) and one can't help but tie Europe's less than chunky populace to the lack of HFCS in their foods. Certainly, there are other factors (a more pedestrian layout to cities along with riding bikes everywhere, etc) but this is surely near the top.

So, what if we as consumers stopped buying things with this stuff in it? Eventually, the manufacturers would suck it up and start using real sugar. Where do they get all this new sugar from? South America and India, of course - areas of the world that could certainly benefit from additional U.S. dollars in their economy.

But what of the corn farmers in the Midwest who grow all this corn for no reason other than to have it turned into HFCS? I've one word - ethanol.

Ethanol is a renewable, clean burning fuel source that is mixed in with gasoline to provide a more high-octane, lower BTU fuel. If you spend any time around race tracks, you'll know that engines can run on grain alcohol, and very quickly. Ethanol at its base is just grain (I suppose you could also get drunk on it in a pinch). All vehicles can run on E10, which is 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, and there are an increasing amount of engines on the road that will run on E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

So then - what does using sugar instead of HFCS in our foods do not only for ourselves but the world at large?

  1. We eat healthier, thereby becoming a thinner people who are not embarrassed to take their shirts off when vacationing at the Aegean. Presumably the Europeans would reciprocate the lack of near nude, fat Americans with an equally lower number of sixty year old German woman sunbathing topless. Everyone wins.
  2. Brazil, India and other tropical climes where sugar is grown see a boost in their economy as the U.S. requires more sugar in its manufacture of food. Sugar as a cash crop soon rivals illegal drugs.
  3. The midwest farmers now grow corn to be distilled into Ethanol, rather than HFCS. Some even set up their own distilleries and reap the monetary benefits of this renewable fuel source, giving Big Oil a run for their money.
  4. Our engines last longer from the lower BTU of ethanol, and given that an increasing amount of cars are using E85, we become immediately ~85% less reliant on Middle Eastern oil.
  5. Our air becomes easier to breath, and the Code Red Air Quality days in Washington, D.C. and other high population areas start to become few and far between.
  6. With less of a need for Middle Eastern Oil, U.S. companies begin pulling out of Saudi Arabia, which makes hard-line muslims very happy. Terrorist attacks against the West become a thing that our children only read about in history class.

As is evident, world peace can't be too far behind. And all from a healthier diet.

Hey Steve. Good to hear all is well. Interesting items you note about HFCS. Did you know that many people are allergic to HFCS and don't even know it? Also, in support of your comments, I gave up sodas 2 years ago. Immediately lost 10 pounds. Seriously, took a week to shed the lbs. Now I'm stuck on coffee with Splenda, but I'm working on it. I think a final added benefit will be fewer runs to the doctor for, say, heart problems... but good luck sneaking that past the pharmaceudical companies. Their lobbyists are seriously well paid. And let's face it, most people just don't care what they ingest. Sad. True.

When are you going to post up your thoughts about Ajax?
Posted by J@Y Hodges on October 25, 2005 @ 1:46 am


http://www.straightdope.com/columns/040910.html treats the obesity thing. The political side I'm not going to comment on, other than to say that I hope it works out the way you suggest :)
Posted by Stuart Langridge on October 25, 2005 @ 11:50 am
Europe suffers from over-weight people as well. Why? Television, Playstation and also the lack of good physical education plus the amount per week spent is less than 1 hour at primary or secundary school. And the soda drinks with loads of sugar, the sweets and chips make it unhealthy. In Europe the bio-industry has been on the other hand really succesful, bio tomatoes and so on are real popular eg but the biggest problem here is we overfeed us. Of course, mainly lot of girls have problems with anorexia and such but that is more a global problem. They would love to gain weight. It is a similar problem though, the way we eat is the key.
Posted by Jo on October 27, 2005 @ 7:12 am
A big bump in the road towards ending the use of HFCS is politics. The <a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/background.htm#prices">government inflates the price<a> of sugar three-fold. The world price is about 8 cents/pound, while the US price is 24 cents/pound, last I heard. The diproportionately powerful sugar lobby is behind this. So, if you want food and drink companies to begin using sugar, one way to do it is to help fight to bring down the absurdly powerful sugar-farmer lobby. And don't worry about them losing their jobs or or anything. The money they are making of the inflated sugar prices will provide for the rest of their lives.
Posted by Stephen on October 31, 2005 @ 2:58 am
I have a couple of thoughts on this matter--this off-topic post hits on an area where I'd like to learn more.

First, after having recently returned from visiting 4 western European countries, I'm not sure that the sugar/hfcs comparison is significant when compared to the Quantity of soda consumed. In Europe, soda is treated like a cocktail. I ordered a large Coke at McDonalds in Hamburg and it looked like the same 22oz. 'Medium' in the US.

Europeans live with less square footage, smaller fridges, and less room for 2-liter bottles. Consequently, much less soda is consumed.

On the second point of Ethanol, my trusty source "The West Wing" indicates that it takes more than the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to create a gallon of ethanol. Ethanol is cheaper but only because of subsidies and beneficial tax treatment. Growing up in South Dakota (and in a town where a new ethanol plant has recently been erected) I'd like to see grain-based fuels succeed, but I think those days are still some time in the future (at least at a self-sustaining rate).

Tim
Posted by Tim on November 16, 2005 @ 5:57 pm


It's a real eye-opener to discover just how connected our energy and agricultural policies are. One of the reasons we're wallowing in HFCS is because of the amazing productivity of large-scale commercial agriculture. And that productivity is a direct result of petroleum-based fertilizers, which consume a tremendous amount of oil.

So as you research this further, you might look into how many barrels of oil are used, on average, to produce enough grain for a gallon of corn-based ethanol. I suspect the answer is depressing.
Posted by Chris Snyder on November 30, 2005 @ 2:32 pm


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