Monthly Archives: February 2012

LOST IN THE SHUFFLE: deadly birds, succulent swine and a heaping helping of high fructose corn syrup

Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and the election of a president.  John Bryson, Tim Geithner and the state of the national economy.  John Roberts, Ruth Ginsburg and civil rights and liberties.  Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin and the continued fascination with athletic drama.

Yeah… I’m starting to realize that the issues described in this blog will always take a backseat to the mainstream media’s coverage of more important and pressing subjects.  It happens.  I get it.  But what the heck – consider this posting an update on a few newsy issues may somehow become lost in the shuffle of the daily cycle.

Earlier this month, we posted an article that described a few strange facts about the surprisingly relationship between candy and a handful of professional athletes.  The article also discussed a new nutritional initiative by Mars, Inc., to reduce the caloric value of its candy to less than 250 calories per serving.

That’s a good thing, right?  Not so fast.  WebMD is carrying a user-created blog that is skeptical of Mars’ commitment, and its author explains that the entire initiative may well be illusory.  The specific wording of the company’s strategy suggests that Mars may well be able to implement this healthy plan without making any substantive changes to its marketing or its products – simply by changing the serving size reflected within the nutritional label of its products.  Definitely a good read.

You may not recall a previous article about a growing cult-like fractionation with bacon, but your arteries certainly can’t forget the surreal recipe for the Bacon Explosion, greasy goodness of the Bacon Pie, and the sandwich that may have killed Elvis Presley.  It’s once again time to celebrate the gut-busting glory of BaconMania.  ‘tis the season, and all that stuff.

Last weekend, the Iowa State Fair hosted the Fifth Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, subtitled BACONPOCALYPSE NOW: I love the smell of bacon in the morning.  The “Iowa Bacon Board” and the “Bacon Ambassadors” welcomed a sold-out crowd of 4,400 attendees, who were provided with the opportunity to taste bacon, watch a film about bacon, listen to songs about bacon and hear a couple of folks pontificate about bacon as part of the “Bacon Lecture Series.”  Did you hear that, PETA?  Sounds like a challenge.

Do you remember when Michael Stipe and REM sang a little song that told us that it was the end of the world as we know it, but they felt fine?  Do you remember a handful of recent articles that described a new man-made version of the H5N1 avian flu that may be capable of creating a pandemic that could result in the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions of people?  Well, Michael Stipe, REM and infected birds have a heck of a lot in common.

I won’t spend too much time exploring the details – you can read the previous articles here, here and here if you’re interested in learning about a somewhat tongue-in-cheek possibility of the end of the world.  Last week, however, attendees at a closed-door summit called by the World Health Organization announced a surprisingly and unexpected agreement to publish details of the research.  The agreement constituted a sharp rejection of the official position of our country and did little to alleviate concerns that the publication of the details could serve as a blueprint for terrorist groups and hostile countries to develop a biological weapon capable of killing millions of innocent people.

Around the same time, the price of remote land deep in the heart of Montana skyrocketed.

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LIVESTRONG: February 19, 2012, Austin, Texas

The weather was a little chilly during the small hours of the morning.  At around 5:30am, the temperature was somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-seven degrees.  And, of course, the wind knew little mercy.

Sounds like the perfect day for a brisk little run, no?

Earlier today, I was privileged to join more than 20,000 runners and approximately 40,000 spectators who descended upon downtown Austin, Texas for the LIVESTRONG Marathon and the LIVESTRONG Half-Marathon.

I’m not sure that I can find the appropriate words to describe the experience of the half-marathon, simply because the passion was almost overwhelming and the emotions were very nearly tangible.  I’m certain that folks who are better able to reduce inspiration to text will post the details on a different blog or website.  I’ll simply note that this is the first time that I’ve been part of an event where I truly felt that most participants were not competing against each other, but rather racing for something greater.

I will, however, also note that it’s time to check the calendar and save the date for the next LIVESTRONG Marathon and Half-Marathon, because February 17, 2013 is quickly approaching.

EXTREME SPORTS: have unusual diets, candy bars and sugary nuggets of bliss resulted in record-breaking success?

Herschel Junior Walker was a heck of a football player. He set a high school record by scoring 86 touchdowns and added another 5,259 rushing yards during three seasons at the University of Georgia. He was a set 10 NCAA records, was a three time All American, won the Heisman Trophy and was later named to the College Football Hall of Fame. Herschel also enjoyed a productive and successful professional football career, busting tackles and dodging defenders in both the United States Football League and the National Football League, where he played for the Dallas Cowboys, the the Minnesota Vikings, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants.

The man has appeared on the cover of nine editions of Sports Illustrated. Nine! Enough said.

You’d think that Herschel would have adhered to a restrictive diet complimented by enough supplements to make the average person radiate a glowing hue of chartreuse. Not so. In fact, at one point while he was steamrolling through the collegiate ranks, he ate nothing but candy bars. Herschel recently described how Snickers, being packed with peanuts and other junk, really satisfies:

I remember when I was at the University of Georgia, I started eating Snickers bars. I actually loved candy bars and I ate Snickers bars. For almost a month and a half, that was my one meal of the day was Snickers bars. And I was fine. Nothing ever changed. I worked out. I had the energy… I went out and did what I was supposed to do and I don’t know whether you’re naive or stupid, that God just takes care of you because I wasn’t thinking about all the cholesterol, all the calories, all this. All I was thinking about was getting my job done… It was probably about ten Snickers bars. My one meal was probably about 10 of them. So it wasn’t just one, I had a bunch of ’em.

Still, there’s more to the story. When he was a teenager, Herschel adopted a mostly vegetarian diet and began eating only one meal a day. The diet has remained consistent, and his single daily meal now mainly consists of bread and soup or a salad. That’s it.

Most folks would likely suffer increases in total cholesterol or problems with blood pressure or glucose. Surprisingly, though, eating only one meal each day has apparently worked for him. Herschel has since represented the United States in the 1992 Winter Olympic two-man bobsled team, now carriers fifth degree black belt in Taekwando, and has competed in professional mixed martial arts. He won his first match at the age of forty seven, defeating Greg Nagy. Forty Seven! Not a typo!

The world may, however, never see another athlete like Herschel Walker… and we can blame Snickers for the loss. Mars, Inc., the corporate manufacturer of Snickers, is slimming down the candy bar. The company has announced that it plans to restrict its sales to candy bars that do not exceed 250 calories by the end of the year, meaning that the king-sized and super-jumbo-turbo models will disappear from the shelves in the fairly near future.

Mars Spokeswoman Marlene Machut said the plan was part of the company’s’ “broad-based commitment to health and nutrition.” According to Mars’ website, this commitment is a component of a systematic plan to promote wellness while still peddling chocolate, caramel and that odd coarse nougat that conquered the three musketeers. Again, according to the website, the Mars is globally committing to:

  • Not to buy advertising time or space if more than a quarter of the audience is likely to be under 12 years of age; nor will we advertise on websites aimed at those under 12
  • To implement Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) nutrition labeling on the majority of our chocolate and confectionery globally by year-end 2011 and will continue to roll out GDA across our entire food portfolio
  • Not to ship any Mars chocolate products that exceed 250 calories per portion by the end of 2013
  • To reduce sodium levels in all Mars Food products globally by 25 percent by 2015, from a 2007 baseline. We are doing this by participating in government initiatives and agreeing to voluntary reduction commitments in different regions.

Hershel Walker is not happy, but the NBA’s Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard and the NFL’s Marshawn Lynch are breathing a collective sigh of relief. They’re obsessed with Skittles. Even though these candies are manufactured by The Wrigley Company, which is owned by Mars, the nutritional initiative will not affect them. Skittles aren’t chocolate products, and therefore Mars doesn’t plan to take any action that will affect the health, wellness or nutrition of consumers of the little drops of hydrogenated palm kernel oil, modified corn starch, titanium dioxide, carnuaba wax and yellow 5 coloring.

Whew.

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DOOMSDAY DECISION: could the end of a moratorium lead to the beginning of a pandemic?

Earlier this year, researchers from Erasmus Medical College in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison created a new highly contagious and fatal strain of the H5N1 bird flu.  The new strain poses a fairly significant threat to the world’s health, given that testing shows that it may be capable of being transmitted from one person to another person.  Many scientists fear that its release could realistically result in a global pandemic marked by the deaths of upwards of 50 million people.

Not surprisingly, reports of the man-made strain sparked immediate controversy amid concerns that the researchers would publish a report that detailed their experiments.  The publishing of the report could very well serve as a blueprint for terrorists or hostile nations to engineer a biological weapon capable of killing tens of millions of people.  Several prominent scientists claimed that the research should never had been conducted, and the parties agreed to a sixty day moratorium to consider the issues.

At least the government has taken the matter seriously.  After all, it is now monitoring social networks and mainstream blogs that discuss this version of the avian flu.

And the government, like many others, is impatiently listening to the inevitable tick-tocking of the proverbial clock.  The moratorium will soon end, and somebody will need to make some sort of decision about something.

Well, here we go.

Keiji Fukuda, the Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment for the World Health Organization, has scheduled a meeting to proactively address the upcoming issues.  The meeting is set to commence today in Geneva, and it will be attended by officials from the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, the original research team and other parties.  They hope to determine whether the research should be published in its entirety or whether the research should be redacted or censored prior to publication.

It’s impossible to predict whether the meeting will result in any compromises or agreements.  The debate is being conducted behind closed doors and the public will only have limited access to information until those participating in the summit release the details.  Any decision, however, has the potential to have very significant implications for the future and, at the very least, could serve as precedent for other controversial scientific developments.

In the end, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens – which isn’t necessarily the most comforting scenario given the potentially grave ramifications.

Of course, many folks believe that the Mayan Calendar has already predicted that the world will end later this year.  Forget about Y2K and ignore Harold Camping and Marshall Applewhite – this whole darn argument may well be moot.

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On Valentine’s Day, nothing screams passion or romance like cake shaped after an anatomically correct human heart.

We already know that Pizza Hut set a very high standard for romantic cuisine for the coming holiday.  Valentine’s Day will simply never be the same after celebrating everlasting love by relishing in the joy of the franchise’s $10,010 Big Box Proposal Meal Deal.  Seriously, the phrase “I love you” is virtually synonymous with a one-topping medium pizza, a handful of overcooked breadsticks and bit of glitz and glamor.

Of course, other franchises and chains have taken notice.  Papa John’s pizzeria, for example, sold around 60,000 heart-shaped pizzas last year and expects to sell 75,000 this year.  Krispy Kreme is selling heart-shaped chunks of fun topped with all sorts of icing or sprinkles.  Down the street, competitive consumers will be able to celebrate Dunkin’ DonutsCupid’s Choice Donut and its Chocolate Heart Donut.

Somewhere in London, Lily Vanilli is laughing at the competition.  The baker, renown for unique and creative products, is now selling anatomically correct cakes that are shaped like real, bona fide human hearts.  I only wish I was making this up.  You can either visit the website to bear witness to images of these hearty desserts, or scroll down a bit for a better view.  As for me, well, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth, my stomach is making weird noises…gotta go.

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